An Interview with Thi Ho (Tableau Featured Author 2020 and Tableau Social Ambassador)

A weekly blog about the ‘data viz’-making process, #datafam / data analytics member interviews, & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).

DataVizThought’s second series of Tableau interviews kick off with Thi Ho Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public. She is a Tableau Social Ambassador, 2020 Featured Author, local chapter leader for #VizforSocialGood, and so much more!

Feature Interview

Adam Mico (AM): You grew up in Vietnam, but left for university in Singapore (Nanyang University Infocom Engineering Bachelor’s Degree) and America (MBA, Wayne State University). This must have been a massive challenge. What did you wish you knew at that time and what did you learn about yourself when pursuing an education?

Thi Ho (TH): First of all, thank you so much Adam for this great opportunity to be interviewed on your blog. I have been a fan of your blog and find it a great resource and source of inspiration! Thanks to Priya as well for her questions! It’s an honor and a joy to be interviewed by two of my favorite people in the #datafam! (1)

After high school in Vietnam, I wanted to study overseas as I wanted to see the world. I was lucky that I had opportunities to study in both Singapore and America. As a student, I was mainly focused on overcoming the challenges in my studies and also living on a tight student budget. However, I had so much more time than I have now and wish that I spent more time traveling, seeing more of the world, making more local friends, and simply immersing myself in the local culture.

Pursuing an education overseas taught me to be independent and I learned more about myself. I realized that I could adapt quickly to the new environment. I also learned that I enjoyed making connections with friends but I also enjoyed some solitude through alone time studying in the library or the dorm. I also enjoyed the process of being creative. I learned HTML and made a basic website by Dreamweaver and I also learned Flash (when it was still a thing) to make some fun animations. I enjoyed it so much that I spent late nights tinkering (the same way I work on my data vizzes now). I also found out that I was not the type who easily gives up. Some subjects were totally new to me like Engineering, Accounting, and Finance, and I had a lot of difficulty at the beginning. However, I just kept pushing myself to learn until I got them. Education has opened my eyes and made me an open-minded person. The time being apart from my family also made me treasure them more.

AM: After your MBA, you returned to Singapore and began a career in project management. What was fulfilling about that work and what did it lack for you?

TH: When working in project management, I got the opportunity to plan for digital projects and work with various disciplines such as design, content, analytics, etc. The feeling when the team worked together towards a common goal and successfully delivered a final product that exceeded the client’s needs was very fulfilling to me. However, project management lacked an avenue for creativity.

AM: What was it about data analytics and data visualization that piqued your passion and did it hit you right away or was it a slow-building interest?

TH: During my time in project management, I had worked with some colleagues in data analytics and that piqued my interest as I found the value of analytics in helping other disciplines to make decisions. Therefore, when there was an opportunity to work in digital analytics, I jumped at it. I like to analyze numbers and am curious to find out what the numbers are telling me. I am also quite interested in understanding user behavior when they are using a website or mobile applications. While at this job, I got the opportunity to learn and use Tableau. I was amazed at how easy it was to analyze data and create impactful visualizations. Data visualization also gave me some leeway to express my love for creativity and design. My passion for data analytics was gradually built, but for data visualization using Tableau was kind of an instant impression. 😊

AM: At your current employer, four years after you began, you switched your career from project management to a data analyst. Was that a difficult decision and please explain what helped your career transition?

TH: As I have mentioned above, it was a natural career switch as along the way, with increasing exposure to analytics, I kind of knew that I wanted to work in data analytics. It was not an immediate jump from project management to analytics, however. After working in project management, I actually worked in digital strategy where I did a lot of research and proposed content and features to solve business problems. I also needed to analyze data to come up with such strategies. The more I worked with data, the more value I saw in it. I conveyed to my manager at that time my interest in working in analytics. My manager gave me the opportunity when it came along and let me take some analytics training and the rest was history. I am thankful to have had some very supportive managers who really cared about my career aspirations and gave me the opportunities to be where I am today. (2)

AM & Priya Padham (PP): What prompted you to join the analytics (social media) community & what are your tips for people starting in the community?

TH: I started to use Tableau at work in late 2017. I sporadically participated in #MakeoverMonday but after a while, I felt a bit lonely and had not progressed much. I found out about a Tableau User Group in Singapore, so I started to attend their events. There, I got to know more about the community and community projects. It was Meera Umasankar (@LosaniMeera) who connected me to the social media community. In 2020 I started to follow the other Tableau users on social media, started sharing my work, and was immediately welcomed to the community.

My tips for someone new to the community is to not be afraid to share your work, get feedback, follow people who you admire, and join conversations. That’s how I engaged with the community, learned from others, and improved my skills. The bonus is that in doing so, we also expand our professional connections and make amazing data friends all over the world!

AM: What resources helped you as you were working on designing visualizations?

TH: I follow design-related conversations in the community to learn about different design aspects. For example, I first learned about Figma from those conversations. It’s a great free design tool. I read blogs (3) from wonderful dataviz designers such as Judit Bekker (@juditbekker). I turn to Pinterest for design and color inspiration. I also pay close attention to design details when others share their vizzes. When a suitable concept for a new viz comes, I try to apply these techniques with my own touch. For example, in my IronQuest submission “Rice Bowls of the World”, which was featured in the virtual Viz Gallery during TC20, portions of it were inspired by Kevin Flerlage (@FlerlageKev). My IronViz’s black and white theme was inspired by Priya Padham’s IronViz submission. My recent Viz For Social Good viz was inspired by CJ Mayes (@_CJMayes) as I utilized his shape making method to form the word “VFSG” (each dot is an individual contribution by a volunteer). I am very happy that those vizzes have been well-received by the #datafam.

