Wisdom Tree – Matt Chambers

A new section to bring in light, thoughts of the Tableau experts who are an inspiration to all of us.The answers will be helpful to everyone aspiring to learn more and more in the Tableau world.Every week, we shall bring in such one personality who would share their words to the readers and motivate them to dive in deeper in this limitless ocean of knowledge and fun.

1. For how long have you been using tableau?

 Matt – I started using Tableau in 2014.  I was previously a full-stack software developer, and I was building an application using a JavaScript library called Highcharts to build dashboards.  We needed to connect to Splunk to analyze log data, and I was looking for tools that had a native connector.  Tableau was the only tool I found that had the driver, and I connected to the data to try out the “Show Me” functionality.  I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to build a dashboard, and the performance with an extract was exceptional.  From that time on, I saw how much more productive I could be with Tableau, and I have written very little code since then.

2. What is one thing in tableau that you wish every other BI tool in the market should have?

 Matt – There are so many great, unique features to Tableau, but my favorite has always been dashboard actions.  I try to build dashboards where the actions feel like a logical extension of your thought process.  I try to think about what a user would click on and why, and then I build dashboard actions to reflect that thought process.  It may be that a highlight lets them see an important metric elsewhere in the dashboard, or it could be that they will need to drill into another dashboard using a filter.

3. What features of Tableau do you often use in your office work?

 Matt – My work ranges from ad-hoc analysis to enterprise dashboards and data stories, so I use most of the major features of Tableau.  For some of our enterprise dashboards, I am using the cross-database joins to pull together Oracle databases with Excel files.  For data stories, I use story points, and I have created stories that automatically generate commentary for the visuals using calculated fields.  I also use level of detail calculations quite often.

4. There are a lot of feathers in your cap – Zen Master, Iron Viz Finalist, Tableau Social Ambassador. How do you take out time from your busy schedule for contributing so much to the Tableau Community?

 Matt – I would say that it’s mostly because I love contributing to the Tableau Community.  Most people have a hobby, and I enjoy working in data visualization so much that I consider it a hobby outside of work.  I love learning new techniques and having access to so many other Tableau users who are pushing the product to new limits. When I’m able to create a new technique, I love to be able to give back to the community.

5. You are the most followed Author on Tableau Public.How does that make you feel and how do you maintain that rank?

Matt – I’m not sure I’m the most followed currently. I’m very appreciative that I was featured on Tableau Public, and I know that contributed greatly to my follower count. One milestone I was able to hit recently was one million total views on Tableau Public. This was very humbling to me personally because I grew up in South Carolina in a town of less than 400 people. For my work to be seen by one million people is truly mind-blowing. I am thankful that Tableau Public exists in order to give people a platform to reach the world.

6. You have been on the Advisory Board – in Business for Anderson University and Technology for Tri-Country Technical College. Please share some of your duties there.

Matt – Mostly I help them evaluate curriculum changes.  I give them an industry perspective on which courses they should be teaching and which degrees they should be offering.  Obviously data visualization and analytics professional are in tremendous demand, so I try to keep them informed of which skillsets they should be helping to develop.

7. Your visualization – Blame the Weather won the “10x Data Viz Challenge” in 2015. Tel us more about it.

Matt – That was a very fun visualization to create because there was so much data prep work that had to be done before I could even start to visualize the data.  I wanted to see how much the weather, specifically precipitation, impacts flights.  To do this I pulled down all flights for 2014 from the BTS and then I wrote a program to scrape Weather Underground for all of the weather for every airport for every day of 2014.  Then I used Alteryx to join all of this data together with the geographic data for the airports.

I created a metric called that quantified how many minutes a flight would be delayed per inch of precipitation.  If you look at the top 10 most traveled airports, Dallas Fort Worth is the most affected by precipitation and Seattle is the least affected.

8. You are also a leader in sharing ideas about Hexmaps in Tableau. How did you venture into that?

Matt – Originally, I had seen Brittany Fong’s tutorial on tile maps, and I started researching the usage of tile-based Cartograms.  I found an example of a hex tile version on NPR, and I decided to create the layout of x,y coordinates to build this in Tableau.

9. The Data Reviz Project has brought a new wave in the ocean of creative storytelling in 2014. Kindly share your thoughts on how the ideas for this project was conceived and where does the success story of the project stands today.

Matt – Nelson Davis originally conceived of the project after he “Revizzed” one of Adam McCann’s visualizations on life expectancy.  Nelson realized that there were many different stories in one data set, and he wanted to see how three different analysts could create three different visualizations and tell three stories.  Alex Duke and I joined together with Nelson to launch the "Reviz" Project with our first story on gun violence.

The project was very rewarding for me personally because it taught me a lot about data storytelling.  I came from a very technical background, so being able to build a dashboard or data story that told a story was difficult for me.  This is something that I wanted to become better at, so that’s why I joined the project.

I think the success of the project is in the reactions to the visualizations.  Most of the topics were hard-hitting, so it was interesting to see such emotional reactions to data visualizations.  I think the culmination of the project was being able to present at Tableau Conference 2016.  We had so many people tell us it was worth attending the conference for our session, and that was really special.  Our session was also one of the highest rated at the conference.

10. There are so many inspiring articles on new Tableau Tricks and Techniques on your blog – http://sirvizalot.blogspot.in/ . When did you start this blog and what keeps you going?

Matt – I started blogging after the Tableau Conference in 2014.  I attended a session on blogging and Tableau Public given by Andy Kriebel, Jewel Loree, and Peter Gilks.  The session was focused on starting a data blog as a means to create a public portfolio.  I was so inspired by this session that I decided to start a data blog.  I was also able to meet Andy Kriebel, and he really encouraged me to participate in Tableau Public and blogging.  I went home from the conference, worked on my first Tableau Public viz, and had my first Viz of the Day.  I was hooked from then on. 

Early on, when I first started participating in the Tableau Community, I was borrowing a lot from other tutorials to create my work.  Once I reached the level where I could create new techniques, I thought it was only fair to give back; that’s what keeps me going. I also use my blog to document techniques for myself so that I can easily reference them.

11. Lastly, kindly share some tips for our aspiring Iron Viz Champions.

Matt – When people ask my advice about Iron Viz, I always say that storytelling and best practices are the most important factors. The right chart type, good colors, a good narrative, and a creative spin on the data will take you very far.


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