Reflections from a Tableau Conference Newbie

The 2018 Tableau Conference (#TC18) in New Orleans, earlier this week, was my first conference and wow what an incredible experience!! As a first-time conference goer, my aim was to avoid being overwhelmed, as many had mentioned on Twitter that it can be quite the overwhelming experience for newbies. Pre-conference blog posts from the likes of Sarah Bartlett, Curtis Harris and Mark Bradbourne were very helpful in giving me an idea of what to pack, how to plan and as far as my mission, the main goal was to keep it simple and not try to do everything. Heading into #TC18, in addition to attending some sessions that would have a direct impact in my day to day work, I had two basic objectives; 1) meet as many of the amazing people, who have inspired me throughout my journey, as possible 2) establish a plan of attack to begin improving my technical skills in Tableau. Having a chance to reflect a bit on my flight home, it feels like I did a decent job of accomplishing these goals, but definitely left room for improvement. Below, I’d like to share some thoughts on these objectives, what I learned and what I could have done differently.

OBJECTIVE #1: Meet Amazing People

Heading into #TC18, I had a good idea of the people I wanted to meet in person, whether it was to simply introduce myself or pick their brain and/or thank them for their incredible work and for being an inspiration to me. I mean let’s be honest, this list could have included hundreds and hundreds of people in the community, but again, in an attempt to not become overwhelmed, I decided to focus on a smaller group of folks. Did I meet all of these amazing people? Unfortunately not, but I learned from my missteps.

Time flies when you’re having fun. I arrived in New Orleans late Sunday morning and was scheduled to fly home Thursday morning. So, four days sure seemed like a long time, but it went by in a flash. The New Orleans Convention Center is an enormous facility and with 17,000+ people roaming its halls, I learned that if I wanted to meet somebody, I needed to just go say hi!! Was it awkward? Sure, some moments were more awkward than others and at times I was really nervous, but keep this in mind…you may not get a second opportunity to make the connection, so if you see somebody you’d like to meet, don’t hesitate and go say hello. I met a lot of people this week, but could have met so many more had I understood the urgency of making the connection the first time it presented itself.

What could I have done differently?

  • Attend all sessions 15-20 minutes early to ensure a seat in the first two rows, as well as time to chat with others prior to the session
  • Leave a few gaps in my schedule. Since this was my first conference, I sort of felt obligated to have a session on my schedule at all times. However, given the fact that many sessions are recorded, some of my time could have been better spent hanging out in the Data Village, specifically around the Tableau Zen Master lounge and Tableau Ambassadors area.
  • Hang around after sessions and introduce myself to the speaker(s). I did this a few times and was able to meet some amazing people who have been a big inspiration to me, but wish I would have done more of this earlier in the conference.

OBJECTIVE #2: A Plan to Improve Technical Skills

I was fairly certain one session would help me in this area, more than anything else I could have tried cramming into my schedule; #WorkoutWednesday. I attended this fantastic, hands-on session by Luke Stanke and Ann Jackson and guess what? I forgot my freaking computer at the hotel!!! An idiotic move no doubt, but in reality I still got out of the session what I set out for; confirmation that #WorkoutWednesday is indeed the single best resource to begin improving my technical skills within Tableau. I happened to run into Luke a day before the session and expressed to him that I had intentions of getting involved in #WorkoutWednesday, but to this point had been scared off, because I felt my skills were not strong enough. What he (and Sean Miller during an earlier discussion) ensured me, Ann Jackson only reiterated after the session on Wednesday, when I was fortunate enough to chat with her. Ann said that nothing else has helped her improve her technical skills in Tableau more than #WorkoutWednesday.

What would I have done differently?

  • As they say, better late than never, so it is time to get involved as soon as possible. There are only so many hours in the day for personal Tableau time and while I really enjoy spending time designing dashboards, participating in #MakeoverMonday and building fun vizzes with my own sports related data sets, the best thing for my development is going to be to roll up the sleeves and get involved in #WorkoutWednesday. While #WorkoutWednesday should have been a 2018 goal, getting involved will sit right at the top of my list of goals to accomplish prior to #TC19.

Now that #TC18 has come to an end, there will be plenty of sessions to watch online, but there will also be many new friendships to look forward to for years to come and I simply cannot express how thankful I am for that!! On Sunday around 4:00 pm, I walked into the New Orleans Convention Center, excited to be part of the Tableau Community and thrilled to be attending my first Tableau Conference…On Thursday morning, around 11:00 am, I boarded my flight home completely blown away by how truly amazing this community is and inspired to do whatever it takes to become a better member of it.

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