Meet the Datafam: Elisa Davis
Learn more about Tableau Public Ambassador and #B2VB co-lead Elisa Davis, who is allowed to say ANYTHING in my newsletter!
🥳 Happy Friday, folks! I don’t know about you, but I feel like I really earned this upcoming weekend! 😅
🙏🏼 Thank you for all the positive feedback on the first Meet the Datafam! I’m thrilled that it’s been so well-received and I’m excited to write many more. I’ll provide a quick reintroduction to the format for anyone who may have missed the last one (you can catch up and learn more about Brittany Rosenau here).
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I’ve chosen the following structure for Meet the DataFam.
1️⃣ The Background The backstory regarding my interactions with my guest. Seems like there’s always a fun little anecdote to share.
2️⃣ The Viz I’ll pick my favorite of each guest’s public data visualizations on Tableau Public or other portfolio or website.
3️⃣ The Questions I’ll pose the same questions to each guest (in writing) and publish their answers exactly as written, editing as lightly as I possibly can considering I majored in English as an undergrad. I’ll clarify dataviz jargon and Tableau-specific terms and link to relevant websites where appropriate. I intend for anyone to be able to read this post and understand and enjoy it. If there’s a term you don’t understand, PLEASE, comment here, DM me on Twitter, or email me at email@example.com. I will edit the post and make sure future posts contain clarification.
Most of the time, I first become acquainted with a member of the #Datafam via an interaction on Twitter. In this case, I came across Elisa’s IronViz 2022 entry, My Ode to Indian-ish — which she discusses a bit in her responses to The Questions — via Discover on Tableau Public when I was having one of those days where I just couldn’t get inspired. I was intrigued by the whole thing — a cookbook as the topic for a viz, her approach to the viz, the way she was able to weave together the connection humans share with loved ones over meals. I also LOVE Indian food, so the exploration of the various spices was fun for me, too. After spending some time with the viz, I looked Elisa up on Twitter and followed her, certain that she would create more vizzes I would enjoy.
The Viz: Toss a Coin to Your Witcher
As much as I loved My Ode to Indian-ish, my very favorite of Elisa’s vizzes is one she created for #DataFamCon, #DataPlusMusic, and #GamesNightViz. (Yes, she knocked out three community challenges with one viz!)
Not only did her analysis of the song “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher”, sung by the bard Jaskier in season 2 of the Netflix series The Witcher, showcase her skill in Tableau, but she also flexed her R and Illustrator skills to create this masterpiece. There are a ton of results if you search for The Witcher on Tableau Public, and many really fantastic vizzes, but this one is unique for its very specific focus on this one point in time in the series (that just so happened to coincide with one particularly memorable point in time in my life, when the episode was first released).
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in the mid-Atlantic United States, but I identify as a New Englander. Massachusetts and New Hampshire have been home base since I was 18.
Where do you live now?
Reno, Nevada. It’s just down the hill from Lake Tahoe, [so] the skiing is great! And in case you’re wondering, it’s a 45-minute flight to Vegas but an eight-hour drive. I definitely fly to [Tableau] Conference.
Where would you live if you could live anywhere (assuming money, family, work location, etc., are not a concern)?
A cute little cabin in the mountains with a fireplace and lots of handmade coffee mugs.
Do you have any pets? What kind(s)? What are their name(s)?
You bet! I’ve got one cat, Clio, who you will meet on any Zoom call ever (a captive audience is her favorite). I’ve got one dog, Penny, who’s a McNab/cattle dog ranch mutt that we rescued five years ago. And I’ve got one kid, age four, who’s largely grown out of pretending he’s a puppy dog non-stop but will still answer to “Socks” on occasion.
Did you start your career in a data-related role or in another field? If another field, which one?
Well, I started my career in the lead-up to the recession of 2008, so I took a pretty long detour through outdoor education and barista jobs before heading back to grad school. Even then, I spent a while in progressively more data-oriented nonprofit roles, first in fundraising for an environmental nonprofit and then doing the equivalent of business intelligence for higher ed fundraising. That’s where I came across Tableau!
If you had to choose a different career path, what would it be? Why?
Ooh, this is a hard one because I feel like I just got to this one and I love it so much! For me, data viz combines analytical thinking, visual creativity, and a storytelling human element. I would probably look for another way to combine those skills, or lean hard into at least one of them.
What is your favorite Quick Table Calculation and why?
Does Add All Subtotals count? Honestly, I’ve been out of using Tableau for business for almost a year, and haven’t run into many use cases for table calcs in my Tableau Public work so I’m a little too rusty to have a favorite right now.
Nicole’s note: Since I’m in charge here, I’ll go with yes, why not? 👩🏼⚖️ Add All Subtotals can count! In case you’re unfamiliar, this is located in the Analysis menu under “Totals”. It’s not checked in the workbook I just happened to have open as I was editing this post.
What do you find the most challenging about Tableau?
