How The VizPainter Blazes #Tableau Trails



This article has been written in my brain a few times before today but it has never been put on paper. Today, I awoke with this story completely written in my brain in about 30 seconds. I usually don’t know how that happens, but I know why it happened today, as I will explain.


The narrator for this story, at least in my mind, is the great actor Sam Elliott.


If you don’t know what his voice sounds like, click this link to hear him talk about people that have made a difference in his life and who have provided mentoring to him.

Sam is my narrator because this story is about a real-life trailblazer, someone that sets the path for me to follow. My mentor is like a cowboy that keeps moving on down the trail, leading me in the right directions. This person has done this time and time again.

You might be wondering why I’ve started the story off this way. Deep in the heart of Texas, there is an unassuming guy that calls himself the VizPainter that has been a mentor to me for the past few years. Although we haven’t ever met in person, we trade emails and ideas without even realizing how or why it happens.

Three Weeks Ago

It was March 15th, when the best hour of the month occurred for me. During that hour, I sat at my computer screen and was taught by one of the best Tableau masters that exists. Joshua Milligan (aka, the VizPainter) was giving a Tableau 10.2 overview presentation when he did something that sent a bolt of electricity through me.

This jolt reminded me of the time back in the late 1980’s when I leaned backwards and my ear touched the electrified cow fence, as my buddy Mark and I were sampling stream water at the Sullivan County Landfill in Blountville, TN. When it happened, it felt like my head got crushed with a baseball bat and fireworks went off in my brain. My ear still holds the scar of that unwelcome encounter.

When Joshua demonstrated how Tableau 10.2 could render shape files, my brain exploded with possibilities and I saw fireworks, just like you would when watching the grand finale of a fireworks display on the fourth of July. Josh had found a file that showed the time series history of the development of the United States. Moments after he showed me that, I was on the hunt for that data.

Even before the webinar was over, I sent Josh a thank you note because I knew that he had just blazed another Tableau trail for me to follow:



A little while later, I had found the file and wrote to Josh again to tell him not to worry about sending me the files. He responded anyway with more information about how he used these shape files.


files found


It is this type of complete cooperation, of sharing of knowledge, that Josh has been doing for a long time. Even though he had a plan on doing great things with this data set, he openly shared it with me without any fear of how I might use it.

So use it, I did. Later that night, I did some work and wrote an article showing how this historical data set that Josh had used was interpreted by me in 10 minutes of using Tableau 10.2 for the first time. Although I took the data down an entirely different path than Josh did, I could feel the significance of his find in the work that I did.



The reason that I have included this tale in this story is that it is only one example of many of how Josh’s trail-blazing activities have carried me along in his wake.

Two Weeks Ago

Ben Jones wrote a tweet about the latest IronViz competition submissions. I wrote back to him telling him that I was glad I wasn’t in that competition. I said this because of the overwhelming amount of talent that was oozing out of that 5×12 matrix shown below. I knew that I was seeing and feeling another form of sensory overload via Tableau.



The interesting thing was that when I first saw the matrix, my eyes were drawn to something special in column 1, row 4. I suppose this occurred because I had seen that work before.

That picture was Joshua’s submission expanded into a historical narrative extraordinare. Within a week, Joshua was able to take his initial vision for this data set and turn it into a piece of historical artwork. This didn’t surprise me because I have seen him do these things before.

Fast Forward to Today

As I awoke, Andy Kriebel slapped me upside the head with this tweet:



I have to say that I wasn’t the least bit surprised by this result, because I took the time to view Joshua’s submission two weeks ago. When you see a masterpiece created by a master, it isn’t too hard to recognize the brilliance of the work.

In about 30 seconds, this tweet caused this article to form in my brain. I wish I had an instant recorder in my brain to capture the flow, the words, the humor and the essence of the story as it first forms. Unfortunately, I don’t have that device but I tried to capture some of those thought by writing this article.

How Does Joshua Blaze Tableau Trails?

Joshua blazes trails by continuing to work and explore his creativity in Tableau. He stays on the leading edge of the technology we call Tableau by studying, inventing methods and showing others how to use the tools embedded in the software. He writes books, articles and gives awesome webinars that educate us on the newest developments in Tableau.

I know that if I spend an hour with Joshua in a webinar, he will have just handed over to me dozens of hours of testing and research that I can use to launch myself into new areas of Tableau usage. Joshua has done the work so that I can stay on the leading edge, and he gives it to me for free. It is that kind of giving that makes him one of the best and most useful Tableau advocates in the world.

It doesn’t matter that he is already one of the best, he keeps working to remain in that position. I love that about him and he motivates me to try new things and do great work. So thanks Josh for all that you have done for me and for others!

Final Thoughts

In case you haven’t noticed, that little trail-blazing company down in Dallas has some serious talent other than Joshua. If you haven’t been reading the Tableau Fit blog, it’s time for you to jump on board!  There are also many reasons beyond these two people as to why that company was voted the 2016 Tableau partner of the year!

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