Overcoming the Fear to Share

In this week’s #MakeoverMonday blog review, Andy Kriebel had just one lesson: Don’t Be Afraid to Share Your Work. He said that during #MakeoverMonday live from #TC17, he heard a lot of #MakeoverMonday participants say that they are intimidated to share their work to Tableau Public and Twitter. Well, for those of you who feel that way, I get it…I’ve been in your shoes. There are a lot of ultra-talented folks in the community who regularly submit the type of work you and I could only dream of putting together. Well, guess what? Dream and dream BIG, because overcoming our fear is the first step to joining those ultra-talented folks!! Here’s my journey to overcoming the fear to share.

Early Tableau Public Work

As I shared in my first blog post, I had been using Tableau at work, for a little over a year before I learned about Tableau Public. Looking back, while things haven’t unfolded particularly quickly by any means, I still feel that moment in February of 2016 was groundbreaking for me. Tableau Public allowed me to practice using the tool with data sets (mostly sports related) that were of great interest to me. So, from March-June of 2016, I created a total of seven vizzes and boy was I proud of them!! I couldn’t look at them enough. But one part was still missing…sure I was publishing my work, but who was looking at it besides me? It was easy to publish it when there was virtually no audience. Fast forward several months after some time away from the tool (we’ll explain why at a later date) and enter Twitter.

Data Viz Twitter Account

In April of 2017, yes A FULL YEAR AND TWO MONTHS after first hearing about Tableau Public and its community, I finally decided it was time to get serious about joining this community. First off, DON’T BE LIKE ME!! Don’t wait around…don’t be afraid and don’t put it off!! Just join the community and start getting involved, you will be happy you didn’t wait!! Ok, so anyway, I created a new Twitter account, @JtothaVizzo. This was intended to be used for Data Viz purposes only…no following ESPN, no ProFootballTalk, no Bill Simmons, no other distractions period. The sole purpose of the account would be to follow the community, learn about Tableau/Data Viz, share my work and eventually become more involved. So, for the next few months I mostly sat back and observed, while sharing about a dozen vizzes. Although my posts weren’t receiving much feedback or attention, I was practicing Tableau and could feel improvement with each passing week, especially since getting involved in #MakeoverMonday, on May 1. In May and June, I submitted several vizzes and continued looking on, in awe, of the talent participating in #MakeoverMonday. As the breathtaking work rolled in week after week, there was one thing I knew for sure…at some point, I wanted to be able to produce the quality of work I was seeing!! Throughout the month of July, my work began getting a bit of feedback and I was feeling more confident in myself. Then came August and #IronViz Silver Screen.

#IronViz Submission = Fear!!

By the time the third and final #IronViz 2017 feeder contest came around, I had 28 vizzes on my Tableau Public profile. Although most of them had not garnered much attention, some of my more recent ones had. Were people starting to learn who I was? If so, did they like my work or think it was lousy? If I competed in #IronViz, would people expect anything from me and who would judge it?? These thoughts were scary. I mean, this would be my first ever viz that was going to be officially judged. What if the judges think my entry is the worst one in the competition? Enter…fear!! Determined to overcome the fear and submit my first #IronViz entry, I now had another issue to deal with. What would my entry be about? The category was Silver Screen, far from a strong suit of mine. If my eyes were on a TV, it was typically one of four or five things; sports, whatever toddler show my daughter was watching before daycare in the morning, The Real Housewives of whatever city my wife was watching, HGTV, or Family Guy. Ok, so my options were limited. Would the community enjoy an #IronViz about Sid the Science Kid, Mother Goose Club or Word Party? Uh, yeah probably not. So, after some careful thought, I landed on The Simpsons. It was my favorite show as a kid and honestly I couldn’t believe it was still on the air, after all these years. Having not seen an episode in at least a decade, I was curious to see if the show was still performing well. The goal for my viz was to answer that question, while trying some cool stuff in the process.

