The (ish) Experience: My 1st Tableau Conference

Adam Mico
12 min readOct 11, 2020

2020 Adam to 2018 Adam

Adam of two years ago was an anti-social friendless grump looking for any avenue to avoid personal interaction. He loathed any sort of networking, ideas exchanged and if he visited any sort of conference, he would be sat in the back and walking away from the venue during breaks. People and he were at odds; he never fit in, felt confident, or felt wanted. Telling ‘that’ Adam in two years you would find a community that he not only wanted to participate, but was obsessed with the people, their stories, and be considered some sort of a leader who helps build a large community by way of being an engaging force would have been absolutely shocking to him. (1)

Back to 2020 Adam

Being autistic doesn’t mean you hate people or can’t ‘act’ normal, for me, it means I have limitations, but those limitations are much more easily managed when a soft landing space is available. Much of the limitations have been rigidly calloused for years due to rejection, awkwardness, and self-preservation (being ‘me’, was not usually welcome). The #datafam has given me that pillowy surface to fully dive in and be a part of everything and Hunter Hansen’s (Twitter | Blog | YouTube) dedicated autism acceptance advocacy helped paved the way for me to be ok with me.


I pre-arranged for the week off and wasn’t going to give up on it. I have significant restrictions on what I could tolerate interaction-wise, but can stretch them with a lot of preparation and finding purpose.

My plan was to be active on brain dates to engage with our community and help them help themselves. To do that, I made myself available for one on ones — I thought that it would result in 5 braindates max, but to my horror, it went up to 19 (but in the end, three canceled or rescheduled after the conference).

It absolutely scared me; I hid my one on ones for a while. Before the conference, I talked to a few people and Kevin Flerlage (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public)(2) said it will be a ‘runner’s high’. I haven’t run enough to get high in years and thought, ok… bud. He’s an introvert, so maybe there’s something to it and kept an open mind while silently freaking out. 30 minutes of talking to anyone is a marathon to me and wears me out physically. I started off super awkward with a person I really respected Anjushree (Twitter | Tableau Public) — but she was cool — it really helped me relax and we could focus on the topic and have a lot of fun. I mean by the end of the 30 minutes, I’m like, ‘she can be a great buddy of mine’. I had a few more back to back and they were all great and because of their interest and engagement in talking about self-enhancement strategies in our community and me being able to share information, I was super energized. I found when I didn’t have brain dates, I was scrambling to join others and whatnot. The collective groups who are so passionate about all things dataviz just was all the battery I needed. I then looked to push myself further. I HATE big groups and felt super awkward in them initially (a problem of mine when engaged, it’s hard for me to turn off my mouth switch, so not being the chatterbox started draining my battery a little), but learning to ease my way back in with smaller groups and allowing others to lead gave me a fresh perspective too.

The next big Zoom I experienced was #IronViz. Yes, it was pre-recorded, but the production was so good and suspenseful, it added a unique perspective to the experience. Each came up with very different winning vizzes on their own. I’m old, so much of the text was difficult to read, but the charting, analysis, and stories were fascinating. I had my personal preference, but each could be argued as a winning entry and that’s part of the fun (congratulations Christian Felix).

After that, a few more brain dates, I was open to push myself with more zoom stuff. The experience got better and felt a little less awkward for me. I was happy when APAC (or Asia-Pacific) crew invited me to join because there was a number I never met. The crew was a little smaller, but so much fun I was fully alert at 3 AM to hang out and chat with them. I was just so happy to meet awesome people I never had a chance to really chat with before (and I am a superfan of), so it was just an amazing experience. It propelled me to the last day of the conference.

Chipper at APAC and enjoying Caroline’s finger guns

Everything was great the entire day, just repeating the great with more incredible braindates and chatter about #TC20, but was awaiting the fun of Tableau Tips!

I am a superfan of Zen Masters Jeffrey Shaffer (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) (3) and Lorna Brown (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) and other great community members who share great Tableau tips. I’m self-taught. Years of experience with the tool has given me the opportunity to get to the end line of where I need to go, but these incredible tips usually make it so much easier. Jeffrey and Lorna also made it crazy fun and hectic (in a good way) as they always do. Here is the workbook!

