My First Tableau Conference – A Diary and Tips for the next one

On October 4th 2019, I booked to attend Tableau Conference 2019 in Las Vegas. This was going to be my first Tableau conference and I was buzzing.

Since learning about Tableau and the community, I had heard grand stories about how huge the conference was, how crazy the parties were and how very American it was. And now, I would get to see it for myself.

In the run up to the conference, I read blogs on how to prepare and what to do when I get there, I also sourced advice from the Tableau Twitter community.

The tips that kept coming up:

  • Go to Devs On Stage (keynote where Tableau developers unveil new features)
  • Talk to as many people as you can – i.e. network your ass off
  • Wear comfortable shoes!

I also got recommendations for various sessions including ones by Bethany Lyons, attending hands-on workshops, Fanalytics and more.

With so much to do and limited time, I decided to set 3 simple goals only and as long as I accomplished them, I could go home feeling like I’ve gotten something out of it.

My 3 goals (in no order):

  1. Have an interesting conversation – I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself to meet everyone in the community as I knew I physically couldn’t find and talk to everyone.
  2. Learn something new about Tableau/data/design – This is sort of a given… You’re going to a conference, of course you’re going to learn something. But I wanted to set this in stone as well so that I could bring back something that would build my knowledge and skillset.
  3. Have fun, explore Vegas and bring back some swag for the team back home – I had some days before the conference to find my feet so I wanted to see the city and try the Bacchanal buffet!

What I did

Saturday/Sunday

I was already coming down with something before I left for Vegas and by the time I landed on Saturday night, I was definitely ill. I spent the remainder of Saturday and Sunday sleeping heavily. On Sunday my friend and fellow DSer, Seffana, trekked down the strip to have this chicken pile (left) at Hash House a Go Go (I took most of it home to eat for dinner).

Monday

Still feeling a bit poorly but determined to eat our way through the strip, Seffana and I had a delicious brunch at Bruxie Original Fried Chicken & Waffle (above, right). I had chicken and waffles with mac n cheese: heaven! In the evening, Data+Women held a networking event. I met and chatted with loads of cool people there. Props to Emily Chen and the team for finding such a sick venue and organising the event.

Tuesday

Ahh the aftermath of the night before… a combination of illness, Vegas’ ridiculously dry air, air con indoors, talking all evening and iced drinks led to my voice being nearly completely gone when I woke up. Words came out soundless. Just my luck that I would lose my voice on the first day of the conference.

I had scheduled Braindates (a brilliant new feature where you suggest a topic of conversation and interested parties join the “date” and you meet up to chat at the allotted time) which I regretfully had to cancel. There was no way I would be able to converse with people. So, I just went to the conference to collect my badge, have a walk around to get my bearings then picked up an extortionate Caesar salad and green tea nearby and headed back to the hotel to rest my voice.

Wednesday

After a day’s rest, I had but half a voice. Still, I wasn’t going to sit on the bench any longer, I was going to play. Wednesday was the day of the opening keynote. I was a bit late to the party so I sat in the Data Village (the “heart” of the conference) to watch the keynote on the big screen instead of live in the events hall. This was my first real taste of the conference and I can confirm, it is very American! I attended a couple sessions and decided that I would focus more on braindates and networking rather than sessions, as there can be watched later anyway.

I had a couple Braindates scheduled throughout the day. These were amazing! I got to meet so many people and have fleshed out discussions. Of course it’s also great to talk to the person sitting next to you on in the queue with you but Braindates have a predetermined topic which really works when you have something you’re enthusiastic about and want to meet like-minded people, or you want to learn a specific topic, or you have something specific to share! I scheduled loads of dates after this.

A highlight of Wednesday, and the whole conference, was Iron Viz! We had our very own Hesham Eissa competing and we were so ready to cheer him to victory. The Information Lab team were sat in the front rows with our battle chants and flashing Iron Viz foam batons at the ready. The vibe of the whole event and the cheering in our team was exhilarating! I wonder our group was audible amongst the thousands of people in the hall. As we knew he would, Hesham absolutely killed it and took home the trophy, along with Josh. Congratulations to all Hesham, Josh and Lindsay, you did what most couldn’t – build incredible vizzes in 20 minutes live on stage in front of thousands. Kudos to you!

Thursday

It feels like so much has happened already! Thursday was another day packed with Braindates and a couple sessions. It started with Devs on Stage. So many new features coming that we’ve all been waiting for. I’m talking chart animations (transitions), dynamic parameters (!) and more.

Today I really appreciated the Data Village. I spent the most time here throughout the conference. The energy in the village was always buzzing and there was so much going on, I was never bored. There were sessions going on, sponsors with stalls (and freebies), the Tableau store, Tableau devs, Tableau community area, even a ball pool (pit) and mini-golf (which I didn’t have time to play 😦 ). I especially loved the community section. There was a huge tree with photos of Zen Masters and Tableau Ambassadors hanging from it. You could even take the signature speech bubble photos and hang it from the tree too. There was also a wall where you could introduce yourself to others who may read the wall and an interactive piece where you would weave yarn around words that related to you such as ‘woman’, ‘student’, ‘hispanic’. The combination of everyone’s yarn really showed how diverse the community was. Towards the end of the day I was losing my voice again so I skipped Data Night Out.

Friday

The last day of the conference already! It’s fast but also that so much has happened. Today I was surprised how energetic the crew at the conference still were. Every day, every time I walked past crew members, they would be enthusiastically directing people, giving high fives or saying positive things like “today is a beautiful day”. I had a lot of things I wanted to squeeze in on my last day but not much time as I had to leave by 1pm to catch my flight home. Sadly there was only time for two more Braindates and some photo ops with the amazing women I have the honour of working with.

So, did I achieve my goals?

Not completely but enough to feel happy with the experience. I met loads of great people and shared many interesting conversations. I learned lots about new Tableau features, like Explain Data, I also learned from my Braindates things about agile methodology, documentation and careers. And finally my last goal, I brought back loads of swag for the team (though I now know stickers > badges) but I didn’t see as much of Vegas as I’d hoped, mostly due to sickness. Since next year’s conference is in Vegas again, I’ll hopefully try the buffet!

Tips and advice

  • Personally, I found more value in talking to devs/Tableau team and other conference goers rather than the sessions. So, next time I will do more of meetups and Braindates, as well as talking to the people around me.
  • Conference food isn’t the best and it’s so hard to find vegetables in Vegas so bear that in mind.
  • Plan your time in advance but try to be flexible with your time. I found it helpful to go over my schedule in the evening for the day after and see if there’s things I can drop/add depending on what I felt like doing.
  • Vegas air is incredibly dry so be prepared to experience electric shocks and respiratory issues. This could be exasperated by smoking in casinos (so basically everywhere indoors). I found the steam from the open cups of green tea I was drinking helped.
  • Don’t feel like you have to go to everything otherwise you’d miss out. I didn’t go to Data Night Out as I felt a bit poorly but it’s not really my thing anyway. Getting the rest meant I wasn’t exhausted for the final day. But obviously, if you’re into it then by all means do it!
  • Sharpies are available in the Data Village (there were a bunch for the wall shown earlier). Write your Twitter handle or anything else you want people to see on your badge.
  • Bring a bag of some sort. I didn’t on the Wednesday and ended up stuffing stickers and badges into my jean pockets.

Follow these tips, or not. But I hope you enjoy yourself and get out of it what you wanted.  I didn’t expect to enjoy the experience as much as I did. I spent my flight home feeling satisfied and happy with the week – despite illness setting me back.

I can’t wait for TC Europe 2020 and TC20 in Las Vegas!

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