Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Joe Oppelt for this month's Ambassador Spotlight. Joe is such a caring, fun person to talk to. I learned all about how he came to be such an expert in table calculations, and how much he truly enjoys helping people in this community. It's no wonder he's an Ambassador!
And if you're wondering what he's doing in this picture, he's growing hops for a little family brew!
Tracy: Ok, let’s get started with where you’re from?
Joe: I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Massachusetts, married a Massachusetts girl, and lived in Massachusetts for a while, and I hated it. I was working for Digital Equipment at the time (they’re defunct now), doing database support. When they started going under, Oracle bought their whole database business and I became an Oracle employee. I worked for Oracle for 19 years.
But it was Digital who moved me to Colorado Springs, and that’s how I got here. I was looking for something other than Massachusetts, and they had their customer support center in Colorado Springs – so I did database support. I love it here, my family loves it, we had a great move, and now we’ve been here for 27 years. So we’re here to stay. We’re here forever. Well, you never say forever, right? But the plan is forever.
When I was at Oracle, I started doing OBIEE (their BI tool). Then, they had a big layoff. At the time, I was principal project manager, so I thought I was going into project management. But the BI experience I had, was what my current role at Focus on the Family was looking for so I made the change.
I knew what any BI tool should be able to do, based on what I had done in the past. So it was just a matter of finding how to do what I wanted to make it do, and I found the forum. That’s what really got me going in Tableau. The people, and the help that I got from the community. Matt Lutton (he wasn’t working for Tableau at the time) – he just knew his stuff. The welcome and the help drew me in, and it just made me want to be that. So you know, I pay it forward what Matt did for me, and other people as well, just to the whole community. I’d be forever grateful to Matt for that.
Anything that I used to be able to do, and more, in other BI, I can do in Tableau. (And some things it shouldn’t be able to do.)
Tracy: So did Focus on the Family already have Tableau when you started working there or did you bring it in?
Joe: Yes, they had Tableau. They were looking for new Tableau experience. So I came in and learned it on the fly. I picked it up pretty readily. So I’m the go-to guy here.
Tracy: How long have you used Tableau?
Joe: Two and half years – let’s say a little more than two years. I’ve had four years of BI experience, two of Tableau.
Tracy: Do you use Tableau in your personal life at all or is mostly work related?
Joe: It’s work related and forum related. I really enjoy picking up other people’s things that they can’t make work, and make it work. One of the best challenges in the forum is I don’t think Tableau can do this. And it motivates me, actually, it motivates a lot of people on the forum.
Another guy who was huge for me was Ville Tyrväinen. He is a guy who really got me going on dashboard tricks and things like that. It really just whet my appetite for learning more and more of it. I always wish I could meet him!
Tracy: What type of data interests you?
Joe: I just want take whatever data needs to be done, and do it. There’s not a particular data set that interests me more than another.
Tracy: Alright, all data is created equal in your eyes.
Joe: I’ll take that. It’s really a matter of making it go where the customer wants it to go.
Tracy: So you said the forums, how else have you learned to use Tableau?
Joe: The breakout session at the conferences. The first year – it was table calcs. The second year I was LOD, LOD, LOD.
I like to think I’m rather accomplished in table calcs – making them dance, especially when you go into the advanced settings. It’s a sense of victory to make the data come out the way you want it to come out.
Tracy: What data sources do you typically use?
Joe: Mostly Tableau data extracts. Some Excel. Over here, we are getting into web analytics, and Ooyala. By and large, it’s extracts – with a lot of dollars and donors. We do a lot of work tracking broadcasts, and tracking the movements of the products that we put out.
Tracy: What has been your favorite Tableau project that you’ve ever worked on?
Joe: We have a broadcast dashboard that tracks daily broadcasts that Focus on the Family does. It tracks the callers, the new names that were generated through it – donors, dollars, product movement. We have calendars that allow you to click on a calendar date to pick on – you can see the brightest day of the month, the least favorite day of the month. We track the top broadcasts and all types of things.
And it’s my favorite because the particular customers (here in the organization) have made it the most interactive project that I’ve been on. There’s been a lot of back and forth, where they say Boy, if only it could do xyz and I get to say Well guess what? It can. and then we do it. And they are excited. They use it a lot, and then they come back to us and ask if we can also do this. And every time, every cycle, every new addition to that workbook just makes that whole workbook more and more powerful for them and for the organization.
Tracy: What is your favorite feature of Tableau?
