The annual Tableau Conference is one of the highlights of my year. If you have never attended you may find it strange to hear that I rate a software conference so highly. However, Tableau Conference is much more than a conference to me. It’s a family reunion. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new friends too. It’s an opportunity to meet colleagues I regularly communicate with over email and it’s an opportunity to meet people in person that I have only ever connected with virtually. It’s also a time to get inspired and fuel myself with ideas that will see me through the next 12 months.
This year’s Tableau Conference was held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre in Las Vegas and was attended by 18,000 Tableau fans from 68 countries; the largest Tableau Conference to date. This year the conference returned to the same venue that hosted it in 2017. However, #data17 sadly took place a matter of days following the Las Vegas mass shooting so it was good to visit Las Vegas on a happier note this year. To host a conference of this magnitude under one roof you need a large venue and the Convention Centre is huge! It’s hardly surprising that my step count for the week was through the roof.
Attending #data19 was a memorable experience and I have returned home full of inspiration. Before it becomes a distant memory, here are my highlights and key takeaways. This post won’t focus on the product announcements (I’ll cover this seperately) but rather my thoughts from a community perspective.
1. The community is an incredibly valuable learning resource
While this may not sound like anything new, I felt (more than ever before) that the community had so much knowledge to share at the conference this year. Whether that be through traditional speaker sessions, lightening talks in the Aha Theatre, pre-planned Braindates or impromptu meetings in the Community Village; everyone was open and willing to share their knowledge and skills to help others.
For those familiar with the community you’ll know that we are happy to do this all year round through blog posts, Tableau Public vizzes, podcasts, YouTube videos or the Tableau Forums. As a result the community is an incredibly rich source of advice, tutorials, tips and inspiration. If you aren’t already tapping into these resources, you are missing out. However, there’s something special about being able to share your knowledge with others in person. This year it felt that we (the community) were jumping at these opportunities at conference. I saw multiple tweets from community members inviting others to join them for chats in the Community Village and many of the community (myself included) had the opportunity to speak in the Aha! Theatre this year on a broad range of topics. What makes the community so special is that everyone has their own unique skillset, meaning that there’s always likely to be someone that can help you (and be willing to do so)!
2. Tableau Conference has so much more to offer than talks alone
If you attend Tableau Conference just for the speaker sessions and keynotes, you’re doing it all wrong! This links back to the points I made in Takeaway #1. Alongside the speaker sessions there were numerous other activites and break-out talks to attend. This year these included pop-up talks such as Bethany Lyon’s talk on the new data model at the Data Cube, Jonni Walker’s map talk at the Mapbox stand and multiple ‘Devs Poolside’ fireside-style chats.
Talks aside there was the inspirational Tableau Public Viz Gallery, (Dev’s) Showcase, all of the amazing sponsor stands and of course, Braindates!
3. Braindates are revolutionary
Braindates were a new addition the conference last year. While they were popular in New Orleans, I felt they really took off this year! In the lead up to conference, attendees could schedule Braindates on the conference app or sign up to Braindates already posted. Almost everyone I know either scheduled or attended a Braindate this year. Even Tableau Dev’s and the Tableau Senior Leadership Team joined the fun, offering one-of-a-kind opportunities for attendees. I was fortunate to attend three Braindates this year.
I joined a Braindate with Michael Hetrick, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Tableau and author of the Tableau Blueprint. Being able to discuss Blueprint directly with the author was invaluable. I was also privilaged to join a Braindate with Jackie Yeaney, the newly appointed Tableau Marketing EVP. It was great to get to know Jackie and learn more about her career to date and her plans for the future.
4. The community is kind, generous and so much fun
The Community never ceases to amaze me with their creativity and generousity. Thank you to everyone who gave me a badge (pin), sticker, patch, t-shirt or any other type of custom swag! I didn’t pick up any swag from the Data Village this year yet I came home with so many special momentos.
In particular I would like to thank Katie Wagner and Ben Jones. Katie is an incredible force in the Tableau Community. If anyone is going to rival my Twitter activity for #data19, it will be Katie. Back in 2017 I made customised bracelets for the Tableau Community. While I didn’t really know Katie back then, she saw me tweeting about the bracelets and reached out to see if I had any spare. Thankfully I did and I was able to give Katie her own Tableau #data17 bracelet. Fastforward to 2019 and Katie returned the favour by making me this incredible Tableau bookmark.
