An Interview with Judit Bekker (Tableau Featured Author)
A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the data viz-making process, #datafam member interviews, Viz of the Week & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).
This week we feature a candid and insightful interview with the engaging Tableau Featured Author Judit Bekker (@judkacag) + Marc Reid (@marcreid), a Tableau Zen Master + Tableau Public Ambassador, has our Viz of the Week!
Judit has burst on to the data viz community scene like few have before her. Within a couple months activity, she became a Tableau Featured Author. She works with Starschema — a firm that employs some of the best data visualizers/designers in the world (1) — Judit is no exception. Besides that, she is a wonderful supporter of the community and feeds as inspiration to so many aspiring data vizzers.
Adam Mico (AM): Hi Judit. I’m excited to chat with you. So much has happened for you in the community since you were selected Viz of the Week on this blog. What were some of the most exciting opportunities you had in the last couple of months with Tableau and the analytics community?
Judit Bekker (JB): Yes, a lot has happened and I’m still processing it. I’m sure a lot of us have an impostor syndrome in the community and I’m not an exception either. The most jaw-dropping thing was when I received an email that I was selected as a Tableau Featured Author. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I read it 3 times, then asked a friend if he saw the same.
I had a Vizconnect session on how to use Tableau and Illustrator together and held a lecture at the Berlin TUG about the visual crimes I made in the past years. Some weeks ago I wrote a guest blog post about my creative process on Rajeev Pandey’s (@rajvian) blog.
I also made this who’s behind the viz graph, that some others followed along with and I loved all of them. It’s so great to see who’s the person behind the vizzes we see on Twitter and Tableau Public.
AM: What have those opportunities meant to you?
JB: I’m grateful for all the opportunities I had and hope they keep coming in the future if I continue working hard for it. However, I also feel a little scared because I only have these 2–3 topics to cover and it’s giving me the creeps to become a one-man circus doing the same roadshow until the end of time. I’ll try to come up with new stuff to write and talk about, but I don’t want to keep repeating myself because it even bores the hell out of me. (2)
I have severe social anxiety, the people close to me know that I’m a mushy lump of fun, but I have trouble opening up to strangers. These webinars I presented at recently eased this up a little bit, even though it’s something I have to carry on living with. One thing for sure, that I’ve never seen a more welcoming and positive community as the datafam. (3)
AM: Did you need to confront any of your fears in the process? If so, please explain how you were able to overcome those fears?
JB: My biggest fears in life, that I’ll run out of ideas or I’ll face something I don’t have an opinion about (and pigeons). I always wanted to be different from others, that’s why I like to do original things. To visualize something that hasn’t been done before involves a lot of work as it means manual data collection in 98% of the cases. A few years back I had the idea to create a Barbie network, so I was searching through the Barbie Wiki Fandom page for more than a week to gather the information and make this one chart.
Luckily, the last time I felt bored was around the age of 6 and my head is crammed with plans, but there are some periods where my brain feels like a desert of ideas. And that’s okay, it’s only natural. To keep them coming I read, watch, observe and the flood will come eventually.
My biggest source of inspiration comes from our very own division of fun (see photos below). We have such creative energy with these guys that I’m surprised the office hasn’t exploded yet. Very recently I made a Cookbook in Tableau, and this idea hit me when I was asking the group for new recipes. The guy on the picture disguised as Goldilocks is not only my friend but happens to be my manager as well. I guess 75% of where I am now is thanks to me being able to sit for endless hours before a computer and 25% to him having my back. Snowwoman Júlia Borsi is a Data Visualization Expert herself, make sure to follow her incredible work on Twitter as @juliaborsi and Tableau Public!
(…also these are the faces I make 89% of the time.)
AM: Please explain your journey on how you became a dataviz designer? Reviewing your educational background, you studied political science, so that appears to be an unusual starting point for a data vizzer .
JB: I have been a big nerd since the day I was born. The picture on the right I recreated as a gift for Mother’s Day this year and my mom liked it so much, that chances are I never have to buy flowers again.
I had good grades in all subjects at high school, but I didn’t have any exceptional talent. One day we came across a colleague of my mother on the street and she told my mom:
“This kid is so smart, she could be anything. Except for a political scientist, because that can only be men.”
Political science it is! — I decided. That defiance still lives within me, I have this urge to constantly prove that there are no barriers if you want to achieve something. This can be pretty exhausting and pointless sometimes, but I still list this among my best features.
I don’t really care about politics and I knew I wanted to work with data since I was 20. For my thesis, I built a database (sitting countless hours at the library of the Parliament) from information according to the local newspapers on where the prime minister candidates showed up personally between the 2 rounds of the elections in 2006 and 2010. I wanted to know how we can quantify the personal brand of politicians.
