Once again the season is upon us!
Spring marks the beginning of the road to the Tableau Iron Viz finals, starting with the European feeder and quickly followed by the first feeder for the main competition.
For those unfamiliar with the competition, Iron Viz is the ultimate battle of Tableau skills. Three contestants are selected for a grand finale via visualisation contests (feeders) held through Tableau Public. The contestants then go head-to-head in a 20-minute viz battle in front of a live audience at the Tableau Conference.
While historically there was only one Iron Viz competition held every year at the main US conference, the European version of the competition was born in 2017. The format of the competitions is exactly the same except there is only one feeder competition in Europe (versus three in the main competition).
In 2018 I had the honour of competing in the final of the European Iron Viz competition.
It was an incredible experience & one which I will never forget. However, it very nearly didn’t happen since I found multiple excuses why I shouldn’t enter. My excuses ranged from “I’m not good enough” right through to “if I win I don’t want to compete on stage”. I put off entering previous Iron Viz feeders for these very reasons too. I know I’m not alone and many other people choose not to enter Iron Viz for similar reasons. I get it. Nevertheless, I believe the benefits to be gained from entering an Iron Viz feeder far outweigh the costs.
Let’s breakdown the benefits that come from entering the competition and together we’ll bust some Iron Viz myths too.
First, lets talk about the benefits.
Benefit #1: To improve your skills
Entering an Iron Viz feeder requires you to source your own data set. This is a skill in itself and one some people rarely get the opportunity to practice. If you use Tableau at work, chances are you work with data sets that are made available to you. The same applies if you participate in community projects such as #MakeoverMonday and #WorkoutWednesday which come with their own pre-curated data sets.
With Iron Viz its down to YOU to source your own data. The world is your oyster!
Sourcing data is a skill in itself and one you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice for the Iron Viz feeders. Then you’ll probably need to clean or transform your data at some point which means you’ll get the chance to practice your data preparation skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to be a wizz at Tableau Prep Builder or Alteryx. You can do a lot in Excel or you could use this opportunity to try out a new data prep tool. Finally, you actually need to design and build a viz! Iron Viz is a great opportunity to challenge yourself to try new techniques and step out of your comfort zone.
It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your journey, there’s always something new to try. Perhaps you want to learn a different chart type, try a long-form viz, an experimental colour palette or a new Tableau feature. It’s completely up to you. Either way, you’re likely to learn new skills through the process of entering.
Benefit #2: You’ll inspire others
You might not realise it but just by entering you can inspire somebody else to do the same. The Iron Viz competition is crying out for more diversity. Historically, the Iron Viz finals have been dominated by white men aged under 40. The last time a woman made it to the main competition finals was Kelly Martin in 2013. Let’s change that.
I personally would like to see more gender and ethnic diversity in the finals. However, Tableau can only do so much to support this. People belonging to under-represented groups need to show up and take part. More diversity in the feeder stages should (in theory) lead to more diversity in the finals (although we have yet to see this). Remember, you can’t be what you can’t see so in order to change things we all need to do our bit.
Together we can change things for the better.
Benefit #3: To challenge yourself
I touched on this in point #1 but I’ll say it again.
It’s not easy to enter an Iron Viz feeder and it’s even harder to compete in a final. However, by challenging yourself to enter and up your game you’ll benefit in the long run.
Benefit #4: To join the conversation
There’s always a real buzz around Iron Viz season. While it’s fun to watch from the sidelines, it’s even better to take part.
Iron Viz offers participants a great opportunity to become more engaged in the Tableau Community. There are many people that were first discovered through entering an Iron Viz feeder and I personally enjoy seeing all of the new authors come to light around Iron Viz season. Furthermore, Iron Viz is a perfect blogging opportunity, regardless of whether you write regularly or don’t even have a blog yet. We all like to read about how other people approach things, their design techniques or how they built that funky chart.
Even if you don’t want to set up your own blog there are plenty of people in the community who would be happy for you to publish a guest post on their own site.
Benefit #5: To get noticed
Entering Iron Viz is a great opportunity to build up your Tableau Public portfolio and get yourself noticed. All Iron Viz feeder entries are automatically posted to an online gallery and (if previous years are anything to go by) people can vote for their favourites by using the favourite function in Tableau Public. This is turn helps to bring your viz to the attention of a wider network of people through the Tableau Public activity feeds. Also, the feeder topics often give participants the opportunity to shed light on important topics such as climate change, health concerns or animal welfare issues. This is great if you are passionate about something and want to help to drive change. Lastly, entering an Iron Viz feeder is a great way to showcase your skills and can really help to advance your career.
And now the myths.
Myth #1: You have to be an expert at Tableau
People of all abilities enter Iron Viz. You don’t need to a be Tableau Zen Master or have been using Tableau for years.
Don’t believe me?
Klaus Schulte won the European Iron Viz competition in 2018 after being a Tableau user for less than a year.
Kevin Flerlage made it into the top 3 in the 2018 Books and Literature feeder and was recognised as Best New Entrant after using Tableau for a matter of months.
The extent of your Tableau knowledge and the length of time you have been using the tool is somewhat irrelevant.
Myth #2: There’s no point entering if you think you can’t win
Do people enter marathons with the intention of winning? No.
The same applies to Iron Viz. The chances of you winning an Iron Viz feeder are pretty slim. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enter with the intention of doing well. But statistically speaking with only one winner in each feeder (with the exception of the European competition), the odds are stacked against you. However, that shouldn’t stop you from taking part.
Luke Stanke has entered more Iron Viz feeders than he cares to remember but has never made the final.
Ann Jackson has entered all the feeders for the last few years and even made it to the top 10 in all three Iron Viz feeders in 2018 but missed out on a place in the final. That doesn’t mean she will stop participating. If anything, it will give her more determination to continue.
Myth #3: You need to find a great data set before entering
It can be tough to find the perfect data set. In fact, it may not even exist. However, you don’t need a huge data set to get started. Sometimes just a few columns of data is enough. If you really can’t find a good data set, there’s nothing stopping you from creating your own!
Myth #4: You need an idea to get you started
Coming up with an idea for a viz is tough but don’t let this hold you back. Try searching for infographics on Google or Pinterest for inspiration.
Be inspired and ‘steal like an artist’ (but always remember to credit your sources).
I hope this post gives you the confidence you need to get started. If you still don’t feel ready, try entering #IronQuest first. I started #IronQuest for this very reason! Find out more about the project and how to get involved here.
I’m not going to deny that entering an Iron Viz feeder is tough. It will require focus and it will take time. There may even be points where you want to give up altogether. However, if you stick with it I truly believe it will be worth your while.
Thanks for reading!