Meanwhile, I was fortunate to bump into Ben Jones on my way to Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s session. I was keen to catch up with Ben and hear about all the great things he has been doing with DataLiteracy.com since he left Tableau last year. We ended up attending the session together and having a catch up there and then. Ben recently published his new book “Avoiding Data Pitfalls” but unfortunately it is not avaliable in the UK until next year. I mentioned this to Ben and to my surprise, he handed me a signed copy of his book during Cole’s session! Thank you so much for your generosity, Ben!
5. Tableau Devs are more accessible than ever and genuinely want your feedback
There aren’t many software providers that have a close relationship with their customer base in the way that Tableau do. Tableau are constantly running beta tests and early feedback programs which anyone can sign up to throughout the year (you can sign up to Tableau’s Pre-Release and User Research Community here). These give customers the opportunity to try out new features before anyone else and offer constructive feedback. This feedback is invaluable and is used to shape the product into something that truly meets our needs.
At conference, the Tableau Dev’s are freely accessible and are itching to receive feedback and ideas from customers and the community. This year the Dev’s were avaliable to chat to in the Showcase area, gave talks at the Poolside, organised the #DataDev Hackathon and even arranged Braindates with regular conference attendees. I hope you got the opportunity to chat to the Dev’s at the conference. If you didn’t, be sure to join the Pre-Release and User Research Community and submit your product suggestions (and upvote others) on the Tableau Forums here.
6. The community never stops growing and evolving
It’s incredible to see just how much the Tableau Community has grown in the past 12 months alone. For instance, let’s compare these two pictures. The first was taken at the Community meet-up at #TC18. The second was taken at the same meet-up at #data19:
Either nobody attended the meet-up last year (which I don’t believe to be the case) or the community has grown massively in the past twelve months!
I make a concious effort to welcome newcomers into our community throughout the year. My involvement in #MakeoverMonday and leading #IronQuest really helps with this as both projects introduce me to newcomers on a regular basis, as well as initiatives like #TableauFF. The best part about conference is meeting these newcomers in person. This year I had the honour of meeting a handful of individuals who have become regular participants in both projects for the first time. This includes Meera Umasankar, Michelle Frayman, Ginny Moench-Barba, Kate Brown, Kate Schaub and Eleonora Nazander, amongst others. Thank you to everyone that came over and introduced yourself to me. It was so great to meet you all!
I can’t complete this section on newcomers without a special mention to two newcomers in particular; Adam Mico and Hesham Eissa. While Adam wasn’t at conference in person, he was certainly there in spirit! Adam was recognised at ‘The Vizzies’ as the “Most Notable Newbie”. Adam only joined Twitter in August after being encouraged by Toan “Tableau Magic” Hoang. However, Adam has made such a big impact in this time. Adam writes a fantastic “Data Viz Thoughts” blog which I strongly encourage you to check out here.
Meanwhile, Hesham has only been using Tableau for eight months yet participated in Iron Viz this year and not only made it into the finals but WON (alongside joint-winner Joshua Smith)! Hesham has been on an incredible rollercoaster ride over the past few months going from knowing nothing about Iron Viz or Tableau Conference to being an international superstar. I couldn’t be more proud of you!
7. Tableau is now part of the Salesforce Ohana
This isn’t exactly news but the conference hammered home the fact that Tableau are now part of Salesforce, even if it’s still early days. Marc Benioff (co-CEO of Salesforce) joined Adam Selipski on stage during the opening keynote for a fireside chat. For many, this was their first introduction to Benioff and I was lucky to grab a selfie with him in the keynote hall!
Then in the Data Village, Salesforce had a large stand complete with a photo booth and lots of swag. It will be interesting to see how the acquisiton changes things at future conferences.
I want to say a big thank you to Slalom for sending me to conference this year. I was incredibly grateful to represent the company for a second year! The conference was a great opportunity to not only showcase our Tableau expertise but our Salesforce knowledge too. Thanks to everyone who came to our booth to say hello.
Thank you to the amazing #datafam and Tableau team for a fantastic conference! I can’t wait to return to Las Vegas next year!
Thanks for reading.