#TC18 – not your ordinary conference!

#TC18 ended more than a week ago and by now I had some time to reflect the experience attending my first Tableau Conference. It was a great experience and I plan to attend again next year, so much is clear!

It wasn’t only my first Tableau Conference, it was my first conference in general and I think I am fully aware that this is not your normal conference experience. From the second I met the first people, it felt like a huge family reunion and it was great to see how everybody met each other, either for the first time in 12 months or often even for the first time ever!

Let’s do this a bit more structured and start with:

The Community

If you read this post, you are most likely part of this very vaguely defined, very fluent thing which is called “the community” and this might not be news to you. If you have no clue what I am talking about however you should probably keep reading, especially if you consider attending the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas next year.

With the online presence of people working with and for Tableau in the Forum, on Tableau Public, on Twitter and data.world, it is very easy to get in touch with like minded people, however there is also this weird feeling that there is “they” and “us”. “They” being the Zen Masters, Ambassadors and everybody else who outputs this amazing content on a regular basis. “Us” being the “normal” people who “just” do a random #MakeoverMonday or #WorkoutWednesday here and there. This is a completely arbitrary categorisation and if you listen to some of the talks by some of “they” group, you will see that this perception doesn’t really change – there are always people who you consider “better”, people who you consider “they”.

Long story short, if there is one way to destroy this perception, it is attending a conference. As long as you put yourself out there, you will instantly see that everybody feels the same. Nobody considers themselves special and everybody appreciates your presence and contribution to the community.

Ahead of time I made sure to contact everybody who offered to organise some social activity before, during or after the conference. This helped me to get to meet a whole bunch of people already on Sunday. When we first met there was this second of awwardness (after all there is still this weird stigma of “online friends” versus “normal friends”) but then it was just great to talk to like minded people who you mostly identify by the vizzes they create or blog posts they write. It feels like a very egalitarian community which celebrates each and every contribution to it, no matter who you are.

This was confirmed during the following days, where I introduced people I just randomly bumped into to everybody else and from that point onward they were part of it as well, no questions asked. It’s just amazing to witness.

The non-Community

At some point during the conference it occurred to me that there are 17,000 people attending, while what I consider “the community” consist of maybe up to 500 people. Any way, the majority of people will probably have a very different experience to myself. I imagined a random analyst who was sent to New Orleans on their own, bumping into people here and there but not having this strong social network to rely on.

Again, this made me feel even more fortunate to be part of this.

At the same time I did talk to people who attended the conference on their own or with a colleague who also commented on the strong community and the great atmosphere during the week at #TC18. One of the cool stories I heard was from a guy who had a server problem. He met the server admin of his companies main competitor and the two discussed the problem in order to find a solution, no questions asked!

It supports even more the perception that Tableau somehow managed to foster these connections and actually promote the spirit throughout their annual conference. Well done!

The Sessions

I consider myself pretty experienced with Tableau, I taught DI and DII for a while and use Tableau every single day. Because of this, I was mostly interested in the “softer” sort of talk which focused on creativity and inspiration. And boy, were there many! So many, that I will probably spend the next weeks trying to go through my watch list.

The sessions I did attend talked about Storytelling in Dashboards, Data Literacy, the usage of metaphors to help people understand visualisations and data humanism. More conceptually they talked about how to approach the creation of visualisations and what to consider when communicating with data, either publicly or in a business context.

I also – of course – attended some of the community sessions, like #MakeoverMonday, #VizForSocialGood and #Fanalytics which were great to catch up with the people I hadn’t met yet.

I did also attend one of the customer sessions in which they explained their approach on rolling out web authoring and how they got their business users to actually adopt Tableau as their go-to tool for analysis. This was one of the sessions I attended because we are considering doing the same thing at work, so learning what other people did, where they failed and what advise they have was very useful.

Lastly there were the keynotes, Devs on Stage, IronViz and the data night out (17,000 people in the Mercedes Superdome with Trombone Shorty playing on an enormous stage in front of it) which are just more aspects which make it more an event rather than another product conference.

At the same time, if you wanted to get a bit more technical, there were hands-on sessions about every aspect of Tableau, dedicated sessions for server admins and organisational leaders as well as industry specific user groups in which you could see how other people approach similar problems like you. 

Networking

It’s a business conference so naturally people tend to be open to discussions and are happy to exchange ideas (and business cards). For the first time this year Tableau introduced Braindates to bring together people who want to talk about certain topics. I found a whole bunch I was interested in but ended up attending only one because I didn’t want to miss out on some of the sessions. Anyway, just one about User Groups was hugely helpful for me to hear how other people run their user groups, what works or what I could do differently.

Also the people you more or less randomly bump into, the Tableau reps from your region, the people from the same industry or same role within a different company. I would say at least half of the value from this conference is in the discussions I had with people, sometimes only for a few minutes, to kick off new projects, get support for current ones or just generally to offer to contact them in case I need help.

Inspiration

Some people said they fill up on energy at the yearly conference to keep going for the next 12 months and I can totally understand this feeling. Just by being around people, talking to people and exchanging ideas, I have a list of things to do and to try for at least 3-6 months. From ideas for visualisations or how to use new features to blog posts about different topics and generally new community activities, I need to spend some time to organise all these ideas to see if and how I can actually approach them.

I am looking forward to the next weeks and months to see what everybody else out there comes up with, what they were inspired by and what awesome initiatives will be born until #data19 in Vegas!

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