If you follow me on Twitter you will have noticed the flood of tweets I posted earlier this week with the #Data16 hashtag. If you weren’t in Austin you may well have been wondering what the was excitement was all about . Well, #Data16 was the hashtag for the annual Tableau Conference; a gathering of over 13,000 data enthusiasts from across the globe. This year the conference was held in Austin, Texas with the Austin Convention Centre being the main event hub. Data 16 was my first official conference; while I have attended the smaller ‘Tableau on Tour’ events in London for the last two years this was my first time attending a US conference.

I have wanted to attend a Tableau Conference ever since attending the London ‘Tableau on Tour’ event in 2015. I am frequently told how fantastic the US conferences are by my friends in the Tableau world and how they simply aren’t to be missed. This year I was fortunate enough to win a ticket to the US conference through a competition with the Information Lab (the longest standing Gold Tableau partner in the UK) at the Tableau on Tour event in London in June. I received a phone call from Tom Brown (founder of the Information Lab) back in the summer asking me what I had planned for November (which seemed like a very odd question at the time). After telling me the good news I spent the rest of the day in a state of shock, excited at the prospect of attending my first US conference.

If you aren’t familiar with the Tableau Conferences, the format is pretty straightforward. The conference takes place over 5 days, the first and last day being reserved for those taking certification exams or pre-conference training. The main three days are packed with keynotes, break-out sessions and hands-on training (with lots of fun in-between)!

Before the conference even began I got to spend the day zip wiring at Lake Travis with staff from the Information Lab and the wider Tableau community (picture courtesy of Eva Murray).

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This was a fantastic opportunity to meet new people (and overcome our fears of zip wiring together)! Later that evening Emily Chen (of the Data School) had organised a Data+Women pre-conference networking event, sponsored by EXASOL. This was a great idea as it gave people the opportunity to meet with members of the community which they follow on Twitter but have never met in real life before (this is easier said than done as we quickly realised some people look nothing like their Twitter profile pictures)! I finally got to meet Pooja Gandhi & Adam Crahen (aka ‘The Data Duo’) at this event; two individuals I have a lot of respect for and who constantly inspire me with their fantastic #MakeoverMonday submissions.

On Monday we took the opportunity to register at the conference and familiarise ourselves with the Convention Centre and surrounding area. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Convention Centre; it was huge (but necessary for an event of this scale). There were no break-out sessions on Monday but there was a live #MakeoverMonday session which I attended. I enjoy taking part in Makeover Monday as often as possible and attended the live session at the London event so knew what to expect. This week the data set focused on restaurants in Austin and their food hygiene ratings (something which was of particular interest to anyone attending the conference)! It’s always interesting to see how other people approach the data set and this week was no exception. On Monday evening Tableau held a welcome reception with line dancing and food trucks (which are very popular in Austin; something we came to appreciate as the week went on).

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Tuesday was the first full day at conference and began with the Tableau Vision keynote. The keynote speeches form a core part of the conference with the vision keynote being of particular importance. Before the keynote even began I was overwhelmed by the size of the keynote hall and the excitement in the room. With the music blaring and social media grid on the big screen it finally felt like the conference was in full swing. The keynote was opened by CEO Adam Selipsky and Chairman/Co-founder Christian Chabot. Together they presented an impressive vision of Tableau’s future. Christian then invited five of his senior management team to the stage to showcase the Tableau vision through five key areas; Visual Analytics, Data Engine, Data Management, Cloud and Collaboration. Project Maestro was announced during the Visual Analytics section. This is of particular interest to me as it promises to make the data prep process easier with the ability to instantly see the impact of joins, unions and calculations.

