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The Self-Funding Guide to Tableau Conference

The Self-Funding Guide to Tableau Conference

This year’s Tableau Conference is over; 8,000 people are back home and most of them are hopefully inspired and energised or have at least learned some valuable new thing about Tableau and data.

For me it was the 3rd Tableau Conference I attended and the 3rd time I fully self-funded my trip. If you had asked me before 2018 or even now for other conferences, I would have told you that I’d only go if my company pays for it, so why do I keep self-funding a week abroad to attend a tech-conference?

It’s because I’m quite certain that I wouldn’t be where I am right now, if I didn’t go to TC in previous years. My intention with this post is not to persuade you to spend a bunch of money on a trip to San Diego next year, it is rather to explain to you the value that I believe anybody can get out of it and if this is something you’d consider, to give you some tips on how you can minimise the impact on your wallet. I also asked some community members across countries, roles and experiences to explain why they self-funded their trips to TC.

One disclaimer I want to bring up though: This is about money and work; while all the advise and tips I give here are generic of nature, it always depends on your circumstances if you can afford an expense like that or have the appropriate conversations at work. The value you get out of the conference will also heavily depend on your personal desire to learn, “just going there” will likely not be worth the investment.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it:

Start early, (maybe) don’t pay

The cheapest way to get to TC is to get your company to pay for it. I was never lucky enough to have this pleasure but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try! Last year I remember having that discussion around June for TC this year. At the time it wasn’t even confirmed that there would be a conference.

I didn’t expect anything, I just wanted to make sure that my request will not be coming as a surprise later on. It was also a topic that I brought up very early after I got a new boss in December last year. Make sure you can articulate the value the company can get out of it, think about upcoming or existing projects where you need new skills, Tableau Doctor sessions to solve problems, maybe you work in a distributed team, and this is your chance to meet in person. Are clients of yours going? And can you raise your company’s profile for example by speaking? (More on that in a bit) Offer to present back to the wider team what you have learned or how new features could be used in your workplace.

Obviously, this never worked out for me, but I will keep trying every year.

If you get a signal that your company won’t pay, is there a middle ground? Do you need to take time off or is there the possibility to consider it work time so at least you don’t lose income? Is there a personal development budget that you could tap into?

If that doesn’t work and you will have to pay yourself, at least make sure that you…

Get the cheapest tickets!

Like most conferences, it is much cheaper to buy tickets early. Usually those tickets are refundable, so this year I bought a ticket as soon as they were released, without knowing whether I’d go or not. I knew they were refundable for a while, so I was able to lock in the cheapest price at (nearly) no risk. For those of you not in the US, there is a small risk of losing some money because of exchange rates; it’s usually not a lot and in the best case you could even gain some, so I’d consider that minimal.

It’s usually also worth to ask for discounts. If you know a Tableau Account Executive already, hit them up, if you don’t, get in touch with your local user group, they typically can put you in touch. It’s not guaranteed but there is a chance for discounts, especially if the alternative is that you wouldn’t go at all or if you work for a particularly large customer of Tableau.

The cheapest tickets to conference cost nothing, so apply to speak! If you are accepted as a speaker, you get a free ticket (or a refund if you bought one already) AND get the chance to speak. Apart from the obvious free ticket, this brings additional benefits; you will learn A LOT by presenting at the conference (if that doesn’t count as “personal development”, what does?), it builds the profile of you and potentially your company if you represent them on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Three reasons for your company to reconsider their decision to not pay for the trip…

Flights and hotels

These are not very different to any other trip you’d book but still a few aspects to consider:

You might be tempted to save money by taking the cheapest flight or the cheapest hotel. Consider those decisions and the impact they might have. Budget airlines are often late or cancel flights and taking an international trip with a 12-hour layover somewhere is a huge waste of time. You might find cheaper AirBnB’s and hotels a bit out of town but how much are you going to spend on transport to get to the conference? Not even to mention the ability to just get back to the room to rest for a bit or have a shower before the evening activities.

My AirBnB at my first conference in New Orleans was a 30min walk from the conference centre (which I didn’t really consider before); I was very happy to discover that they had cheap rental bikes all throughout the city!

For the non-US readers: check google maps for walking times and don’t rely on your gutfeel on the map. It’s incredible how large those street blocks are!

If you do decide to go with a hotel, don’t just rely on the prices Tableau offers as part of the package. Check the hotel websites or independently for prices, sometimes they are cheaper. Do you have airline miles or does your work offer any kind of discount on air fares or hotels? That can make a big difference.

And consider flight AND hotel prices. It might be worth it to fly a day earlier or later if there is a big difference in airfare or room rates.

Consider additional expenses

The conference is typically fully catered throughout the day, with a welcome reception with snacks and drinks on the first day and a “Data Night Out” with food and drinks on the second one. Outside of this there are other events for Partners, Customers, Community members and sometimes parties organised by other vendors. It often pays off to keep an eye on Twitter for any announcements and talk to your local Tableau people to make sure you are invited to any events that you might be eligible for.

