Thoughts on community, tool development, integration, Tableau, and diversity/inclusion
My 1st experience as a Tableau Visionary and Ambassador is uncommon, but hopefully, this resonates with all attendees (in-person and virtual) and others considering attending in the future.
I planned on creating a diary-type article, but that's not me any longer. So instead, it's more enjoyable for me to look at essential pieces that will linger on far longer than my time at the Tableau Conference.
Hot takes covered are my insights but are also colored by thoughts gathered from many people. Therefore, they are not necessarily representative of the views of my employer or Tableau.
Hot Take 1 | Tableau really cares about its community
In my past career, I worked as an investigator. I investigated everything from terminations to complex fraud. I did this full and part-time (depending on my role) for over 15 years. I was always an observer and became further jaded and skeptical of cons the more seasoned I became. It takes a lot of data validation to flip that script.
We can be less than thrilled about the short notice of the conference, lack of information on events, lack of availability of many community events to the virtual audience, and lack of virtual brain dates. Still, it's not because of #TeamTableau.
They put in many long hours to provide the best possible experiences for two conferences (virtual and in-person) in a brief period following our last virtual conference. The energy, passion, and execution of everything can only come from people who are very energized about the community and find it a real pursuit to work against all odds to make sure people enjoy themselves.
I could not believe how accessible people like Mark Nelson (CEO and President) and Francois Ajenstat (CPO) were during the entire conference — not just to community leaders but to all people in attendance. The two execs are mentioned because the #TeamTableau culture needs to start from the top and funnel down. It also shows that incredible community team the priority their work has on not only our community but also from those at the top.
Speaking of the community team, besides working and celebrating at the conference, they spent countless hours preparing and setting everything up. There was nothing ordinary about their work hours, but they came with the energy and enthusiasm of a 1st-time conference-goer (like me).
I also spoke to many people at Tableau about our community and product needs. Many of these questions were tough, but they provided the transparency and genuine calls to action to help curve any concerns I had.
The main concern of many people had, and I was that this would be our last Tableau conference. Given the recent stronger integration ties to its parent company, Salesforce, we were legitimately concerned that the Tableau Conference would be folded into Dreamforce. Even though I heard that the Tableau Conference would return next year before Mark Nelson shared it, those public and committed words sealed the script flip on any skepticism I had.
Finding 1 | Tableau’s community support will not dissolve as it is fostered company-wide.
Hot Take 2 | Product integration and in-tool development... it's in the cloud
With recent Salesforce purchases looking to enhance the platform, I know Salesforce needed immediate ROI in the form of integration; this is particularly true with a focus on AI and Slack. However, this would have stretched developers' capabilities of in-tool development in recent years. The truth is the tool hasn't had a lot of wow moments, the integrations are beta integrations that require more iterations to make the integrations seamless and helpful, and it has dimmed the excitement of the typical developer as community ideas hadn't been the focus because there aren't the resources to support it.
I had many conversations with product and development teams immediately before and during the conference. Although there needs to be a focus on making the integrations better and more powerful, they have a renewed commitment to emphasizing the in-tool enhancements. They definitely heard us and were transparent with those who spoke with them that implementing community ideas is a primary effort (although that has slipped recently).
The future of Tableau is even a more powerful tool with enhanced cloud capabilities. However, other products need to be in the stack (*cough* Snowflake *cough*), more robust integration of existing items like Tableau Prep (seamless, like Mapbox), and better in-tool web capabilities render the desktop application unnecessary.
Finding 2 | We’re not up in the cloud yet, but wait for it.
Disclaimer: I do not think Server or the Desktop application are going away. Too many people depend on it and want total management capabilities. I just strongly believe in years to come, Tableau Cloud and Web Authoring will be much stronger and see a point with additional integration options will make the Cloud more capable than desktop and much easier to manage (along with the Cloud ‘server’ environment). Edited on 5/26/22
Hot Takes 3 and 3.5 | The community is iffy on initial product integrations with Tableau
Part of the issue with the lack of focus on in-tool enhancements is the higher focus on integrating non-classic Tableau capabilities. Tableau has taken the approach for years (regardless of whether it's acknowledged) that original versions of integrations are almost all basic (or I would consider beta). The intent is to iterate and develop them until they become integral to the experience.