Next up was The Vizzies (a community award show by the community at The Tableau Conference each year). Last year it turned out to be an unexpected big deal for me. This year, I was hoping to sit back and celebrate the winners. As I saw the nominees, I was especially proud the four people I actively mentor made such an impact so quickly they were nominated for The Vizzies (Alison Pitt, Pawan Sachdeva, Priya Padham, and Sedale McCall). They each are very different people and work with me very in their own ways, but are such talented and essential members of our community.

Pawan Sachdeva

(Twitter | Tableau Public)

Pawan was my 2nd serious mentee and is now one of my best friends. He was just an incredible talent and let me know that it was me and Kevin Flerlage who inspired him to join our community. I saw his passion and desire to be part of this and work toward being the best he could be. He worked incredibly hard, staying up all night on many nights completing a viz because he just wanted to push himself to his limits on design and analysis. His efforts paid off as he was named to the last cohort Tableau Public Featured author and was nominated for a ‘Notable Newbie’ and ‘Biggest Growth’ Vizzies. He is the mentee I spend the most time with strategizing data viz design and ideas, but he is the one that implements all of those ideas and is so good at coming up with them on his own. He is so good now, I have very little to offer except… maybe that tooltip needs tidying or some of the small things anyone with a 2nd set of eyes can offer.

Sedale McCall

(Twitter | Site| Tableau Public)

He doesn’t need a lot of guidance, he is a person who inspires a lot of people by speaking and creating impactful vizzes. He wrote a great piece as a guest author on this blog on certifications. Based on his curiosity, desire to improve, and potential impact, I really wanted to work with him. He has since gone on to further find his voice and cannot wait to see what his future holds for him. Congratulations on your nomination for ‘Notable Newbie’!

Alison Pitt

(Twitter | Site| Tableau Public)

She is an analyst through and through and was a fan of her blog because it approaches dataviz differently than just a design focus — her focus on the data end is a big deal for those that want to be analysts. She has worked on many projects and pushes herself to get the most of the community and what it has to offer. Her design has improved rapidly and she is just getting started. Check out her blog and YouTube channel to follow her growth. Congratulations on your nomination for ‘Data Do-Gooder’!

Priya Padham

(Twitter | Site| Tableau Public)

Priya was the 1st mentee I worked with who stuck it out. She quickly became my best friend. In general, she is very shy, had imposter syndrome, was very hesitant to engage more than Twitter, and wanted to hold back a little on vizzing (if it wasn’t what she thought was perfect). I did help a couple of bits of analysis and as a second set of eyes, but the design and application of it are all her own. She rarely even shared the actual viz for feedback (just a dang picture). What she needed was coaching and a trusted friend in the community who always had her back and tried to break down the walls that existed. I was able to help her in those ways and was always just super proud of her. I just knew and hoped she would be the person who would end up who would take “Notable Newbie”. When the nominees were announced and I saw her name come up, I was so choked up — I get choked up sometimes when listening to music, but nothing like this. She did it and did it 99% of her own with 0.75% community support, and 0.25% my support. I was just so elated and saw her reaction because I know she did not expect this and has never won any sort of award, so I know that was so otherworldly for her. Other awards came up and many of my friends continued to get nominated and many won and I was happy (see the blog post here on all nominees and winners). The last award was the Michael W. Cristiani Community Leadership Award.

Michael Cristiani

On my second day with the community, I read this interview from Michael Sandberg (Twitter | Site) covering Christina Gorga (Twitter | Tableau Public) as I was researching it to wrap my head around the culture (see post). Not only did I admire Christina, but I admired this community based on the legacy shared here covering Michael. He possessed the skills that were my weakest. I still struggle with patience with people but can organize and do some stuff. But he did it all with class and humility and Christina was a great example of his mentorship based on what I saw (and continue to see of her). This made me really want to work hard on these skills because as he did before, I really wanted to pay it forward. I never thought in a million years at that point or even now that people would seriously consider me as anywhere near worthy and I didn’t think I had the capacity.

