Last week I had a chance to interview Forum Ambassador Derrick Austin about his work with Tableau, his journey with the Tableau Community and his interest in IOT devices and all the fascinating things they can tell us about our lives. During our conversation Derrick offered some great advice for novice users to experts. Read more below and give follow Derrick's work in the Tableau community!
Amanda: Where are you from?
Amanda: You said you’ve been with InterWorks for four years, is that when you started using Tableau?
Derrick: That is correct. Coming into InterWorks, I don’t know if I could have spelled Tableau correctly, but I knew that I would be using it. I actually came in with a lot of database and programming experience and I applied that to Tableau. That was a huge need in our Business Intelligence team at that time and continues to be now. That was my first foray with Tableau at InterWorks - my first week in (laughing).
Amanda: Did they just throw you into the deep end when you started, or was there product training?
Derrick: There was a little bit of training. I sat in on some standard Tableau training that one of our trainers was giving at a local company, but there was a lot of throwing me in the deep end too (laughing).
Amanda: That seems to be the norm. It’s like “You’ll figure it out” It’s good though - I feel like you do figure it out. Once you get that hook - once you find a data set you’re excited about you want to figure out more and more.
Derrick: Oh absolutely.
Amanda: So, you use Tableau for Interworks - do you use it for you personal life as well?
Derrick: I do. I have a fascination with IOT devices, just monitoring random things and using Tableau to visualize that. I have a couple things on Tableau Public that I just love connecting those devices and collecting random data. I have a couple blogs on my InterWorks profile that you might find interesting. For example, we monitor the traffic to the office kitchen area and how often the coffee pot gets refilled. The process of collecting data with those random devices is really easy but also a lot of fun to see what you can monitor. We’re always coming up with new ideas like, “Hey, I can monitor this random thing that no one has ever thought of monitoring.”
Amanda: Can you share more or describe an IOT device in layman's terms?
Derrick: IOT stands for “Internet of Things”. Basically it is random sensors. In our case, we used motion sensors and a Flic button that people would push - but basically it is any sensor data logged to the internet somewhere. You can pull and apply the data to a Tableau visualization and do some really cool stuff with it. Companies are coming up with a lot of interesting sensors that tie into your day to day life. For instance, right now I am wearing a FitBit and its collecting all this information about what I do. And I can take that data and visualize it in Tableau and do whatever I want to with it, but it's just collecting it without me doing any input. That’s what the IOT movement is all about.
Amanda: That’s fantastic - my brain is spinning with all the differnt things you could do to that is so fascinating to better understand people.
Derrick: Yeah, there is so much!
Amanda: The next thing I wanted to ask was where you find data for your personal projects - do you use other data sets or do you dig around to explore other opportunities besides IOT information?
Derrick: Usually it’s IOT related or data blended in with that. There is a ton of stuff just around sensor data in general. You see all the home automation stuff and that is logging data as well.
Amanda: Like Nest?
Derrick: Yeah, so your Nest device is logging data and you can combine that with different websites that basically collect that data and store it in a Google Doc for you and you can then visualize it.
Amanda: Beyond IOT is there a certain thing that sparks your interest or creativity? Is it understanding people, or understanding trends? Certain types of data you find more interesting?
Derrick: Yeah I definitely love diving into trends that people go through in their day to day lives without even knowing it. So, one of my blogs was on coffee pot data. We were constantly refilling this coffee pot throughout the day and it's an office, it's a shared coffee pot, and we just wanted to know how often we refill it, but also to predict when it would run out. Other things like the motion sensors in the office - seeing when people work - is fascinating. We tend to think that people generally go to work when you show up and leave when you leave. You just assume everybody works approximately the same time schedule, but we actually found some interesting data. We have a sales guy that shows up at 6:00am every morning and I had no clue! Then there was someone always tripping the sensors at 7:00pm every night and I realized that was the janitor coming in and cleaning everything up and all these people interacting with the office in ways I had never thought about.
Amanda: That’s fascinating! It’d be interested to see how much energy is used and where it could be saved or conserved across the office.
Derrick: Oh yeah, definitely.
Amanda: So you mentioned you were thrown in the deep end with learning Tableau .. when you were first coming on four years ago did you use the forums or the community or anything like that - or did you reach out to people or have anyone guiding you when you were learning Tableau - or was it trial-by-fire and figure it out?
Derrick: We did Tableau training - it was minimal and just your standard Tableau training. Other than that there was a really good group at Interworks that helped people get started as well so I used that a lot. I do distinctly remember using the documentation on Tableau’s website, the videos, and just like the help manual when you Google things is the #1 result a lot of times too. Or, the forums obviously pop up very often as well when I Google specific things.
Amanda: What is your favorite Tableau project that you’ve worked on? This could be work related or personal.
Derrick: I would say, so in general I like doing anything with embedded analytics: taking the dashboards and putting them in a web environment for end users.
