Welcome to the September edition of “What’s Good?”.
I Hope everyone has had a nice summer holiday period. September tends to be the time everyone settles back in and things really ramp up again. A great time to reflect on the year so far and scope out what you want to achieve with the remaining quarter. With that in mind I am delighted to invite Simon Beaumont to this months “What’s Good?” to discuss shaping your career in analytics and visualisation more specifically.
Simon is a B.I Director at JLL, Tableau Zen Master, Tableau Ambassador, previous IronViz finalist amongst many other accolades. Having got to know him, he’s also a really nice guy! (I’m not sure what you put that under on the CV.)
CJ: Simon, for those who don’t know you. Tell us a little bit about your background and your data journey so far.
S: If I am honest I stumbled across a career in data a little by accident. I left University in 2001 (giving away my age) knowing that I loved statistics, finding stories supported by numbers, but I had no idea how I could actually make a career out of it. I started in the National Health Service in England as an analyst, living and breathing Excel every day and quickly realised my calling was to help people make sense of “numbers”. I progressed in the NHS, eventually becoming a head of department for analytics, where I had responsibility to shape the organisation’s approach to data and to think more strategically, going beyond dashboards and reports, to thinking about the tools and platforms we were using to help people see and understand their data… and sure enough that is when I came across Tableau. Eight years later I am honoured to be a Tableau Zen Master and Ambassador and have so much to thank the community for. It is fair to say none of what I do today is truly my own thinking or approach; pretty much everything I do has been shaped by the community, whether that be the way I lead a data function or the way I explore my creative side, in my personal time, through regularly participating in #SportsVizSunday and other community initiatives.
CJ: It’s evident your passion for football, and sport more generally. You co-founded SportsVizSunday back in 2018. Did you imagine it becoming this popular? What is it about the blend of sport and analytics you love so much? (link)
S: I think IronViz this year sums up why I love sports and analytics, when you viz what you love, that passion really comes through in what you do, and for me I love sports. There are so many different stories to tell through sports data, whether it be different sports, focusing on individual sports people or the flow of a match or race… no two vizzes are ever the same and this inspires me to use sports as a way to explore new viz techniques and approaches to storytelling. Also I love the way a shared love of sports and data can bring people together. Ever since starting SportsVizSunday in 2018 the initiative has been about connecting likeminded people together and helping to showcase the talents of others. I honestly think people participate in it because they enjoy it, not to tick a box but because vizzing what they love genuinely puts a smile on their face. I mean as a Pompey fan, if I can enjoy building a Man United viz, then surely that speaks volumes about the ability for sports to bridge divides and inspire people; and not an ounce of glory hunting involved, or at least on my part, wouldn’t you say CJ?
CJ side note: I do read and edit these blogs so I’m not sure how the glory hunting comment got through Quality Assurance.
CJ: What does being a Tableau Zen Master mean to you? What advice would you give to those wanting to reach this level of accomplishment?
S: Above all else, being a Tableau Zen Master is a massive honour for me, mainly because it is a recognition that has come from the community and from so many people who I admire and respect. I would never suggest I am technically the greatest Master in Tableau, sure I can hold my own, but when I look at vizzes like your latest IronViz feeder entry I honestly think wow, and seeing other push the limits of the tool really inspires me to push myself to develop and progress my own tools. What I love about the current cohort of Zen Masters is they all demonstrate mastery in their own way, and it is through that combined mastery that the magic happens. The sum of the whole really is greater than the individual parts. And for anyone wanting to achieve Zen Master I would give two pieces of advice. Firstly it is absolutely OK to aspire to be a Zen Master, having a goal can really help drive people and focus their minds; but if you are going to aspire to it just make sure you do it through being true to yourself. Follow your own path to Zen, do what you love, not what you think others want to see. This authenticity is what will really set you apart and help you to inspire others.
CJ: What and who motivates you? How does that build into having a successful career?
S: For me I want to look back on a day knowing I have challenged myself to be better than the previous day and to embrace new challenges with an open mind. Data gives me the chance to do that, as often no two days are ever the same, let alone two dashboards or tasks. That said, the big thing for me these days, is being a data leader and taking pride in the successes of my team. My primary purpose is to support my team to succeed and be the best analysts they can be; leading people gives changes your outlook on work, it is less about you and more about the people you lead. Some of my best days are when my day is filled with quick 30 minute chats with my team, helping them overcome a problem, seeing them grow – I think that’s a really important principle to follow if you want to be a successful data leader.
CJ: Your blog on data culture is coming up to a year old. Have there been any positives in the past year that have reinforced your thoughts on the way you think about data culture? (link)
S: One of the most positive aspects of the last year and the challenges COVID has given us, is the acceptance that people cannot perform at 100% every day, we all face different challenges every day and on top of that life can simply throw us curve balls at times. I have found it really refreshing to see people acknowledge that data cannot give hard answers, but circumstance and context has to be understood before you can gain true insights. This speaks to me when in it comes to using data to celebrate success, it is way too easy for someone to use a dashboard to identify all the “red” and to point the finger and criticise failure. If you use data positively, and compassionately people will be more like to engage with data and view it as a tool to help them succeed, as opposed to fear it as being a driver for criticism and negativity.