After the keynote I attended a hands-on training session on Advanced Calculations. I think the hands-on sessions can be a bit hit or miss. The success of these sessions is very much dependent on the level of Tableau knowledge of the attendees and their willingness to follow instructions. This session covered simpler calculations than I had expected and seemed to run very slowly. As a result I left early to attend the ’50 Tips in 50 minutes’ session presented by Andy Kriebel and Jeffery Shaffer. Prior to the session Andy asked me to help him by keeping count of the number of tips covered in the session. It seemed more logical to have two counters (one for each team) so I managed to get Lorna Eden to help out also. Lorna & myself had the pleasure of sitting on stage during this session with our trusty number board to keep score of who was presenting the most tips! Andy & Jeffery had anticipated they would only be able to cover 50 tips during the session but they actually managed 86 which is very impressive (with Andy winning by a narrow margin)! According to the stats on the keynote screens this was one of the most popular break-out sessions of the conference.

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On Tuesday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending Andy Cotgreave’s ‘The Visual Design Tricks Behind Great Dashboards’ session. I always enjoy Andy’s sessions and think he is a great presenter. This session was no exception and I would recommending watching on catch-up if you missed it. Finally I attended Steven Wexler’s ‘Visualising Survey Data 2.0’ session. I was particularly looking forward to this session as I have used the resources on Steven’s blog (www.datarevelations.com) in the past to help me to visualise survey data; something which I do on a frequent basis at work. It was great to meet Steven in person and I would thoroughly recommend this session to anyone interested in visualising survey data.

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(picture courtesy of Tableau)

Tuesday afternoon concluded with the fantastic ‘Dev’s on Stage’ keynote. I remember sitting at home steaming this keynote live from Las Vegas last year and sensing the energy and excitement in the room while wishing I could be there. When the dev’s appeared on stage this year I was pleasantly surprised that four out of the five presenters were women. Talk about girl power! The session certainly didn’t disappoint either. The dev’s took turns to give an overview of exciting new features coming soon to Tableau such as automatic drill (mapping), spacing/padding dashboard tools (ideal for someone with OCD like me) and a PDF connector. Full details of the new features are listed here: http://www.tableau.com/about/blog/2016/11/devsonstage-whats-coming-soon-tableau-62152?es_c=31629&es_t=1478731606

Following a more somber evening on Tuesday (it was election night) with bad weather to match I was happy to begin Wednesday on a more positive note. Day two kicked off with a keynote from Shankar Vedentam, host of ‘The Hidden Brain’ podcast. Prior to Shankar the Tableau Zen Masters took to the stage (see picture below). This was a particularly special moment and it was great to see all of the Zen Masters together. I have the upmost respect for the Zen’s, some of whom I am lucky enough to have spent the conference with. If anything I would have liked Tableau to go to greater efforts to recognize and thank the Zen’s for their hard work and contributions to the Tableau community. I don’t think a few seconds on stage does them justice.

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I didn’t enjoy Shankar’s presentation as much as I had hoped and was somewhat distracted by his not-so-great visualisations and slide design choices. I appreciate Shankar is not a data viz expert but given the audience I would have expected his visualisations to have been of a higher quality. Following the keynote I attended Zen Master Joshua Milligan’s session entitled ‘Fun or Serious: How to Use Both to Improve Your Dashboards’. If you aren’t already familiar with Joshua he is the author of the bestselling ‘Learning Tableau’ book, of which I am a proud owner. Joshua’s session followed a Star Trek theme which was fun and it definitely got me thinking about how to design professional dashboards in a more fun manner. Joshua’s session was followed by another fun session from Matt Francis entitled ‘Busting the Data Viz Myths, Zen Master Style’. I am a big fan of Matt and his session certainly didn’t disappoint! Matt ran through a fast-paced, light-hearted presentation exploring the myths surrounding data viz and the truth behind them. There was a lot of audience engagement and together in the session we decided if myths such as “pie charts are evil” were true or busted! I would definitely recommend watching Matt’s session on catch-up if you missed it in person.