Fast forward a year later and I am nominated. I did not think I had a chance at winning, but I was super excited to have several nominations and cheer for the real winners. This is the only potential award that would be more personal and less fun, it represents my entire life of personal failure, and being on that nomination board tells me, I can be impactful and helpful to people — that was more than enough.

Kevin started sharing his story of winning last year [and I knew my dear friend Sarah Bartlett (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) won the prior year]. He then started describing my story and I was thinking he was describing Brian Moore (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) or Zach Bowders (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) (the person I nominated) somehow and not me. It was more and more familiar, but I was still thinking it wasn’t me. When the name was announced and people congratulated me on our live Zoom watch party, I was still listening to Kevin (maybe my wifi was like 30 seconds behind). I looked up and saw Priya tearing up and people congratulating me on this truly remarkable honor — for the 1st time, I felt that I was beginning to be a decent human being and it made me choke up — maybe it’s the 1st time I ever felt truly human in a very long time. I couldn’t talk which most people realize is very rare for me, but the love I felt was so overwhelming that I couldn’t really express what it meant to me because I had nothing to compare it to because it was so much more than an award for me.

It proved something to myself. Even with empathy disabilities, need for space, and history of not fitting in or knowing how to contribute unless I had a solution… with dedication, goals, and self-awareness, even I can excel at something that would have been normally out of my reach for the prior 45 years. I still have so much work to do, but it is so encouraging that even someone who over a little over a year ago was a friendless angry hermit who bristled at the thought of connecting. It means so much that this collection of people who I admire so deeply has accepted me — it propels me to push myself in this previously unfeasible direction. Even without earning this award, I cannot thank you enough because you inspire me every single day and added hope and personal purpose to my life. My main future goal is simple on the surface, but will not spend the rest of my life trying to apply; it’s to never let down the legacy of Michael W. Cristiani or those that have earned the award before me and after me.

Thank you to Emily Kund (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) and Matt Francis (Twitter | Site| Tableau Public) for coordinating a huge event for our community by our community. Their commitment to celebrating us is such a huge blessing and cannot thank you enough for producing the highlight of everyone’s conference.


These thoughts are personal and do not represent Tableau or Salesforce thoughts in any way…

  • This was the 1st inclusive Tableau conference. It was free, so people did not have to drop everything to participate. That with the lineup and activities brought such great and sustained energy throughout the conference. We need to strive to maintain that excitement year-round with more virtual networking opportunities.
  • Although the last conference had a ton of great live feeds, the next conference should incorporate a similar virtual environment. I can’t imagine how expensive it was to create this virtual environment, so I would not expect it to be free… but it will be great to see a stronger virtual conference presence for years to come.
  • Braindates are a conference highlight. It’s an incredible opportunity to meet new people in a one on one or small group environment. There is something for everyone.
  • Tableau/Salesforce + the community really came through to make the experience unforgettable. Hats off to everyone who worked very long hours to make this a great event for everyone.

Binge Bite

This binge bite is easy — it’s the Tableau Conference(ish) playlist. As they upload more conference videos, this playlist will expand with it. Give it a watch when you can.

Music Morsel

I just couldn’t get enough of our datafam and #tc20 / #data20, so this is the 1st song that popped in my head post-conference (mostly for the title).


1. Nod to empathy queen and Zen Master Bridget Cogley (Twitter | Site | Tableau Public) for suggesting me to talk to past me, but suggesting it. She is someone I truly respect and admire a great deal.

2. Because Kevin needs more notifications :cackles_wildly:.

3. Thank you so much Jeffrey for your kind share on Twitter after The Vizzies. It really was very kind and I cannot begin to say how honored I am that I can call you a friend. Besides being a great leader, you are an amazing teacher, and an incredible community advocate.



Adam Mico

Data Visualization and Enablement Leader | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member | Tableau Visionary + Ambassador | Views are my own