A fresh chick in the henhouse

by Tom Pilgrem

Well, I’m finally here. It’s taken nearly 10 months from my initial forays with Tableau Public to walking through the door into 33 Cannon Street, taking my seat at this famous round table for the next 4 months. People talk about ‘journeys’ and all that cliché nonsense, but this truly has been one, and I will share it with you.

It all started on a rainy day in Plymouth (shock), where I saw an email advertising The Information Lab Data School. I had a quick look and thought that it looked interesting, saving it to look at later that evening, once I had finished looking through my fish egg samples. Back then I was in the research project of my Marine Biology masters, where I was researching the collapse of Mediterranean anchovy fisheries. I was getting frustrated my many aspects of the academic world and after I downloaded Tableau and played around with some data later that day, my career path changed in an instant.

I was used to doing all my analysis in R and MATLAB, which just felt so restrictive and cumbersome after using Tableau. The Tableau community was another key seller for me, the ability to just upload your work and get instant feedback from people all over the world is brilliant. People genuinely want to help you and make your work better, which is so refreshing! So that was that, bye bye academia and PhD, hello Tableau.

What to expect from the application process

Firstly, the application process is always open, so if you know which cohort you want to apply for, get your application in early and that way you get more time to practice and iterate before your final interview. The first step is pretty simple; download Tableau, get some data you find interesting, make something and post it online. It was a little daunting at first but there is so much help and advice on the Tableau website to learn how to use the software. I found Tableau very intuitive, so just play around for a while and you’ll soon work it out! The great thing about Tableau public is that you can download workbooks that people have posted and see how they’ve made their viz. I found a good way of learning initially was to deconstruct and then reconstruct a viz that I wasn’t sure how to make. Makeover Monday is also a great source of inspiration and learning, and I can’t recommend it enough to potential applicants.

Once you have posted your first viz, Andy will take a look and give you some suggestions on how to improve it. THIS IS YOUR CHANCE! Make the necessary alterations, improve your viz and show a capacity for learning. This is what the data school is looking for. Everyone understands that your first few vizzes will not be perfect, mine weren’t, yours won’t and dare I say it, Andys probably weren’t either! But it is the ability to learn and the passion to make yourself better that will set you apart from the rest. If you make it through this, then you’ll have a skype chat where you will talk through different aspects of why you want to be here and your background. My advice to you for this, RELAX, just be yourself and try to show off your enthusiasm for Tableau. If this all goes to plan, you will be invited to the main office in London for the big interview.

The interview (or interviews in my case!)

If you get your application in early enough then you may be lucky enough like me to have an earlier interview, where I was given an hour to show off my viz and have a discussion with the panel about the information lab and make sure it’s the right place for you. This is a formal interview, but I found it quite enjoyable and certainly not as scary as my PhD interview I’d had a month or so prior! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in after this interview, so it was back on the sleeper train to Devon and try again next time, in October.

Round two. This was in the final round of interviews, for DS7, where all the candidates for the remaining spots are interviewed on one day. This is where having been before and having been through essentially the same process helps, as I knew what to expect. So, get that application in early if you can! It was the same process, again presenting to and discussing your viz with a panel, before having a relaxed discussion with another panel which is more aimed at your suitability for the company. I headed home having given everything, however I got the disappointing news that I hadn’t made it into DS7 and so what to do next?

I kept on using Tableau, I loved using it and exploring different datasets in makeover Mondays every week. Sometime in mid-October I got a phone call from Andy, offering me a place in DS8, so here I am now. So, my motto for the application process is try, try again and if that doesn’t work, try some more! This is a company which (it seems) recognises and rewards passion and drive, which is what captured my attention all that time ago, in May 2017, when I took my first steps in Tableau.

If you are currently involved in the application process at whatever stage I hope that reading this helps you and please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like any advice or feedback on your work. I did the same when I was in your shoes and it helped me a lot, so I am more than happy to repay the favour! Similarly, if you have a similar background to me, working or studying in the sciences and looking to make a transition into the world of data viz/analytics and Tableau feel free to get in touch. You can get me on my twitter: https://twitter.com/Tom_Pilgrem

I hope you’ve enjoyed my rather rambling first blog post and I intend to continue blogging frequently, so watch this space!