From @Alteryx Inspire 2017: How Joe Mako is an Analytics Virtuoso

featured.JPG


Introduction

I can’t tell you when I first realized that Joe Mako (Figure 1) possesses some extraordinary skills. It occurred many years ago, as we worked together by sharing our screens across a couple thousand miles of wires connecting us via the internet.

 

Ken and Joe.JPG

Figure 1 – Ken Black (left) and Joe Mako (right), in  Las Vegas, NV

 

What lead me to that insight about Joe was his way of explaining things. Even though there were times when I could follow exactly what he was saying and why he was saying it, there were those times when he went to a deeper level of understanding than I had achieved.

What I learned from these experiences was that Joe is really good at explaining complex concepts. Even if you cannot understand what he tells you at first, he can typically give you an alternative explanation. This ability is not commonplace and is one reason why I am writing this article about him.

Throughout history, there have been some amazing people that have had skills that are truly mesmerizing. You can consider, for example, many music composers that also happened to be accomplished musicians. Not only could these people create musical beauty and direct others to play it, many of them could play it too.

Virtuoso Performance #1

For many years I have known that Joe is a special person. I have written several articles about him that attempt to explain what he does. It should not have come as a surprise to me when the following event happened. What I can tell you that it still shocked me like a taser would, with enough voltage that I knew I had to write this story one day.

I can definitely tell you the first time I realized that Joe performs analytics much like a composer makes music. The date was March 15, 2017. As another good buddy of mine (Keith) and I watched, Joe performed an analytics Concerto for us. He designed an Alteryx application on the fly for performing incremental updating of local data sources using the 7-zip utility. This application is needed by so many people but yet we couldn’t find an existing methodology that performed this operation.

Although we were in different states, Keith and I sat mesmerized for the better part of an hour as Joe calmly spoke about the problem, wrote the workflow (macro), and tested the functionality in real-time. The complexity of the problem was very high, but yet Joe completed the task like a metronome, going tick-tock-tick-tock.

One of the greatest regrets I have had in the past few years is not recording that session. I wish I could share it with you so that you can see how the logic embedded in Joe’s head got combined with masterful Alteryx skills to methodically solve the problem.

The execution of the work was not the only thing that was terrific. It was Joe’s ability to conceptualize the problem from beginning to end and then design and build (without hesitation) the Alteryx macro to complete the job.  It reminded me of watching a great chef creating a wonderful dish by saying, “I need a little of this, and I need a little of that” as Joe selected his tools and dropped them on the canvas.

The creation Joe produced that night is shown in Figure 2. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t documented, and it isn’t even what we use now to incrementally update local data sources. What it represents to both Keith and me is a virtuoso performance that we got to watch live, in real-time, as Joe’s brain went to work and did the job. It was magnificent to witness.

virtoso1

Figure 2 – The ftp update macro written by Joe Mako and March 15, 2017. We do not use this creation because we figured out an easier way to do automatic, incremental updating of local data sources.

 


 

Even now, months later, Keith and I still talk about that session. It is my hope that all readers of this article take the advice I am about to give you to experience this for yourself. All you need to do is set aside about 40 minutes of your time to appreciate what I am saying by watching Joe’s virtuoso performance #2.

Virtuoso Performance #2

About a month ago, my son Jett and I spent a night hanging out with Joe while we were at the Inspire Conference in Las Vegas. Those hours we spend together are some of the best times I have all year. Figure 3 shows a few pictures from that week, but it was the night before Joe’s presentation that I need to tell you about.

Photos (7)1

Figure 3 – Scenes from Alteryx Inspire 2017 in Las Vegas, NV.

 


 

Joe and Jett were playing all kinds of fun games on the computer and on the phone, while we sat in Joe’s hotel room. Joe introduced Jett to several interesting apps and I loved watching the two of them work their magic in Roblox worlds where I’ve never gone. At the end of the night, Joe told me that he had to work on his presentation!

It usually is not a good idea to create your presentation the day before you give it. That rule applies to most people. However, if you have the abilities like Joe has, you can get away with it. When I asked him what he was going to talk about, he told me something like this: “I’m going to show how I work with messy data that is stored in Excel.”

It was at this point when I started to feel some panic for Joe. I wondered how he could create a presentation like that on the day before he is supposed to give it. I felt like he was in trouble, but then I thought back to all the years I’ve had collaborating with him. I realized that Joe was just being Joe and that he had the whole thing under control. What I realized was that Joe had the entire workflow sequence already mapped out in his head, and all that he had to do was put it on the canvas, just like I saw him do back in March.

The next morning I saw Joe at a computer in the solutions center with his back to me, writing his composition. I decided to leave him alone so that he could create the music. I wish that I would have stopped for a second to take a picture that captured that moment. It would have made this article even better. Later on, the work he was creating would become a Concerto for the ages.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the live performance, as Joe conducted his masterpiece. Jett and I were doing other things, like collecting awesome schwag, hanging out with Tableau vendors, solving Alteryx puzzles and getting Alteryx superhero costumes as shown in Figure 4.

Jett

Figure 4 – Jett loves going to Inspire Conferences. This is his second event.


 

The really good new is this. I eventually did get to see his performance. It was a few days ago. When I saw it, I knew it was time for this article to be born.

All you have to do is watch the video of Joe’s Alteryx presentation to see it for yourself. Pay attention to the complexity of what he does. Listen to how he methodically leads you from the simple case to the complex case. There are no wasted words. There are no wasted tools. There is no panic, only empathy from Joe to anyone that has faced similar difficulties.

What Joe shows us is a series of Alteryx operations designed to solve really challenging problems that are an epidemic in companies all around the world. These solution techniques grew in Joe’s brain over many years as he practiced handling these sticky data situations on his job. Essentially, Joe has been thinking critically about how to build robust techniques for reliably handling variability in the incoming data file structures of the data that he works with. This is NOT easy to do but can be a huge time saver for any people that adopt these methods.

On the morning of his presentation, he assembled the tools and laid them on an Alteryx canvas so that all of us could learn new ideas. Very few people could successfully do what he did in such a short amount of time. When you see it, it feels like you are seeing a famous painter whipping out a masterpiece in a live presentation! In this case, the music is beautiful and what resulted is an Alteryx masterpiece, even though Joe would tell you that it really is no big deal.

Joe takes us on a journey through the complex world of bad, messy and missing data. He conquers the seemingly impossible, in such a way that you can’t believe the result when you see it. It is almost like Houdini visited Vegas during that hour and did a great magic trick.

Joe does this with humility and the willingness to help anyone that needs it. These are the reasons that this man is special (for proof, just look at the title: “You are not alone…”). Once again, I must say it. I am glad that he is my friend.

 


 

Final Thoughts

For more Inspire 2017 videos, click this link. There was a whole lotta talent on display at Alteryx 2017!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “From @Alteryx Inspire 2017: How Joe Mako is an Analytics Virtuoso

  1. Hi Ken, it has been a long time since I have come here and when I saw that you had a post about Joe Mako, I wanted to check it immediately. Wow – what an excellent presentation and like you said, the steps seem so simple and well-orchestrated. I have personally witnessed this when Joe Mako helped me in solving some complex problems I had on Tableau. Thanks a lot to you for bringing this out to our notice and thanks a lot to Joe Mako for being out there, always willing to help, willing to go the extra mile, even for a stranger! You are an inspiration for me, Joe!

  2. Hi Siraj,

    It’s good to hear from you. I liked your comment. There are many people that l
    have been helped by Joe through the years. His willingness to help others has made him a special talent in analytics.

    Ken

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s