What’s Good? How To Elevate Tableau Learning At All Skill Levels – Eric Balash. (August)

Hi All, 

Welcome to the August episode of “What’s Good?” 

This month, I am delighted to welcome Eric Balash to the blog. Eric is a well known community member to many and has more recently restarted with a magic touch the Back to basics initiative helping elevate analysts of all skill levels. 

You can find Eric on Twitter, Tableau Public, and follow the B2VB initiative here.

Funnily enough it’s also Eric’s birthday today so go drop him a happy birthday on Twitter!!

CJ: Eric, thank you for agreeing to be part of the What’s Good series. You’ve been a long standing member in the community, at least relative to me but i’m really interested in your journey to now.. Tell us a little bit about how that journey first started and the move to data viz at Lovelytics.

E: Hi CJ! Thanks for having me and for the kind Birthday wish!

My Tableau journey takes us back to my college days. I was interning with a healthcare start-up where they had me building these clunky reports in SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). They looked terrible and took me quite a bit of time to put together. One day a new data analyst hire was looking over my shoulder and said “Hey, you should use Tableau for that.” I was like, “What’s that?” and the rest was history.

I built out new, better-looking reports in a quarter of the time that it was taking me in SSRS. From that moment on, I was hooked on Tableau and wanted to work with it in any capacity that I could. Keeping that in mind, my first job out of college was with a hospital where I was a Healthcare Data Analyst. I was working in Tableau daily building out Population Health reports for the hospital. We were doing some pretty cool things and it really brought my Tableau game to the next level. While I was there, I was sent off to my first Tableau Conference. I was hooked – on Tableau Public, the community, all of it. The energy and support from everyone at Tableau Conference really made me want to get involved more. Things came to an end at the hospital, and I moved to the Washington DC area to work for Booz Allen Hamilton. I was building internal reports for them and running their Center of Excellence. I spent a lot of time engaging with the community and participating in local user groups and sharing dashboards on Tableau Public. Eventually, I found myself taking on a new and my current role at Lovelytics (a Tableau Partner) with my good friend. mentor, and Tableau Visionary, Chantilly Jaggernauth. So here we are. The community has so much to do with my Tableau Journey and I wouldn’t be where I’m at or as happy as I am if it wasn’t for the DataFam.

CJ: When we were chatting a really strong love for the community came across. You mentioned that your first conference was back in 2018. How have those friendships in the community grown? Has anyone in particular really helped cultivate your own growth?

E: Totally! My first friend in the Tableau Community was Katie Wagner. Katie is super outgoing and extremely passionate about the Community. She explained who’s-who and what’s-what, how to connect with people, and just so much more about Tableau it’s community that I never would’ve known existed. She really helped me feel a part of the DataFam and introduced me to a lot the friends I have today. I definitely have to shoutout Chantilly as well. I mentioned early that I work with her at Lovelytics, but I’m also a trainer for her non-profit, Millennials & Data. Millennials & Data’s (#MAD) mission is to bridge the data literacy and analytical skills gap by training, mentoring, and preparing millennials to enter a data-driven global environment. It’s an incredible program, so definitely check it out when you can. Outside of work, Chantilly is an awesome friend. She’s like that big sister I never had. I definitely have her to thank for a lot of my growth both in and out of the workplace.

CJ: Can you share a little more about the history of The Tableau Student Guide. How did it transition into what it is now? Why did you want to get involved in B2VB in the first place?

E: Great question. Once upon a time, there was a Student Ambassador by the name of Maria Brock. In her learning of Tableau, she came to realize that there’s no “one-stop-shop” for everything you need to know about Tableau and the Community when getting started. She had about 50 tabs of blog posts, YouTube tutorials, webinars, whitepapers all open in her browser about things to do in Tableau. She saw an opportunity to get the community a resource that summarized all of this information in one spot. Introducing, The Tableau Student Guide. Maria started to shift gears but wanted the Student Guide to live on, so she happily passed it on to me. I was so excited to take on this incredible resource because sharing Tableau and all its capabilities with others is something I absolutely love. I did however want to add my own significant contribution to it, so I came up with the idea to run a Tableau Community project through it. Back 2 Viz Basics was born. At the time some other Tableau Community projects were slowing down or ending, and there really was not one project dedicated to those just starting out. The project is not industry specific and there’s no need to create a comprehensive dashboard. We focus on one small chart or topic at a time, which makes it the perfect community projects for those just starting their Tableau Journey or for those who wish to go back and re-establish those basic fundamental Tableau skills.

