10 Questions for Tableau Trainer Extraordinaire Sarah Nell


10 Questions for Tableau Trainer Extraordinaire Sarah Nell


10 Questions is an ongoing blog series in which Tableau Zen Master Dan Murray interviews some of the brightest folks in the world of data.

10 Questions for Tableau Trainer Extraordinaire Sarah Nell

I met Sarah last year while doing book tour speeches in the Midwest. She drove from Milwaukee to Madison to attend my talk there and the next day in Milwaukee. She was a Tableau Consultant at the time working for a Tableau Partner in Milwaukee that sponsored the event. It was apparent to me that Sarah had the Tableau “fever.” She is outgoing and loves bringing new users into the community.

Many people who use Tableau Software dream of working for Tableau. Sarah is one of the few that have successfully gone from being a Tableau customer to Tableau Consultant to Tableau Software employee.

The Questions

Q: When did you first start using Tableau and for what purpose?

Nell: I started using it in the traditional manner a lot of people do. I’ve been using Tableau for over five years. I think I started on version 5?

The purpose was my new position in the Analytics Department at Manpower. I had a reporting project I needed to create for clients and needed something that would handle the load. After researching quite a few alternatives, I landed on Tableau. It became the complement to an enterprise Cognos reporting system. I became the “go to” person for reports with Tableau. 

Q: As a Tableau consultant, what types of work did you get involved with? How did Tableau help?

Nell: The clients I worked with the most were insurance-based and in higher education – everything from internal training, to data governance with Tableau, to “does this look ok?” If anyone wants to have a fast education in everything Tableau can do, consulting will do that.

My favorite work, though, was the newbie population of Tableau – the people who had never used Tableau but were excited to find out how to use it. That led to my interest in teaching.

Q: You organized a well-attended Tableau event in Milwaukee last year? What was your motivation for that?

Nell: I believe in Tableau’s ability to change your work life and to make it better – not only to provide easy insight but also to make it fun in the process. How many people get excited about work? I was never that excited about work until I started seeing how interesting it could be with the right tools. That passion has carried through to wanting to share that message and use cases as well as the creation of the analytics symposium, which you kindly attended. 

Q: I first met you at a Madison Tableau User Group meeting. How did attending user groups accelerate your learning?

Nell: You may not have noticed, but I’m not shy. User groups gave me a platform to geek out with other people and see what they were doing with Tableau. I believe in expanding my network. There’s no way I can figure about everything I want to do on my own, so I leverage the user groups to expand my knowledge. This also keeps me in touch with my local Tableau team and my consulting customer base.

Q: You were recently hired by Tableau Software. This is the dream of many new Tableau users – getting a job at Tableau. How did you get the job? What was the interview process like?

Nell: I mentioned networking above; I leveraged that network. I knew that I was passionate about teaching and wanting to follow in the direction, not just as a trainer but by teaching people how to be effective trainers. Training is a unique skill that I never would have guessed I had when I was at Manpower, but there’s real joy in seeing a difficult concept take root in someone’s mind and seeing them apply that to their own work.

Tableau offered me the opportunity to teach what I have found to work with their trainers and to grow their Train the Trainer practice. I get to travel the world and do something I’m in love with. How could I say no?

The interview process was pretty typical: the first phone screen, another more intense over-the-phone and then the in-person in Seattle. I was a known entity though, so it was easy in person. It was like having a conversation when I was there and sharing what I’ve learned and would love to do with Tableau in the future.  

Q: Will you be relocating or staying in Milwaukee?  

Nell: My hubs and I will be relocating to Seattle later this summer. They’d like me to be in a more active role in Seattle rather than remote, which we’re excited for. Neither of us has lived outside of the Midwest, and I love Seattle! Though, I’m going to miss the abundance of cheese curds and the use of hard vowels in everyday speech.

Q: What do you like best about the Tableau community?

Nell: Their love of beer? Ha! Yes, that and their complete willingness to be open and help people. Doesn’t matter your skill level, people want to talk and help you! It’s one of the most encouraging and open communities I’ve seen in technology. You don’t see that type of community for Cognos.

In my class in Los Angeles the other week, I conducted an experiment on Twitter to show how awesome the community is. #sarahstableauclass brought out pictures and posts and retweets. The people attending that class were all new to Tableau, and they were amazed at the response. They fell in love with the product after that, all because of the active community. That class showered me with hugs at the end!  

Q: Who are some of the people you learned from in the Tableau community?

Nell: I think my mentors are going to be slightly different than some. With training, I’m a huge fan of my future boss, Molly Monsey, whom you know as well. She’s an amazing and natural teacher. I love watching her train because I learn something new every time. Kathleen Goepferd, who’s responsible for customer use cases, was one of my first Tableau friends. Women having all these connections is seriously awesome.

Then, Matt Francis is my dude! He’s always there to talk Tableau and support my social media experiments when I’m teaching a class. I call him the “king of parameters.” Then, last but not least, you! Who else could I call at 9:00 p.m. on the evening of the Tableau Customer Conference needing help? You were totally there to help me get a customer into the conference. I owe you beer for life!

Q: How did you learn Tableau?

Nell: At first, I learned organically on my own for the first few years. Watching the videos, reading the forums and practice, practice, practice. It’s through my own trials that I created a series of tips I give during my class. Like Tableau’s version of button mashing, when in doubt, right-click!

Then, a couple years ago, I finally took my first formal class. Then, so many more things made sense! I’m a big believer in learning on your own, but take a class because it’ll give you a firm foundation in best practices. 

Q: What do you hope to see Tableau add to the product offering over the next few years?  

Nell: I want dynamic parameters as an addition to training. I want to see more specific data sets and training like higher education-specific training since so many schools and universities are using Tableau and its growing so fast!

Discover More Interviews

Want to read more insightful interviews like this one? Then you’ll love our 10 Questions blog series. Check out the full list of interviews here, and stay tuned for new additions.

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More About the Author

Dan Murray

Director of Strategic Innovations
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