Tableau Ambassador Meera Umasankar Interview & Spencer Baucke + Luke Stanke discusses our #VOTW on DVT

A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the 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 an enlightening and candid interview with Tableau Featured Author, Tableau Public Ambassador and Co-Leader of Singapore's #datapluswomen initiative… Meera Umasankar (@LosaniMeera) and I chat with #SportvizSunday’s co-founder Spencer Baucke (@JSBaucke) & Tableau Zen Master Luke Stanke (@lukestanke) as they collaborated to deliver fantastic visualization exposing Hollywood’s lack of diversity when awarding or nominating efforts on the silver screen.

Feature Interview

Meera is a blinding beacon of light in our wonderful #datafam community. She has a complex and busy career, but still shines her glow to our family any opportunity she has with joy, humility and care. Even more, she is active in many projects and initiatives — check out this interview as she shares much of that on Data Viz Thoughts!

Adam Mico (AM): Immediately following your completion of your Computer Engineering Degree from Middlesex University in London, you returned to India to work as a Software Engineer. What inspired you to move to Singapore and change your career from Software Engineer to analyst?

Meera Umasankar (MU): I got the opportunity to work in Singapore immediately after accepting my new job. I had visited Singapore many times and I know Singapore is one of the biggest markets in Asia, it is very clean and most secure than any other places in Asia. I accepted this opportunity without any second thoughts and my family was also supportive. Singapore is near to my home country which is just four hours of travel by air.

AM: At the time of this interview, you have 1,700 followers on Tableau Public. When was your 1st Tableau Public viz and how long did it take to reach 100 followers on Tableau Public?

MU: I remember publishing my 1st viz on Tableau Public in Nov 2017 and it was on a coffee dataset. I had collaborated and created this viz with another ex-colleague of mine for an internal data visualization competition within the organization and we were surprised to even win 2nd place for our visualization.

In 2019, Sarah Burnett (@sezbee) (my ex-boss) inspired me by her incredible work on the #MakeoverMonday project (more on this later). She completed all the 52 weeks of that project in 2018. I pushed myself a little to do something more than just my usual work and that’s when I got myself involved into some of the social data projects like Makeover Monday & #IronQuest.

I do not remember how long it took to reach 100 followers however, my active participation in these projects helped me to get recognized within the community.

AM: When people come into the community and see your work or the exceptional work of others and get scared or nervous about publishing content publicly, what advice would (or have you) shared with them?

MU: We all have been there; we all have been the newbies. To be honest, I’m an introvert and it took me some time and courage to step into the community. In the beginning I was truly intimidated by all the awesome stuff that the people in the community produced but within a few days I realized that being intimidated is definitely not going to help me, rather I took it as a source of inspiration. Once you run out of this fear… it’s so worth it!

People in the community are really helpful, providing constructive feedback (if you want) + are highly encouraging & motivating. There is no community like this & I’m glad to be part of it!

AM: You have integrated yourself in the Singapore analytics community as Singapore’s DataPlusWomen Co-Leader. How difficult was it to assimilate to Singapore’s culture and what helped you thrive to become a leader?

MU: When I started to get myself involved in the community, I loved how people in the US and Europe had a community for Women. I was intrigued by the work the community leaders did & how it impacted Women. So, I thought why not start a community in Singapore too. I spoke about this to one of my ex-colleagues Hansini (@datanme) & that’s how we started Data + Women community in Singapore. We had our first event at the end of 2018 and we’ve had 6 meetups since then.

Singapore being an Asian country, the culture is extremely different from the other side of the world. It is a struggle to get people involved socially and to be part of the bigger community. I was curious to know about how the leaders in the other countries gained traction and I found the right opportunity at the Tableau Conference last year and got myself involved in one of the brain dates for Data + Women. We were a group of 8–9 people, sharing their experience hosting this event in their country. I absolutely loved some of the ideas and it made me think on how they can be implemented in our Singapore community too. We are still hoping to improve our future events and to encourage more women to take their first step and share their data stories with us.

AM: What has your work with #DataPlusWomen taught you?

MU: Well, like me there are many other women who need help and constant motivation. I’ve always been in search for motivation and inspiration and I was lucky enough to have found them. Similarly, there are many women who need encouragement and this forum will help them to get inspired and maintain motivation. It helped to work towards my aspirations. It can be as simple as fear in public speaking. I feared presenting in front of large crowd, but being a leader of this community has helped me overcome this fear. I now want to encourage more women like me to step forward and network with other people in the data-related field.

AM: In the past year, you also became a Tableau Public Ambassador and Tableau Public Featured Author. There are only 30 Tableau Public Ambassadors world-wide. How has that accomplishment impacted you?

