An Interview with Dzifa Amexo (2x Tableau Public Featured Author & Tableau Public Ambassador)
A weekly blog about the ‘data viz’-making process, #datafam / data analytics member interviews, & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).
Adam’s Note: Dzifa has been a bolt of energy in our datafam since she arrived last year. Her dataviz skills progressed so rapidly, she is one of the biggest design influencers in our Tableau community (Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public). As you will witness in this interview, she is as wise as she is optimistic. I’m honored to call her a friend and am incredibly excited to be able to witness her rapidly climbing personal and professional progression and the people she inspires inside and outside our little world on her expedition to excellence.
Adam Mico (AM): Can you please explain a bit how your high school scholastic career and early undergrad at Mercy prepared your dataviz/Tableau journey?
Dzifa Amexo (DA): Early on in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At one point I wanted to be an engineer, a nurse, a lawyer, you name it. It’s funny reflecting on my high school and early undergrad now as I can connect the dots. I wish I could say that I was naturally an inquisitive and creative person growing up but that wasn’t the case. I was into math & science (only physics). But dataviz is half art and half science. As a senior in high school, I took AP Statistics and remember watching Hans Rosling’s famous TED Talk in class and being amazed! But at the time, I had no clue about data viz as a field.
As cheesy as it sounds, my undergrad journey has definitely been the best years of my life thus far! Mercy really changed my mindset and allowed me to discover my true self. Early on, I developed a sense of curiosity and energy to do things that are outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t know the first thing about data analytics but it seemed new and exciting so I took a chance. I picked up a specialization in data analytics and later landed an internship at JNJ, which exposed me a bit to Tableau and furthermore developed my sense of curiosity. (1)
Priya Padham (PP) & AM: What was it about data analytics and data visualization that piqued your passion and did it hit you right away or was it a slow-building interest?
DA: I think it hit me right away but I failed to realize some of the early signs in high school. (2) Once I started my specialization at school, our first course essentially tasked us with creating a story from a large dataset. I was only one of two freshmen in the class and thought I was a little in over my head. Of course, we had some guidance but it was a bit of baptism under fire. It challenged me to ask questions and it was hard to create a story from nothing but I discovered that I loved the process. I hadn’t been introduced to Tableau at this point but the ability to take something complex and make sense of the data by uncovering insights and turning it into a story to be able to communicate to people had me hooked! From there, I was fascinated with learning about how information is perceived visually. Seeing this illustration:
of pre-attentive attributes changed the game for me. I never realized how important font, color size, and other factors were to visuals.
PP: What prompted you to join the analytics (social media) community & what are your tips for people starting in the community?
DA: As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a social media junkie so the barrier to entry for me was pretty low. After I discovered Makeover Monday, I figured it would make sense for me to use Twitter to get the most out of the experience. I decided to make a separate account solely for data viz so my feed wouldn’t get bogged down with other content (naturally now it’s evolved to be 80% data viz & 20% everything else that is still part of my personality and interests). (3)
In terms of tips for starting in the community, just do it! It definitely can feel intimidating or overwhelming at first but…
- Don’t worry about the likes (you’re an inspiration to someone)
- Post your work out there & ask for feedback (this is how you grow)
- Connect! (attend TUGs, find a mentor or buddy, follow people & blogs for inspiration)
PP: What is your favorite thing about being part of the datafam community?
DA: The connectivity! It’s mind-boggling to me in the best way possible, that people from all over the world can come and connect over one common thing. I get to meet (hopefully in person one day) people from all different backgrounds. There aren’t any strict hierarchies, I used to be intimidated by the Zens and Ambassadors (only because I thought they were so high up that I couldn’t talk to them) but that’s not the case. They’re really just normal and awesome people! Everyone, despite their level, is willing to learn and talk to whoever, 9/10 times if you DM someone they will respond! The connection or conversation that a viz or can start is amazing. Every week seeing all the different Makeover Monday submissions is the coolest thing because from one dataset you can get a hundred different stories. At the end of the day, it’s the people for me! (4)
PP: What advice do you have for those considering participating in our community?
DA: Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. There are a ton of different community initiatives that are all AMAZING! Pick ones that align with the skills you want to learn or your interests!
Be open to feedback because it’s a gift. Comparison is the thief of joy, trust that you have a unique viewpoint. Be open to learning from anyone & everyone.
