Data Viz Thoughts .|: Kevin Flerlage Interview & Ramon Martinez has our #VOTW
A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the viz making process, #datafam member interviews, #DataVizThoughts Viz of the Week + entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).
#DataFam Member Thoughts with…
Kevin is a humble family guy who happens to be very good at Tableau. Besides that, he’s a dependable and friendly source of inspiration and support in the #datafam. He has a lot going on, but he always has time for our community & he’ll tell you how wonderful he is (just kidding). I had the opportunity to chat with him…and while conversing, I was looking for an in to expose the ugly underbelly the Flerlages — a juicy meltdown or anything that can expose THE TRUTH and the real Keith… I mean Ken…. I mean Kevin to emerge. The truth is that Kevin is completely authentic and just as good of a guy when you dive in (unless he’s a legitimate Oscar contender… a distinct possibility).
Adam Mico (AM): Before Tableau, what types of jobs did you perform & have they all been data-related? If not, please explain the most unusual job(s) held before working with Tableau?
Kevin Flerlage (KF): Prior to my current role, I spent 14 years “grinding it out in Excel”. Half of that time was spent analyzing pharmaceutical costs and trends and the other half was spent analyzing event ticket pricing compared to value (among many other things). The common denominators in both jobs is that I used Excel as my main BI tool. Although I was very well-respected in each job and my work had a huge impact on both companies, it was not until recently that I realized just how inefficient so much of my work was due to the lack of proper tools.
Not all my jobs were data-related, however. As a teenager, I spent time bagging groceries and running the dairy section at a local grocery store. Out of college, I worked designing cable television system routes for a company I absolutely loved (they developed several sister companies, one of which was a complete home automation system). In my mid-20’s, they moved me over to this company in order to help them build that business. I ultimately became the director of assistive technologies for a new company called Break Boundaries — this company designed a device that allowed people with severe disabilities to have control over their environment. For example, one customer (and friend) had Multiple Sclerosis and was unable to move her hands. Our device allowed her to use speech recognition to change television channels, turn on/off lights, open doors, play music, raise or lower her bed, and much more. Another customer (and another friend) was also unable to speak, so we gave him the ability to control his environment by the simply moving of his head. Although I left to pursue analytics, the company is still alive and well, helping hundreds of people over the years:
AM: I’ve read your brother (Ken Flerlage) got you into Tableau. How long ago was this & did it take a lot of him bringing up this tool for you to finally get interested or as soon as you heard/saw what it could do… did you hit the ground running?
KF: Ken had talked about Tableau for a while and I recall him talking about the conference. But like many people, I was clueless to what it was all about. He would say that when I was ready, he would teach me to use it.
You may be surprised to realize, but it wasn’t Ken’s pushing that got me to go down that path. Even though I was relatively happy in my role at work, I struggled to see my future and continued to grow concerned. I had several opportunities to move up within the company, but all were outside of analytics. I opted out of all of them, but I realized that those types of jobs would be my only real chance to move up.
Through my customer and company, I then started hearing more and more about Tableau. I started to casually look at job postings both in and out of the company and continued to see a trend — Tableau was regularly listed as a required skill. After a few months of running into Tableau at every turn, I finally asked Ken to get me started.
I remember the text I sent him:
Kevin: Ken, I think I’m ready to learn Tableau.
Ken: Cool, watch this video from Matt Francis.
Kevin: What? You’re a friggin’ Zen Master and you want me to watch a video of some other guy? I want you to show me.
Ken: Okay, I can do that.
It was so funny that he suggested a video versus him just showing me. Ken had, just a few months prior, been honored as a Zen Master and I had just figured that he would be the one to guide my first steps. We set up a time to talk… that day was February 26, 2018 (about a year and a half ago). We spent three hours with Tableau where he introduced me to what I call “The Full Tableau Experience” where he talked about the tool, but also the community, training, community projects, and much more.
I was completely hooked and all I did for the next month was Tableau to the point where my wife told me I needed to spend far less time on the computer. (1) It seemed to come natural to me and people started to notice.
