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We are now a couple of weeks removed from #data17, and I’m already looking forward to next year! This was my third Tableau conference, and with it, came a third unique experience. Here are some of my favorite experiences, and an inside look at the Iron Viz competition.


The Pluralsight team

If you ask the 25 or so Pluralsight team members if they saw much of me at conference, they’d give a resounding no, but we did get a chance to have a nice dinner together on Monday night. Many of these people are located all across the map. It was nice to finally meet them in person, share some laughs, and settle into the first night of he conference.

If you’ve ever been to conference alone, or maybe with one coworker, you know that the 14,000:1 ratio gets intimidating real fast. Having a big crew there to run into every once in a while added a nice touch to the entire conference.

One last nod to this amazing crew, they were definitely the louder cheering section at The Data Duo session! #TeamPluralsight ftw!

Here is our leader, Bill Saltmarsh, speaking to a full session and showing off some of Adam’s work

Putting (Real) Faces to Names

How many times did you walk by someone sitting on the floor, devices charging, hard at work or on a work phone call? How many times did you think to yourself, “Does this person know what they are missing?” That was me at conference in 2014. As others have wrote (Mix), after that conference I decided to get more involved in the community, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Last year I was hardly around the conference venue, as I spent a good amount of time in my room prepping for Iron Viz… this year was going to be all about conversations and friendships for me. I could go on listing all of the amazing people that I had the pleasure of spending time with, but instead I’ll share a few key moments that stood out in my memory.

She Talks Data

One of the more impactful conversations I had was with Katie Poznanski-Ring and Brit Cava. I had never met Katie until now, and learned that she has been leaning on Brit as a mentor for quite some time, and through that mentoring she was able to land an amazing job with Slalom. Brit is consistently offering her time to others, and it really inspired me to be a more active mentor in the community. As one would expect in a conversation with Brit, we also spent a good amount of time talking about She Talks Data. I kept trying to head back to the room to sleep, but kept finding more things to talk about. These two are such great examples for women in data and data kids. I poured my damn heart out in front of them, hoping my daughter will grow up to be every bit as strong as they are… I might have even teared up for a minute or two.

I’d be remiss not to mention catching up with Chloe Tseng, someone that I have a huge amount of respect for. Chloe does so much for the Tableau community, the women in data community, and the global community as a whole… if she is not a zen master next year, then I’m not sure what it even means to be one anymore.

Here is a long overdue photo with myself, Jeremy Poole, Brit, and Chloe to celebrate the success of last year’s She Talks Data grant program.

Sweet Tea

Speaking of Jeremy, we had a nice many intellectual conversations about what makes a sweet tea, and what doesn’t qualify as a sweet tea. Here is a pro tip for all of us non-southerners… you have to sweeten the water prior during the brew, not after! Jeremy and I also had a great time losing $100 each, in about 4 minutes, on the roulette table.


Another great conversation that I didn’t expect to have was with Shawn Levin and Jeffrey Shaffer about teaching Tableau in a higher ed setting. The three of us all teach data visualization to undergrad/masters students, and all had slightly different approaches to doing so. Shawn and I are both new to teaching, so it was really great to learn some valuable lessons on what has worked and what hasn’t worked in Jeff’s classes. The amazing thing to me was that each of had success stories of students who either landed a job based on our teachings, or wanted to continue on the path of a data viz career. If you ever get a chance to share your knowledge in the classroom, do it. The work isn’t always financially rewarding, but seeing a handful of students succeed and take to the subject is more rewarding than any dollar amount.

This is right about the time that Jeff got sick of listening to the Data Duo banter, and our education conversation got started


Date Night

One of the luxuries that having conference in Vegas afforded me, was the opportunity to have my wife, Mady, come and spend Sunday night meeting data friends. For her, it was nice to put faces to names, and for me, it was nice to expose her to this crazy hobby we all know and enjoy. After a nice dinner with Adam and Pooja, Mady and I may have both had one too many at the Data+Women pre-game event.. I might have even broken a glass. Look for Mady’s first Makeover Monday appearance sometime next year!

You’ve probably seen this picture before, but oh well.

A Funny Story

There were many more great conversations, I could go on, but I’ll leave this section with a moment of chance that was just too perfect. I was eating breakfast in the data village one morning and was joined by Mike Ciserneros, Brittany Fong, and a few others. While we were eating I got a Twitter notification from Andy Kriebel, who was graciously trying to give me credit for a chart concept that I most certainly didn’t invent. The original poster, Klaus, cited Mike as the inspiration > Andy cited me as the inspiration > Mike and I just happened to be sitting together > Mike and I both happened to make business cards out of the charts in question > Mike and I proceeded to exchanging said business cards and tweeting a very meta image of us doing so.. the odds of this entire exchange happening as it did are astronomical!

Oh wow, you’re still reading?

Iron Viz – Part Two

Oh my favorite part of conference, something that holds a place near and dear to my heart, it is Iron Viz. As per tradition (with an exception in 2015), the previous winner holds the honor of being on the judging panel with Elissa, Jock, and Ellie. Many people commented on how much better it must feel to be judging over competing, and I often commented back on the fact that I was, in a way, more nervous this year than last. Joshua, Tristan, and Jacob are all extremely talented, were going to create three amazing pieces of work, and I had to judge their work… that was highly intimidating to me. I would much rather be the one competing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!


I’d like to provide some transparency into this year’s event. As we all know, when it comes to Iron Viz judging (feeders and TC), we don’t know much. This year in Vegas, the four judges all had the scorecard shown below. Each contestant is judged in three categories, and can achieve a max score of 30 per category, per judge. I personally had a hard time distinguishing visual best practice and visual aesthetics, if done well, the two can be one in the same IMO. I also had an extremely difficult time separating the competition from the legacy of the visualizations… let me explain.

When I was competing in 2016, I would have never thought to use the pages shelf for live animation, as I knew that my viz wouldn’t “live on” after the competition. I didn’t want someone going to Tableau Public, expecting to show a colleague an amazing animated viz, and then being disappointed when it just wasn’t the same as the in person experience. Either way, the judges agreed that Iron Viz should be judged on the presentations and user experiences we see at the conference. Joshua’s automatic dashboard scaling became a very smart choice, as the crowd gets the wow factor of seeing the viz full screen, on a big ass screen. Tristan and Jacob’s use of animation was completely legitimized, and the crowd clearly loved every second of it.

I can’t speak for the other three judges, but the winner on my scorecard won by a range of 1-3 total points if I remember right. I made sure that each category had an outright winner, runner-up, and third place. There is a common idea that the conference crowd are the final judge, and that the extra 10 points typically decides the outcome. Knowing how tight my scorecard was, and assuming the other judges felt the same, I can’t disagree with that sentiment. If you want to win Iron Viz, win over the crowd… this is a tried and true method to victory.

I could go on about Iron Viz, this competition just keeps getting bigger, and I’m excited to watch it grow in 2018. I’ll definitely be seeing all of you in the feeder competitions!

Until next year.. everyone cross their fingers for a very light hurricane season!

Comments ( 1 )

  • Andy Kriebel says:

    Love the recap Curtis! It was great seeing you again and hanging out a bit. Next year, I’ll bring my A-game (that is, no marathon two weeks later).

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