An Interview with Tableau Featured Author Michelle Frayman
A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the data viz-making process, #datafam member interviews & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).
Adam Mico (AM): I was intrigued to learn that your Bachelor’s Degree is in English, but it looked like your career origins had little directly to do with that degree. In college, what were your career plans?
Michelle Frayman (MF): Ha, it is funny but actually I started college as a Mechanical Engineer and thought I would build things that went into space. I spent 2 ½ years before differential equations and thermodynamics broke me. It is also possible that joining The Tufts Daily as a Layout Editor and later Production Manager had an impact too. The final nail was understanding that I learned best when I had a passion for what I was learning OR I could put it into immediate application. Fortunately data visualization combines both of those for me. Back to how I landed as an English major, it required the least credits. (1) I had a ton of required classes to catch up on, I always loved to read and many of my new friends from the paper were English majors so it was an easy choice to switch once I accepted what I was doing was not working.
AM: It looks like your 1st professional experience was as a systems analyst. How did you deal with the significant change in direction from arts to sciences + programming?
MF: I had experience with computers starting in high school, through engineering in college and then doing desktop layout on the computer at the paper. During the summers at college I had a couple of internships working with technology and got great experience that helped me get a job before graduation. My first job out of college was writing documentation for a small software company. I provided them technical support, built an Access database to track software bugs and put in their first network. I carried networking and database work through most of my jobs since then.
AM: Looking back, what was the environment like for women in tech when you began and what were some things that were great about tech in the 1990s vs. today?
MF: My first internship was for a large engineering firm in Houston, TX and I was the only woman on our floor other than the receptionists. The men mostly ignored me and did not seem to know what to make of me. My second internship was in NY in an IT department at a large consulting firm. The department was much more diverse and I learned a lot from everyone around. I have been lucky to work for many smart strong women who helped me improve my skills and move ahead in my career. I have also had many wonderful male bosses who did the same. The biggest challenge has been navigating the balance of being likable but standing up for myself to get credit for my work. The bar is higher for women and I had to do more than men to get the same opportunities. I also had to be careful I was not intimidating men when I knew more than they did. That actually seems worse later in my career than earlier but it may be that I was more junior and less competition.
AM: This seemed to kickstart your career in security. You jumped to a couple places focusing more on the security engineering end of IT. What was it about security that you really enjoyed?
MF: As organized and planful as I usually am my career path has not been planned at all. I like a good challenge and love learning new things that I can immediately apply. Technology and security in particular allow me to do both.
AM: Although working as a security engineer can have a light focus on data visualization, when did you start visualizing data purposefully and were you able to successfully apply it to your work?
MF: I did some data analytics work at my last job working for a hospital in Boston focusing on HIPAA and security compliance. Most of the visualizations have been at my current job. I got my LEAN/Six Sigma Green Belt in 2014 and used analytics and visualization as part of the program. It combined my technical skills with my favorite parts of layout and design. I spent more and more time on visualization projects and now it is my full-time role.
AM: When did you begin working with Tableau and please explain your 1st experiences with the application?
MF: About four years ago we were looking at different tools to visualize data in our department. I was able to accomplish more in a half an hour than I had been able to do in a month with the prior tool. I was hooked!
AM: When did you begin to create public visualizations on Tableau Public and explain the 1st visualization published?
MF: My first Tableau Public visualization was for #MakeoverMonday week 42 in November 2018. I published it right before heading to #TC18. (2) The topic was gender representation over time in the US House of Representatives. I really want to find the time to go back and re-do it having learned so much but there always seems to be something new to work on instead.
AM: What prompted you to become part of the social media community and was that a difficult step for you?
MF: To participate in #MakeoverMonday I had to stop lurking and start posting in Twitter. That was really hard for me to do as I had always tried to keep a pretty low profile. Throughout #TC18 I felt like I was missing something big as I was having a hard time connecting with people. That changed the last day at Fanalytics. There were inspiring talks from everyone and my table made a pact to publish one viz in the next month and keep each other accountable. I started following more people and decided to just jump in on the conversations. At first I felt like I was not really a part of things and maybe was doing it wrong but people responded really positively. I also decided to do #MakeoverMonday every week in 2019 so people started to see more of my posts and started following me.