Everyone in the community is super supportive, all you have to do is just ask! It’s seriously the closest thing to “The Good Place”. Find a way to give more than you take, that’s what keeps the community going strong!
AM: You ascended very quickly to Tableau Public Featured Author and Tableau Public Ambassador. Did you suffer from imposter syndrome at any point and what can you share that has helped you progress on your journey?
DA: Honestly, Chris Brown said it best, “Yeah 3x”. I’ve definitely had and continue to struggle with imposter syndrome. For me, my journey has been about discovering a passion and inner creativity I didn’t know I had. So I wasn’t expecting or looking for anything. My first thought when I found out about becoming a featured author and an ambassador was “I don’t deserve this.” Like you said, I achieved all of this in 2020 and I just felt like I had just come on the scene and wasn’t deserving of this being so young and “inexperienced”.
I haven’t found the cure to imposter syndrome but one day if I do, I suspect I could become a millionaire. Talking about imposter syndrome has helped me the most. At TC20, I hosted a braindate about the topic and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one dealing with it. As I shared before, comparison is the thief of joy and I found that when I was comparing myself to others it made my feelings of doubt even worse. I have grown comfortable enough where I’m content with who I am as a person and my talents and for the most part just compare myself to yesterday’s Dzifa. Another thing that has helped me is creating a list of my achievements and experiences, I call it my “hype up list”. At the end of the day, I work hard (and have some luck) but I often forget that so this serves as a great self-reminder when I feel imposter syndrome creeping up again. (5)
PP: Are there any specific future Tableau goals and plans or any vizzes currently working on?
DA: This year I want to do Workout Wednesday more than one time. Being a part of Millennials and Data exposed me to calculations (which I have an irrational fear about). I loved math in grade school but Tableau calcs are definitely a learning curve for me but I’m curious to learn more and further my knowledge in that space. I’ve also started the 100 days of code python challenge for fun (I’m excited to learn web scraping) and to challenge myself. But I’ll be interested to explore the intersection between Python & Tableau later on. I’ve dabbled with the idea of potentially starting a blog or a vlog. I’m planning to get involved in Viz for Social Good this year! I keep a running list of viz ideas so I have a few up my sleeve. I’m currently working on a viz about the Verzuz battles and I’d love to do a collaboration viz this year as well.
AM: Diversity and inclusion have been a major need in tech and you have worked on helping our community get stronger in that regard. Although I am autistic and understand exclusion, I’m not a person of color. How can people that aren’t a person of color help make our community more accessible?
DA: This is such an important question, thank you for asking this! I think that there tends to be the idea that diversity and inclusion should solely be the responsibility of POC or those who aren’t included but everyone has a part in the matter. Having a more diverse and inclusive datafam is a benefit for all of us. There are so many layers to this. I’ve only been in the community for about a year now. To be honest, when I first joined the datafam Twitter community, I felt welcomed but I struggled to find many people who looked like me. But since then, representation has definitely grown but there can definitely still be more done. Support organizations such as Blk in Data and Black Girls CODE who are working to bridge this gap. Be aware of your unconscious bias, if everyone you’re following looks like you, diversify your feed and amplify them. This applies to speaker events as well. In any community, people just want to be seen, heard, and feel like they’re a part of something and I think representation is a huge part of that accessibility. Bonus: Watch the Data + Diversity sessions from TC-ish ’20 & the other sessions since!
AM: You are such a talented person with such a rich set of skills not just limited to analysis and dataviz. What skills are you looking to enhance outside of those and what role do you believe dataviz will have in your career?
DA: The pandemic really made me realize that I spend a lot of time upskilling, working, and studying. I’m really excited to take these few months before I start work to relax, spend more time with my family, and for once not focus so much on working on something or being “productive”. But I’m always looking to enhance my cooking and public speaking skills. I could not be happier to start my career with Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory later this year! In a perfect world, my dream job would be doing Makeover Monday and getting paid for it. All jokes aside, I’m excited to leverage my data viz skills in my career in whatever way that might be. I now know that you can have a career in data viz, five years ago I wouldn’t have known that is a possibility. As a sophomore, my five-year plan was that: “I want to be happy and make sure my career and personal life involve giving back to the community. I want to be a financial analyst and work for a Fortune 500 company, really make an impact on people’s lives and in business, while paving the way for those who come behind me.” Plans change, my passions have evolved (wink wink data viz), but I know that I still want to make an impact in whatever I do, so we’ll have to see what my journey holds!
