DATA 16 – Tableau on Tour London

If you follow me on twitter you’d have noticed the barrage of #data16 tweets I sent last week. But you may be forgiven for not knowing what #data16 was all about.

#Data16 was the twitter handle for Tableau’s On Tour Conference in London being held in the great venue which is Tobacco Dock between 13th and 15th of June. If you missed there’s still time to attend two more conferences this year. Munich July 5th & 6th and the HUGE annual conference in Austin 7th to 11th November which should see more than 10,000 data geeks get together for all things Tableau.

The format of these conferences is pretty straightforward, the first day is usually reserved for registration and training or exams taking place. These are usually at a discounted price so take that into consideration if you are planning to attend a conference and take an exam or sit on some training class.

This was my second time at a Tableau conference and I knew more or less what to expect so I tried to plan accordingly beforehand. I arrived after lunch to get registered and participate on #MakeoverMonday live which backfired tremendously, my participation not #MakoverMonday mind you. I’m lazy and didn’t bring my laptop with me, for some reason I thought it would be a group effort to come up with one combined viz, but it turned out to be more like a hackathon where everyone was busy doing their own viz, timed for an hour. Still was good to see the Zen Master Rob Radburn at work and see how various people go about creating a visualisation in Tableau.

I spent the rest of the day just networking and getting a bit of time to chat with people I don’t usually get a chance to chat to.

Tuesday started bright and early with a keynote by SVP for EMEA James Eiloart and Francois Ajenstat. James’s talk was about the War of Current’s I personally found this very interesting and made me want to learn more about it. Francois keynote was all about Product Development, the various features Tableau has been adding to the tool in the last few years. It’s remarkable to see them all lined up. We often shout-out a couple of them, but Tableau has really been busy improving their software.

Ajenstat of course spoke all about the amazing Tableau 10 which is about to hit the road pretty soon. Instead of itemising all the features here, I urge you to get involved in the beta program. If you don’t have the time and rather just being told what’s new, in two days Tableau will host a virtual webinar to tell you all about the new features in Tableau 10, it’s worth it, sign up here.

After the keynote I attended a hands-on session on Optimizing Calculations which was very handy to solidify my previous knowledge of calculations. Two tips on attending breakout sessions at a Tableau conference:

  1. Go early to the designated room, no matter how big the rooms are the best sessions become full very quickly. You can always network after, make it a priority to get your spot at your preferred sessions.

  2. If you find yourself bored on uninterested in a session, get up and leave, you are there to learn and you should maximise your time at the conference. The speaker won’t be offended, leave and join another session that interests you more.

Once the session was over I joined Sophie Sparkes from Tableau and a few others for “Watch me Viz” where I shared a 5 minute tip on showing a % of total when you only want to show one of the categories. Sophie recorded it and I’ll share the link once that’s up.

Lunch over and it was time for the most anticipated keynote ever, Prof Brian Cox was there to tell us about the universe and I’ll be honest while I could follow some of what he was saying, quite a bit went over my head. But I was still mesmerised at the ease with which he explains really complex things about the universe. Prof Cox is quickly becoming the David Attenborough of astrophysics, quite an accolade.

I didn’t get to go to Vegas last year so I missed the amazing 320 slide presentation by Matt Francis on colour. I’m very interested in the subject and Matt gave a very good talk with some practical examples on the use of colour in data visualisation. I particularly liked the way Matt analysed room temperature at his workplace which made for an informed conversation with the maintenance company. It was also quite funny to see Fi Gordon sitting next to me trying to take a picture of a particular interesting slide and Matt running through them like Usain Bolt on a 100M sprint.

The rest of the afternoon was spent talking to Interworks about all things server, was great also to finally meet Mel Stephenson and to bond over our mutual love for Japan and the Japanese culture.

Wednesday started with a keynote by Jock Mackinlay VP for research and design at Tableau. Jock’s talk was about “A Language for Visual Analysis” an auto-biographic story about his PHD work on data visualisation.

I’ve been really interested in javascript recently and I want to be able to create my own html page with tableau public visualisations, so I attended a session called “Embed, extract and automate”, the first half was a bit boring as I don’t have much interest in Tableau’s sdk, but the second half made up for it, with a look at JS API and Rest API, the latter is quite useful for any server administrator to be able to automate tasks, such as site creation.  More information below:



The final keynote was by Maria Konnikova author of “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time”, Maria’s talk was quite apt as we would be discussing imposter syndrome later on at the London Tableau User Group. Her talk was engaging and light-hearted the perfect way to close the conference keynotes.

I was in a pickle for my last breakout session trying to choose between hearing the Zen Masters talking about their approach to problems, or attend a session with Bethany Lyons, who incidentally was also the last session I attended last year.

Bethany is in my opinion, one of the most enthusiastic and skilled people I’ve come across in a long time. Her enthusiasm for Tableau and what Tableau allows you to do is palpable. Following her brain going 100mph is a challenge but you are sure to leave her sessions inspired and yearning to get your hands on Tableau to try some of the new things you’ve learned. If you are at a conference and Bethany is presenting, get yourself there, but as mentioned before go early.

The end of the conference was near and the last thing on the agenda was the Tableau User Group for London combined with the Data+Women initiative. If you attended that session don’t be fooled London TUG has a regular attendance of 150+ but understandably many people didn’t attend the conference or had to leave early.

The format of this TUG was slightly different with a panel made of Emily Cosh, Fi Gordon, Victoria Garner and myself. Hosted by Emily Chen and Sophie Sparkes, we covered topics like, Tableau Implementation, bias in data viz, imposter syndrome and mentorship. This was my first panel and I was rather nervous, but I thought it went well and I hope the audience has enjoyed it too. You can watch some of it as recorded by Paul Chapman here. Thank you also to the other London TUG organisers, Paul Banoub and Nick Bignell for inviting us.

This post is already at over 1300 words but I’d like to finish with a couple of thoughts.

Tableau has grown immensely in the past few years and their marketing team do an incredible job of keeping it fresh and informal. They also show how a large company can be nimble and react to events pretty quickly. As I’ve mentioned above a lot of the good sessions get oversubscribed pretty quickly and some other companies would probably congratulate themselves for it and move on. Not Tableau, what they did was to ask their speakers to do a second session straight after Maria’s keynote making sure their customers got the most of their conference ticket. Well done!!!

Another display of Tableau’s hands-on engagement by the management was the fact that James Eiloart took time of his busy agenda to attend the start of the London TUG and thank the user community. We often think of VP’s sitting in their ivory tower and not interacting much with clients, I saw James often throughout the conference, speaking to various people which is a testament of their commitment to their customers.

Finally a note to thank Francois Ajenstat. During his keynote Francois mentioned some changes to Web Editing in Tableau 10, those changes may have some impact for me at work with regards to permissions, and so I tweeted asking if he had 5 minutes for a chat. He came back to me and we managed to speak on Wednesday morning while grabbing a coffee, being able to ask questions directly to the VP of product management was really good. Francois is unlikely to read this, but if it ever makes it to your screen, thank you, I really appreciate it.

Thank you Tableau, you’ve been tremendous, see you next year.