It was nearly 2 years and 100 articles ago that I wrote the following words:
Now that I have accomplished that mission by writing a 50/50 balance of Alteryx and Tableau articles, I’m going to push even further into Alteryx and Tableau applications than I ever thought possible.
Over the next 100 articles, I’m going to continue to explore the connection between Alteryx and Tableau, but I’m going to explore more computationally challenging problems. I want to use the combined brilliance of these two platforms do some things that are truly inspiring and innovative.
If I could sing this article to you, I’d sing it with the intensity that Ann Wilson generated during this epic 2012 performance. Do yourself a favor by clicking that link like 5 million others have done and watch the video and listen to that song. This rendition is pure musical genius, much like the pure computational genius that Alteryx is in my world.
Let me start with some numbers that lead to the creation of this article.
- 199 – That is the number of 3danim8 blog articles that have come before this one. This means this is article 200, and I’ve picked a special topic for this space. What I have learned is that this blog continues to be a labor of love and is an endeavor that is worth pursuing.
- 40+ – The number of years of quantitative studies I’ve been involved in, including writing many computer programs in at least 10 different programming languages.
- 1 – A single week of Alteryx usage by two of my new colleagues at work.
- 1 – One article by the incomparable Mike Bostick. If you don’t know who he is, take a look at his website to see why he is a modern-day innovator extraordinaire. This man is superlative and he wrote an article that I’m still trying to digest but immediately caused me to start writing this one. The reason for this is that I believe Alteryx achieves all the elements Mike specified for
goodGreat software design, as shown in Figure 2.
About three years ago I began using Alteryx. It took me a few seconds to realize that Alteryx was much different than I imagined it would be. It took me a few weeks to understand its power. It took me a few months to be mesmerized by its capabilities. It has taken me three years to reach my goal of being able to accomplish whatever I want to do with the software.
Within these three years, I have also realized that I no longer will have to be a computer programmer, although I can be if I want to be. I no longer will have to worry about object designs, memory management, object oriented concepts, testing, debugging, and countless hours being spent on code development. In other words, I can spend my time solving problems in a very rapid fashion. I can leave all the coding details to the highly-competent development team at Alteryx.
This experience has caused my problem-solving abilities to exponentially improve because I have been transformed into an Alteryx workflow generator. I like the title of “workflow generator” better than “computer programmer” or “developer” because it implies that I am creating some form of energy.
Indeed, that is the case every time I teach people how to use Alteryx. The students are instantaneously energized and have tremendous fun building workflows. Now I have to formalize this training so that I can offer it to others that I’ll never meet in person.
A Little Test
Now, after 3 years of exploring the software, I have some wisdom. I believe can now teach a huge amount of Alteryx functionality in a matter of a few minutes. In fact, I recently did a little test. This explains Part 1 of the test.
At work, I took my two new college hires (Matt and John) and assigned them a task as part of their on-the-job training. A week after they took my Tableau class, I asked them to perform some text analytics on a file I provided to them.
I let them work for three days, grinding out the operations needed to transform the data before performing the analytics. I asked them to create some interactive Tableau dashboards. They were both able to perform some of the work, and they each did an admirable job.
Once they reached a point of near-exhaustion after three days of grinding, I brought them into my workspace. In about 15 minutes, I designed, built, tested, and mostly completed a workflow that did everything they did plus a lot more. For information on what that workflow looked like, you can read this article.
This experience left Matt and John stunned. The best part about it was that since they did the job the hard way, and they were easily taught and informed as I developed the workflow. That was the end of Part 1 of the testing, which set the stage for proving the Greatness of Alteryx.
Two Alteryx Insights
What amazes me about Alteryx is that it is exceptional at doing so many different operations. In fact, there are too many operations for me to list, but I’ll keep my insights focused on two primary aspects of the software.
First, all the tools present in the software function harmoniously. There are no conflicts, there are no difficulties putting pieces together. The object-oriented design of this software is textbook perfect, and the execution of the compiled code is extraordinarily fast, reliable, and perfectly repeatable. With over 170 tools in the version 10 suite, tool compatibility is one of most remarkable aspects of this software.
What this means to me is that Alteryx is a modern-day computer program that simultaneously achieves artistic, scientific, and technological beauty. Alteryx empowers its users to do more things that most of us will ever attempt, all the while giving us these capabilities in a platform that is fairly easy to learn and use (as I will demonstrate).
