Diego's journal (DS12) - Week One

by Diego Parker

Week One (3/12/18 – 07/12/18)


Week one started and as a way to remember my experience at The Data School and the content I have been learning, I decided to keep a weekly journal to which I can come back.

After a long application process and a month of waiting, the Data School finally started. Before starting the school, I had been using Tableau pretty much every day for the past three months which made it a bit painful knowing that I wouldn’t be using it for the first week.


So, if we weren’t using Tableau, what have we been up to?


Monday was all about introductions.

For the first session we had Tom Brown (founder of The Information Lab) introducing us the company, how it works and some of the philosophy behind it. He showed us a lot of different information about the company using Tableau, such as its growth, clients and services offered. He also introduced us to Convo, which is the way we use to communicate here (you can read more about in Brian’s post here) and talked about some of the expectations he had for us. Following Tom, we met Carl, the assistant Head Coach at the Data School. He talked to us about his experience working with data and introduced us to the topic of visual analytics. By using different basketball data, he showed us some great stuff you could do in Tableau and how good visual analytics can provide real valuable insights on different topics. After Carl, we met Andy, the Head Coach of the Data School and one of the most prominent figures in the Tableau Community. He introduced himself, told us about his previous jobs and then talked to us about the Data School and its history.

In the afternoon we met Craig (CTO of the company and Tableau Hall of Fame) who helped us setting up our computers to be ready for our training. Beside this, he showed us some other stuff we should know, such as Convo, WordPress and our payment platform.


Tuesday we learnt about ETL.

What does ETL means? Extract, transform, load. Basically, ETL relates to all the gathering and preparation of the data that we require before being able to start building a dashboard. Therefore, we were introduced to the two tools we would use more often for most of our ETL tasks, Tableau Prep and Alteryx. During the afternoon we finally got to use our computers with different Tableau Prep challenges. Whilst the software was relatively user friendly, we were also made aware of some of its limitations when performing our different tasks.


Wednesday we started Alteryx Essentials.

After having one afternoon of Tableau Prep the day before, we spent all of Wednesday learning the essentials of Alteryx. The essentials course provided by The Data School consists on a series of fun challenges that would work you through some of the basic tools of Alteryx. The exercise started with some of the most basic data preparation tasks, such as getting rid of unnecessary data, renaming columns or adding simple formulas. By the end of the day was probably a class consensus that Alteryx was easier to use than Tableau Prep for ETL tasks.


Thursday we finished Alteryx essentials and learnt some RegEx.

During the morning we had a small review of the day before and went briefly through all the tools that Alteryx has. After that, we continued with the rest of the Alteryx Essentials course which finished with an introduction to spatial data. Before breaking for lunch, we had another hard task, write our biographies for the Data School website. So far, I think this was one of the moments when I have seen most of my class stressed, as we had to write a small introduction to ourselves in 3rd person.

After lunch we went back into the class, where Nick (a DS10 member) would teach us RegEx. If you are intending to apply to The Information Lab there is a big chance you don’t have a clue what RegEx is, don’t worry, no one in the class had a clue what it was. According to Wikipedia,

“A regular expression is a sequence of characters that define a search pattern. Usually this pattern is used by string searching algorithms for “find” or “find and replace” operations on strings, or for input validation. It is a technique that developed in theoretical computer science and formal language theory”.

From what I got, RegEx works as a code that allows us to work with strings in order to find patterns that let us discriminate some data within a string from other data (maybe I’ll write a post about it, so keep tuned!).


Friday was the day of our first project.

As part of the Data School, every Friday you will have a project to work during most of the day which you are expected to present by the end of it. When I arrived on Friday at 9am the instructions were very clear “use Alteryx to add a new database that complements the analysis of one of your submission dashboards”. The deadline was 1pm, therefore we didn’t have much time to ponder what we would do. As a starting point, we helped each other by showing our initial submissions and brainstorming which data could be added. Because my analysis was on the rise of nationalist parties in Europe after the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the team thought would be useful to have some numbers as reference, such as total population and net migration. Having time constraints makes your brain work really fast, so fast that sometimes you can’t really make much sense of what you are trying to attempt. After taking a deep breath I was finally able to order my train of thought and tackle the challenge. Luckily, the database was easy to find for me because it is relatively common data that was easily extracted from the European Union sites. A couple of hours before the deadline, DS11 came in our help. This was the first time we worked with them and it was great to experience the support you get from your co-workers and get a feeling of how much you would know two months down the line.

By 1pm I had both my Alteryx flow and my dashboard ready, however, we weren’t presenting until 3pm because DS8 was going to present their projects first. DS8 was doing back-to-school week in between their placements and on Friday they presented a variety of very cool projects on different topics. After their presentation came our turn. Whilst at first it seemed a bit terrifying, your shortly notice that everyone there is there to help you and support you and by the end of the presentations I had a big sense of achievement and was ready to relax at the Christmas party.


If you have any doubts or comments feel free to use the box below or contact me in Twitter @DiegoTParker.