After earning my BA degree I started working for a governmental department in Hungary, but soon realized it’s not for me. 2.5 years later I got a job at Nielsen where I learned the basics of data analysis and I can never be grateful enough for them to give me this opportunity. Then I switched to trade marketing at Unilever and lasted for a little bit of more than a year there. Who would have thought that as an introvert I don’t have the stomach to work with salespeople? …I should have!
I spent my happiest years at Mondelez where I finally found my place as a regional Consumer Insight Analyst for love brands like Milka, Oreo, and Belvita. This is the only FMCG company I would ever consider returning to, but unfortunately big multinational firms like this lag behind on technological progress. I decided to learn Tableau, Power BI, and SQL after hours and started experimenting with infographics. This was a tough time, I was sitting at the computer 12 hours a day, but totally worth it. And now I work as a Dataviz Expert, so the rest is history.
AM: Who have been some of your biggest design and art influences before working with Tableau & how have they shaped your design application?
JB: I’m not sure I can mention anyone specifically. I have an open eye for the world and the culture I consume forms me without even noticing. I’ve read more than 300 books in the past 10 years, I can watch series all day and spend countless hours biking and observing my surroundings for new ideas. I have favorite illustrators (Gemma Correll, Catana Comics), artists (Rebu Ceramics — ceramics, Prizmu — graffiti, Herzeigen — tattoo, Sean Charmatz — visual art, Verkstaden — designer), directors (Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Damien Chazelle) and it’s an ever-growing list.
AM: What are some of the favorite visualizations you have seen created in Tableau and what did you learn from them?
JB: I’m already sweating my pants off, that I might leave out someone, so I won’t even try! I love everything the Flerlage twins do, they are the biggest out of the box thinkers I’ve ever seen. The blog post they wrote about LOD calculations is among my top 10 reads. Somewhere between Harry Potter and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Zach Bowders is like a dataviz brother from another mother to me. Have you seen the stuff he’s doing? (4) That guy just can’t make a mistake and has such a similar style & taste to mine.
If I only had one wish, 67% that it would be to be able to make such beautiful maps as Soha Elghany. And I just can’t go without mentioning Eric Balash, who makes awesome vizzes and as an introvert, I admire his social skills and the way he carries the community of Featured Authors — and many more — on his shoulders.
If I have to choose my favorite Tableau visualizations, I would name four that have one thing in common: simplicity. I’m a big fan of minimal design and these examples excelled at doing it.
Yuck by Samuel Parsons
Joy Division by Spotify Insights
Robert Wyatt: Different Every Time by David Hoskins
World Happiness Report by Tamás Varga
AM: What are a few things you really want to improve on for the future in relationship to data visualization?
JB: What I really need to work on is my technical skills. I’m not afraid to write it down that I haven’t even played around with parameter actions and Tableau just released 2020.2. I’m more interested in visual design and a lot of things I want to show can be pushed back to Illustrator. But I have to find a balance and a healthy time split between putting my creative energies on canvas and learning new things.
AM: What are some tips you can share to those that want to start data visualization and/or join a community of data visualizers?
JB: To have the patience to bake it till you make it. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade now and only very recently have I become satisfied with the work I’m doing. Two weeks ago I made a complete public self-shaming presentation at the Berlin TUG where I showed some of the visual crimes I’ve committed on the way.
I think it’s essential to look back on the stuff you made in the past to be able to learn, but also not to beat yourself up about it. I’m proud of all the stupid mistakes I had because they led me here.
AM: Please share a guilty pleasure or a fun fact about you.
JB: I have so many that I can’t even choose! Okay, I doodle over photos I take. (5)
Viz of the Week
Marc’s viz captured many spectacular data visualization attributes. It provides digestible bits of insight, many clever tricks to add beauty and even managed to elevate the long-derided pie chart. There were many spectacular and inventive vizzes this week, but Marc’s creation is a nerd-erific gallery piece! This image doesn’t do it justice, so click on it to access its interactive version.
Please do yourself another favor and check out his blog which elegantly captures his inspiration, tools and their use in the viz.
Every once in a while, I need to binge on Belle and Sebastian. This track is a little different from their usual output — “Waiting for the Moon to Rise” was written and sung by Sarah Martin. It’s not as well known as some of their biggest hits, but it has its own sublime vibe due to her wispy vocal, the band’s beautiful orchestral accompaniment & ethereal production.
Judit recommended this series to me. I’m only two episodes in and love it. I’m not really into science fiction, but this is a different version of the genre that speaks to me. Unless it’s a fun action movie under a guise of science fiction (looking at you ‘Total Recall’), I prefer worlds based in a semblance of reality. The slow-pacing, retro-futuristic vibe, well-thought soundtrack and how beautifully it’s shot adds to its luster, plausibility and enjoyment.
1) Yes, I’m a Starschema fan boy!
2) But many of us are happy witnessing the ‘hits’! :)
3) The one thing I felt from Day 1 with this community is there is no feeling of people willing you to fail. My past fears (or paranoia) have had more to do with that than anything else.
5) I have done this so many times in my head as many have, but these examples cracked me up!