Side note: I did go back and work through Matt Francis’ Tableau training on Udemy and it was awesome! I recommend it to people all the time.
AM: What was your 1st job utilizing your new Tableau skills?
KF: Tableau is so great in so many ways. It’s an incredible analysis tool, fantastic for building dashboards, has a great community, but it also helps people grow their careers. By providing Tableau Public, they offer a free way to build a portfolio that anybody can see. It’s so much more efficient than telling someone what you can do with a bullet point on a resume, but it allows you to show people what you can do with an online portfolio.
This proved evident for me as after using Tableau personally for just six months, I was contacted by a legend of the Tableau community, Jeff Shaffer, who happened to live and work in Cincinnati, about an opportunity with the company he ran. A couple interviews later and I was doing this stuff for a living!
AM: What role does Tableau play in your current career and without the tool, would this career be possible?
KF: I am a Senior Analyst & Tableau Developer. The truth is, I spend about 70% of my time in Tableau with about 20% of my time spent prepping data in SQL to be consumed in Tableau (and 10% on other tasks). Our company is a tech company in the financial services business — it runs on Tableau. This role would not exist without Tableau, but furthermore, this company would be very different without it.
AM: How instrumental has Ken been on your Tableau journey?
KF: Ken’s awesome. I spent the first couple months bugging him constantly. Since then, I’ve worked hard to try to figure things out on my own and now that I’ve been using it for quite a while, I am very confident in my own skills. He still knows way more than me! He was instrumental in my early development.
I still learn a lot from his blog posts and through conversations with him. The truth is, our relationship has grown 1000-fold since I began using Tableau. He has lived 8 hours away from me since he was 21 (he chased a woman… and happened to catch her). Due to distance, time and separate lives, we talked much less. After Tableau, we talk daily… several times a day. We are more in-tuned with each other’s families, but (to be fair) we mainly talk Tableau. I cannot underestimate the value of having someone else to simply chat about ideas, methods, challenges, etc. I’m very blessed to have him.
AM: How long did it take you from starting to work with the tool to engage with the community & how has the #datafam enhanced your pursuit?
KF: I mentioned Ken introducing me to the full Tableau Experience from my initiation and that included the community. I joined Twitter immediately and started following people. Ken received many messages suggesting that someone was potentially trying to steal his Twitter identity. It was such a surprise to so many that Ken had an identical twin brother.
I will have to say that even though Tableau is so awesome in so many ways, the community is the best part. I have friends all over the world that are willing to help me with Tableau-related problems. Heck, I have friends all over the world that are willing to let me crash at their houses if needed. Our community is amazing. They are so willing to share experiences and knowledge; I’ve simply never seen anything like it.
AM: You are consistently looked up to as a mentor in the #datafam (even if it wasn’t intended). How do you approach that role?
KF: Well, that’s a tough question. I was just a newbie like so many and I was doing some work that people seemed to like (heck, I was just having fun and learning). I honestly don’t know how that happened but one thing I’ve always loved to do was help people. Around the time I started my own blog, people started asking questions — I was honored and excited to help. From there, it’s just continued to develop.
AM: What, in your opinion, makes a good community member on Twitter or other spaces for Tableau/data analytics?
KF: I like to think of it as realistic and genuine encouragement. What I mean by this is that our community is filled with new users — it wasn’t long ago that I was one of them. And new users need encouragement to continue to push to grow their skills. I love to encourage others and I very often send direct messages (2) to new users simply to welcome them and offer to help. But it’s also key that we are realistic in our approaches and be very careful not to suggest poor habits. Tableau Public allows people to explore new chart types and have fun with data art, but more senior community members should be careful to make it known that there is a balance. (3)
I’m all about having fun with data and visualizations. In fact, Ken and I will be presenting at the Tableau Conference and one of the charts that we will be showing is rarely the best chart for the job. The key, however, is that it teaches so many fundamentals needed to build more advanced chart types and that someone encourages others while ensuring understanding.
AM: It seems like Christianity and tech are unlikely partners. Are people surprised if the subject of belief comes up? How can Christianity and (data) science co-exist?
