One of the questions that I’ve been getting a lot lately when I present on analytics is: how do you get good at Tableau? I’m going to give you as close to a blueprint as possible based on my own experiences to quickly build skills that will take you from a padawan to a power user.
First, I should introduce myself, as there is a lot of free advice on the Internet and context is important. I’ve been using Tableau for about six years. I’ve taken every level of Tableau Desktop training (DI, DII, DIII and VA). In fact, I’m not only certified to teach every level of Tableau training, but I’m also certified to train new trainers to teach Tableau. During my five years of training, I’ve taught thousands of students all over Asia Pacific. In addition, I’ve earned a Qualified Associate certification, as well as a Certified Professional back in 2016. Finally, I am the practice lead for InterWorks in Australia, focusing on data and analytics.
How to Upgrade Your Tableau Skills in the New Year
I’m going to offer you 10 tips on how to build your skills. These were techniques that I used or wish I had used in my Tableau journey. They focus on two broad themes and are designed to build your capabilities in each of these critical areas.
- The first is execution. Do you have the technical ability to produce a result in Tableau? For instance, I want to show a radial bar chart on last year’s sales by SKU.
- The second is communication. In other words, am I telling the story of this data effectively and efficiently? Are my dashboard users able to decipher what I’m trying to tell them?
Step 1: Join the Community
The first thing you can do even without a full license to Tableau Desktop is to join the worldwide Tableau Community. The hardest thing to do is to learn a skill in isolation. You need peers. You need mentors. The Tableau community is among the most generous across any tech platform.
What does joining the community entail exactly? I’d start in two places. First, create a free online account on Tableau.com. This allows you access to the Community forums, as well as Tableau Public. The Community forums are where the more than 150,000 users go to ask questions, offer answers and ideate with the rest of the Tableau universe. Tableau Public is a free online gallery—essentially Tableau Online with 10GB free for every member of the community. These are critical in learning Tableau.
Second, I highly recommend participating in your local Tableau User Group. You can find your local TUG here. If there is not a TUG in your area, there are several virtual user groups that you can join.
Step 2: Desktop I – Fundamentals
The best place to start your foundation in Tableau Desktop is with a certified trainer. The first level of training is Tableau Desktop I: Fundamentals. The course is designed to take someone with no knowledge of analytics or Tableau and get them proficient enough to create dashboards. Even if you’ve been self-learning with Tableau Desktop, please take this course. You will have strong skills in components of this course, but there will probably be massive sections to which you’ve had no exposure. For instance, why do date fields operate the way they do – continuous vs. discrete? (hint: date values vs. date parts) There’s a lot in this course, and the curriculum is detailed in this syllabus.
I cannot recommend this course enough and would go even further to say that if you can attend this class in person, you definitely should. Tableau holds public DI classes in every major city monthly or bi-monthly.
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a very famous book, Outliers, where he puts forward the 10,000-hour theory. To build true mastery in a field, he asserts that you need 10,000 hours of time invested. If you can spend 20 hours a week on a subject, it would take you about nine years to hit that mark.
The key fact here is simple: the more quality time you invest in learning and practicing something, the faster you are going to achieve mastery in it.
The quality in that quality time from above is a key distinction. I think it is extremely important to build as many finished products as possible. Simply maintaining a handful of dashboards will stagnate your growth. Starting but never finishing a dashboard teaches you half of what you need to know. You need end-to-end design, development and deployment experience. The more the better. That’s why Tableau Community events are so powerful in developing your skills, particularly Makeover Monday and the Iron Viz. Participate in as many of these as you can.
Step 4: Find a Mentor
I can’t stress how important it is to find someone that has gotten to where you’d like to be as a resource. Most of the time, we don’t need to spend the extra energy blazing a new trail when so many people have done it before us. The reason that I’ve identified mentorship as step 4 rather than placed it earlier is two-fold. First, you want to get to a basic level of competency in the tool before you find a mentor. Use the Community forums on the Tableau website to ask your newbie questions. Use your mentor to ask about your progress, your goals and how to meet them.
Second, you will want to get to know the community a bit better before choosing a mentor. Everyone is different in their strengths, perspectives and ambitions. Give yourself some time to find the folks that will best mesh with the way you think and operate.
Personally, I’ve found several great people willing to mentor and invest in me through my role with InterWorks (Carly, Stephanie, Molly, Vaishali, Dan, Robert and more). Just as important, I always look to pay it forward with any of my students or clients that want to take the Tableau journey.
Step 5: Desktop II – Intermediate
The next step of certified Tableau training is Desktop Level II – Intermediate. In my view, the DII course rounds out the essential features of Tableau Desktop that every Tableau dashboard designer should know. Tableau does offer a combined DI/DII course, but I don’t recommend this for most people. It’s four days of content packed into three. If you’re certified in another analytics tool and have a background in BI then go for it. If you’re new to analytics, give yourself a few months between Fundamentals and Intermediate to digest the content, apply it and get ready for more. Your retention of the content will be far better.