I shared that last year regarding the 'Explain Data' enhancements. The inaugural iteration was so poorly applied that it was frustratingly unhelpful. I also learned that it's challenging to convince people that Explain Data has improved significantly because of that misstep. 1st impressions hit hard, even with software features, and are tough to overcome.
Finding 3 | 1st iterations matter, but don’t judge a feature by its maiden version.
Besides that, many AI applications, notably Data Modeling, are scary propositions for many people. I was fortunate to train in Einstein Discovery to understand better how to approach data modeling in data visualization, but frankly, it's not for everyone. Some people will be asked to build models because they work with the tool, which can ultimately provide dangerous insights. There's a lot to understand to get to that point, and the skills are not naturally compatible by any stretch — to best leverage, a person should be working with someone with a data science background to validate the models.
Finding 3.5: Good models are imperfect and bad models are dangerous.
Hot Take 4 | Non-English language support has taken a back seat — this needs to change immediately
The global community sees terrific new pieces in the pipeline like Data Stories, Model Builder (*cough* Einstein Analytics *cough*), and remarkably improved elements like 'Explain Data' and 'Ask Data,' but unless they speak English, they can't do anything with it.
We, as a community, are just beginning to include non-English content in featured pieces — particularly from our Spanish, Japanese, German, and Polish content creators. It's helped build a more inclusive community, but we need to do better.
To position Tableau as an authentic global brand, more language support needs to be applied to every piece of the tool. In addition, it needs to be consistent and expanded. For example, suppose we want to expand data literacy and data visualization; in that case, the lowest hanging fruit is access — communities can be born and develop as they have in English-speaking countries.
Finding 4 | Beyond English is Tableau’s best future integration
Hot Take 5 | Marketing integrations… bruh, don't take away our Tableau
Rockstar Astro was a hard pill to swallow. I went through the seven stages of grief when I saw this…
I knew there would be marketing integration, and Tableau would be folded neatly under the Salesforce umbrella, but I never thought it would impact me as it did.
Some see a cute character in a onesie or some forest creature, but many feel it was the beginning of the dismantling of our community and purpose. This entity doesn't represent those of us who spent years having a life-altering experience with the tool and use data to provide powerful business insights and try to make a positive impact with data. It hit me like the unplugged guitar smashed our community over the head. Yes, the community means more to us than sane people can understand.
This marketing approach continued at the Tableau Conference. Again, the Salesforce characters, forest, and clouds were everywhere. By that time, with Mark Bradbourne's (Twitter | Site) podcast episode on the subject started to resonate (honestly, I disputed it at 1st, but after several days I came around) — I wasn't as bothered but still worried there was a disconnect between Salesforce and Tableau that will impact our DataFam.
I'm even a little less bothered now, especially as a new Tableau Conference will come in 2023. Salesforce executives came out to engage our community at the conference. I believe they are slowly starting to 'get us'…, but I want to see more robust Salesforce support (more employees and resources) to help expand our community and enable global growth.
I hope that the marketing efforts turn around or at least have an equal focus on people; people are Tableau's brand — not cartoon characters (although I dig the headband).
(Initial) Finding 5| As Mark Bradbourne said, supported by Team Tableau’s efforts, it’s only marketing.
Hot Take 6 | People who attend the conference are great… but not very diverse
Besides about 10% or so of Twitter/LinkedIn people in the community, there were a bunch of practitioners at #Data22. Our community members seem to resemble gender parity, but looking at the conference overall, there was a white male-dominated presence overall. It tells me we have a lot of work to engage people from different backgrounds and genders (including non-binary) to use the tool and be part of the larger community. This issue was most apparent at Data Night Out when trying to use a restroom. The ladies had quick trips with no or virtually no lines, and I had to wait 15 minutes or so each time to use either bathroom.
Not everyone can be non-male or non-white, but we can all try harder to support diversity and inclusion inside and outside the conference. Of course, it does hurt that the cost of the conference and trip to Vegas is relatively high. Still, we can do something in association with Salesforce/Tableau and sponsors to help others come to the conference that otherwise would not have the opportunity. Let's hope fewer people look like me at next year's conference.
Finding 6 | We all can do more to build a more inclusive experience at the conference — but that effort needs to start now.
