Tableau Conference 2019

One my goals for GenEd is to create online dashboards that provide easy access to data on enrollment trends, grading patterns, waitlists, section sizes and databased information to department chairs, course coordinators, and dean’s office personnel. My weapon of choice is the analytics software Tableau.  This month I attended my first Tableau conference to learn about the software’s  advanced capabilities and the ways it is being used in higher education.

Tableau 2019 was an amazing production, held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, the conference drew more than 18,000 participants from across industry, government and education. I knew I was among kindred souls when I saw the banners. Others included “Data-Vengers” and “Highway to the Data Zone .

Data banner pun: Don't go breaking my chart

Perhaps because I’m used to staid academic conferences,  I found some of the of the theatricality a bit over the top. For example, the “IronViz” competition featured three winners of preliminary data visualization competitions in a one-hour showdown to produce the most amazing data visualization on  a stage with fog machines in front of a crowd wielding foam light sabers in time to the pulsing beat of pop music.

IronViz was a visual production complete with laser lights and fog machines.

The technical sessions, however, made the trip. I attend talks on a number of advanced aspects of Tableau such as:

  • Level of detail (LOD) calculations
  • Order of operations with in Tableau
  • Dynamic parameters
  • Leveraging external services (Python, R, Matlab)

I also picked up tips on creating a Tableau community and met with folks in higher education from the Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, Appalachian State, and Texas State.  So I consider the conference time well spent.

Best of all, I got to attend a talk by Randall Munroe, the creator of the web comic XKCD. He gave a talk entitled, “Overthinking Things with Randall Munroe: Science, Comics, and the Benefits of Ridiculous Questions.”  The cartoon on the screen below, for example, asks the question: “If your house is being transported on a trailer to a new location and you’re pulled over by the police. Can they search the house without a warrant? Is it a vehicle search or a home search?

Trailer transporting a house it pulled over by a cop.

Apparently, Mr. Monroe spends much of his time pondering such questions, and his comics arise naturally from his ruminations. I’m a big fan, so it was a thrill to hear him speak in person.

Tableau 2019 proved to be a fun mixture showmanship, technical talks, exhibits and networking opportunities. Recommended!

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