Reflections on the Data School

by Philip Mannering

The Data School has been a trying and testing four months of my life. The experience has largely been what I expected reading the previous data schools’ blogs of their own time here and from my own guesswork… with three main differences.

1. Not Enough Hours in the Day

The content of the course has been much more varied than I imagined with elements of best design practices, project management techniques, blog writing, teaching & demonstrations and time management. It’s the latter which I’ve struggled with the most as the breadth of what we have been asked to do is quite remarkable. I’ve appended a brief itinerary of just some of things we’ve taken part in at the end of this post – it’s quite substantial. What’s more, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t perfect everything. Even if you have a logical mind and an eye for design, that does not guarantee effective leadership when managing a project, or fearlessly standing up in front of a crowd of people to present (what’s often not your best work given the time constraints), or getting your head round some of the more obscure quirks of Alteryx Designer.

2. Skilled but not Fulfilled

Raw Tableau and Alteryx skills – while still the bulk of what’s learnt at the Data School – are competing for your time and energy and have a tendency to be crowded out by the plethora of other things crammed into this busy period. Which is why, although fully competent in these two software packages, the journey to becoming expert is only beginning. I’m still learning all the time and must be willing to devote some of my free time to fully understanding how to best utilise Tableau and Alteryx after the four months. Andy’s Makeover Monday, Tableau Tip Tuesday and Workout Wednesday blogs, as well as the Alteryx Weekly Challenges will definitely help in this regard.

3. The (Information Lab) Social Network

The one thing I certainly didn’t anticipate was the social aspect of The Data School (and to a larger extent, The Information Lab). Several events (with open bar) litter the TIL calendar including an Induction, Pub Tour around central London and Graduation for each of the Data School Cohorts and the oddly timed mid-May Christmas Party. Whether on placement or at the Data School, one of the most invaluable social tools is ‘Convo’. Convo is a group messaging platform for all members of The Information Lab. It enables company-wide, instant communication and is extremely useful if you have any questions, technical or otherwise. Though it’s always worth checking whether that question has already been answered previously using the very powerful global search. It’s also useful to keep abreast of all the goings on at The Information Lab.

It’s pretty full on and you work in close quarters with seven other people every day. So it’s to be expected that you’ll make friendships, but also may even get into arguments over differences in opinion. It’s all part of the learning experience. All in all, I found it an incredibly memorable experience. And to help preserve that memory, and for the possible benefit of prospective, future data schoolers, I’ve included a short summary of just some of the things that I covered during these 15 weeks.

Week 1 – Application viz makeover, Tom Brown on The Information Lab as a company, kit setup (installation of various software packages), Data Viz 101 & drawings, Dan Raines on Tableau, James Eilohart on the history and direction of Tableau as a company, Rob Radburn on viz culture, Valentine Makeover Monday, DS Placements Viz using The Information Lab (TIL) data source, viz best practices and DS 5 Induction (karaoke)

Week 2 – Introduction to Alteryx and Using APIs to download data in Alteryx

Week 3 – Create an Infographic, Sophie Sparkes on Tableau Public, Caroline Beavon on Infographics, Tom Brown on Productivity + GTD and Andy on Business Analytics

Week 4 – ISS Project, Benedetta on Predictive Analytics and Naledi on Spatial Analytics

Week 5 – Tableau Server (projects, users, groups and setting permissions, command line tools such as tabadmin and tabcmd), Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate exam preparation and the Agile (Scrum) project management ethos

Week 6 – ETX Capital Project, Manipulating & Visualising survey data with Emma Whyte, using parameters and Rhiannon on Design Principles

Week 7 – Bupa Project, Table Calculations and the dreaded LOD Calculations

Week 8 – More on APIs, Alteryx deep dive, SQL Programming, APIs with Iterative and Batch macros, Alteryx Applications and Predictive Analytics with Paul Houghton

Week 9 – Heineken Project, Carl on getting help while on our placements, Introduction to SQL, Ben Moss on Spatial Analytics

Week 10 – Dashboard week – data prep and viz for every day of the week (1. Crime in London App, 2. UN Migration, 3. Non-communicable Diseases – Diabetes Risk Factors 4. Andy Kriebel’s Marathon Training)

Week 11 – Ocado Project, Neil on SQL Programming 2, Carl on Desktop 3 and creating 2 minute videos for Centre of Excellence

Week 12 – Virgin Atlantic Cargo Project, Dashboard design best practices and Mobile design

Week 13 – Teaching Week with me teaching Alteryx 101, Wiktoria on Stats and Neil on Scaffolding, JMac on Tableau Server and the Christmas Party

Week 14 – Cancer Research UK Project and Guided Pub Tour

Week 15 – Leicester Tigers Project, Tableau and Alteryx demonstrations to show ease of use and Shadowing Amanda on placement

My congratulations to DS6. Good luck embarking on your data journey.

 

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Philip Mannering

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