Wednesday afternoon kicked off with (another) fun session from Tableau’s Jewel Loree entitled ‘Pimp My Viz 3:Tokyo Drift’. Jewel’s fun personality and passion for Tableau was abundantly clear (it’s worth noting Jewel presented the session wearing a skirt she had designed herself which featured a colourful Tableau bubble chart and a sweatshirt embroidered with sequin letters which spelt “Data an Analyst”)!! Jewel isn’t afraid to go beyond adhering to visual best practices and in this session (taking inspiration from the MTV show ‘Pimp My Ride’) she explained how she ‘pimped up’ some of her vizzes such as her fantastic Pokémon Go dashboard. I left the session feeling inspired and wanting to ‘pimp’ some vizzes myself!

On Wednesday night Tableau threw a huge party at the ‘Data Night Out’. This featured two stages with live bands (Walk the Moon and ZZ Ward to name a few), countless food trucks offering various different cuisines, a roller skate rink, a silent disco, video games and even a Ferris wheel! I think it’s fair to say everyone had a good time and enjoyed unwinding after a busy few days!

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Thursday began with the 2016 ‘Vizzies’ award presentations by Tableau Wannabe Podcast presenters Emily Kund and Matt Francis. The Vizzie awards recognize those non-Zen’s that have been nominated by the community for awards such as ‘Most Notable Newbie’ and ‘Community Leader’. I think it’s fair to say that Adam Crahen was the biggest winner, taking home four awards in total! Well done Adam! Thank you to Emily and Matt for organising the awards event. It’s a great way to show appreciation for community members that may not otherwise get the recognition they deserve (picture courtesy of Andy Kreibel).

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My first session on Thursday morning was ‘Survey Says: Ask & Analyse Survey Data with Tableau’ presented by Naz Garrison and Christie Clark of Tableau. This was my second survey data session of the conference (following Steven Wexler’s session on Tuesday). I must say Naz and Christie did an absolutely fantastic job and this was one of my favourite subject-focused sessions of the conference. I took away lots of ideas which I can apply in my workplace so it was certainly time well-spent! Following this I attended a session on the Reviz Project; a collaborative effort started by Nelson Davis, Alex Duke, and Matt Chambers with a goal to focus on ways that people could be moved by stories told with data. I was absolutely blown away by all three speakers and their passion for the project. The session covered emotional subjects such as war and human trafficking and I’m sure some of the audience were brought to tears by Nelson’s fantastic viz on Syrian refugees.  I was particularly inspired by Alex Duke and her approach to storytelling with data.

The conference concluded with a keynote from Bill Nye. Before the conference I had never heard of Bill Nye. When I told my friends Emily Chen and Nai Louza this (who are both Canadians residing in London and working for the Data School/Information Lab) they were shocked! Apparently Bill Nye (aka ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’) is very popular on children’s TV in North America and many grew up watching him. I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Nye’s keynote and his passion for climate change and feminism were conveyed brilliantly in his talk.

In conclusion, I had a fantastic time at the conference and came away with lots of ideas to put into practice in my data vizzes. However, the best thing about the week was spending time with my data viz friends and making lots of new friends in the process. I got to meet people from around the world who I follow on Twitter and engage with on social media. The Tableau community are a fantastic bunch of extremely passionate, talented individuals and really make the conference what it is. Considering this was my first conference and many of those I was with from the UK had met each other before at previous conferences I was still welcomed with open arms. With various social events during the week combined with trips to Coopers BBQ (don’t mention the brisket), social media campaigns (shout out to Paul Banoub and Paul Chapman for the fantastic #picwiththepauls idea which got 129 tweets during the conference according to Keith Helfrich’s latest conference viz) and zip wiring it was a truly eventful week and one which I will never forget. In the words of Matt Francis “don’t be sad that it’s over but be happy that it happened” (or something like that)!

Here are a few of my favourite moments from the conference:

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Remember all of the break-out sessions and keynotes are available to download and view on the Tableau website, even if you didn’t attend the conference. I would love to hear from you if you attended any sessions which I missed that you would recommend watching. There were so many I was unable to attended everything I wanted to so I’ll be spending the next few weeks catching up!

See you in Vegas in 2017!

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