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4 Tips for Mastering Tableau

People who are just getting started with Tableau often reach out to me, asking for advice on how to improve their skills. As I find myself giving them the same list of things to do, I thought it would be good to write it out in long form. So, in this blog, I’ll share with you my 4 tips for mastering Tableau: Train, Practice, Engage, Teach

Train
My first recommendation is to get some training. This is a pretty important step as it will give you the basic foundation upon which you can build your skills. Without it, you’ll be lost on some of the basic foundational elements of the platform.

People have different learning styles, but the good news is that there are lots of options available to you, no matter how you prefer to learn. Here are a few different options:

Books – There are a lots of great books on Tableau such as Practical Tableau by Ryan Sleeper, Learning Tableau 10 by Joshua Milligan, and many others.

Online Training – When I started learning Tableau, I took an online course by Matt Francis on Udemy. He has since moved to Lynda and has a new course called Tableau for Data Scientists. But don’t let the name fool you—this course is meant for a broad audience of people who want to learn Tableau Desktop, not just data scientists. Of course, there are lots of other options available, at a low price, on other learning platforms such as Udemy. Just be sure to do your homework and ensure that the trainer knows his/her stuff.

Formal Training – Lots of organizations offer incredible Tableau classroom training. But, like online training, do your homework first. Formal training can be quite expensive so you want to make sure that you’re receiving top notch instructions.

Immersive Training – Finally, if you want to immerse yourself in Tableau (and related tools like Alteryx), then you can you can apply to join The Data School, where you’ll sign on for a 28 month contract, which includes 4 months of schooling, followed by placements with clients.


Australia: The Data School

My key recommendation here is to make sure your training is comprehensive. In other words, it needs to cover Tableau from end-to-end, explaining all the little bits and pieces along the way, so that you have that solid foundation on which to build.

Practice
Once you have the foundational knowledge, you need to practice. This is the only way to really get good at Tableau (or anything, for that matter). Fortunately, Tableau had the foresight some years ago to create a free version of their platform, Tableau Public. This version has almost all of the functionality of the full Desktop client, with just a few exception, and is a great way to practice the tool. So, if you don’t have a full license available, your first step should be to download Tableau Public. From there, your options are boundless, but here are a few recommendations:

One of the most well-known community projects is Makeover Monday, which is run by Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray (Eva took over from Andy Cotgreave after the inaugural year). While this grew out of the Tableau Community, it is not Tableau-exclusive—you can use any tool you like. Each week, Andy and Eva provide a visualization and its underlying data and ask that you do a makeover of it. By participating in this project, you’ll be able to learn with a variety of different data sets, each with their own challenges. And it’s a lot of fun as well—what better way to learn!

Workout Wednesday was started by Andy Kriebel and Emma Whyte. In 2018, it was run by Ann Jackson, Luke Stanke, and Rody Zakovich. In 2019, it will be run by Ann, Luke, and Andy, plus new additions Lorna Eden and Curtis Harris. Each week, the team produces a visualization, then asks you to recreate it as closely as possible. Challenges are often tailored to focus on a specific set of skills.

If you pair Makeover Monday and Workout Wednesday together, those alone will help you to build an incredible skill set in Tableau. But, there are lots of other community projects as well, including Sports Viz Sunday, Project Health Viz, and Throwback Thursday. If you like competition, then be sure to enter the Iron Viz competition; and to practice for Iron Viz, check out Iron Quest. And, if you’re interested in leveraging your new-found Tableau skills to make a difference in the world, then be sure to check out the incredible projects, Viz for Social Good and Data for a Cause.

Or, if by some chance, none of this interests you, then my recommendation is to Viz Your Passion. We live in a world where lots of data is publicly available, so go out and find something you’re interested in and visualize it. It could be a general topic or a very specific question you’d like to answer. Inspiration and questions are everywhere and all it takes is a little curiosity.

Quick note before I move onto the third tip. Once you’ve been practicing Tableau for a while, I strongly recommend revisiting your training. Go back to your book, online training course, or training materials and read through them again. It is inevitable that some of these things simply didn’t make much sense to you up front and revisiting the training, after using the platform for a while, can really help to fill in the gaps. For example, when I first took Matt’s online training, despite his fantastic explanation and examples, I just didn’t grasp the blue pill/green pill thing. But, after working with Tableau for about six months, I revisited the training course and that’s when it clicked. This is just one example, but there are lots more where this review of my training really helped to fill in lots of little gaps.

Engage
Okay, so you’ve done some formal training and you’ve found lots of ways to practice your craft. What next? Well, it’s likely at this point that, due to your involvement in one of the projects above, you’ve already been introduced to the Tableau Community. If not, get involved and start to engage. You can engage in lots of different ways. Twitter has a thriving Tableau community, as does LinkedIn. And there are a number of Tableau User Groups, both local and virtual. 

The Tableau Community is seriously amazing—it’s full of passionate data people who love to use Tableau to create beautiful and insightful visualizations. The community is also incredibly supportive, willing to help you grow, and eager to provide feedback to whomever asks.

You’ll also find that many people in the community write blogs. These blogs are a great way to learn—read them! People also regularly share their work on Tableau Public. One of the beauties of Tableau Public is that most workbooks are downloadable. So, if you see something interesting or a chart you’d like to build, download the workbook and take it apart to see how it was done.

So, three primary recommendations here. First, get a Twitter account, start following and engaging with people. If you’re not sure who to follow, here’s a list of Data Viz people I follow closely to get you started. Second, join a TUG—there are lots to choose from including local, in-person TUGs, as well as virtual TUGs. Third, open a Tableau Public account and start following people there. On a regular basis, log on and check the Activity feed, so you can see what people are creating. Just seeing the work people do is a great way to learn and gain inspiration.

Teach
Finally, you can learn a lot by switching gears and attempting to teach Tableau. Many studies have shown that teaching is an incredibly effective way to learn. To teach something, you need to really understand it inside and out. It also forces you to be able to verbalize something that you may have never had to verbalize before. That said, find a way to teach the platform. You could do this through blogging, video tutorials, teaching a formal course, or any number of other methods.

I personally love to write, so blogging has been one of my top methods of teaching. But another that I fell in love with last year is the Tableau Community Forums. Did you know that, if you have any questions about Tableau, you can post a question on the forums, then a group of passionate Tableau users will all work to find the best solution to your problem? This is a great way to get answers to your questions, but it’s also a great way to teach people in a one-on-one fashion. Every question on the forums is unique—they all have different business drivers, different data and data structures, and different constraints. And, in order to help the person, you have to work within these confines to provide an answer. This often requires some creative thinking or even hacky solutions. And this is where it gets interesting—while you’re there to help teach the platform, you’re also learning a lot along the way. So the forums end up as a two-for-one deal—you’re both teaching and learning at the same time. So, head over to the forums, create an account and start trying to help people. And don’t worry that you're still to new to Tableau. Even Tableau experts can’t answer every question. So answer the questions you can and skip those you can’t. Over time, your skills will grow and you’ll find more and more questions that you’re able to answer.

Summary
So, there you have it. If you want to master Tableau, just follow these four steps: Train, Practice, Engage, Teach. The resources are all there available to you and mostly for free. It will take hard work and dedication, but if you commit yourself to it, you’ll get there.

Thanks for reading! If you have additional thoughts on how to master Tableau, be sure to mention them in the comments below.

Ken Flerlage, March 3, 2018

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