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Reflections On A First Tableau Conference

After many months of anticipation, I will confess that as Tableau Conference 2017 drew closer, I became somewhat wary that the event might end up representing an anti-climax, or alternatively that the conclusion would leave me feeling a little low.

Having returned from a thoroughly successful trip, I’m pleased to look back and reflect upon an event that didn’t disappoint, and look forward to applying the many things I learned in the coming weeks and months. Six intense days of Tableau development and networking can’t really be done complete justice in a single blogpost. I intend to write up some of the main events in separate, more detailed posts to follow, but here’s my quick summary review while it’s all fresh:

The community is as great as everyone says…
Daily runs at dawn, Twitter meet-ups, Makeover Monday, the Vizzies and so much more… if you’re a part of the Tableau community then there’s an angle, or probably multiple angles, to suit your style. The enthusiasm of so many to curate and coordinate these events benefits so many and becomes quite infectious. Without them, the Conference would remain an energising and fulfilling event, but with them it becomes merely the highlight of an ongoing series of discussions, online and off.

… but there’s more to it than that
Whilst many hundreds are active in the community, there were 14,000 attendees at #data17, and for the most part they are not active community members. However, this doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the product or the conference event. Whilst I loved meeting community members I already knew or was meeting for the first time, it was also just as great to engage with those who don’t live and breathe Tableau 24/7. I was fortunate to meet dozens of other users at mealtimes, in the hotel lifts, around the tables at Makeover Monday, or working through problems at a hands-on training session. In fact, one of the greatest breakthroughs I had came at the break during a training session – after bemoaning an ongoing problem I’d been facing with the use of sets in tabular form, my friendly neighbour provided the solution. In return all I could do was to wax lyrical about Tableau Public.

Breakout sessions and training need not be all-consuming
Many of the pre-conference blogs I read carried warnings about burnout, and how important it would be to make time within the conference schedule to take breaks and gather yourself. I’m unaware whether the schedule was slightly different in 2017 to account for this problem in previous years, but I certainly didn’t feel overwhelmed. I attended a session in every available slot and still found plenty of time for nourishment in between, and to wander the halls to the next venue, whilst still able to cram in visits to the Expo Hall and hang out in the Data Village. It certainly helped that I’d arrived two days in advance and also taken time to scout the venues.

There’s more than one way to skin a conference
For all the excellent advice that was available before Data17 kicked off in earnest, one thing is now clear to me and I may find myself repeating ahead of Data18 TC18. Whilst attendees might have many things in common, no two are identical and we each experience things in different ways. There is no set track, and everyone will opt in/out of certain events according to their needs and their personality. There is so much on offer that we will all find something that floats our own boats that might not suit many others. For all the suggestions that rooms get filled early, only once (Makeover Monday) did I attend a session that had no spare seats come the start, and failing to be on the front row for keynotes didn’t seem to restrict my enjoyment of them.

IronViz is intense
20 minutes of rapid, nailbiting dashboard generation absolutely flew by, and this was perhaps the most thrilling session of the week. In the heat of the battle, many of us in the audience were quick to identify preferences, to comment upon choices or styles of those competing (and in my case, much to the amusement of my Hawaiian neighbour in the audience). It should go without saying, however, that the three contestants were all incredible and had put in a huge effort to produce their interpretations up on stage in front of many thousands. To also retain their composure and speak so competently in front of such a crowd says a lot of their skills beyond just Tableau. I was particularly pleased to see two of the three use the Pages feature, which I sense may spark a much-needed conversation around the function.

The strength of Tableau emanates from its people
After arriving on the Saturday, three full days before the conference was to kick off in earnest, I stumbled upon Ben Jones in a hallway and excitedly struck up conversation (something I would never ordinarily do – what is it about this community?). Later in the week, Sarah Battersby was kind enough to give up nearly an hour of her breakfast time to sit and discuss all things mapping. The team running the Global Services Hub, covering eLearing, certification and more were absolutely delightful and oozed enthusiasm, even in spite of having been working back-to-back for days. Passing along the concourse towards the Events Arena, with dozens of staff cheering every attendee was downright hilarious, but actually quite reminiscent of the feeling one got from the volunteers at the Olympic Games in 2012. Overall, that remains my strongest comparable event to Tableau Conference 2017 – everyone to a man delighted to be there, having a whale of a time and nothing was too much to ask of anyone. The only failing being that it was over all too soon.

We’ll just have to do it again next year then. Deal?

About The Author

Mark Edwards

A statistician at heart, Mark’s approach is always numbers-led. Already visualising data in other side-projects, Mark was introduced to the world of Tableau in 2016, when he and Pablo started working together in UK financial services. A keen participant in social Tableau challenges, Mark is building his skills and appreciation of clean and simple visuals, discovering interesting and untapped data sets, a path that has already led to a new career and a range of further opportunities. Mark is a Tableau Desktop Certified Professional, a Tableau Social Ambassador and an annual attendee of the Tableau Conference in the US.

1 Comment

  1. Pablo Gomez

    Great post Mark, love it – Next year, we’ll go together !!!



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