Journal Entry: The Evolution of My Career

Today is my last day at Health Catalyst, and it the most bittersweet last day I can remember. I’m leaving a job that I never imagined I would leave, and thought it would be fitting to document my thoughts on how far I’ve come and how far I have left to go. Much like a professional athlete posting their farewell to The Players’ Tribune, I’m here today to provide some perspective on just how far Tableau has taken me in life.

Let’s rewind for a minute…

In the summer of 2009 I was laid off from my job installing audio/video systems in commercial building, schools, and churches. I made exactly $14 per hour, and had only a high school diploma to my name. At that point, I had been graduated from high school for five years, and had been struggling to finish my 2-year associate degree ever since. Little did I know that being laid off at that moment would set forth a course that would change my life… but at the time I was simply terrified. After a couple long months of unemployment, I received a position as a mailroom clerk at Intermountain Healthcare.

Yes… I was that guy a little less than 8 years ago.

Fast forward about 10 months and I managed to escape the mailroom into an even more dismal fate… health insurance collections. Oh man, from that point I knew that being on the phone wasn’t for me… people that owe money are ruthless! During my time as a collections agent, I got my first taste of data analysis and visualization. Mind you I was building some of the worst spiderweb data structures in Access, and building (ugh) 3D pie charts in Excel. Just 7 years ago I was building 3D pie charts in Excel!

Fast forward to 2011…

I had just landed another job with Intermountain as a business systems analyst in the supply chain function, when my new boss asked me if I knew anything about a piece of software called Cognos. I lied, and said I did, which caused me to become “the BI guy” for the department. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t wish Cognos development on my worst enemy, but at the time I was in love with Cognos. A tool that could take custom SQL queries, no matter how poor I wrote them, and dynamically spit out visualizations based on user inputs… wow I was simply floored! I built my first executive dashboard in Cognos, and I’m afraid to say it probably did look exactly how you are picturing it to look; guages, pies, truncated axes galore.

During my time in this role I was also pursuing my master’s degree at the University of Utah, which led me to Tableau. I didn’t learn Tableau in school, my professors didn’t teach it at the time, but one professor mentioned in passing that his team was currently building some “sick” dashboards using Tableau… so I looked it up. Quickly realizing that Tableau offered, and still does offer one free year for students, I downloaded version 7.x and took it right back to work the next day.

My relationship status with Tableau has been “In a relationship” ever since.

With Tableau, I was able to build out all of my backlog in half the time that I could with Cognos, and my users started to appreciate my work more and more. My skills were growing quickly, and were only bolstered by my involvement in the Tableau community. I knew from here on out that I would be riding Tableau into the sunset… my career hinges on Tableau’s continued success, I wasn’t worried about it then and I’m not worried about it now.

Fast forward to 2015…

Health Catalyst had just signed a contract with Piedmont Healthcare, and their BI guru (Zen Master Mark Jackson) wanted to make sure that he had input into Health Catalyst’s first group of dedicated Tableau consultants. Mark gave me a rigorous technical interview, which really pushed me to the limit of my knowledge at the time. During the interview I was completing a task that Mark set forth, and he stopped me out of nowhere and asked me to explain what I was doing while I was doing it… I was not ready for that. Since that moment, I’ve realized the importance of being able to communicate what you are doing while you are doing it, we can’t just assume that our audience has the same level of knowledge that we do. Soft skills like these will get you much further than most of your technical ability, and we should all take every opportunity we can to practice them.

During my time with Health Catalyst, I had the opportunity to work on all different areas of Tableau. We dove into: Server, PosgreSQL, automated user security, JavaScript API, cache warming… you name it, we tried it. My time with Health Catalyst even led me down the path of teaching data visualization to masters students at the University of Utah… the same program I had just recently graduated from. It was amazing to experience the healthcare environment as a whole, working on clinical analytics, accountable care organizations, finance, operations and more. Some of the proudest work of my career came out of my time here, and I am forever grateful to Health Catalyst.

Working with Piedmont Healthcare to improve the care and outcomes of septic patients was one of my favorite experiences over the last two years… you can read about it below.

Battling sepsis at Piedmont

Reducing sepsis mortality at Piedmont

Health Catalyst, much to the chagrin of my wife, also gave me the opportunity to travel a bit. Every new place I go, my first order of business is to find a local coffee shop and order a mocha. I’ve tried far too many mochas over the last two years, but my favorite is still just a short walk away from our office… I will miss my coffee shop just about as much as anything I could miss from Health Catalyst.

More than anything, I am grateful that Health Catalyst, in a way, presented me with the opportunity to teach everything I have learned about Tableau and data viz over the years. Standing in front of 45 students who all paid to hear what you have to say about a subject is very humbling, and it is an experience that will stick with me for life.

This was on my first day of class, before I had any idea what I was getting into.

My experience teaching data viz is a story for another time, but I’ve come to realize since the end of the semester, that the way I can make the biggest impact on the future is to help people of all ages gain a greater knowledge of what will be important when they enter the workforce: technology. Today’s coder is tomorrow’s middle class, everyday employee… our children are going to be eaten alive in the workforce without a foundational understanding of technology.

This is a problem I want to help solve, this is something that affects myself and my family directly, and this is something that I know my new employer is in the best position to change. So without further ado, much like a high profile NBA free agent, I’m happy to announce that I’m joining up with Pluralsight to help democratize professional technology training. While I’m not (yet) authoring courses or training students directly, I will be helping Pluralsight realize their business goals using data and analytics, which will help us realize our greater goal of providing technology training for the masses.

There is a story I love about JFK and a janitor, that goes something like this:

JFK was visiting a NASA facility during his presidency and stopped a janitor for a question during his tour.

Kennedy to the janitor: “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

Janitor to Kennedy: “Well, Mr. President.. I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Working in a tech job behind the scenes can sometime feel like you aren’t making a direct impact to the company mission, but I know my work at Pluralsight is going to help change the landscape of professional education, and I can’t wait to get started.

2 comments On Journal Entry: The Evolution of My Career

  • Anthony Gould

    Congrats Curtis! I’m glad you published your story. I expect others will benefit in knowing how you’ve put one foot in front of the other during your career. Congrats on your Pluralsight gig!

  • This is so great Curtis! Thanks for sharing your journey and good luck at Pluralsight. They’re a great bunch!

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