AM: What were some of the projects and blogs that have inspired you and what have they done to promote your learning and confidence as a data visualizer?
MF: As previously mentioned #MakeoverMonday had a huge impact. I have also tried to participate in #IronQuest and #ProjectHealthViz regularly. I love having more time and more opportunity for creativity with those projects. Lastly I joined #TheFeedbackLoop run by Josh Smith (@data_jackalope) last year and got wonderful feedback from a number of people who participated. This year Josh passed the group over to myself, Michelle Gaudette (@LearnVizWithMe) and Erik Rettman (@VizAllDay). The biggest blog that has had an impact on how I think about what I am visualizing has been Bridget Cogley’s (@WindsCogley).
AM: You are now a Tableau Public Featured Author / Ambassador. How did that feel to be one of the few people globally to be recognized for their work as a Tableau Public content creator?
MF: Frankly I was shocked, honored and amazed. It feels wonderful to have my hard work recognized. I am not the best but I am earnest wanting to improve. I try to be a positive presence in the community and to lift up everyone regardless of whether they are well known or not. That is how we got to know each other initially and I am grateful to have you as a friend as well. (3)
AM: What advice have you learned that you want to share for people new to the community or lurking on sidelines that haven’t fully committed?
MF: Just do it! (4) Jump in and be part of the conversation. It is hard but it is an incredibly welcoming community. I was afraid people would think I was jumping in where I did not belong but I was wrong. It does not matter what your skill level, everyone has something to add to the conversation.
AM: Please explain your guilty pleasure?
MF: My guilty pleasure is teenage drama movies. One of my all-time favorite movies is “Clueless”. It is also a modern(ish) day retelling of Emma written by one of my favorite authors — Jane Austen though Pride and Prejudice was my favorite of her novels.
I miss you lots.
For two weeks prior to #StayAtHome, I took a social media break. It was during this time, I was feeling weirdly tired and depressed. As an aspie, since this mindset has got me into trouble before, I isolate rather than spread darkness over my friends on Social Media. When I was ready to come back to Social Media, the pandemic alarms and new anxiety attacks pushed me to further isolation.
This period has made me feel like I missed out on so much. I love seeing how the datafam community is glowing up to keep spirits high during #StayAtHome.
In my line of work, it’s super busy and daytime participating isn’t really an option… but am psyched seeing all of the virtual learning and hangout opportunities offered. Those of us with jobs and health right now are super fortunate and I certainly don’t (and won’t) take that for granted.
Just because some of the community members are quieter (for now), realize we are still here, but need to adjust to daily life while juggling more or different responsibilities.
Please reach out to me via DM if you want to chat, but realize it may take a bit for me to get back to you. Also, let me know if you would like a weekend or an early morning virtual coffee talk and would dig being a part of that with you.
During stressful times, I tend to navigate to very obscure 1980s pop attempts. This one is from Stacey Q’s band SSQ (she was known later for ‘Two of Hearts’). In my opinion this track is much more appealing (and less annoying) than the one she is best known.
This is the perfect trash docuseries to take your mind off of current issues and fears for a few hours. At best, there are very flawed protagonists and it’s clear that it was published with a loose grip on many facts to create a narrative, but it’s an addictive WTF sundae.
1) This bit made me chuckle because that’s how I ended up with political science.
2) I really hope we can have #TC20. I’m very concerned about the pandemic, but the conference would give our community something to look forward to.
3) Michelle has been so helpful for me when I started out and took time to help me understand the community a little more when I did not quite get how it worked. I’m thankful that she’s my friend and continues to have a large community impact.
4) Nike please don’t be litigious.
5) I took a diet break for a bit, but will resume with my next grocery trip.