How I Stumbled Upon Data Visualization

My journey to beginning a career in data visualization begins in April of 2014 when I begrudgingly went to an interview for a SEO summer internship. I had studied web design and development for two hours a day for three straight years in high school and spent my freshman year of college as a graphic designer for the fitness department. I loved the freedom to be creative and problem solve but I wanted to be involved in something where I could make more of an impact (how many college students really read the posters I made hanging in the dorms? And why didn’t I get to be involved in the strategy behind what information was going to be displayed?). So, I switched my major to accounting with the idea I could use my mad number skills to fight crime. I was too young to land an accounting internship so I decided I wanted to experience the agency vibe before committing to a life of debits and credits.

The interview started with two men introducing themselves. “We run the analytics implementation team” they said “and we write code to collect data around what people are doing on websites.” I was intrigued, albeit confused as to why we weren’t talking about SEO. I had no idea what analytics even was or that troves of data existed relating to online behavior. Nevertheless, I blindly accepted the internship.

About a month into the internship I was asked to look into this thing called Tableau. As an intern, I was excited by any opportunity that came about that allowed me to do actual work instead of trying to pretend to be busy. The other tools, such as Adobe Analytics, documentation that I had read was dry, scattered, and overall unhelpful to a newbie. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to Tableau’s website and found a repository of getting started videos. I spent the next few weeks watching, following along, and learning as much as I could. I was then tasked with creating a dashboard in Tableau. It was a task I was excited for, but I had no idea how to report information in a useful way or even what information the audience was looking for.

One of the first dashboards I built

Once I had a super vague idea of what I wanted to build, I attempted to execute. It didn’t take me long to run into hurdles. As I had done in the past when writing code, I attempted to google the questions I had. There were so many free resources online! And not only where they free tutorials, they were full on blogs run by people who use tableau for fun. I was intrigued by what I was seeing on Tableau Public and I slowly began to realize that data visualization was its own field. As I was building out my first dashboard, I realized how many design elements went into it. Where should everything be placed? Which font and colors should I use? How can I add white space? However, I still had to balance those decisions with how to actually get my data in the correct format and how to functionally execute. The company I was interning hadn’t invested in Tableau yet, so I created everything with fake data on Tableau Public. I still have those dashboards saved and like to look back at them to remind myself of how far I’ve come.

One of the first dashboards I built

I took to Amazon and began buying books that would teach me everything I needed to know. It was after reading Nathan Yau’s Data Points that I

 

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