Ticket to Seattle, final destination? Data

The Tableau Conference 2014 


We’re just back from Seattle, a road trip to Vancouver and this year’s Tableau Conference: Destination Data, which was the largest yet.

For the past seven years, data enthusiasts have come together at this annual event to discover what’s next in data analytics and business intelligence. Last week, the Washington State Convention Centre, in Seattle, was packed out with 5500 attendees from around the globe; the UK made up the 3rd largest group (topped only by the US and Canada).

It was a very intensive week of networking, hands-on learning, and keynote sessions from leaders in science and technology, and Tableau customers and experts. The non-Tableau keynote speakers included, Neil deGrasse Tyson; astrophysicist, host of NOVA ScienceNow, and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – as well as frequent guest on The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher. Another was Hans Rosling; medical doctor, academic, statistician, and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation. John J. Medina was also on the keynote panel; he’s a developmental molecular biologist, analytical research consultant and writes column “Molecules of the Mind” for Psychiatric Times.

Tyson talked about an impressive visualisation of the discovery, over time, of thousands of asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth. We will at some point be hit by an asteroid – astrophysicists know how to prevent this on paper, let’s hope it works in practice! Medina provided some great insights into the importance of sleep and the impact the lack of it has on performance. While, Rosling set straight some common misconceptions about demography and illustrated the importance of presenting your data in the right way. Here’s a very similar TED talk.

Meanwhile, the customer speakers were as varied as Coca-Cola, Adobe, LinkedIn, Wells Fargo and Netflix. The keynote from the Tableau team was full to capacity; they announced numerous features we’re looking forward to when 9.0 is released (the sooner the better!).

The main highlights for us were:

  • Lasso and radial selection tools for maps
  • Parallel queries
  • Improvements to the calculation window: including drag and drop support and the ability to type directly into rows/columns
  • Persistent Query Caches: so once one user has run a report, the next user receives the cached version instantly

The other sessions included:

  • Got Big Data? Hakuna Matata – an interesting overview of how Barnes-Jewish Hospital have rapidly deployed Vertica and Tableau to report on its big data
  • Facebook Jeopardy: Hack Edition – it was good to see that Facebook have had many of the same experiences/challenges with Tableau as SysMech, and have arrived at a number of similar solutions
  • Off the Beaten Path with Advanced Geographic Analysis – Alan Eldridge provided some excellent information on working with Tableau’s mapping capabilities
  • Pimp My Viz – Jewel Loree showed how to take some visualisations to excess, yet also took some fairly mundane Tableau visualisations and demonstrated how to make them far more appealing and insightful. Highlights included: music listening data becoming an 80’s boom box and the most popular Disney songs being turned into a castle
  • Around the World in 80 clicks: Advanced Mapping in Tableau – Craig Bloodworth and Allan Walker presented in-depth information on making the most of Tableau’s mapping features, in conjunction with other products, and showed off some visually stunning work that really pushed Tableau to its limits

However, our favourite part of the week was when we managed to stump the Tableau doctor with an aggregation issue. But never fear Tableau will be reviewing the issue and we look forward to hearing from them post conference.

We’re already looking forward to 2015’s Tableau conference in Las Vegas – for more data visualisation events take a look at Tableau Software’s upcoming conferences.