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.
I met Mike through Twitter some time in 2009. Mike was active in the Tableau community, connecting people from all over the world and answering questions on the Tableau Forums. I did a gig in Ohio in the spring and decided to detour to Cincinnati and meet Mike in person. After spending the afternoon with Mike and his boss at the time, it was easy to see that Mike has high passion for data visualization. From the second annual conference onward, I’ve roomed with Mike. He’s an unofficial member of the InterWorks team.
Q: When and how did you discover Tableau?
Cristiani: I have been using Tableau since sometime in 2007 – rel 2.1. At Market Intelligence Group (a boutique business consulting firm), we did a variety of business analytics application development projects for very large and very small (number of employees) firms. When I realized that clients wanted to pay for answers and not my increasing Excel data viz application (friction) development skills, I went looking for something else. I found Tableau via Google and have not looked back.
Q: What was your first Tableau project?
Cristiani: Wow, that’s a good one. Other than internal use for analytics, I think the very first consulting gig was one was a POC for a telecommunications economics consulting firm where I used to work. They were trying to help their client (a national integrated communications provider) understand the impact of bundling on things like take rate, retention, attrition, cannibalization, market share, etc. One of the principals in the consulting firm was very familiar with multivariate data visualization as an academic endeavor and wanted to apply it to a real world problem. The results in Tableau were stunning and eye-opening. And he did not have to pay for one line of code, because I didn’t write any. I believe that was in Tableau 3.5 or 4.x.
Q: Why did you decide to get active on Twitter and the #Tableau feed?
Cristiani: When I first started using Tableau, there was really no big @Tableau or #Tableau presence on Twitter. So, I just started tweeting like crazy. The concept in my head was that Twitter was a fast way to find the community of Tableau customers who might be interested in supporting each others’ adventures in data viz. The idea really was one about evangelizing Tableau so I would not feel so alone in my pursuits. Seemed to work.
Lately, I have found myself mostly retweeting others’ Tableau content. This is a deliberate strategy on my part, because I find that many folks have lots to contribute, least of all me, so why not re-broadcast links to their efforts.
Q: How many friends have you made via Twitter that are in the Tableau community? What about other communities?
Cristiani: At least 2K in the Tableau community. By friends, I mean folks who follow me and I follow them. I recognize their names, and when I see their tweets I have a mental picture of who they are and the unique gifts they have or can offer to the Tableau tribe. Very often, I try to put folks together when I see that they can benefit each other and the whole community on a long-term basis. Since Tableau is growing so quickly now, this has been hard to do as easily, and I have had little time lately to practice this behavior, but I plan to step it up during the rest of 2015 and beyond.
Of course, as you suggest, this has led to finding other folks, through the Community Forums, Facebook, LinkedIn and actual Tableau events (for some of which I have been a featured speaker).
Full disclosure, I was supposed to be a leader/convenor of the Cincinnati TUG, but I found it difficult to follow through. Great thanks are due Jeff Shaffer, Eric Duell and Russ Spangler for, as Russ says, “kicking you out of the leadership team.” The Cincinnati TUG is very active, I think. The events I have attended have well over 50-75 attendees, and the content is terrific. If anyone wants to share some Tableau experiences, processes or tips/tricks, they should contact Jeff, Eric or Russ.
By way of encouragement, let me say that I have at least two stories of folks I met through Twitter who started out asking questions about how to do something with Tableau and have ended up being friends I try to see whenever I am in their neighborhoods. This is another key objective for me – caring about others’ lives and offering whatever support I can when asked.
Q: Who are some of your best friends in the Tableau community? Why?
Cristiani: Well, Dan, top of the list is you, of course. Then, Joe Mako, for whom I have a special place in my heart. Beyond that, I would have to say all the usual suspects bring big grins to my face: Kriebel, Wexler, Drummey, Shaffer, Lewandowski, Wallwork, etc. – too numerous to name, and I apologize for leaving anyone out of that short list. I really have very heartfelt feelings for most everyone I have met in the Tableau community.