Joe: I’ll say table calcs. Actually, I really like making a dashboard dance. Popping and swapping, that’s my thing. And finding ways to make the dashboard more interactive with fewer clicks. Sometimes eliminating whole dashboards by having it all in one dashboard based on what clicks people choose. So – dashboard tricks, dashboard wizardry – that’s my favorite feature.
Tracy: What’s your biggest feature request?
Joe: Can you make this look like an Excel spreadsheet?
Tracy: Wait, you’re being sarcastic right?
Joe: I’m saying it with sarcasm, yes. But my customers (others in the organization) are always asking for this. It’s an uphill battle. The users who use Tableau well, and use it a lot, realize the beauty of visualization. But the numbers guys, they just want numbers. We have a giant Excel spreadsheet – and it’s legal size, hundreds and hundreds of pages deep—some people are able to just flip through and pull out the numbers, but everyone else is intimidated by it. Right now, we’re in the process of trying to get that in a way that is visual and usable for everyone else in the organization. We want to be able to allow anyone to find the jewels themselves through an interactive dashboard.
Tracy: Do you share the dashboards you create through Tableau Server then?
Joe: Yes, I develop on Desktop and then publish it in Server. We have it very organized in projects. All the marketing workbooks are in the Marketing Project, etc. and what we’ve done, we’ve driven changes in the business, positive changes.
Tracy: Are you also the Server admin?
Joe: Since I started here, there have really only been two of us. Me and Ramona. Ramona is the SQL guru, and so she’s the builder of the extracts. She mixes my paint, and I paint with it – that’s what we say around here. And she knows Tableau really well too. So she can make really good data sources that are usable. It’s a huge asset to me. We now have maybe four or five people now who use Tableau. But by and large, the two of us are the primary users/designers. We have 95 licenses using Tableau Server.
My goal is to keep an eye on who is using it, who isn’t and ask questions of how/why they use it.
Tracy: What do you want to learn more about?
Joe: I don’t know a whole lot about web analytics.
Actually, I’d like to become as proficient as Ramona in mixing data, and building the extracts. We have compartmentalized that. It’s a black box for me. I say what I need and then it just magically appears. I know that I can do it. I just haven’t worked with it and have never had the need to because I have Ramona. But, that’s something I should move into so that I don’t have to bother her.
Tracy: How did you discover the Tableau Community?
Joe: Day one that I started here, I got some links from Ramona of places to go to learn and eventually I found the forums. And I just knew it, just as soon as I got on it – that’s the place. I could ask questions, I could search. It’s really nicely searchable, too. I could search a lot of stuff, and start a thread and say that these guys got close, but this is what I really need. I just ran with it. It clicked with me (pause).
Tableau clicked with me.
We have the same brain waves. And something about the forums, the people on the forum, the format of it, it just drew me in. It’s made me successful with Tableau.
Tracy: What’s your favorite part about the Tableau Community?
Joe: Oh wow, there are so many favorites. It’s like I’m in the candy store. There’s names, there’s certain people you hear from, Jonathan Drummey – it’s gospel. That was easy and quick to find.
The eagerness of people to assist.
The fun of assisting someone else. Every time I can help someone else, I’m their hero for the day, as well as people are the hero for me. And I learn something every day on there whether it’s because I ask a question or I got involved in a thread where it grew into something more than I expected and I learned something. But day by day, I still learn something everyday in that forum. I live in there.
Tracy: What advice do you have for new members of Tableau? Of the Community?
Joe: You know, about two days ago, a guy got helped by me and somebody else, and he asked How do you guys know this stuff!? It was about table calcs, and my response was Every day open one or two threads that look interesting, look like something you’re doing. Not to answer it, just to follow it all the way to conclusion. Open your own workbook and follow along in your own workbook and do whatever they’re doing, and learn it. And every day, learn one thing.
If you’re just coming in to take, you’re not contributing.
Something else is after somebody gives you a solution, mark it as correct. Let them know, and say thank you by marking it. It lets the next guy know, when he goes searching around, that this was a correct answer, and it’s worth following and checking it out.
Yeah, so just every day, open up a thread that you’re interested in. If you’re interested in calculations, open some calculation threads. I remember the day when I learned about the NOT function, and I hadn’t known about NOT until I saw someone describe it in the thread – a simple little thing like that, it was a revelation for me. And now I use it all the time.
But eventually, you’ll start opening threads and realizing that you know the answer to that one, and that you can answer it.
Tracy: Anything else you want to share?
Joe: I raise chickens. I have eight backyard chickens for eggs. They are fun, so much fun. They have their little personalities. They’re as fun as grand-kids.
To see Joe's profile and start following him - visit: Joe Oppelt