Let’s Keep This Between Us… What’s My Secret?
Only in recent years, I’ve unlocked my code. It involves finding a way to make an impact and being open to evolving.
Evolution #1: #DataFam Tadpole
When I started contributing to Tableau’s #DataFam community, I wanted to be a part of things, share insights, and learn to viz better. Instead, I vizzed poorly and frequently, slowly improving as I focused on ‘new’ techniques at work.
People followed me quickly, even though I could have rubbed some the wrong way as I was vocal. It was also a goal that, years in the future, I wanted to be a Tableau Ambassador, as shared in my 1st community interview in 2019 with Michael Sandberg (Twitter | Site).
Further growth came from collaborations with many people, including creating a blog to primarily interview other datafam members. Again, I wanted a way to contribute and shine a light on others who inspired me.
Vizzing, blogging, and collaborating were how I knew I could contribute, and I felt comfortable pushing out just that content for an extended period. Until the 1st ping of growth started the itch to transform.
Evolution #2: Leadership
I never thought of myself as a ‘leader’ or an influencer. The term ‘influencer’ disturbed me quite a bit.
As for leadership, I was always a good #2, well-informed advisor for years, but never allowed to become a leader. Most of that had to do with me; I never valued soft skills or human relationships — I just cared about proving myself technically and never understood why people who I thought of as ‘phony’ got promoted even if their technical skills were mediocre to average.
My initial leadership opportunities came from watching people in our community, understanding the importance of interpersonal skills, and saying ‘yes’ when someone asks to work with them.
In early 2020, I decided I would start opening my mind to engage with potential opportunities. Right after, Sagar Kapoor (Twitter | YouTube) reached out to have me be part of his VizConnect team. Before that, I took a break from the community and had no idea how I would contribute, so this came at the right time, and it was super fun to collaborate, help host, and find speakers when time permitted.
A couple of months later, I became a Tableau Ambassador. It meant a lot, especially as a Social Ambassador, because I happened to turn a significant weakness into one of my most vital strengths.
I continued to do a lot of the same things I did earlier but wanted to help mentor people. At that time, I was mentoring several people and helped launch the re-tooled MentoringMeetup (initially with Mark Bradbourne (Twitter | Site) and Vinodh Kumar (Twitter | Tableau Public).
I continued to collaborate and most often with a person I considered a ‘graduate mentee’ at the time — Priya Padham (Twitter | Site). In addition, we continued working on blogs interviewing community members (which we hope to relaunch later this year as a separate blog).
There was still a disconnect between me and being a leader who changed when announced as the Michael W. Cristiani Leadership Award winner at The Vizzies. While my dear friend, Kevin Flerlage (Twitter | Site), introduced the winner with a heartfelt message, it sounded like he was describing someone like me, but not me. So when he said my name and announced I had won, I could not believe it. But it was at that point that my contribution focus began to shift.
In early 2021, when Zen Masters were announced, I wasn’t one of them or anyone who represented me (a person who was publicly neurodiverse), which upset me. I had no idea it was my goal until I got selected or didn’t even get a notification to build a case based on others’ nominations. Honestly, I wasn’t worthy of the nod. I knew I had a skillset, but my community contributions focused on working on my weakest skills.
Evolution #3: Mastery and Thought Leadership
Even with all the accolades, I never received a personal visualization of the day. I did not develop visualizations that intended to be. However, I got an opportunity to expose business work publicly when I started working for Keyrus US as their Tableau Evangelist. Not only that, I had the chance to upskill and have a niche mastery of Tableau and Einstein Discovery.
While with Keyrus, I earned three VOTDs in the 2nd half of 2021, two with Keyrus and one personal. At the time, it was a goal to help Keyrus achieve a VOTD. Business Dashboards rarely receive VOTDs. When they were, they were executive-focused and unrealistic business use cases for anyone besides an executive. So it was an honor when not only Keyrus was the 1st partner since Lovelytics to get one (which was over a year prior), but also to expose actual business use cases to the greater community. It made me even prouder that these were collaborative visualizations with talented teammates. In the seven months I worked there, I averaged a weekly visualization (either a remake, new solo visualization, or a collaborative visualization as I ran their Public profile) and tripled the followers on their Tableau Public site. It was the most frequent public visualization I ever did.
Besides that, in my role with Keyrus, I consciously modified my content as I was finally comfortable being a thought leader. My blogs focus more on evergreen content that could help a broader range of people. I was not interested in writing tutorials or interviewing people; I just wanted to share insight and help as many people as possible. I did this through my blog and by joining the Data Leadership Collaborative.
Oddly enough, as I was becoming what would become a Visionary, it was becoming less of a personal goal, but I applied and wanted to become one because it was great for Keyrus.
By the time I found out earlier this year, I had already left Keyrus and joined Moderna. I was concerned I could not contribute. Many personal overhauls were happening, including a challenging job of helping build a CoE, relocating to another part of the country, and general fatigue. Despite that, I did not close doors on opportunities.
Evolution #4: Present and Future
My goals are entirely different now than in 2019. I want to use the network I built (with the help of giants who preceded me) to make the maximum impact. As an outsider nearly my entire life, I identify most with under-represented people — I may look like a lot of privileged people, but my autism made me different and its related anxiety made me think people picked up that there was something ‘off about me’. However, I cannot really ever pretend to understand what its like to be the people I try to amplify; their experience is not familiar to me, but I know there are many more struggles that I cannot comprehend. I want to help bridge that gap as much as possible. Other platinum objectives include advocating for our community to Tableau, bridging community language barriers, gender, and ethnic gaps, and potentially expanding beyond the tool to reach and support others.
My evolution means a lot less of the stuff I used to do in the past will be shared with content gaps (primarily visualizing in public) but focused on longer, more substantive projects supporting many more people. It may result in losing Visionary status after this cohort, but that’s okay. Even though it’s an incredible honor, some things are more important to me than titles or even intellectual property; especially as I age, positive influence is (even if I’m not personally remembered years from now).
Many contributors provide predictable skilled content and evolve alongside the product but never really fork. That’s appreciable + an effective way to build skills, a brand, and an audience. Many people need and love that predictability, and I do as well with those that do it well. It’s a much harder path, though, as it takes a special person to be that driven to a singular mission and pursue that indefinitely.
For me, I cannot do that. I get bored and tired. I never want my contributions to feel like work. Not evolving is inauthentic for me — especially when I’m happy, open, and inspired to grow. Periods that I have not shifted are when I’ve been miserable.
There’s room for all of us in our incredible community, and it’s the type of spice needed to make it intriguing for a wider audience.
Find your path. Learn what you want to do and push forward. You will be shocked at how quickly it can provide joy, sense of accomplishment, and the large impression you can stamp on others.