KF: I guess my experiences are a bit different. I live in the Midwest and there is a church on every block. I also think that the Tableau community is very accepting of others. I personally believe it’s a huge benefit as I’m not the same person I once was. I used to be very pessimistic and negative and that hardly makes for a good community member (or mentor as you called me — that’s still hard for me to say).
I have a tattoo on my arm with a verse below it, 1 Corinthians 13:13. This versus says that three things will last forever, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. This is how I try to live my life (though I fail constantly). I’ve heard other people use a different mantra that is basically has the same meaning: “Don’t be an <butthole>” except they typically use a different word J. I’m just trying to show respect and love to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, race, gender, etc. and I think that is key to building a strong community of people.
AM: The Tableau Conference is always bantered about in the community. I’ve never had the chance to go. What’s all the fuss about and is it worth the $1895 for the full conference pass? (4)
KF: The Tableau Conference is absolutely amazing!!!! I’ve never attended a conference like it — you can learn from the best, build your skills, engage with a passionate community, and get inspired. On top of being one of the best learning experiences out there, it’s also a ton of fun! There is absolutely no question that it is worth every penny.
AM: I hear you and Ken are presenting at the conference (which is incredible). What will you be presenting and give the audience just a peak into what their Flerlage adventure may be?
KF: Ken and I will be presenting together for the first time in our lives — we are incredibly excited about it! In our session, the Tableau Twins will take attendees Beyond “Show Me”. “Show Me” provides many “out-of-the-box” charts, but it only scratches the surface of what’s possible in Tableau. In our session, we will provide detailed tutorials on building advanced charts, starting with required fundamentals and then moving to the use of mathematics, data densification, etc. We will demonstrate how to apply these techniques using a variety of charts, including Radial Bar Charts, Radar Charts, and Sankey Diagrams. This is intended for intermediate users that want to take their skills to the advanced level. Better yet, there are no prerequisites required — you don’t need to be a math genius or even remember 10th grade trigonometry! We will provide you with everything you need. We absolutely cannot wait!
AM: With all my interviews, I plan on asking a non-data viz question at the end. Looking at your viz history, I see you have an affinity for classic games. What was the 1st video game you remember getting hooked on and do you have any pictures as a kid showing you playing video games to bolster your classic gaming cred?
KF: My dad was an early adopter of the computer. We were the first in my neighborhood to get one (my mom made fun of him for it) so I was playing video games long before most. I remember some of the original games, but the first one I was really HOOKED on was Super Mario Bros on the first Nintendo. All we did was play this game. And yes, I did a viz on it!
I’m not much of a gamer any longer. The only games I occasionally play are Wii games like Wii Bowling, Super Mario Kart, and FIFA World Cup (which uses Radar charts to show player strengths by the way). My 13-year-old son kicks by butt at all of them!
AM: Well if you have time, here’s another ‘off topic’ turn... Let’s talk about beer. Do you have a favorite and what’s do you look for in a beer?
KM: I’ve tried a number of beers because they’re fun to sample, but most of them don’t agree with me. For example, I’m not really an IPA person, but there’s a great variety of is called New England IPA. Lindsay Betzendahl (@ZenDollData) told me about it and I like it quite a bit — it’s a little hazy and doesn’t have that burnt pickle taste (5) that other IPAs have. If you haven’t given it a try… go for it.
Viz of the Week
So Mico, so why are you using this retro visualization as your #VOTW?
It’s simple. This is the 1st viz I saw on Tableau public that inspired me. I have used it countless times to share and show how cool Tableau can be. Everything from the color scheme, important data storytelling and its animation capability floored me. Even better is when the workbook is downloaded, you can play with it (if so inclined). Before I saw this viz, I never knew you could animate with Tableau or create something of such beauty and insight — once that was discovered, it opened a world of possibilities.
Adam Mico (AM): What inspired you to create the viz and how did it come out vs. expectations?
Ramon Martinez (RM): The inspiration for the creation of this viz was:
- The animated visualization Global temperature change (1850–2016) created by Ed Hawkins, which was viral on Twitter and other social networks
- The encouragement from the Makeover Monday project on this subject Global Warming is Spiraling Out of Control May 16, 2016 (week 20) to the Tableau dataviz community.