CJ: This particular statement on Twitter really stood out to me. Often the idea of not only expressing our own values and behaviours but also talking about them freely is quite new to some. What traits do you personally admire?
S: Honesty, Curiosity and Compassion. At work we actually go one stage further than this and have common values and behaviours we all sign up to as a team; this really helps ensure we pull together and not only deliver fantastic solutions but also work well together to support each other in delivering these.
CJ: What advice would you give to those wanting to make a real impact at an interview?
S: Keep it short and succinct. It is a real skill to be able to express your thoughts in a concise way and it genuinely will stand you out from the crowd if the person interviewing you doesn’t have to listen to ten minutes of rambling thoughts when in reality the first 30 seconds contained all the pertinent points. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more words demonstrates a greater understanding of the subject matter.
CJ: So….Workplace. You seem exceptionally good at building out a talented team. I really enjoyed reading your blog on COE. In your eyes, what makes a company attractive to join? What underlying data culture principles feed into that? (Link)
S: I want to work for a company where the biggest asset is its people not its platform or technology. Any company can go out and purchase the latest software but that software can only make a difference when it is used by people. I think the principles of investing in people and continuous learning are some of the most powerful ones that companies can sign up to and can really help give them a USP when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Another one is celebrating success. So often wins are taken for granted, banked and people quickly move on to the next big project. Instead of this I like to commit to showcase achievements and thanking others. Sometimes the smallest of recognition, just a passing thank you can go a long way.
CJ: Are there any principles you take from Tableau Public and apply in the work setting. Alternatively is there anything you’ve learnt in the work environment and applied to your way of thinking in the data community?
S: I often think about when I first see a viz on Tableau Public. I am more likely to engage with the viz if I understand the context and background to the story, as opposed to just a fancy chart that is attention grabbing; I like to have confidence that I understand what I am looking at before I start to engage with it and learn from it. This is a core with any work based dashboard too – the ability to understand what you are engaging with before you jump in and take action.
CJ: What do you think the main pitfalls are in building out teams. Hypothetically, what are the takeaways for someone who is wanting to play a Tableau role within that?
S: Working in silos. It would be so easy for someone to think data viz can be a one person job with each analyst working in isolation from their peers. In reality this is one of the biggest failings I see in so many analytics teams. If analysts do not share their knowledge, collaborate through feedback, can you truly call yourself a team? What happens when a dashboard fails and that person is on leave? Do teams ever really evolve or innovate if people our only relying on their own individual knowledge to succeed? I would suggest not. Take time to appreciate the importance of sharing, the importance of collaborating and by doing so you will have a stronger, more highly performing team that will be set up for sustained success, as opposed to short term glory.
CJ: I really admire the fact you always tweet a Tableau Featured Friday. Why is uplifting others in the community important to you?
S: The Tableau community is massive and it is so easy to just get consumed by the same voices, to be inspired by the same authors, but we all have to start somewhere and I remember in my early days how hard it was to get vizzes recognised or to feel like your voice was being heard. That is where TableauFF can really help. It is a community commitment to showcase on Twitter every Friday, using the hashtag #TableauFF, an upcoming Tableau Public author or someone not yet widely known across the community. I do it because I see the lift it gives to the featured author and for me they deserve the recognition – I don’t pick people based on volume of vizzes created, rather I pick people who demonstrate a genuine talent for data viz and data design. If I look at some of the newer members of the community, people like Chimidi Nwosu, Damola Ladipo, these are well known names now, but when they first burst onto the scenes I was really struck by how clean and engaging their designs were and it is amazing to see how they have since progressed and inspired others. That, for me, is what our community is all about, the more you showcase others, the more you learn, the more diverse voices become and together we all grow.
Chimidi’s viz on racial mix of American prisons and Damola’s viz on food apartheid below:
CJ: What advice would you give to those that are just starting their Tableau Public page?
S: Don’t be intimidated! Everyone has to start somewhere and if you compare yourselves against others you risk being paralysed by this fear of not being good enough…. Which is complete rubbish! Recognise that, just with anything you enjoy, you get better with practice; and if you want to give yourself a helping hand, focus on clean design and simplicity. Two of my data viz idols really focus on this concept, Ryan Sleeper and Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, I would thoroughly recommend checking out both of their websites to understand how removing ink from a viz can also really help remove the complexity for your audience.
CJ: With so many Tableau Public users…. What really makes someone’s page stand out?
S: I am going to be a little bit controversial and blunt when I answer this…. What doesn’t make someone’s page stand out to me is funky chart types or bright colours. I will openly admit unusual chart types and viz techniques have a place and I will never shy away from a good radial viz, but when I see a Tableau Public profile containing lots of “white space”, great uses of font, colour and layout that is what really pops for me. I love a viz where the story is the hero and the charts really compliment that story.
CJ: To get a job using Tableau, many believe you have to showcase your skill through what I’m going to call ‘art dashboards’ or ‘business dashboards’. Do you think this is the main consideration? What other factors are important for those who are trying to leverage their profile for recruiting purposes?