MU: Audrey Strohm (Tableau employee) reached out to me in June 2019, announcing that I’m a Tableau Public featured author. I was totally excited and was one of my first achievements in the Tableau community!

The very next month, I was reached out by Jonni Walker (@jonni_walker) from Tableau regarding Tableau Public Ambassador. I was over the moon when I heard this news from him & was an unbelievable news. Being an Ambassador is not what I aimed for however this was one of the biggest accomplishments last year. This has impacted me in every way. It has given me a motivation to do what I’ve been doing & also to give back more to this amazing community. It has also made me more responsible & to help people in need. I still can’t thank this community enough for nominating me and giving me such a huge honor.

AM: Speaking of Tableau Public, many of your data visualizations involve participating in the #MakeoverMonday project. Why should others participate in that project?

MU: Though I have been working on Tableau for more than 5 years, I never knew about the community until 2 years ago. I’ve always wanted to get into something outside of work and identify my passion. I’m so glad I found the amazing Tableau community and #MakeoverMonday project. Anybody who wants to get their skills improvised on data visualization should start with this project. This is an amazing initiative and would also like to thank Eva Murray (@TriMyData), Charlie Hutcheson (@CharlieHTableau) & former leader Andy Kriebel (@VizWizBi) for everything they do this community. Participating in this project has helped me grow in many ways; both professionally & personally.

  1. Efficient Data Visualizing — Constantly practicing and participating in this project for a year has had a huge impact on my day-to-day work. It has helped me working faster thereby immensely improving my turn around time

2. Door opens to new opportunities — I now have a strong Tableau Public profile that has helped me showcase my data visualization skills which was recognized and I was approached with many new opportunities. I’m incredibly excited about moving to a new role within a few days.

3. Discipline — I have become much more disciplined through my work with Makeover Monday, which has directly contributed to the advancement of my career.

AM: The diversity of the data sets is outrageous. How do you stay motivated to publish content when the data set isn’t something of interest to you?

MU: I’m glad you asked this! Initially, it was a lot of struggle to focus on topics that didn’t interest me. #MakeoverMonday topics are diverse and it can be about anything each week so it was something that I challenged to myself initially.

Sports is certainly not my thing and American sports, well… no way! I love challenges and that kept me going. If I’m not familiar with a topic, I take a deep dive into the data and analyze to learn more. I find it fascinating and helped me at work too. It’s the same at work, sometimes you may never know what data you might have to analyze.

AM: On the diversity topic. You managed to achieve a lot in an industry dominated by men. What are some of the things you learned along the way to help you become a star in the tech space?

MU: I think that the situation is changing. I see diversity as one of the important things that all the organizations are considering today. To be honest, it has been the other way around, where I have been motivated by more men than women in my earlier organizations. However, I’m sure its not the same situation everywhere.

Some of the things that I’ve learned are:

1. Let yourself out — Some women are really confined. As mentioned before, I was like them. We have to start somewhere and that somewhere can be letting yourself out of your comfort zones and speaking up.

2. Ask for help — I’m lucky enough to have found this amazing Tableau datafam and some of the amazing women whom I look up to. I admire their work and everything that they have achieved in their careers is remarkable. I always reach out to them if I need help.

3. Be confident and trust your abilities.

AM: If there was one data visualization you would share with a person unfamiliar with dataviz and needed to sway them to the viz dark side, what viz would you use and why?

MU: When it comes to designing a visualization, I always believe in two important aspects; simplicity & storytelling. This viz by Lindsay Betzendahl (@ZenDollData) does justice in every sense. Its an incredible piece of work that Lindsay has visualized for #IronQuest and #ProjectHealthViz projects for January 2020.

Lindsay Betzendahl — ‘Pregnant in Prison’ (click image to access the interactive viz)

AM: We all have our vices and some can be embarrassing whether it’s media (TV, movies or music), food or fashion. What is your guilty pleasure?

MU: Hoarding clothes! It’s really embarrassing to confess but yes my wardrobe is always over-stuffed! I do lots of shopping — that’s my only stress reliever. Its just so hard to get rid some of them considering the money that I spent on buying them. Sometimes it might not fit me, so I just keep dumping them thinking that it might fit me someday :) (1 & 2)

Viz of the Week

Spencer Baucke & Luke Stanke — ‘Oscars Still So White’ (click image to access the interactive viz)

Adam Mico (AM): From 1927–2018, based on the data, it appears that only 1.10% of the all black and African people were even nominated (108 of 9,842) and 1.09% winners (22 of 2,025). Even from 2010 to 2018, the percentages shifted to 2.39% and 2.76% respectively. What inspired you to visualize the data?

Luke Stanke (LS): For me it’s not what inspired me but who. A long, long time ago I was a teacher (the journey to that decision is another story). I had a few students who really wanted to go into acting but they didn’t see people that were like them. Kids (and adults for that matter) need to see others who are like them earning the most “prestigious” awards.

