It’s almost that time of year again! The annual Tableau Conference on Tour in London (TCOT) is taking place from 5th to 7th June at Tobacco Dock.

This year will be my third Tableau Conference on Tour in London (TCOT) and I can’t wait. The TCOT will be a perfect opportunity to catch up with my Tableau friends whilst learning new skills and gaining inspiration for future data viz projects from the excellent speakers lined up for this event.

The Format

The format of TCOT is similar every year. The Monday is reserved for training and exams with a welcome reception in the evening. Last year Andy Kriebel and Andy Cotgreave ran a live #makeovermonday session on the Monday afternoon (I believe Andy & Eva Murray will be hosting a similar session this year – watch this space for details).

Tuesday usually commences with a keynote from Tableau covering the future roadmap & new features. This is followed by a day packed with various breakout sessions, hands on training sessions and customer presentations. Tuesday evening is the ‘Data Night Out’ party, followed by another keynote and similar sessions on Wednesday (which usually wraps up by around 4pm).

2015: My First Tableau Conference

While writing this post I can’t help but to think back to the first TCOT I attended in 2015, held at The Brewery. With the exception of my colleague (Daniel Caroli) who attended the conference with me I only knew one person in the Tableau community at the time (Matthew Reeve), simply because he had delivered our Tableau training a few months prior. Daniel couldn’t make it to the Welcome Reception on the Monday evening so I attended alone, not knowing what to expect. With the exception of vendors on the stands in the Expo Hall I didn’t really talk to anybody else that evening, nor for the duration of the conference. However, I remember seeing Andy Kriebel at the welcome reception and being totally starstruck!

At the time I hadn’t been using Tableau for very long so I wanted to use the conference as a oppotunity to learn some new skills and also gain inspiration from the customer speakers. The first session I attended was the (now famous) EasyJet presentation by Paul Chapman. I remember being blown away by the dashboards that Paul presented, particularly seeing how EasyJet used custom polygons to map aircraft bird strike data (something which I didn’t realise was possible at the time). Later that day I attended a double hands-on session on visualising financial data, thinking this would be beneficial for work. However, from the offset I knew the session wasn’t for me. The speaker had technical issues which delayed the offset and the audience quickly became disengaged. At the time I wasn’t sure what the correct session ‘etiquette’ was (i.e. were you allowed to leave mid-session) but as people began to leave I took the opportunity to do the same. This freed-up some time for me to attend a great session on data storytelling which I otherwise would have missed.

TCOT The Brewery 2015

2016: The Second Time Around

Fast-forward to 2016 and this time it was a different story entirely! I attended the conference with my colleague Joseph Poltorak and my (not long previous) collegue Rebecca Abrahams (now Roland). It was both Joseph’s and Becca’s first TCOT.

In the month’s leading up to the conference I had started to participate in #MakeoverMonday and in doing so had become more familiar with other people within the community. By this point I had also attended a few #LondonTUG events so had connected with the community through these also. Nevertheless I still felt quite nervous attending the conference. I thought it would be fun to attend the live #MakeoverMonday session run by Andy and Andy (with the plan that Becca & Joseph would attend with me). However, both of them were delayed and missed the session altogether, leaving me to participate alone. There wasn’t a huge number of people in attendance at the session which gave it a nice, community feel and everybody helped each other out with their vizzes. It was good to see the presentations at the end also to see how people had approached the task differently.

By now I was more familiar with Tableau (but by no means beyond the beginner stage) so I picked intermediate sessions in the hope that these would help me to learn more skills I could utilise upon my return to work. Becca & myself attended two separate sessions focused on LOD calculations and by the end of the day our brains were well and truly fried! We tried to cram so much into the Tuesday and Wednesday that we hardly took a break between sessions, running from session to session to ensure we always got a seat. In hindsight we probably would have benefitted from taking some time out to recharge, explore the Expo Hall, see the Tableau Doctor, etc. We were treated to a keynote from Professor Brian Cox on Tuesday afternoon, much to Becca’s excitement (sadly Brian ran away after the keynote as fast as he could to avoid meeting her!) and a fabulous session from Bethany Lyons (I would highly recommend attending one of Bethany’s sessions if you have the opportunity).

2016 Slide Show:

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2017: Third Time Lucky

As you can probably tell I’m really looking forward to TCOT this year. So much has happened in the last 12 months and I have made some real progress with my Tableau skills since last years’ conference. Attending #data16 in Austin in November was a eye-opening experience and will change my approach to TCOT this year.

Unlike last year I don’t intend to stick to a rigid schedule and rush from session to session. However, there are a few sessions which I’m particularly looking forward to:

Tuesday:

There’s Plenty More to Sea at Inmarsat – Dr Laura Schofield:

Follow a year – okay, 387 days – in the life of one Inmarsat analyst. From drowning in data with Excel pivot tables and vlookups, through to dipping her toes in the world of data viz, Laura has rode the waves of glory all the way down to Tobacco Dock. This truly is a story of how one analyst can pay off an entire company’s investment in Tableau with a single project.

Laura gave a fantastic presentation at our #LondonTUG in December about how she has picked up Tableau as a beginner while working at Inmarsat. I can’t wait to see more from her.