Here is the full course description. Just like with the DI course, Tableau holds public DII classes in every major city monthly or bi-monthly.
Step 6: Certification
Certifications on your Tableau Desktop abilities show the world what you’ve accomplished with your skillset. You get a cool badge that you can use in your signatures and LinkedIn. While that’s a benefit for sure, in my opinion, certifications are far more useful in the challenge that they offer. A timed, two-hour intensive examination of your Tableau skills with completely new datasets? Yes, please! There is no better way to motivate yourself to learn quickly than a pressure situation.
Tableau offers three levels of certification:
- Tableau Desktop Specialist
60-minute exam, Desktop I: Fundamentals
Confession: I have not taken this exam. It wasn’t offered when I was coming up through the Tableau ranks, but it is an introductory examination.
- Tableau Certified Associate
2-hour exam, Desktop II: Intermediate
I took this exam when it was called the Qualified Associate, but it’s the same thing. You’ll need the DI and DII course under your belt with about six months of regular usage to be prepared.
- Tableau Certified Professional
3-hour exam, Certified Associate, Desktop III: Advanced, Visual Analytics
The CP exam is significantly more difficult than the Associate in my opinion. You’ll need to have all the technical skills offered from DI, DII and DIII, as well as a strong understanding of the visual chart types that best tell the story of particulate types of data. When I took the test, it was Pass or Fail by a panel of Tableau experts based on your workbook output.
Practice before your exams, use the study guide, read the articles, and you should be in good shape. Just remember, these exams get progressively more difficult, so space them out appropriately on your Tableau journey. Feel free to look through our blog, as well, as we have some resources that could help you out. For example, Eugenia has shared detailed tips about preparing for and passing the Tableau Desktop certification.
Step 7: Find the Right Role
Not every analyst role is going to punch a golden ticket toward being a Tableau Zen Master. If you really want to make Tableau a focus in your career, you might need to consider switching roles. There are two types of companies that I would look for in making this decision. The first would be a company that has heavily invested in Tableau. They have a hundred Creators or more with a strong, centralized centre of excellence leading the way. You will get training opportunities, mentorship and an internal community of practice.
The other (which I would personally value a little bit higher) is an organization that has just started their Tableau journey. I find building a community, learning as you experiment and tackling progressively more difficult challenges in a start-up environment immensely rewarding. It will accelerate your learning significantly.
Step 8: Desktop III – Advanced
The final Desktop-specific class that Tableau offers is the DIII course. It is different from the DI and DII. The course is really divided into halves. The first half is a very deep dive on calculated fields, LODs, workbook optimization and table calculations. Very crunchy, very technical stuff. The second half of the class is applying those new techniques to design advanced, but very focused chart types. Think of it as half theory followed by half-practicum and problem solving.
Here is the syllabus. DIII courses are offered less often due to the smaller pool of students, so you’ll need to check on the Tableau site for when a classroom or virtual course is being offered convenient to your time and place.
Step 9: Blog
One of the things I enjoy most about speaking to groups of Tableau users or manning a booth at tradeshows is the number of people that come up to me to talk about my Tableau articles. It is a real pleasure to see how they have helped other people along their Tableau journey. And whenever I encounter the authors that I have bookmarked (Alan Eldridge or Andy Kriebel to name a few), then I also make sure to let them know how impactful and helpful their content has been to me.
Blogging adds to the knowledge share and experience wealth within the community. Topics can range from how-tos and new ideas to personal anecdotes and more. I’ve always been a believer that the more you invest in the community, the more you will receive. It’ll make you better at Tableau, it’ll help you build a personal brand in the community, and it’ll advance your career. It’s a win-win-win.
Step 10: Teach
The best way to learn anything is to teach it. It sounds counterintuitive, I know. The requirement to teach is that you must understand the topic from several different angles. Not only can you demonstrate the feature, but now you must be able to verbalize it and explain the value-add of using this technique.
Even more beneficial to the teacher are the questions that the students will ask you. Of course, when you are first getting started, student questions are terrifying because every new trainer has imposter syndrome. You don’t need to have all the answers. In fact, students asking you questions that you don’t know is one of the best things about teaching. You are continuing to learn.
I know that not everyone can be a certified Tableau trainer (nor would everyone want to be). That does not mean that you can’t teach. Every organization relies on SMEs within teams, projects and departments. Every well-designed Centre of Excellence should have onboarding for new Tableau users of all roles (Creators, Explorers and Viewers). The Tableau Fringe Festival is always looking for community members to step forward and share as well. These are opportunities everywhere for you to build those teaching muscles.
Your Tableau Journey
Let InterWorks help you and your organization along your Tableau journey. We offer events all over the world with experts on analytics, Tableau, data, ETL and more. In addition, we help you build a bespoke enablement plan for your team and your company to get the most from Tableau quickly for a truly transformative culture. Let us know how we can assist you. Reach out today!