In a sense, Alteryx is a platform of boundless capability that does not require the user to learn how to write scripts, functions, or perform other programming-like operations. In other words, Alteryx is not like R (although I also believe that R is brilliant in other ways).
Not only does Alteryx achieve these objectives, it is also infinitely extensible, with many predictive tools driven by R integration, macro programming capabilities, analytic application development capabilities, and a robust software development kit (SDK). These tools allow us to build magnificent computing workflows that can perform the work of extensive computer programs in much less time.
These capabilities, when put in the hands of computationally gifted workers, allows Alteryx to be fully customized. These aspects of Alteryx allow the software to be used on jobs ranging from the routine to some of the most complicated cases imaginable.
Secondly, Alteryx does a lot of work with little human effort. Alteryx tools do a quantum amount of work in tidy little packets that can be seamlessly tied together to accomplish whatever we can envision.
This volume of work occurs because the tools are compact, well documented, and clever in design. The tools are optimized for the operations they perform. The performance achieved by these tools is a testament to the professional expertise of the development team.
Alteryx users can accomplish vast quantities of work without having to learn programming. The tool configurations are easy to understand and typically contain the right number of options a user would like to have to accomplish a lot of work in a small space.
A few other great features of the software include the ability to easily document logic and theory, to create reusable components, to view the data and its transformations as it moves through the workflow, and the ability to write a wide variety of output.
Part 2 of My Test
In all honesty, part 2 of my test happened fortuitously and makes a perfect example for me to prove my claim of Alteryx greatness. I didn’t really plan this phase, but I’m going to take a little credit for it because I whet the Alteryx appetite for both Matt and John.
About a week after witnessing the text analytics workflow development miracle, Matt and John were assigned to a particularly nasty data job. The job had to do with processing the results of thirty-something, highly variable automotive surveys that were assembled into one big 500-column, multi-thousand line data file. It seemed very unlikely to me that this file was going to be very Tableau-friendly.
This file reminded me of the nasty sparse matrices I used to have to work with in numerical modeling. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, finding efficient solution techniques for sparse matrices was a very active area of research. I felt like Matt and John had their hands full on their very first professional job.
After providing a bit of overview and guidance, I left Matt and John alone to explore the data. After five days or so, I stopped by to see them. What I saw, really surprised me. What I heard, didn’t surprise me at all. Here is how the conversation went:
Me: Oh, I see you guys are using Alteryx.
Matt: Yes, we downloaded the 14-day trial version.
John: We couldn’t get anywhere before we had Alteryx. Working with the data was hard, nearly impossible.
Me: Great insight, show me what you have accomplished.
What They Accomplished – The Proof of Greatness
Within one week of using Alteryx, both Matt and John were able to build workflows that produced strategic data sets that were efficiently and effectively visualized in Tableau. One of the workflows is shown in Figure 3. There are others, too, but suffice it to say that the work completed in Figure 3 could only happen with great software.
The Tableau dashboards derived from the Alteryx workflows were demonstrated to very experienced people on the business side of the data, and they were very favorably impressed. In fact, they were very excited about the data insight possibilities that Matt and John demonstrated. In my professional estimation, it was a remarkable achievement for these young workers to make in one week.
I remember when I first read about Alteryx. I also remember having to learn it under the pressure of two time-sensitive projects, which was not easy to do.
At that time, Alteryx was a big mystery to me. I had no formal training on how to use the tools and I didn’t have time to take the training due to project deadlines. I initially struggled to understand what was going on throughout the workflows I was creating, especially in the geospatial tools I was using. Luckily, that confusion lasted only a short time because of my programming experience, computational skills and GIS background.
Now, three years later, Alteryx is a collection of the most beautifully engineered pieces of C++ code that I have ever used. Every day that I get to use Alteryx is a wonderful day, indeed.
To summarize why I believe Alteryx is great software, I offer this summary. I witnessed two new employees (directly out of college) achieve remarkable analytics performance in one week. This occurred with no formal Alteryx training other than a watching me work on a familiar problem for 15 minutes.
Matt and John went from ground-zero to impressing seasoned business professionals within one week, using a very challenging collection of data. These individuals saw the potential of Alteryx and took the initiative to get the software, learn how to use it, and to produce tremendous results within a week, while in their second month of work. That is my proof of Greatness. QED.
P.S. I am wondering if it would be possible to link Alteryx and the incredible Bostick D3 libraries…can I find the time?…ohh the possibilities…100 articles to go…