The bottom line is that you can probably survive most of the time without spending a lot on food and drinks but that obviously depends how social you are, how much you eat and drink and how long you want to stay out for. Set yourself a (realistic) budget and make sure you know where you are in relation to it. Go over it if you think it’s worth it but at least be aware of how much you spend.

Other ways to make it work

Be creative to make sure you can afford the trip. Maybe already start putting x$ a week aside so by the time the next conference comes around you have ~50x$ saved (thanks to Allison for the tip). Can you get your partner or family to join you before or after the conference for family vacation? That doesn’t make the conference cheaper but if you consolidate it with the family vacation, you only pay for flights once.

I also have seen people online trying to find others to room share with. Personally, I prefer to have some space for myself but if you can find somebody you are comfortable to share a place with, that can shave literally hundreds of dollars of your bill.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to set yourself up as a contractor/business which allows you to claim the whole trip as a business expense and essentially get the equivalent of the taxes you paid back. Maybe the people you go out with at night could be potential clients? Then that’s a business development activity that’s also claimable! Jokes aside, this is an actual possibility but what is allowed and how strict the rules are depend heavily on the place you live. So I’d recommend asking somebody who knows their way around the legal stuff first, to not end up with hefty fines because you claimed something you were not supposed to.

If you cannot set yourself up as a contractor, some countries might allow people to claim personal development expenses, as long as they are directly related to their everyday job (Australia is the only one I know of so far…but who knows). Again something to investigate yourself and ideally ask a tax person to see if there is an option for you to do the same.

So much about the cost, but where is the value?

As I said before, I don’t think I would have the role (including the pay) I have now without attending Tableau Conference – in the regard my investment definitely paid itself off. That is not to say that I got a job offered because I went there but rather that me attending conferences helped me connect to people, be inspired and get more involved with the community. This – in turn – raised my skill, experience and profile, which helped getting into the position I am in right now.

There is – obviously – no guarantee and the value you get out of the conference heavily depends on how you approach it. If you consider going, I would strongly recommend getting in touch with the community! Join the local user group, participate in community projects, be active on Twitter and just get in touch with people (including me and the people below if you want!). Your conference experience will be vastly different if you manage to get connected to the community. That includes everything from sightseeing activities, over lunches, dinners and drinks with very social groups to getting on the spot recommendations what to do, where to go and potential invitations to events you didn’t know about. Not even to mention the network of people you build who are happy to help you in the future!

If this is not your cup of tea, that’s fine as well. Make a list for yourself of the things you want to achieve and learn during the conference and chose session based on that. At the same time, don’t be too strict with yourself and feel free to diverge from that plan if you see something more interesting.

Also, talk to people! It’s more likely than not that you’ll find an interesting person that you can have a genuine discussion about the tool, your work or your problems.

Other voices

I tried to get a diverse group of people to talk about their experience self-funding their TC trip as well. To cover different countries, experiences and tenure in the community. Below are their responses. Feel free to get in touch with any of us if you have specific questions or want to have a chat or advise on attending TC24!

Allison Wright

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

Prior to joining my current job, I had already planned on self funding. My last job limited who could go (only Visionaries and Ambassadors). My current job, unfortunately, did not have it in the budget this year. The most I got was a coupon from a sales rep where I was able to save a bit on the ticket.

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

There’s something really special about the energy of being in person versus attending virtually. I had an opportunity to meet many of my colleagues and so many internet friends. I also felt completely re-energized to want to contribute more to the community, in addition to continuing to grow my skills at work.

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

If you’re completely new to the DataFam, I would suggest talking to a few people that are veteran conference goers, as well as those who’ve only attended 1-2 conferences. I think seeing perspectives on both sides will help in the decision making process. As a person that is planning to go back, seeing Iron Viz in person is like nothing else and many people are extremely humble/willing to share their experiences with you. To save a bit more on the ticket, register as early as possible (this year’s early bird tickets were cheaper by $200 compared to a few weeks before the conference). Regarding travel and accommodations, see if your airline offers a discount on your hotel for purchasing a ticket through them. If you have dietary restrictions (in particular, nut allergies and vegan), don’t expect much in terms of good options at the conference. Lastly, start budgeting early to avoid just dropping a huge lump sum or a whole paycheck.

Allison on Twitter

Lives in Philadelphia, PA, US

Self funded 1 of 2 TC trips

Spend between 1000$ and 2000$ on the trip

Christina Gorga

Christina on Twitter

Lives in Washington DC, US

Self funded 3 of 6 TC trips

Spend between 1000$ and 2000$ on the trip

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

Networking, Potential job opportunities, community building.

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

Reconnecting with existing friends and network, creating new in-person connections, growing my knowledge of the tool(s) and the direction of the field, having one-on-one conversations with Tableau/SF employees and leadership.