Hot Take 7 | Sessions and keynotes are fab, but what makes the conference extraordinary is friendship-building and networking
As shared initially, I never had a chance to visit an in-person Tableau Conference in the past. So it was just incredible meeting friends previously met in person; online friends for years but never met; creators and thought leaders long-admired; Tableau employees who support our community; and new peeps.
Even though I'm autistic, Sarah Bartlett (Twitter| Site) correctly pointed out that I'm an extrovert. Outside of brief splashes earlier in my lift, I never had any idea there was an extrovert underneath — but realized how thrilled I am to be with my people (however, when I'm not with my people, I tend not to engage at all). Regardless, my gas tank can empty quickly, so I allowed myself plenty of space to go back to the room or wander off as needed (which I did more often than people realized).
The fact is that you are surrounded by friends, fast friends, and those who inspire you. In a world where we tend not to meet many people like us, having that short time … even the biggest wallflower and hermit needs to take full advantage. Life moves very quickly, and in an uncertain world, you never know how many opportunities you will have to savor these experiences. The older I get, the more that realization hits.
Besides the conference itself, there were so many events and hangouts to participate in; it really felt like a potent mixture of (fun) work and play.
There were so many people I was thrilled to meet for the 1st time in person. Still, Annabelle Rincon (Twitter | Site) and KT (Twitter | YouTube) (pictured above) were the two I was most looking forward to — both of which I have fun potential future collaborations with, and we started to chat about them at the conference. They are very different people but fundamentally similar at their core — each is a community builder and enabler who uses time efficiently to lift others. In my best light, I see a little bit of them in myself, but I can learn a lot from both, am proud to be their friends, and beyond excited to work with them.
There are too many other people to comment on that I care deeply about, so please check some of them out in the video at the bottom.
Finding 7 | Connecting with spectacular people can positively alter your reality.
Tips for Tableau/Salesforce
Tableau did a tremendous job in many ways, and I am forever appreciative of the events they hosted for us, but there are a couple of points that would even make the experience richer.
- Bring virtual brain dates back.
- Give more space for community sessions — customer sessions are valuable, but the community sessions are often the most impactful. Unfortunately, I missed so many I wanted to see because so many conflicted.
- Record community sessions or provide recording equipment for those that want it. Although there is a lot of great content online, many of the virtual (and in-person audiences, as mentioned above) missed out on noteworthy presentations. Fortunately, many are committing to TUGs to provide a virtual version, but seeing a version of the in-person one can be more electric.
- Keep us a little safer. If CoVID iteration 100 is ongoing, requiring vaccination during the next conference and providing self-tests and temp checks would be helpful to give some peace of mind for attendees. I am fully vaccinated and understood the risk when I went and also know the local rules were applied; given that, many people did come down with CoVID, and a number of those were unable to test until they went home because self-tests weren't brought (most mild, and possibly some on the plane ride home, fortunately).
- Have a community keynote event besides Iron Viz. Again, the demand is there as some community speakers filled up large breakout rooms (and one presentation team did it multiple times on the same day).
- Salesforce executives and employees — please continue to be a presence at the Tableau Conference. Your support of our community reduces uncertainty and confusion about the Tableau/Salesforce integration. We need to understand each other better and work to be a unified entity — we can achieve much more together than separately.
Tips for New Conference Attendees
A couple of quick tips if you are considering attending in the future.
- Keep 1/2 a suitcase or carry-on empty for swag.
- Come at least one day before the conference. There are plenty of people there and opportunities to hang out and connect before the big event.
- Bring comfortable shoes. If able, you will be doing a lot of walking, and make sure to prioritize comfort over style. A light day of walking will probably be 5 miles, and I cannot imagine much less than a 3–4 mile day.
- Do not fill up your entire calendar with sessions. You can register for most at the event. The last thing you want to do is box yourself in at the conference — being open provides for many more fun and spontaneous opportunities (again, as a planner out of necessity, it’s weird for me to think and share this — but think of it as planning to be open).
- Say 'hi' to those you recognize in the community and Tableau. There were people I admired and was nervous about meeting with but happy to tell them how much their work meant to me in person. I haven't met a more approachable group of people (even if we are a collection of nerds). In addition, Tableau employees love to meet and greet the community, so say 'hi' to them and the community team members.