I should say that a special category for me is folks who have risked lots to advance the art and science of data visualization using Tableau – folks who are passionate and are embracing the flow, wherever it takes them, for the benefit of others. Again, that includes you and the whole team at my adopted InterWorks family, Joe Mako, Andy Kriebel and Jonathan Drummey. It also includes four people I admire greatly: Tom Brown and Craig Bloodworth at The Information Lab, Steve Wexler and Ramon Martinez.
In the past few years, I have helped a growing number of people find or change their employment situations so that they can be more engaged in data viz. While I won’t name them here, they all have a special place on my list of Tableau friends. As you know, I also try to help the Tableau glitterati find opportunities to spread the message by sniffing out obscure or first class speaking engagements for them.
Among folks I know on the Tableau Team, I must say that the three founders, plus Kelly Wright and Elissa Fink, have been very kind to me over the years. I will never forget that. Also, Robert Morton and the now “retired” Iain Clifford Heath are high on my list. Ross Bunker was the first person at Tableau with whom I had any kind of extended conversation, and I hope he knows how much that conversation, which took place in July 2008 while walking to a Mariners game from the Edgewater Hotel, has contributed to me being a loyal customer and evangelist.
Q: You’ve made a recent job change. Where are you working now, and what are you doing?
Cristiani: After spending 9+ years at Market Intelligence Group (which was acquired by the Empower Group), I moved to The Lewin Group. It is a health care and human services consulting firm. Our growing Tableau team supports our clients with Tableau-based analysis of Medicare and Medicaid claims and payment reform as well as data quality. The applications focus on enrollment, population health, care management, financial management, utilization, care quality and data validation. We distribute the work using packaged workbooks or Tableau Server, as dictated by the clients. If any of your readers are looking for a challenging gig, they should let me know.
Q: What do you like best about Tableau V9.0?
Cristiani: Direct connection to SAS/R/SPSS data sets, LOD Expressions, the new Calculated Field Editor, Mapping Features, the overall look and feel, speed.
In general, what has always been very obvious in each new release, to me anyway, is that Tableau Software is committed to the mission of the founders. Love it.
Q: What do you hope to see in future releases of Tableau?
Cristiani: Color ramps for mapping that allow the same controls as ArcGIS, where the class boundaries can be specified more precisely. It can be done now but with lots of work.
Another thing is that dashboard navigation controls are typically actualized by most users using dummy variables to hold values accessible to the Dashboard Actions. This can put a significant burden on the data source, since calculated fields are at the record level. We have worked around that using supplemental data sources just to control navigation. Works great, but a built-in way of building this capability might be worth exploring. I am happy to show anyone what we have done here.
Q: What blogs do you follow? Why?
Cristiani: To tell you the truth, Dan, I follow them all and lose sleep reading them. Customers with all levels of expertise with Tableau should ritualize reading the Community Forums and build a huge RSS library. Andy Kriebel, Ramon Martinez, Jeff Shaffer and others have done a great job of cataloging the landscape. The willingness of Tableau customers to “Collaborate And Share Everything” is a hallmark and part of Tableau’s competitive advantage, IMVHO.
Besides the complete catalog of Tableau focused blogs, the data viz focused blogs like The Functional Art, Junk Charts, FILWD, Perceptual Edge, Data Viz Done Right, Storytelling with Data, Data Revelations and Edward Tufte are frequent reads.
If you want a consistently irreverent and spot-on assessment of the whole data viz and BI space, I recommend Ted Cuzzillo’s DataDoodle.com and Mark Madsen (@markmadsen).
Q: I know you have special circumstances at home that can be challenging. How do you balance work/life/social media?
Cristiani: Being able to work from home helps. About 30% or so of my colleagues are remote workers as well. The social media happens in all the cracks and crevices of time, so the thousands of blog posts I have planned for my personal blog never get done, which is a great disappointment to me, since I think you can always do more to give back and CASE.
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