Make #data16 your launch pad

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There is a buzz in the air and it’s that unmistakable anticipation and excitement that surrounds any big Tableau event. The biggest one of which, Tableau’s global conference, is about to happen in Austin, Texas.

15,000 data enthusiasts are expected to take over the city from Monday, 7 November until Thursday, 10 November. I’m planning to be right in the middle of it all, among the friends whom I have grown fond of over the last 12 months.

You see, last year was my first experience at Tableau Conference and for me that week changed everything…

Because it had such a profound impact on me, my career and my short- and long-term opportunities in life, I decided to write this blog article and share some recommendations. If only one person benefits from it half as much as I did, then it was well worth the effort.

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How my Tableau journey unfolded

Let me go back in time 3 years to August 2013 when I first started using Tableau. I was working in Sydney, Australia for a Tableau customer and got to know the local Tableau Software team very well. There were only 5 of them in all of Australia at that point.

There I was, tinkering with Tableau, producing some reports and doing analysis, posting the odd question and idea in the online forums, and reading random Zen Master blogs whenever I needed help.

I learned a lot of tips and tricks from Mac Bryla, but was still mostly self-taught. I got invited to a couple of Tableau events which was where my network started to grow.

I met David Murphy quite early on (we also happened to be neighbours) and just kept chipping away at work, honing my Tableau skills and dreaming about ‘doing Tableau all day every day’.

Fast forward to today and I am working in Nuremberg, Germany, as EXASOL’s Tableau Evangelist, helping our partners and customers make the most of their data and data visualization environments.

What happened in between was all thanks to the local and global Tableau community and my efforts to build a personal brand and grow my professional network.

In the beginning this happened rather slowly, but as I got more connected, my network grew and work became more and more interesting and Tableau focused.

I went from working at a Tableau customer to joining a Tableau partner in Sydney as their Tableau expert and became a Tableau Desktop and Server trainer.

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#data15 as a career catalyst

But the key event in my career so far was #data15 in Las Vegas last year in October, where things ‘took off’.

By then I had met a lot more Tableau enthusiasts in the community and started to follow a number of people online through their contributions to Tableau’s blog, their own blogs and their company websites.

I, however, still didn’t blog or produce any content relating to Tableau and I certainly wasn’t on Twitter, because I didn’t feel I had anything meaningful to share with the world in 140 characters…

I travelled to the conference by myself and as the only representative from our company, so I was forced to talk to people if I wanted to have a good time and socialise. A few of the people I knew from Australia were there and it was great seeing some familiar faces.

It was also finally time to meet those legends I had stalked online from afar. Being the fangirl I am, I awkwardly (at least that’s how it seemed to me) introduced myself to the likes of Andy Cotgreave, Craig Bloodworth, Tom Brown and Andy Kriebel.

I also started a Twitter account on Day 1. It was time to join the conversation and to find my voice.

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Imagine standing at the edge of a tornado and suddenly getting sucked into it – that’s how it all felt to me, but in a good way.

What followed was a rather busy week of early morning runs, various conference sessions, lunches, random selfies, parties every night, a visit to Cirque du Soleil, a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, a couple of joy rides (sunset and sunrise) around the desert in a Porsche 911 convertible and just before heading to the airport, a rollercoaster ride to finish things off.

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Capitalising on the #data15 momentum

When I arrived in Australia I had a head full of ideas and a huge amount of motivation to up the ante on my Tableau work. I also had a lot of new people in my network and a couple of job opportunities that could turn into offers for work in Germany.

But no rest for the wicked, and so I attended Tableau Server Train the Trainer in Sydney in November and a fun Tableau Christmas party in December, before flying to Germany for a winter holiday and family visit and to tie down those job options once and for all.

In early February I had signed a contract with EXASOL and our planned move to Germany was taking shape. Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as MakeoverMonday and Tableau Public kept me connected with the Tableau communities in the US and Europe. Australia did feel a bit isolated sometimes and the time differences meant that I missed a lot of the discussions on social media.