The Fear Disappears

I remember finishing my viz, filling out the #IronViz form and then sitting there staring at the button I would click to submit it. I was scared…flat out scared. Although I felt my viz was decent work and pretty cool, it was so easy for the doubt to creep back into my mind. I took a deep breath and then remembered something. I had been so excited to be a part of this #IronViz contest, so why was I afraid now? I told myself, “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?” I clicked the button. There was no going back now, my first ever #IronViz submission was out there. I added a post to Twitter and then steered clear of Twitter for awhile, occupying myself with whatever game was on that night. An hour or so later, I checked my Twitter feed and to my relief, saw great feedback of my viz. People liked it, I was ecstatic!! From that point on, the fear has been absent.

If I can do it, you can do it. Whether it’s #MakeoverMonday, #IronViz, or any other viz you’ve created with your own data set, listen to Andy’s great advice and Don’t Be Afraid To Share Your Work. Like me, you’ll be glad you shared it!! Oh and as if you need another reminder, DON’T WAIT A FULL YEAR AND TWO MONTHS to become involved in the Tableau community, like I did!!

#MakeoverMonday – Week 41

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After missing Week 40, I was back at it for #MakeoverMonday Week 41. Although creating my viz from #MakeoverMonday live at #TC17 would have been lovely, here’s to hoping #TC18 becomes my first conference!! Over the weekend, I came across a twitter conversation around creative outlets and where people get their artistic side that they bring into the Data Viz world. For many, naturally, the outlet was drawing or sketching, but for me the creative outlet has always been writing. In fact, for the better part of three years, I cranked out a weekly sports article for several small-town newspapers throughout the state of Minnesota. However, at the end of 2014, with a baby on the way, I decided it was time to give up this hobby. But, while writing, I enjoyed the freedom I was given to make each article my own. Tableau absolutely provides us with that same kind of freedom. On to my Week 41 viz…

When I first saw the data set, Adult Obesity in the United States, my initial thought was to find some large discrepancies within each sub-category. It was clear pretty quickly that one of the biggest would be the difference in obesity rate between those with a college education and those with less than a high school education. For design, with state being a dimension, my mind immediately went to the fact that I hadn’t yet created a hex map. This post from Matt Chambers helped me quickly put my hex map together. I also used this post from Charlie Hutcheson, so thank you to both Matt and Charlie for their excellent posts!! So now that I had my very first hex map, something struck me…”why don’t I use stars instead of hexagons, to represent the stars of the U.S. flag?” Now, I’ll be the first to admit that hexagons look much cleaner and prettier. However, this IS Tableau and with the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, stars just seemed to work. With the map, I wanted to simply show the total 2015 Adult Obesity Rate for each state and feel that was accomplished.

As was the case in Week 39, this time I also wanted to go for simplicity, which is why I left out the Income category from the bottom part of my viz. My feeling was it ties fairly closely to Education, so seemed redundant. I chose to compare 2011, the first year of data, vs. 2015, the most recent year. Again, I didn’t want to overcomplicate things, so I left out 2012-2014. To visualize the data, I put all states on the same row for each sub-category and used a dot plot. Here’s another great post from Charlie with several links to help build one. Using a hover action from the map, your state of choice is highlighted, so you can quickly view the change from 2011 to 2015. Probably most alarming to me is the fact that in New Mexico and Mississippi, the obesity rate of both 18-24 and 25-34 year olds is higher than that of the 65+ age group!!

#MakeoverMonday – Week 39

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Since first learning of #MakeoverMonday back in May of this year, I’ve been a participant roughly one-third of the time. While that percentage definitely needs to improve, my approach, when participating, has been to use #MakeoverMonday as an opportunity to not only practice my Tableau skills, but also try new chart types that have sparked my interest and may even take me outside of my comfort zone. Prior to the Week 39 data set being released by Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray, who do such a remarkable job with #MakeoverMonday, I found myself browsing Andy’s blog and came across a Tableau Tip Tuesday post titled How to Create Ranked Dot Plots.

I recalled seeing a #MakeoverMonday submission of a dot plot from Matt Chambers several months earlier. In fact, seeing Matt’s viz was what actually led to me digging into and submitting my first #MakeoverMonday viz the following week. So, after watching Andy’s video, I knew trying a dot plot would be in my near future. To my delight, I would get a chance the very next day! When the data set was released, although it wasn’t a ranked set of data, I felt a dot plot would still work nicely.