CJ: If you were to reflect on your own profile with the B2VB theory in the background. Are there any visuals of yours where you would revisit? If so, why?

E: Oh totally! I think a lot of us look back at our old vizzes and say “What was I thinking!?” I also think that’s the beauty of our journeys. We all start somewhere and we each take our own unique path to get where we want to be. Keeping Back 2 Viz Basics in mind, I look back at some of my old vizzes and see poor choice of color and a lot of overcomplication. The main thing I stress in my project is keeping things simple. Focus on one thing at a time – using labels, adjust colors, removing gridlines – play with each feature and see how it positively or negatively impacts your viz.

For me, I would tell my old self to use 1 to 2 dominant colors in my viz and not 5. I would also tell myself to keep things simple. I feel like there is a lot of added graphic detail and overcomplication of charts and layouts in my old vizzes.

CJ: What are some design tips you think all business KPI dashboards should have?

E: I love a good business dashboard. Ellen Blackburn and Autumn Battani are the two people I think of when it comes to clean and crisp business dashboards. I think a time element is really important include in your design. A lot of the stakeholders I work with want to splice the data in so many – sometimes too many – different time periods. Giving them a custom option to use to compare KPIs from a one period versus another is always a big win. I also think it’s important to keep things consistent and aligned. Think about designing to a grid. If you’re listing 4 KPIs across the top and you have 2 charts underneath in the next section, those two charts should be the width of 2 of your KPI sections (see the example below). Keeping things aligned and consistent in your business dashboard will definitely elevate it to the next level.

CJ: What I particularly love about B2VB is that it is a really safe space to learn. Not only this, it accommodates individuals of all skill levels. How do you nurture building this culture around the initiative?

E: I think it mentioned this earlier, but we can all benefit by going back to our Tableau roots and starting with the basics. Whether you’ve been using Tableau for a week or you’re a Tableau Visionary with 10 years of experience, we can all learn something new through this project. I didn’t want the project to have any barriers to entry; people should be able to open Tableau and join this community project from day one. I think what’s helped in nurturing the culture around the project is that every two weeks we focus on something small. There’s no need to go in and build a dashboard with 15 worksheets or try to figure out something super complicated from a calculation’s perspective. We keep things simple. By having users of all skills levels participate, I think everyone finds it to be quite inviting and a safe space to share their work.

CJ:  At the time of writing there has been been 13 weeks of content. What is your reaction to response and visibility your project has gotten?

E: Honestly, CJ, I’m shocked. I never would’ve thought that we would have over 900 submissions through Week 15. I received so much positive feedback from so many different people in the community and that makes me truly happy. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much, so I’m truly thankful and still can’t believe how much it has taken off. I’m proud to say that we have had 5 Viz of the Days come out of Back 2 Viz Basics and even more incredible content that is all available in the submission tracker. The tracker is a huge collection of content by category and designer that anyone is able to access. There are so many different ideas out there that people have added to their dashboards and I love getting to see how unique they are all even though it’s the same topic and data in a given week. Overall, I’m super thankful for all the participants and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do the rest of the year. 

CJ: Check out the most recent VOTD based on histograms from Agata Ketterick, here.

CJ: When we speak about design, people often refer to ‘clean and simple’ being of high value. We often see, especially in public work, individuals trying to implement more modern website interactivity into their UI. Why are these principles so important?

Taken from Tableau Public – Business Dashboards

E: One of the biggest barriers to using Tableau that I’ve seen is that if something breaks or doesn’t do what a user expects, they won’t use it. An analyst could build a dashboard and pass it off to their users. If a user can’t figure out how to use it, they’ll just ask the analyst to export the data and send it to them in Excel. With that said, this is why it’s important to keep things clean and simple. The dashboard doesn’t need to be modern looking. As long as dashboards are accessible and designed with the user in mind then the designer has done their job. I also want to add that I think its good to include some of more modern website design into our dashboards because this what we are familiar with. We know how navigation and interactivity works in a website so if we carry these same principles over to our dashboards, our users should have no issues with the dashboard’s accessibility.

CJ: I see you store some of your works of art on Etsy for print. A few others have done similar in recent years. Could you share a few thoughts on how to get set up, list, and any challenges you found along the way. Do you have any on the wall at home?

