#CertifiablyTableau – Tableau Desktop Specialist

At #TC18, Tableau gave away 1500 vouchers for the Tableau Desktop Specialist certification. Because it’s always good to get something into your CV, especially if it is for free, I got one of those vouchers and just sat the exam. Here is a quick run-down of what you need to know!

Tableau Certifications

Tableau currently offers 5 different certifications, Tableau Server Qualified Associate (QA) and Certified Professional (CP), Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate and Certified Professional and just introduced: Tableau Desktop Specialist.
While all other certifications expire after 2 years, the Specialist one does not. At 100 US$ it is also reasonably cheap. Also, if you book it before the end of 2018, you’ll only pay 50 US$ and the booked exam can be scheduled within 6 months, so even if you don’t think you can pass it, you can buy it now and spend the next 6 months training for it.

While QA and especially CP are quite challenging and require a good understanding of the tool as well as visualisation best practise, Desktop Specialist requires entry level knowledge of the tool. In terms of credibility and value, you can assume that somebody with a Desktop Specialist knows their way around Tableau, it is no substitute for some solid experience in your CV though.

The Certification Setup

Tableau uses a third party provider who runs supervised exams remotely. This means you can do it from anywhere, at any time of the day. It also means that you have to deal with some oddities in order for them to make sure that you don’t cheat.

When your session starts, you will start a video session with your proctor (the person literally watching you). They run through a few technical tests to make sure your connection is stable and reliable. You will have to present your photo ID in front of your web cam. Make sure your name in the system matches the one on your ID! I was “Alex” in the system but my ID says “Alexander”, she told me that it was fine now but I should change it for the next exam. I think it’s easy to imagine more trouble with some less common (or less western) names.

You will then be required to move your laptop around so that they can see the room you are in. Make sure whiteboards are wiped, nobody else is in the room, you don’t have any notes or anything which could look like notes, etc. My proctor did comment on some voices she could hear and asked me to confirm that I was alone in the room. I confirmed it and told her that they came from the meeting room next door, which was alright.
You can find the whole list of requirements on the setup guide.

The whole setup from the first connection to actually starting the exam took around 30 minutes. So while the exam is 60 minutes, you should block out 2 hours of your time to account for delays in the setup or any sort of question.

You will then start the exam, which happens in a virtual machine in your browser. It nearly looks and feels like working on your own computer,the only way you can tell is by the lower resolution and a tiny lack for your interactions. Nothing that would actually irritate though.

The Certification Exam

Just to be clear: I will not tell you the questions and/or answers!

The exam consists of 30 multiple choice questions which you have to answer within 60 minutes. In order to pass you will need to answer at least 70% of the questions correctly.

Your virtual machine will have 3 things:

  • Tableau Desktop in one of the recent versions
  • A browser
  • A folder with data to be used during your exam

You can use Tableau as much and whenever you want, and you can use the browser to theoretically google questions and answers (as long as you don’t use communication platforms). I will tell you in a bit though why I don’t think you will do it.

From memory I would group the questions into 3 types:

  1. Technical questions: What do you use X for? When can you apply Y?
  2. Usage questions: How do you create X? How do you change Y?
  3. Practical questions: How high were Sales in Year X in Region Y?

The technical questions are probably the hardest to answer because they require knowledge. You need to understand data, data structures and transformations in order to answer these questions. There is nothing that wouldn’t be covered in the Desktop I training or you know anyway when working with data for a while but you need to know it. You could google some of the questions, however because the answers are quite similar and/or very specific, I doubt you’ll be very successful in a short time.

The usage questions seem very tricky but remember that you have Tableau open and you can use it. During my exam I learned new ways to access features in Tableau. For most of them I wasn’t 100% sure which one was the correct answer so I literally tried every answer in Tableau. I clicked where the answer told me to click. If that allowed me to perform the action in question, the answer was correct, if it didn’t it was wrong. I owe definitely a few %points to that approach.

For the practical questions, they will tell you which data to use, what to do with it and what answer they are looking for. If you have used Tableau for a little time, you should be fine getting these correct. And since it’s multiple choice, you can read the result from your graph and then check if it is one of the possible answers. If it’s not, you did something wrong!

Is it difficult?

It depends! I used to teach Desktop I and Desktop II so I am probably not the best person to judge it. I’ll try to summarise it as objectively as I can though.

Tableau lists Desktop I as a suggested training and I think that gives a good idea of the topics you encounter. If you attended Desktop I, you should be able to answer all the questions – at least in theory. If you use Tableau for a while already (3 months or so), you have experience working with data and/or participate regularly in eg #MakeoverMonday or #WorkoutWednesday I do think you won’t have a big problem passing the exam. I would recommend looking at the preparation guide which Tableau provides because the questions there are a good indicator of what to expect.

UPDATE: Either way, you should have a look at Marian’s technical summary of what to know. If you know all of it, you’ll be fine, if you don’t, use her post to get your head around it.

I would also say there is plenty of time to finish everything without being pressured by the clock ticking. I had heaps of time left and as I said I tried many of the options before deciding on one answer. Even if you are a lot slower, you probably still end up with a bit of a buffer at the end.

Take away!

If you have to choose only one certification, I would go for the QA (which I did nearly two years ago)! It’s more expensive and more challenging but I think it’s better value. You might need to prepare a bit more but it’s worth the effort. With the CP on top you are in a good position to be hired. In case you get the chance to do the Desktop Specialist, take it, as it will give you a good baseline but personally I wouldn’t value it higher than actual experience using Tableau.

If you have any questions or if you are unsure if you have enough experience to pass it or if you should take it at all, leave a comment or contact me on Twitter!

Oh and by the way: I did pass it and I can call myself a Tableau Desktop Specialist now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.