S: I really enjoy recruiting as it is the chance to attract new talent and new voices to my team; but when recruiting candidates the main thing I look for is to understand the candidates values and behaviours. Shock horror, but I honestly believe that anyone can learn Tableau and Alteryx if they have a passion for data, but it is far harder to change someone’s values or the way they approach tasks. Often I will focus on scenario based questions that give the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate things such as how they collaborate with others, their approach to giving and receiving feedback and how they build relationships with stakeholders. Of course a strong Tableau Public profile is a massive plus point, but I think people should recognise Tableau Public and certification are not the be all and end all; they have to be complimented by softer skills too.
CJ: What tools and skills do you think are becoming more important for analysts? Will this change over time?
S: Data Fluency is massive at the moment and will only get more important as the appetite for data grows across industries. When I say data fluency I relate to the skills an individual has to interpret and understand their data and act on it in a responsible manner. At the end of the day is a user doesn’t understand how to read a chart or understand the nuances of their data, how can we ever expect someone to take action, let alone the right action. Whilst an analyst may be traditionally responsible for developing the dashboard and maintaining it, I see analysts will be increasingly expected to educate and coach their users, in addition to just develop content. As data professionals we are subject matter experts so I think it is only fair we should be expected to share our knowledge and up-skill others.
CJ: Have you seen anything recently in the community you have loved? Blog, dashboard or otherwise?
S: It would be way too easy to say IronViz! So I won’t! One of the best things I have seen lately is the new Data Leaders Collaborative which is a community, sponsored, by Tableau, to help data leaders come together to share their experiences with others and help foster discussion beyond simply data viz. This for me is huge as it gives data leaders, whether they be established or aspiring, a platform to support each other grow and to elevate others, just like Tableau Public does for those wishing to share their data viz skills.
CJ: When I say the word “Innovative” to you in the context of the tableau community and data more generally. What comes to mind?
S: New voices, new concepts and new techniques. However I don’t necessarily think innovation is limited to the latest viz crave, a massive part of innovation is the thinking behind the innovation, understanding the why and the benefit the innovation can bring to your intended audience. It is for this reason I love reading or listening to how people came up with their innovation and to get a peek under the hood of their design process; understanding the why, not just the what can help take all of us to the next level when it comes to our understanding and knowledge of data viz and Tableau.
CJ: Having made it to the final of the IronViz competition last year and been a judge this year. What stood out this year?
S: The quality was insanely good! Seriously, I know we say this every year, but judging the final round was really tough this year as there was so little to separate many of the vizzes. That said there is one thing I feel implored to share, and this came post the results being made public. I read a few posts referring negatively to long form dashboards and to other tools used in the build of the vizzes. It wasn’t the discussion that disappointed me, but rather the tone. At a time when people should be celebrating success, especially during one of the toughest years in living memory with all that is going on COVID related, it saddened me that people, within an hour, of the results being posted, were so keen to criticise or critique. I am not saying people shouldn’t reflect, of course they can, and reflection often leads to innovation and improvement, but I wish people had the chance to celebrate and recognise achievement before the vizzes were being torn apart for being long or for leveraging Figma or Illustrator… Which by the way, neither of which I have any problems with. Firstly IronViz is not a business dashboard competition, so long form naturally lends itself more easily to the judging criteria, and as for other tools, Tableau doesn’t, and never should, pretend to be the master of all things design and data viz. It would be foolish to think this way, and personally I think the way the community has leveraged design tools to compliment data viz and charts has really helped elevate the quality of the competition and the vizzes created.
CJ: You have a healthy 185 vizzes on your Tableau Public. Do you have a favourite?
S: Yep! The one that always makes me smile is my Federer v Djokovic viz from Wimbledon 2019. The reason it is my favourite is it was the first time I really pushed my design skills to visualise data in a unique and, hopefully, engaging way. Before this I had had attempted a few creative vizzes, but never one that I would consider “data art” and a bit more abstract in its design. I was really proud of the way I was able to visualise every point of the five set epic and do it using techniques I would never have previously dreamt of using. It still puts a smile on my face, although I wish I had access at the time to some of the capability Tableau gives us today, doing the viz using map layers would have been way easier than the layered sheets I did back when I built it.
CJ: Finally, what’s next for you? What are you most looking forward to in the rest of this year?
S: One of the highlights for me this year has been able to collaborate with some amazing individuals, including yourself, CJ. I genuinely love doing viz projects with other people as it helps me appreciate other perspectives and often leads to a design that is infinitely better than what I could have come up with by myself. I really hope to squeeze in another one by the end of 2021 and to achieve a couple more in 2022.
It’s refreshing hearing Simons thoughts on supporting people and teams. I appreciate his ability to see the individuals before the work, and how creating the right environment leads to great team success and in turn better work outputs.
I recently listened to Simon on the Data and Love podcast, hosted by Zach Bowders and loved it. If you haven’t already, do check it out if you can find the time. There is a huge segment on both passion projects and the appreciation of being surrounded by other creatives that is worth extra attention!
Simon briefly mentioned earlier the new data culture conversations. He didn’t plug his own video at the time, but you can view it here.
“For me, when you truly collaborate, you show some vulnerability” -SB