Tableau’s mission is to help people see and understand their data, and they market their software as an extremely easy to way to do so. For basic analyses, such as looking at a measure such as sales, and slicing and dicing that measure by a dimension such as region, we’re not sure anything could be easier than Tableau. However, there can be a substantial learning curve required to get exactly what you want out of the software. While we’ve been through some growing pains and experienced some frustration learning the tool, we mostly view my lack of perfection as good news. The challenge keeps our job interesting and continue to get excited discovering innovative solutions to complex problems that have led to several successful visualizations.
This post shares my top tips for how to learn Tableau, whether you have a budget of $0 or $5,000.
5. Follow the Tableau Community
Last week, we were honored as recipient of Tableau Public Viz of the Year. The New Year is always a time for reflection for us, and this recognition inspired us to put some thought into what made that possible. The most recurring thought we had was that the main reason was the community, and a feeling that we kept coming back to was grateful. Grateful for the community of Tableau bloggers, mentors who have pushed me to innovate, conference speakers, and user group leaders – all who share their time and knowledge without an expectation of receiving anything in return.
The first tip in our list of top five is to follow the Tableau community. We have learned several software programs during our career in digital analytics and data visualization, and bar none, Tableau has the most selfless community of any of them. The great thing about following the community is that you can tailor the list of users you focus on to align with your own uses of Tableau. Perhaps you want to follow users sharing advanced technical know-how, members of the community who are applying Tableau in your own industry, or users more focused on design and user experience.
Some of these users have created aggregated learning resources from several users in the community. One of our favorites is Jeffrey Shaffer’s (@HighVizAbility), Data + Science Tableau Reference Guide.
Lastly, get involved with a local Tableau User Group. This is a free resource where you can meet local Tableau users and learn from what others are doing. Many of the ‘Data Viz Heroes’ mentioned above often speak at these meetings. These user groups are all over the world – use this handy Tableau User Group map to find the one closest to you and reach out to the leader to get involved.
4. Take a Training
Cost: $13 – $5,000 / day
No matter how many blog posts you’ve read, sometimes you just need to talk to somebody who can help you connect the dots between what you are learning. Attending a Tableau training or data visualization workshop can help you take your skills a significant step forward in a short amount of time. Tableau training comes in many shapes and sizes, and as with the community tip above, you should choose your Tableau training based on what you are hoping to get out of the software at this point in your development.
If you would like a recorded training, we recommend looking on Udemy.
If you are in need of in-person training, you can attend a one-day training at Tableau’s annual customer conference, a group training conducted by Tableau, an on-site training conducted by Tableau, or an on-site training conducted by a third-party trainer. We have attended a group training conducted by Tableau, and a condensed “analyst” training at a Tableau conference. We can personally attest to the value that attending an in-person training provides.
If you are interested in the storytelling aspects of data visualization and need training exercises customized with your own data, please take a look at our own Tableau Training offering.
3. Read Up
Cost: $35 – $45
It may sound cliché, but there are simply some good books on Tableau available to learn from. This is a great starting point for learning Tableau, and one we sometimes take for granted. When we started using Tableau (“Back in my day….”), there was only one book that we can remember, and it was a very short book. There are now dozens of such resources available. Among several great options, here are two that we vouch for:
Tableau Your Data! by Dan Murray
This book is possibly the best all-around resource for getting started with Tableau. It provides some of the basic fundamentals, but also discusses more advanced features and Tableau Server.
Communicating Data with Tableau by Ben Jones
In our opinion, Ben’s book is the best second step as it is more strategic and provides some ways to think about your approach to data visualization after you have the fundamentals down. It also offers several hands-on walkthroughs for different applications of Tableau.
There is no substitute for on the job training with your own data and unique business problems. The more challenges you come across and push through to an eventual solution, the more unique tools you get to add to your toolbelt to solve increasingly complex problems that emerge. This may sound obvious, so we will offer an extra tip to help you get the most out of your practice.
Evolytics recently started an internal program called Viz Party. During Viz party, a group of 5 – 10 internal Tableau users get together monthly to train, share case studies of our own work, and/or work collaboratively through challenging situations. These Viz Party events lead to valuable discussion and ensure that our entire team is continuously learning.
There are also a few weekly challenges that members of the Tableau community sponsor. These include Makeover Monday (which now has its own book!), and Workout Wednesday to name a few. We also do these as a team in our monthly Viz Party meetings.
1. Tableau Public
We credit Tableau Public as the primary reason for our personal success with Tableau, and thus, it is our number one tip for how to learn Tableau. Tableau Public is a free tool that has almost all of the same functionality as Tableau Desktop (Personal). You can currently connect to and explore Excel and text files with up to 10 million rows.
The only catch with Tableau Public is that your files have to be saved to the web, and external audiences can potentially find your work. For this reason, it is not a suitable option for private business data. We actually view this as a positive. This forces you to find topics and data outside of your normal work environment. As described in Tableau customer story, Tableau Public is our sandbox to try new approaches to data visualization that may not be as – let’s say, appreciated – in a business setting. The cool thing is, these ‘attempts to fly’ are often eventually figured out, and often make it into my daily corporate work.
You can also download many of the workbooks you find on Tableau Public. This provides an amazing bevy of dashboards that you can use as a learning resource by downloading, looking under the hood, and reverse engineering. A recent update to Tableau Public provides an option for the publisher to disallow this feature, but there are still thousands of downloadable dashboards – including every single one of these . We previously had just one dashboard that was not downloadable, The Cost of Attending the 2015 World Series, and that was because it included stadium data of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and Citi Field in New York worth thousands of dollars to create. Well, I’m proud to report:
We unlocked this dashboard for two reasons. Steve Wexler of Data Revelations recently published a post called, In Praise of Tableau Public. In the post, Steve was describing all of the things that we love about Tableau Public. Then we came to a line that said, “Unless you indeed have proprietary data please, please, please don’t stop your workbooks from being downloaded.” That’s three pleases. It reminded us of how important Tableau Public is as a resource for people to learn from and have discussions around approaches to data visualization.
Second, after the announcement that this viz received the honor of Tableau Public Viz of the Year, we were immediately asked from a new user for the original copy so they could see how it was created. It simply didn’t feel right to keep the dashboard locked. Our hope is that Tableau users of any experience level have the opportunity to learn from Tableau Public dashboards so they can incorporate innovations into their own work and continue pushing the envelope in their own ways.
That’s it my for our top five tips for how to learn Tableau. Trust me when we say that everybody is learning! The key is to be persistent. Tableau is user-friendly enough and has so many resources available that anybody who is committed can become an expert.