The Thought Process

The data set, Restricted Dietary Requirements Around the Globe, was a simple one with 11 different diet types, 5 regions and then percentages of people surveyed from each region who said they followed a given diet. My initial thought was, “Is there a meaningful way to group the diets?” While, I felt there was, I ultimately decided to let them stand alone instead and sorted them from highest overall percentage to lowest.

My two main goals in building this viz were; a) keeping it very clean and free of clutter and b) building it so that no scrolling or filtering was needed. I’m also a big fan of dashboard actions, but managed to resist the temptation this time! I was pleasantly surprised with two font choices I hadn’t used before and once the decision was made to not group the diets, it was a no brainer to put them in the rows and regions in the columns in order to stick to the no scrolling goal. It took awhile to settle on the darker background with black bars, as I tried several different combinations, but none seemed as easy on the eyes as the gray/black combo. As for the dots themselves, the purple has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan, I just thought it looked nice.

What About the Axis?

With the axis set at 100%, but the highest percentage of people dieting being 48% from Africa/Middle East following Halal, the dots seemed too crowded on the left side of the bars. Therefore, I changed the axis from 0%-100% to 0%-50%, labeled the bottom of the first column and added a reference line at 25% (the new mid-point of the bars). While it seemed to work well at spreading the dots out along the bars, it also brought some valuable feedback from Chris Love, that I hadn’t thought of when creating the viz. Chris had initially provided feedback to me on Twitter, but after Andy recreated the viz on his blog, Chris felt it was worth a blog post in reply, due to Andy’s huge following, to point out what he felt was a small best practice failing in the chart.

When it was all said and done, #MakeoverMonday Week 39 was a fun and valuable one! I inspired Andy to recreate a viz he hadn’t built in awhile, received some great feedback from Chris regarding best practices, got my first mention in the #MakeoverMonday blog review written by Andy and Eva and to cap it all off, watched my first #MMVizReview webinar!!

 

The Message That Changed it All

February 6, 2016…this date marks the most important day in my data viz journey. With a little over one-year of Tableau experience under my belt, one thing was certain. I loved the tool!! It made my job much more fun, while making it far easier to do and allowing for plenty of creativity along the way. I was working as part of a demand planning team (of two) that was tasked with transitioning the business unit I worked in, from one that had digested data in spreadsheet form for decades to one that would now leverage the power of data visualization. So, throughout that first year using Tableau, I purchased a couple of books on Amazon.com, watched training videos, and even attended a few Tableau User Group meetings in Minneapolis to learn as much as I could about the tool. And then, after several searches on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, you name it, I had an idea.

“What if I find somebody who’s really good with Tableau and send them a message asking what steps they took to get to where they are today?” I know, such an amazing, out of the box idea!! But, it scared the hell out of me…what if the person I chose didn’t reply or worse yet, replied, but was unwilling to help me? What would I possibly do then? Could I ever recover from something so horrific? On the afternoon of February 6, 2016 I sent my LinkedIn message to Ryan Sleeper, whom I had identified as the ideal person to contact. Not only were Ryan’s Tableau accomplishments unmatched, but he was also a huge sports fan like myself. So, I figured if nothing else we could chat about how his Kansas City Royals consistently beat the tar out of my Minnesota Twins!! I’m pretty sure my heart stopped momentarily when I clicked the send button, but thankfully my wait was not a long one. Before noon the following day, I had a message from Ryan. A message that would change everything, opening up a Tableau world I had not yet discovered!!

In his message, Ryan wrote about how he would practice using Tableau in his free time, with data of interest to him. He also shared this link of his top five tips to learning Tableau. At the time, I had no idea how important that link would be. #5. Follow the Tableau Community and #1. Tableau Public have been game changers for me, as I haven’t yet taken a training. I have Ryan Sleeper to thank for introducing me to Tableau Public and to the Tableau Community (at least through Twitter). Now to just meet all of these wonderful people in person…unfortunately, TC17 isn’t going to happen for me, but I’m optimistic TC18 will!! Since setting up a Tableau Public profile and joining the Tableau Community through Twitter, I have learned more about Tableau and Data Visualization than I could have ever imagined and I still feel like the surface is just being scratched.

So, if you happen to be reading this today and find yourself in a similar situation to what I was in back in February of 2016, just go ahead and send that message!! The community is full of wonderful people eager to help you and there’s no reason to be hesitant or scared…just click send!!