- My personal interest in natural sciences, and my concerns on the impact of global warming, and natural events on human population and others living species on the planet Earth.
I started by exploring the data set using multiple angles — a practice that I usually follow in data analytics. I created several charts, and I realized that each one showed a portion of the whole story. For example, while the trend line of temperature over time (chart at the bottom-left of the viz) illustrates a clear upward trend out the noise in data points per month, the heatmap at the top of the viz presents a concise and consistent pattern by year and month.
I also wanted to put some emotion to the viz, so I thought that a sequential color scheme light blue-yellow-red” with a dark background were appropriate to highlight the issue.
I think the final version of the visualization reached my expectations. However, limitations in animation capability from Tableau did not allowed me to replicate the animation impact of the original Ed Hawkins visualization.
AM: You released this 3 years ago this month. Can you explain the feeling and impact on you of Tableau awarding this #VOTW?
RM: It is interesting because I published this visualization in my Tableau Public author profile on October 1, 2016 about six months after I created it. I wanted to write a blog post about the impact of global warming on population health with the supporting information from the visualization (to be published on www.publichealthintelliegence.org (my personal web site), but for whatever reason I didn’t write it, so I delayed the publication of the viz. Then I decided to publish it, and share it along in Twitter — a few days later, it was awarded as Viz of the Week (VOTW).
Viz of the Day (VOTD) and VOTW are recognitions to the contribution, effort, creativity, and imagination of the Tableau user community. It has a great impact on me as it encouraged me to do better visualizations, to learn and practice the concepts, science and techniques from the field of data visualization. Both VOTD and VOTW were a big reason for happiness and joy of the work done.
AM: Regarding global warming and its impact, why do you think it’s taken the passion and words of a very young warrior, Greta Thunberg, to start a real mobilization of the effort to protect our planet?
RM: a big fraction of the global warming is due to human activity on Earth. The scientific community has been measuring multiple climate and atmospheric parameters for decades to support informed decisions. The signal and warning in the increase of the Earth surface temperature, out of what we can consider normal has been made public by scientists. We are experiencing multiple natural events such as hurricanes, extreme heat and cold waives, forest wildfires as consequence of prolonged high temperatures and dryness, among others that are definitively impacting our lives today and that will impact even more the lives of future generations. Something needs to be done urgently.
I believe these are the main motivations for a young person like Greta Thunberg to start a sound movement aimed to protect the lives in our planet. I hope leaders from every nation first, understand the magnitude and implications of the global warming as a public issue, and second, takes actions urgently to prevent it impact on human and other living species on Earth.
Remember when Radiohead veered off guitars and into electronica beginning with Kid A in 2000? Clinic released Internal Wrangler the same year and ‘The Second Line’ (performed above) tickled my ears in a way that makes it still itch. If you enjoy this variant of Radiohead, but would love to hear what it would sound like if they wrote songs immediately following a good giggle… check out this band.
This week the bite absolutely relates to food. Ugly Delicious (Netflix series) covers dishes of all flavors. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also veers into complex topics (e.g. history of fried chicken). The celebrity guests here are eclectic, open and add to the fun rather than providing an empty vessel of fluff. The series navigator is none other than Momofuku restaurateur David Chang — you know you’re getting some serious foodie knowledge dropped.
- I identify with that too. When my son was five and I spent 30+ hours/week (besides a full time job) on my music review website, my wife had to intervene and help me refocus my priorities.
- Direct messages on Twitter may seem invasive, but in many cases it is the best way for those in our community to reach out and share feedback and encouragement to those in our #datafam. Also, direct messages doesn’t embarrass a person when feedback is provided and doesn’t come off as self-promotion.
- It’s looks really cool to make charts using math to shape and densify the data, but usually IRL… requirements frequently leads you down of path of bar charts and (don’t eek) tables.
- If you follow Tableau on social media, they offer a ton of coupon codes and even giveaways.
- The burnt pickle taste came from me, but he agreed, so it stays.