Lessons Learned From a Decade of Using #Tableau



My first decade of Tableau usage is rapidly coming to a close. I just took a moment this morning to appreciate what this means for me. As I did this, the words to this article formed, just like a beautiful Tableau dashboard emerges from nowhere in a moment of time.


Throughout my working career, I have tried a lot of things. I have become very proficient in many software tools and technologies such as computer programming. When you spend about 40 years doing something like programming just about every day, you tend to get good at it.

At the same time, a lot of my time was wasted to a large extent because many of the things I tried and learned have since been bypassed by new technologies. One thing I have learned is that it is fun to experiment and learn new things like the wide array of open-source data processing and data visualizations tools being developed. However,  giant sinkholes exist with these tools that will swallow you up as you try to navigate and overcome the shortcomings that these tools and technologies contain. As you try to escape the sinkholes, time will be passing and you will not be achieving the type of mastery that is now possible for you to obtain.

I have had a lot of passion for computer programs and technologies in the past. Things like Autocad, Tecplot, GraphiC, Compilers, Dreamweaver, and many other products have allowed me to create and express my scientific and mathematical insights. It wasn’t until Feb 2008, however, that the purest form of scientific and artistic expression entered my life. That was the month that Tableau exploded all of my previous conceptions of what it meant to use powerful and great software, and it is this one tool that has allowed me to efficiently unleash my creativity better than everything that came before (and after) it.

Lessons Learned

There are so many lessons I have learned that I’m not even going to try to explain a small fraction of them. There are about 300 articles in this blog that have told that story. However, I am going to summarize the three most important insights that I live with every day as a person dedicated to bringing data to life. Here is what I have learned.

  1. Without question, Tableau desktop has made me a more complete scientist better than any other thing I have done or tool that I have used in my career. This is true because Tableau gives me everything I need to visualize data in the ways that I need to see it, show it, and most importantly, to understand it. Additionally, Tableau allows me to do this fast. I mean really fast. Ten years ago, I was thrilled to be visualizing data files of a few hundred thousand records. Now, I routinely attack billions of records within a day, with no delay. That is profound, powerful and it is true. There is no bullshit in that statement, although Alteryx has also allowed me to develop the techniques to do things like this and it is also a very important and integral part of this story.
  2. Tableau has given me the confidence to go beyond the limits of what I thought was possible. When you have a masterfully crafted tool like Tableau, which works for you rather than against you, it allows you to reach beyond the boundaries that exist in your mind. You can reach this place of understanding once you learn to nuances of Tableau. When you learn when to use it for its greatest strengths rather than forcing it to do things it really wasn’t designed to do, you will have the confidence to do anything you choose. This insight is very foundational for me and I depend upon it every day. I know and believe that there are no limits to me and my work thanks to Tableau.
  3. Although it is hard to fathom, Tableau keeps getting better. The original philosophies that lead to the creation of this software are still at play. The product keeps expanding, offering us more and more opportunities to accomplish the seemingly impossible tasks. Maybe it is because I have been a daily user and a student of Tableau for this past decade, but I can see the road that has been travelled and where it is now headed. I’ve been a passenger on one of the greatest data visualization journeys ever undertaken, so I fully appreciate what has happened. I lived through the birth of the advent of drawing numbers on computer monitors, so I understand the significance of what Tableau is doing. For people like me, that sit behind two beautiful 4K monitors bringing numbers to life, Tableau is a treasure to be appreciated and used every day. Tableau allows me to express the passion of my work in ways that I could not have anticipated 10 years ago.


Final Thoughts

For these reasons, I’ll close this article by saying that I encourage all people that are just learning Tableau to understand one thing. You have found the best platform for data visualization that exists. Take the time to learn the tool and allow it to take you on your own personal journey like I have experienced. You will not be disappointed and your career will flourish. You will find yourself walking around thinking about the next great viz that will emerge once you return to your workstation. Tableau will envelop you and give you passion for your job like you have never realized. Finally, enjoy the journey – I promise it will be a great one.

Bonus Material

Click here to download an oldie but a goodie! This document is a circa 2007 visual analysis whitepaper from Tableau! Take a look at this beauty to see how far Tableau has progressed!

Click here to download some original documentation on context filters.  This one is also a classic!

Finally, this is where it all began for me, before mapping was even available.  Click here to download Tableau version 3.6. 

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From a Decade of Using #Tableau

  1. Wow Ken – So nice to read the opening statements of your post. I am getting ready for my first live class with a new Tableau class I am teaching called ‘Thinking in Tableau’. Even then, your words made me click – I will read the blog fully later in the day. Would be great to hear your insights after 10 years of Tableau usage. I have a 10 years milestone this year on something else that is precious to me (Not tableau though) – what a coincidence! I know what a feeling it is to be with something you cherish for 10 years…

  2. Hi Ken, So nice to read your reflections. I respect and love expertise and I know the struggle and the passion needed for achieving such deep expertise like the one you have achieved. I wish I could get a chance to either attend one of your trainings or to work with you in some way to learn from your experience and mastery in the area of analytics.

    As I said yesterday, I just started off a new Tableau class where a number of them are business owners – the expectation I have set for them is that this tool will really expand their horizon of thinking and will enable them to see many things about their business easily. So nice to see your reflections after 10 years of usage – I am gonna forward your article to my students. Thank you Ken for sharing your journey and the 10-year milestone.

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