E: Thanks, CJ! The Etsy store was a lot of fun to figure out, but there are definitely a lot of moving parts. I learned a lot from James Smith and worked together with Jeffery Plattner to get our stores up and running. Check out James’ store and Jeff’s store and see some of their awesome viz prints. The first challenge was learning that you cannot simply export your viz from Tableau and upload it to Etsy. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In short there are 4 mains steps that involve 4 different mediums.

  1. Tableau – design you dashboard in Tableau and export as a PDF
  2. Adobe Illustrator – insert your PDF from Tableau. After doing this you’ll have to edit your PDF and add text, labels, and other elements (check out Jeff’s blog post from above on the other steps involved here). Once complete, export your print as a PNG.
  3. Prodigi – upload your PNG to Prodigi to buy your print. We’ve found that the pricing, quality, and options available from Prodigi are some of the best out there. This is our recommended viz printer.
  4. Etsy – If you want to set up a store, you can create mock-ups and post your vizzes to sell

Like I said, there’s quite a few steps involved and the process can be a little tedious so keep that in mind before jumping in and creating your own viz prints. James, Jeff, and I are always available to chat and help others with their viz prints.

CJ: One of your most well known pieces I would say is ‘The Time We Have’ from 2019. Can you share more about this visual?

E: For sure! This was my first Viz of the Day and “viral” viz that I created. I got the idea from a YouTube video that I saw years ago that broke down the time an average human spends doing different tasks – sleeping, working, traveling, etc. – what’s left is our true, absolute free time. When you break it down like this, it really puts into perspective how much time we actually have for doing things we love. The main message is to not waste a day. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone so if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today? It’s important to live everyday to its fullest and to give your best effort in all that you do. I love all the messages that I got from seeing that video and I was happy to turn it into a viz using Tableau and share it with the community.

CJ: I also heard there was some exciting personal news that happened just after Tableau Conference – Are we allowed to plaster the excitement here?!! I’m sure the DataFam would love to hear more about the special moment.

E: Yes and thanks for asking! I’m excited to share that my fiancé, Olivia, and I recently got engaged. Olivia joined me in Las Vegas while I attended Tableau Conference. She was able to meet so many of my “internet friends,” who she thought were fake, and was able to learn more about my nerdy data side.

We had a great week, but then we had to take a red-eye home. We flew all night, slept for like 2 hours on the plane, got home around 8 am, slept for another 2 hours, and then it all started to come together. We “had plans” to meet her friends from out-of-town at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. They were “running late” so we decided to walk around outside. Please note this was the hottest day of the year…in May…over 100 degrees. Sweating through my shirt, I got down on one knee and asked the question. She said “YES!” I then planned for our family and friends to surprise her and celebrate with us after I proposed. We had an incredible day celebrating with friends and family but definitely couldn’t wait to get some more sleep. We’re in the wedding planning stages right now and it’s been great so far! We’ve locked in October 7th, 2023 as our wedding date and I can’t wait to marry my best friends.

CJ: Last but not least, what’s been your most memorable moment in the community?

E: Oh man. That’s a tough one to end on. Can I say all of them? It has to be the three Tableau Conferences I’ve been lucky enough to attend. Everything from the content, the sessions, the keynotes, the data village, the people, the location – it’s all amazing. I’ve made so many friends at Tableau Conference and I know these are relationships that I’ll have professionally and personally for a long time. Everyone in the community is so selfless and will always offer their help to others. Tableau Conference is the only time one a year that we are all together and it’s just one giant party. I also have to give a huge shoutout to all the Tableau and Salesforce employees that continue to put on conference after conference for us. Your work and dedication does not go unnoticed. Finally, if you’re thinking about joining the Tableau Community, do it. You won’t regret it. 

Thanks for having me, CJ. You crushed it on stage during Ironviz this year and your blog posts are helpful to so many people. Thanks for taking the time to put all of those together and for this series. I’m so thankful to be a part of it! Cheers! 

CJ Round-Up:

Such a pleasure to have Eric join for this month, he is such a considerate person, and having got the chance to meet him in person, it really reinforced that. B2VB really is such a great initiative in terms of building your skills and visualisation theory one step at a time. So a shout out to all those that have completed most of the challenges. I see Luigi C at the top of the list at the time of writing! Impressive stuff.

Truth be told, I often go through the thread to pick up new tricks from the community. It is crazy to see all the different ways to format different chart types. I think some of my favorites was from the initial launch of bar charts, with tables week coming in a strong second. You can check out the full list here.

Lastly, congratulations to Eric in his personal life, as well as celebrating his birthday today.

I hope these last few months have been filled with smiles from ear to ear.

LOGGING OFF,

CJ

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