At the end of May it was time for us to move and at the beginning of August I joined EXASOL to start a new chapter in my life and career. It was my first professional job in my own country, my own language and working with fellow Germans. 3 months in and I absolutely love it.

A global community – so close

It has made such a difference to live in the same (or close to the same) time zone as the rest of the European Tableau community and I have had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people in the last couple of months. One highlight was a recent trip to London where I caught up with lots of my friends whom I first met in Las Vegas last year.

And just on Monday this week I went to the Netherlands and met, among others, Martijn from The Information Lab, whom I went on that Grand Canyon helicopter ride with last year.

The Tableau community is huge and small at the same time. Sometimes it feels so big and overwhelming, but when you connect the dots, you realise how close people are to you and how you meet the same people over and over again.

I spoke with Matt Francis in London a couple of weeks ago and it was the first time we met in person (even though I sat in the front row at his Vegas presentation last year), but we felt like we had known each other for much longer, because of our Twitter conversations over the past 12 months.

Build your personal brand

When I first started my corporate career as a university graduate in Deloitte’s consulting practice in New Zealand, we were taught the importance of building your personal brand. One of the values was ‘aim to be famous’, i.e. become known for your particular skills and knowledge and be someone people remember.

While it wasn’t something I told myself every morning in front of the mirror, I did make a conscious effort over the years to build my personal brand and still consider it vital as a long-term career strategy.

I can promise you that all that effort will pay off in the long run.

It can mean that I work on my personal brand in my spare time, on weekends and while commuting and even on holidays, but it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ because I enjoy it. And in the end it helped me not having to write job applications when looking for work in Germany. I just talked to people and we went from there.

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#data16 and how I prepare

This finally brings me to #data16, which is about to begin…

Last year I went to the conference knowing a handful of people from Tableau Software and no one else. This time ’round I am going with colleagues and am super excited (yes, even Germans get super excited) to be meeting so many friends again. Friends from all over Europe and the rest of the world.

I know what to expect, I have had a diligent bedtime routine to ensure I sleep as much as possible before travelling to Texas. I have only picked a handful of sessions to attend, have purchased flat shoes to wear while (wo)manning the EXASOL booth at the Expo and have connected ahead of time with the people I want to meet over there.

I have my conference and my party attire carefully planned out, have checked where to find a supermarket to stock up on snacks and am feeling prepared.

I’ve been tweeting, WhatsApping and Emailing.

I’ve gotten involved in the organising of #rundata16 with Andy Kriebel and Paul Chapman and had a chance to support Emily Chen for the data+women pre-game event which is happening on Sunday night.

This is the way I will make the most out of my time in Austin.

My advice for conference newbies

If #data16 is your first Tableau Conference, here are some recommendations that will hopefully help you have a great conference experience:

  1. Check the many blog posts around on how to choose your sessions wisely, getting around, etc.
  2. Join Twitter. Don’t worry about whether or not you have something ‘meaningful’ to say. Just join the conversation!
  3. Give your LinkedIn profile a quick tidy-up
  4. Consider starting a blog. Now is the right time and you will find your voice.
  5. If you’re by yourself, go to the many meetups during #data16
  6. Talk to people. If the other person is by herself as well, just introduce yourself and start a conversation. Chances are, they feel just as awkward and will be relieved to talk to you
  7. Put yourself out there. You may not be an extroverted limelight-hogging individual like myself, but by immersing yourself in the Tableau community you can learn, connect to and help others, put ideas out there, and have a lot of fun.
  8. At the same time, be picky. 3 1/2 days in Austin is not an eternity. Spend your time wisely and make sure you get a chance to do the things you wanted to do
  9. Start using Tableau Public and publish dashboards there to create a portfolio of your work. Tableau skills are in high demand in the job market and this is a great way to show what you’re capable of
  10. Go to all the parties. Meet people and talk about something other than data for a couple of hours. You’ll have a great time for sure, because Tableau always put on a great party…

Bridget Cogley recently wrote about all the things that can happen in a year. I can only agree with her and who knows, maybe you’ll look back in 12 months’ time and realise that #data16 changed the trajectory of your career and maybe even your life…

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