AM: I have noticed you are a welcoming/supporting section for newer people in our community. It’s great to see you in that role. How have new people in our community inspired you?

TH: I see myself in new people in our community as I was them just earlier this year. I still remember that I felt so amazed and appreciative of the kind people in the #datafam who welcomed me and made me feel like I was in a big family. I would like to continue to pay this forward and help new people feel that they are part of the family and that their efforts and their progress matter to the community.

AM: You have been a strong advocate for diversity in our community. What would you like to see our community get better at in the future and how can we be more inclusive?

TH: I am very lucky to be the first Vietnamese selected as Tableau Public Featured Author and one of the first two Vietnamese Tableau Ambassadors. However, I feel that I am representing not only Vietnamese but the community from the Asia Pacific in general. I feel that our #datafam in this part of the world (Asia Pacific) is a bit quieter than other parts. I would like to encourage the members in the Asia Pacific to participate more in community projects, share their amazing work, and join more data conversations and data events. I think Tableau has done an amazing job in setting up the diversity task force and increasing the diversity of Tableau Public Featured Authors and Tableau Ambassadors. It is important to have representation in different ethnicities and regions. Some other ways to be more inclusive might be featuring a more balanced number of work and faces from all regions through Tableau official channels and community blogs and even through the selection process for #VOTD.

AM: In 2020, you were named a Tableau Public Featured Author and Tableau Ambassador. What have those honors meant to you?

TH: These honors have meant so much to me. First of all, I felt that my efforts were recognized. Secondly, I felt so loved and supported by the community. My heart was full. These honors also led to me having more followers and connections on social media which enabled me to amplify new voices and continue to bring awareness to the amazing work done in this part of the world.

Priya Padham (PP): Are there any specific future Tableau goals and plans or any vizzes currently working on?

TH: My goal is to support the upcoming projects under Viz For Social Good as a volunteer and local chapter leader in Singapore. My co-leaders Hui (@hxchuaruns) and Meera and I have joined forces with Frederic Fery (@freddfery) from Australia to create frequent APAC events for volunteers to present their work in supporting non-profits through data storytelling. Besides that, I would like to find time to continue to participate in community projects such as #MakeoverMonday, #IronQuest, #ProjectHealthViz, etc. I also hope to participate as a speaker in a future data event. Public speaking is an area that I need to push myself further.

PP: What are your favorite all-time vizzes?

TH: In no particular order, I love “A Cheetah’s Race for Survival” — a collaboration work of Kevin Flerlage and Lindsay Betzendahl (@ZenDollData) — the visuals and design are so impactful and there are so many cool techniques. I also love “Safe Houses in Tanzania” by Priya Padham. You do such a great job of visualizing such a difficult topic, humanizing the data points, and still making it beautiful. Another one of my favorites is “Rainy Days of Tokyo” by Takafumi Shukuya (@O_Syringa_Z) in which he creatively used an inverted bar chart to create a nice visual impact for the viz. There are so many other vizzes from other authors that I love. The works from the #datafam are so inspiring!

PP: What music do you enjoy listening to when vizzing?

TH: I usually viz in late nights and I find silence helps me focus more. 😊 My music needs an update as my favorite band is still The Carpenters (4) and I don’t know any songs of 2020 — but you have suggested some new music to me!

AM: Please share a guilty pleasure or fun fact that many readers may not know about you?

TH: My guilty pleasure: binging Netflix until 3 am or enjoying a hot bowl of pho (Vietnamese beef noodles) (5) in some corner of Saigon. 😊

Fun fact: I used to play Đàn tranh, a Vietnamese musical instrument (the picture to the left) shows me wearing a Vietnamese costume playing Đàn tranh (back when I was a student). I don’t have it with me now but I hope one day I can play it again. 😊

Binge Bite

As a non-chess player, I never thought that a chess-focused story would captivate me. The writing, acting, complex tones, and sets are all so well done and really takes you away from 2020 for the seven hours of its development. My favorite shows/movies are ones that inspire you to research more to understand its context and inspirations — I caught myself doing this frequently during the series (and after). Even better, it successfully shared diversity support without being preachy — outsiders and stubborn/flawed heroes can shine when dedicated to growth.

Music Morsel

A great film/series needs a brilliant soundtrack and “The Queen’s Gambit” delivered via Carlos Rafael Rivera’s mated score. Besides this work, there are plenty of supplemental songs from pop to jazz from the 50s through the early 70s effectively used.

ICYMI

Alison Pitt (@adastra1930) and I collaborated on a viz for theViz for Social Good project. It celebrates the volunteers for the initiative and was quite a bit of fun to work 50/50 on. Please give her a follow on Tableau Public.

Select the image to access its interactive version

Mico’s Footnotes

  1. Please share your Paypal account, so I can make a deposit. 😊
  2. Although there is some overlap between project management and data visualization, it’s not an easy jump because the skill sets are different and just loosely complimentary.
  3. Here is Judit’s blog.
  4. I’m sorry, but who doesn’t love The Carpenters? Here’s my favorite of theirs…

5. Great, I love Vietnamese Beef Noodles and my stomach is growling.

#DataVizThoughts Editing Team

Adam Mico

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

Priya Padham

Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

Keyrus US’ Tableau Evangelist and Tableau Ambassador. Views are very much my own. Priya Padham assists on #DataFam Interviews.

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