That’s really generic though. Looking at a specific project: I would say the coffee pot data was definitely one of my favorite visualizations to build out.
Amanda: What is your favorite feature of Tableau?
Derrick: I would definitely go back to the APIs. I am such a web nerd. I love the web development side and the fact that I can add on things using the APIs is amazing, and it gives me so much flexibility in what the actual output is. I always enjoy building just something really cool with those APIs that no one has really thought of using them for yet.
Amanda: Is there anything with how you use the APIs now that you would want to improve or change?
Derrick: For me, the API is such a broad thing, right now I think the biggest though would be the more folks we can get to do more things, the better. It’s a fairly new thing. I think version 8 or 9 is when they started adding that stuff and over the years they’ve added to it and added to it and it's got a lot of cool features, but every once in awhile I run across something and think, “Oh hey, it’s be really cool if the API did this” and I usually see that added, like extract refreshes for instance in Tableau 10.3 getting added to the REST APIs, but you know there are more things like that. The more that can get into the APIs, the better.
Amanda: What do you want to learn more about?
Derrick: I’m definitely interested in learning more about human processes. As you can see with the sensor data, it’s a fascinating area. We all do such different things: either culturally, or even individually. For the first time in history, we’re to a point where we can start quantifying and visualizing these processes without any extra input!
Amanda: What is your biggest feature request? Is there anything specific you would like to see in the product?
Derrick: I’ve been looking forward to visualisualizations in tooltips for a little while now. I know it’s coming - they announced it at TC last year! But I’m excited to see that come into fruition as well.
Amanda: You’ve been a huge contributor to the community, you’ve been an ambassador for about a year now, how did you get involved with the Tableau Community?
Derrick: I’ve been poking around the community in for 2-2.5 years now and getting really involved, before that I was less involved. I always kind of knew it was there and at InterWorks we talk about it a lot and discuss solutions that people find on the community and random questions on there.
We actually, at the office, started making a conscious effort to contribute more to the community, and as part of that a coworker was asking my input on a question that somebody had posted on the community. Once I started looking at the question I started looking at other questions and realized, “Hey I can answer a lot of these - and so I started hopping in and answering and really found a passion for it.”
Amanda: That’s incredible. I haven’t heard of any internal groups - or company initiatives to participate in the community. Is that just something you did because you thought it would help you become better with Tableau or was there another reason behind it? What motivated you to be more engaged on the forums as a team?
Derrick: So, it’s definitely both of those. The number one thing is it definitely makes you way better at Tableau. Just getting in and figuring out random things that people are asking - because I am never going to come across half of that in my day to day life even though I use Tableau every day. The community come up with just the weirdest stuff (laughing) and so it really helps you become an excellent Tableau user because you become exposed to everything under the sun. But also, it does form those connections as well, which comes back to the business aspect of course as well. Overall though, it benefits the community in general, which benefits us all.
Amanda: For the greater good, but at the same time you can’t deny the business value.
Derrick: Yeah, absolutely.
Amanda: The more i’ve gone into the community, as I am learning the product it has been really helpful to see the breadth of knowledge across the forums - seeing people asking those questions that might seem simple to many - but they find it to be a healthy space for them to reach out and ask those questions and to learn. It’s really important to foster that type of healthy space where everyone feels welcome to ask questions - or to search through the forums because someone has probably asked the same question before you.
Derrick: Probably 20 people. There are a lot of repeats (laughing).
Amanda: Trying to clean that up and attempting to link it all is an ongoing process (laughing).
Derrick: It’s okay - you see a lot of the same stuff and it’s interesting. I think some of those, after you see them five times or so you think, “Well maybe if they changed this or that” but it’s always interesting to see what stumps people in that way often.
Amanda: What do you find is your favorite part of the community?
Derrick: I love how close knit it is. The people that are always in the community, you know really well and you know what they do really well as well. Then you’ll see them everywhere. They’re not only on the community, they’re on Twitter and they’re on Tableau Public and they’re posting these visualizations basically everywhere. And so, it's a community that’s in a lot of different venues but also is really closely connected too.
Amanda: I really appreciate that. These people really live and breathe Tableau, but they evangelize it all over the place. --- What advice do you have for people new to Tableau or new to the Community?
Derrick: My biggest advice would be get into the forums. Don’t just post questions, but jump in and answer some questions. When you can answer things it will push you outside your comfort zone a little bit but it is going to help you grow that comfort zone very large, very quickly. That’s by far the easiest way to learn. Get in and start doing things to help people that are struggling in various areas. Even if you’re brand new there are things you can answer and that helps you make that next step.
Amanda: How would you find the new questions - the easier questions?
Derrick: They go fast (laughing). Yeah, you really have to watch the homepage for the new ones as they pop up. They usually get answered pretty quickly. But even if you’re there just reading and you miss one and somebody else answers the question you learn something.
Thank you so much for your time!
Read more: Derrick's Blog
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