Spencer Baucke (SB): I knew I wanted to create a couple of visualizations in celebration of Black History Month, and with there being only one Black nominee for this year’s Academy Awards I thought it would be a fitting topic to help discussion around the Oscars and their lack of diversity.

AM: When unpacking the data, were there any surprising data bits that you did not anticipate after its processing?

LS: Those behind the camera: directors and cinematographers. Zero winners. It’s 2020.

SB: No Black man or woman won for a leading role during the entire 2010’s. Actually, more Black men and women won for leading roles in the 2000’s, with 3 Black men and 1 Black woman winning for leading roles during a stretch from 2001–2006.

AM: The design provides multiple techniques to visualize the inequity. At which point was it determined that packed bubbles and a timeline would add to the story?

LS: Ahh… the packed bubbles…

SB: Yea, I think the packed bubbles surprised us both with how well they worked in this use case. It definitely goes against a lot of the preconceived data viz rules out there, but I don’t mind going against the grain.

Just ask Luke (lol)

LS: We originally had the decade labels to the left of the packed bubbles. Pretty standard for a Tableau visualization. It felt out-of-balance and really read as Tableau. We wanted to make something that could read as if it was made in any tool, so moving the label to the center accomplished both challenges.

As for the timeline: we originally had a horizontal timeline near the top–it felt disconnected from the rest of the chart. We also had ample whitespace around the decade labels. So we just played around with the timeline in various forms until we landed on the current iteration. It’s easy to stick to conventional, out-of-the-box visuals but if you are going to really hit the story you have to think about how all the components come together to tell the whole story. Its not just data or chart type or spacing or mark type or color–its the whole thing.

AM: What made you decide to collaborate on this viz and what role(s) did each person contribute?

LS: We were both already interested in the same topic. We’ve collaborated before, too.

SB: We both are interested in talking about meaningful topics, plus Luke and I work really well together. We both bring the best out in each other. Neither of us are afraid to give each other honest feedback about the outcome of the viz.

LS: It’s a steel-sharpens-steel situation.

SB: It definitely is a steel-sharpens-steel situation. I want to collaborate with people who will push me and make me better, which is why I’ve enjoyed collaborating with people like Luke and Chantilly.

LS: We both came up with all the ideas together. To break down individual components would be a disservice to the partnership. Our styles are very different. Spencer will tell a frank story in the data while I’m an experimenter. I think this allows us to tell a clear story even while not using a “standard” design.

Music Morsel

Joji — Run

George ‘Joji’ Miller’s evolution from a gimmicky rap artist to a dynamic (new-fangled) art-pop artist is complete.

‘Run’ continues to show his evolution as a songwriter/arranger. As Joji slowly becomes more confident in his singing capabilities, this song features powerful falsetto and less production noise on the vocals. Also of note, his lyrics are increasingly relatable + the production combines slightly off-kilter r&b, pop and rock into a tapestry of ear candy.

The linked video is creative exploration of the lyrics, but without some of the gross-out or meme-able inputs applied in past videos.

Binge Bite

Man Vs. Snake is an inspirational documentary currently available for free on Amazon Prime. It covers the history of the 1st billion point arcade gamer (as a teen) and his attempt to reclaim his record many years and bowls of macaroni and cheese after the fact. This film is not just for retro gamers, but a great piece to motivate you on your journeys irregardless of its niche.

Footnotes

1) My wife has the same problem and secretly I do too. I especially identify with waiting to fit me part. I have clothes that were 50+ lbs ago in storage. I fully expect to wear them again. I would estimate at least 80% of my clothes are ones that I don’t currently fit into. Hopefully, in the not to distant future, I can get those duds out of mothballs because of my focus on exercising and eating healthier!

2) This leads into my weekly round-up of metrics vs. the health journey’s start (interactive viz here & last week’s blog here):

* Weight: 241.6 (-8.4 lbs or -3.36%)

* Waist Size: 42.3 (-0.7 inches or -1.6%)

* Calorie Intake: 1919 (-1081 or -36%)

* BMI: 33.7 (-1.7 or -4.8%)

* Resting Heart Rate: 69 (-9 or -11.58%)**

* Systolic Blood Pressure (upper): 122 (-12 or -9%)**

* Diastolic Blood Pressure (lower): 72 (-25 or -25.77%)**

** I do not expect the last three metrics to be consistently at these levels. The levels here are comparable to my prime health — I fully expect these to fluctuate, but hopefully the upper end reduces consistently as time ticks.

Keyrus US’ Tableau Evangelist and Tableau Ambassador | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member. | Views are my own | Co-Editor: Priya Padham