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

It is an investment in your present and future you. You can customize your TC experience to your goals and what you want to get out of it. Meeting and connecting with people in person makes it an important keystone of my professional annual goals.

Kevin Wee

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

My company chose other co-workers to fund for the trip this year. However, I really wanted to meet the DataFam community for learning, catching up, and seeking career advice! It is also my first year as a Tableau Public Ambassador. So, I decided to self-fund this year.

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

Going to TC helped me connect with the Tableau staffers, visionaries, ambassadors that I have been talking online for months; I helped guiding new Tableau users in the DataFam community; I got to connect to Tableau staff and asked questions quicker; I received a Vizzie Award in person.

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

Try your best to make it as many additional values come outside of the presentation sessions. However, do not feel guilty for choosing the virtual option, or to view the presented materials published online afterward.

Kevin on Twitter

Lives in Chicago, IL, USA

Self funded 1 of 2 TC trips

Spend between 1000$ and 2000$ on the trip

Lawrence Durbin

Lawrence on Twitter

Lives in Longmont, CO, US

Self funded 2 of 2 TC trips

Spend between 4000$ and 5000$ on the trip

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

Learning more on DataCloud, Tableau Community Connections

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

Connection with the community, Connections with Tableau leadership & engineering, tips & tricks

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

Whether it is your first or fifth self funding is worth it for the connections which can help your career & skills. The sessions teach so much but the connections teach you so much more in the long run.

Samantha Batchelor

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

I was able to get a speaker slot, which meant I didn’t have to buy a conference ticket (too expensive to self-fund in AUD) – so that’s what made me go.

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

Professionally and personally, the benefits are incredible. I love seeing friends and making new ones, everyone is so welcoming! TC is so invigorating – passionate visualisation experts from all over the world, all sharing their knowledge and having a tonne of fun while they’re at it. Tableau Conference is effectively where I do my ‘training and professional development’ each year. If I had to distill TC down to one word, it’s connection.

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

It’s absolutely worth it – and you get back what you put in. Connect with the community before, during and after and you’ll feel like you have “found your tribe”. Especially coming from APAC, you’re a handful of people who make the trek across the world, so you already belong to a welcoming cohort. Being a Hamilton fan, you just have to be “In the Room Where It Happens” – there is just no substitute for actually being there.

Samantha on Twitter

Lives in Brisbane, Australia

Self funded 2 of 3 TC trips

Spend between 1000$ and 2000$ on the trip

Sarah Carr

Sarah on Twitter

Lives in Madison, WI, US

Self funded 1 of 1 TC trips

Spend between 4000$ and 5000$ on the trip

Why did you decide to self fund your trip to TC23?

I was interested in attending because I’ve connected with so many knowledgeable and kind Tableau users, and I thought it’d be a great opportunity to connect with them. I also recently became the co-lead of a Tableau User Group, and attending TC23 seemed like a great way to learn more about what we could do and who we could work with. I attended the first virtual conference and watched some really valuable sessions. It seemed like they were phasing out virtual sessions, so I thought attending would be a good way to get that content.

What benefits can you directly or indirectly attribute to going to TC?

Attending TC23 really sparked my enthusiasm for data visualization, which had been kind of stagnant the last couple months. I feel more creative as a data storyteller and connected with the Tableau community than I did before. I met people who work in similar fields to mine, which was really rewarding. Data visualization can be such a solo thing that sometimes you can feel like you’re in your own little world. But attending TC made me feel more connected to others. It’s all about learning from one another.

If somebody asked you if they should self fund a trip, what would you tell them?

It is a costly investment but worthwhile overall. Know thyself and think about what your goals are, what you want to learn about, who you want to meet. And if you can engage in the community projects and Tableau public before attending (and maybe even join the #datafam on Twitter), you’ll get much more out of the trip than just the sessions.

And myself?

And just for the record, I live in Auckland, New Zealand. This year I spend around 2,000 USD on flights and hotels, with the ticket being free as I presented a session on User Experience. In previous years I spent up to 4,000 USD on the trip. On top of that I usually do some activities on the days before and after conference so I’d spend money on car rentals, tours, lunches and dinners, drinks, etc. I make sure that I don’t go overboard but I don’t keep close track of the expenses myself. I’d estimate about 500$ per trip on discretionary spending.

In Summary

Going to any conference is a pricy endeavor! If you ask anybody in the community, they will tell you that it’s worth it, but only if you actually put some effort in it to make the best of it. If you are smart about it (and are sometimes a bit lucky) you can bring the cost to you down significantly, however you will need to decide whether you think it will be worth it to you and your career to spend a few thousand dollars on the trip.

With that, I hope you found a few useful tips to make the trip to San Diego happening next year. Thanks to the contributors above for answering some questions and adding some tips that I hadn’t thought of myself. If you have any questions or additional tips on how to self fund a trip to Tableau Conference, get in touch with me or anybody else in this article or put them in the comments below.

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