Collaborative Dashboard Design for Higher Education Analytics on a National Scale at HESA – Neil Richards:

Jointly run by HESA and Jisc, Heidi Plus is a nationally coordinated HE Tableau dashboard development and delivery service which has involved 130 analysts from 70 universities in an agile development model, using datasets sourced by HESA or externally with the support of our legal, technical and support framework. The Heidi Plus deliverable has been taken up by over 2000 users across 145 universities (over 90% of the sector) and we are exploring expanding the model to other education sectors and non-education sectors. Learning and developing Tableau skills as part of the development team has offered real benefits in employee CPD. Our model’s success lies on the user story defined at the start of dashboard development, which allows us to focus throughout development on dashboards that perfectly match user requirements.

If you take part in #MakeoverMonday or follow the Tableau community on Twitter you’ll probably be familiar with Neil. Neil recently joined HESA and I’m interested to hear how he is helping to introduce new users to Tableau in the education sector.

Tablueprints – A Strategic Framework for Data Visualisation – Ryan Sleeper:

Tableau Conference On Tour London welcomes Ryan Sleeper: Tableau Zen Master (2016/17), Iron Viz Champion (2013), author of the Tableau Public Visualization of the Year (2015), and author of Practical Tableau (O’Reilly 2016). Ryan is here to share his “Tablueprints”; his process for visualizing data with Tableau. During the presentation, Ryan will discuss his strategic framework for data visualization, tangible data storytelling tips, and the behind the scenes making of one of his visualizations. Ryan will take us beyond the usual web posts and videos to give us a firm understanding for finding and sharing valuable insights in data using Tableau.

I follow Ryan’s blog and own a copy of his book ‘Practical Tableau’. I’ve never seen Ryan present live so I’m particularly excited for this session.

Wednesday:

The Visual Design Tricks Behind Great Dashboards – Andy Cotgreave:

Do your dashboards leave you audience underwhelmed? In this session, Andy Cotgreave explains how to use effective visual design to build dashboards that are truthful, engaging, and informative. Andy will deconstruct a competition-winning dashboard, using it to highlight the design decisions being made, and bring in examples from the wider world of visual analytics. You will leave with a tool kit full of ideas–some simple, some complex–to make your work more effective.

I actually attended this session in Austin at #Data16 but Andy is such an engaging speaker I’m happy to watch it all over again.

IronViz!

The famed Iron Viz Championship is making its way to the UK for the first time! Three contestants have been chosen over the course of the past six months through our highly competitive feeder competition. Iron Viz Championship on the keynote stage at TC On Tour, London will pit them in a battle against one another with the same identical dataset to see who can make the finest visualization in the arena. The prize? Cash prizes… and eternal glory!

After watching Iron Viz live in Austin I’m particularly excited for this session. This is the first European Iron Viz and #LondonTUG’s very own David Pires will be taking part in the live final!

Vizzing with Joe – What an 8-Year-Old Tells Us About Deploying Tableau – Rob Radburn

In 2016, as part of the Makeover Monday project, I completed 52 vizzes in 52 weeks. Far more impressive was my eight-year-old son completed 26. In this talk, I want to contrast my sons approach to dataviz – keeping it simple, collaborating, and having fun, while focusing on the output. To the adoption (or lack of) of a particular data viz at Leicestershire County Council. While sometimes it’s a lack of belief or ignorance I’m going to argue that a high tolerance to change will inhibit adoption. Even as a Zen Master why is it hard to get acceptance of data viz in your company. I’ll show what I’ve learned, what I didn’t know, in deploying Tableau, some takeaways on doing it better and how an eight year old has helped.

Zen Master Rob Radburn’s 8-year old son Joe regularly participates in #MakeoverMonday so it will be interesting to hear about his approach to dataviz from his Dad. I’m also interested to hear Rob’s experience of deploying Tableau at Leicestershire County Council.

Top Tips (and the things nobody tells you)

If you are attending TCOT this year, here are my top tips:

  • Plan your conference sessions as much as possible in advance. The full conference schedule is available on the TCOT website now. There is also a conference app (I’m not sure if this has been released yet but it should become available nearer the conference). Read through the sessions and note down any that interest you, even if they clash with each other. Download the app so you’ll have all of the sessions details and venue map to hand while you’re at the conference.
  • Always have a plan B. The more popular sessions WILL become full and late-comers will most likely be turned away. If there’s a session that you are particularly looking forward to get there early to ensure you get a seat. If you can’t get into a session because it’s over-subscribed at least you’ll have an alternative to hand without having to consult the conference schedule again.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave a session early. If you attend a session which isn’t what you expected or you need to leave early for other reasons, don’t be afraid to do so. This isn’t school; you won’t get into trouble and nobody will be offended.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking around the venue during the conference. Bear this in mind when choosing your footwear. Ladies – don’t wear high heels unless they are an absolute necessity!
  • Bring a bag. There will be lots of free swag available in the Expo Hall. If you don’t bring a bag where will you store all of your new stuff!? There’s usually a cloakroom at the venue so you can store suitcases/larger bags there all day if you need to check-out of your hotel early on Wednesday.
  • Bring a battery pack for your phone/tablet. My phone battery is usually dead by 2pm every day. This is why a battery pack is an essential piece of kit for me (how else will up keep up with the conference chat on Twitter?!). You can’t guarantee you’ll have access to a plug to charge your phone/tablet at conference so bring a battery pack to ensure you don’t run out of juice.
  • Socialise! Don’t be afraid to speak to people and network. There will be lots of people attending the conference for the first time who might not know anybody else. Reach out and help them if you can. The Tableau community is a friendly & welcoming so there’s no need for anybody to feel alone.

I’m really looking forward to meeting and speaking to as many people as possible this year. If you see me during the conference please come and say hello.

See you on 5th June!