AM & PP: Who are your ‘go-to’ people you always seek out in our community for vizpiration and what are your favorite vizzes of theirs?
DA: I have hundreds of favorites on Public so this is super hard, the community is filled with inspiration!
- Chantilly Jaggernauth (@chanjagg): Chantilly has such an eye for simple but effective design that doesn’t take away from the story. Her seamless integration of icons and color is something that I’ve admired since I started! One of my favorites is her Median Wages for Union and Non-Union Members viz.
- Evelina Judeikytė (@evelinajud): Evelina’s style focuses on clarity and consistency, which is easy to see from her profile. I love the simplicity of her vizzes and she’s a whitespace/layout queen! My favorite from her is #Viz5 Freedom of Movement.
- Ghafar Shah (@GhafarShah9): Ghafar has curated such a unique design style that I love. All of his vizzes have a way in which the colors just pop and work so well. My favorite has to be his Fresh Prince Bel-Air viz.
- Sarah Bartlett (@sarahlovesdata): I would seriously pay for prints of Sarah’s vizzes! I’m a huge fan of her infographic style vizzes that tell a story so beautifully. One of my all-time favorite vizzes is her Stormzy viz.
- Priya Padham (@p_padham): The woman, the myth, the legend. I think she’s on everyone’s inspiration list. When it comes to long-form vizzes, layout, and design Priya’s profile is my go-to! My favorite by her is #MakeoverMonday | Safe Houses in Tanzania.
- Chimdi Nwosu (@menscuriosa): I always look forward to Chimdi’s Makeover Mondays. His color choices and design are always elegant but impactful! One of my favorites is his MM WK 41 — Data Assets and Culture Survey viz.
- Soha Elghany (@s0_s0el): I’m always blown away by Soha’s work and her ability to incorporate strong analysis and design for impactful topics that aren’t discussed often! One of my many favorites is her US Gun Epidemic viz.
- Judit Bekker (@juditbekker): Judit ran with design so we could walk as her creativity is out of this world! Her Modern Family viz has my heart.
PP: What music do you enjoy listening to when vizzing?
DA: I listen to everything! It can depend on what the vibe of the viz is. Anything from pop, alternative, hip hop, afrobeat, to k pop or lo-fi. A few of my favorites include Surfaces, Khalid, Ariana Grande, DAY6, Beyonce, Bastille, Lizzo, and The 1975. 90s/2000s pop and Disney jams have a special place in my heart too!
AM: Please share a guilty pleasure or fun fact that many readers may not know about you?
DA: I’ve been blessed with such a rich culture with delicious food. My guilty pleasure has to be these Ghanaian snacks. On the left, is chin chin (chips), which is basically fried pastry chips. They can either be sweet or salty, Lays Potato chips has nothing on chin chin. On the right is condensed milk toffee, which is a super sweet candy. Making toffee is no joke, it’s easy but involves rolling hot toffee with your hands! (6)
The Tableau Fringe Festival just published a recording of Hunter Hansen (@InsertKABOOM) and my session on Neurodiversity & Data: Design & Diversity. We just participated on #VizConnect Friday covering the same topic. Feel free to check it out and also check out Hunter’s superb content on his YouTube channel.
“No Direction Home” is an engrossing documentary that focuses on peak Bob Dylan with plenty of context and an unusually candid Dylan and a slew of old friends and contemporaries. Martin Scorsese directed this and his passion for the subject of de-mystifying this legend and great music makes for a fascinating 3.5-hour watch.
Hüsker Dü was a pioneer of the American alternative music genre. They never really broke out into the mainstream and disbanded in 1988. “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” is a great angsty jam that jumps into my conscious when the frustrating situation of confusing ‘noise’ of conversations occur.
1) And for that, we’re fortunate.
2) This is when it begins to sound like an addiction. 😁
3) I cannot stress how helpful it is to our community and your engagement in the community to have a dataviz-focused account if you want the most of your Twitter #datafam experience.
5) Wow — such a great idea!
6) Yum! 😋