Am I allowed to say how hard they make it to get the exact layout you want? As someone with a design and publishing background, I’m used to having very fine-grain control over the look of my final product. That’s hard to achieve with the current dashboard layout suite. From the technical side, there are a lot of more advanced chart types that I’ve yet to attempt. It’s amazing that there are people pushing the bounds of what’s possible with the tool, but it also raises the bar of (self-imposed) expectations for the rest of us.
Nicole’s note: You can say any damn thing you want here! I also happen to agree regarding how unusually difficult it is to achieve a very precise layout. (I also use a number of design tools like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe XD, and Figma.) I’d love to be able to set a container height and width in pixels and it stay that way, and maybe I could even drag it around to try out some layout options. This seems like a very solvable problem…💭But this is Elisa’s time in the spotlight, so 🤐
What do you like most about Tableau?
It’s the first communication tool that I’ve found that works the same way that my brain does. The best example of what I mean by this is my 2022 IronViz entry, My Ode to Indian-ish. I had been praising this cookbook for a solid year, given it as a gift several times with a “menu planning” handout that was basically an early wireframe of this viz, but it wasn’t until I had all the data built out that I could really show what I meant.
If you couldn’t use Tableau, how would you do data visualization? (e.g., coding language, other BI tool, draw it on paper or digitally, wouldn’t do it at all, etc.)
At this point, I’d probably learn another BI tool to do dataviz professionally. In my personal life, I’d fall back to some combination of Excel, Google Sheets, [Adobe] Illustrator, and really convoluted extended metaphors.
What is your favorite chart type? Why?
Don’t @ me, as they say on Twitter, but I love a crosstab [sometimes also called a text table in the Tableau documentation and elsewhere]. It’s the first sheet I build in any workbook. It helps me get to know the data set, figure out the most important variables, test any calculations I need to build, and sniff out any stories I need to dig in on further.
While we’re on the topic of potentially unpopular opinions, I’m also fine with people wanting to take the data back to Excel after they finish with a viz! My goal is that the Excel [sheet] is a to-do list that they’re adding strategy, next steps, or another layer of qualitative information to so that they can keep working on whatever problem the dashboard was designed around.
Nicole’s note: I love unpopular opinions. I don’t always agree with them, but I love when people express themselves regardless of others’ views (kindly, of course). I, too, make a crosstab prior to doing anything else with the data, for the exact reasons Elisa stated. I try to prettify them if I need to include them in a viz. BUT DON’T YOU DARE DOWNLOAD DATA FROM MY VIZ AND PUT IT BACK INTO EXCEL. I kid. Do what you need to do.
Which community challenges do you regularly participate in? Why would you recommend them to new members of the Datafam?
I’m a co-leader of Back 2 Viz Basics! I started out as a 100% participant, but since [then] I’ve gotten involved in designing the challenges and finding fun and/or interesting data sets that pair well with specific skills.
[When choosing which challenges I want to do,] I look at all the datasets posted for various community challenges and viz the ones that jump out at me. So far, I’ve done Games Night Viz, Datafamcon, Data Plus Music (but nerd-style [see Mario #DataPlusMusic]), Eduvizzers, and Makeover Monday. I’m currently working on a submission for the brand new Public Policy Viz project. I’d love to finish an Iron Quest project or two, but my ideas for those are bigger so I can’t knock them out as easily.
I also just did a Real World Fake Data [#RWFD] — those are hard! But it’s great to have a few business dashboards mixed in with the “fun stuff” to demonstrate your skills and approach.
Nicole’s note: I choose my challenges the exact same way Elisa does! And she’s totally right about #RWFD! If I had more time, though, I swear I would do every single one.
What hill would you die on? (This can be data-related or not. For me, my non-data hill is the belief that the Oxford Comma is the Only Comma. My dataviz-related one is the conviction that you should never use the default tooltip.)
A color can only have one meaning per viz. And the corollary, if you use a color it has to mean something.
Nicole’s note: This is a good one. Also, I inserted three Oxford commas into Elisa’s writing 🧙🏼♀️<insert evil laugh>.
Have you received any certifications, honors, or accolades you’d like to share or feel especially proud of? (e.g., Viz of the Day, Tableau Certified in some area, or something non-data-related like black belt in jiu jitsu.)
It’s pretty surreal to have been selected as a Tableau Public Ambassador, especially since I just published my first public viz almost exactly a year ago. [Elisa’s Datafamiversary was Wednesday!!] Before that, it was amazing to be selected as a Tableau Public Featured Author (and I was in the “Hire me” cohort, which was great because I was actively job searching!). And, it’s been equally meaningful to get recognition from peers and colleagues. The first time someone mentioned they’d been looking forward to my B2VB feedback, hearing that I’d made someone’s day with a Tableau Follow Friday feature, being voted “Best Designer” of my Millennials and Data cohort by my classmates, all of whom are talented designers themselves.
I have gotten so many little “keep up the good work” nudges in the past year that it’s been easy to keep my energy high around developing this skill that I love and encouraging others to do the same.
On a lighter note, I managed to get selected as a Public Ambassador without having had a single Viz of the Day! That almost feels like its own accomplishment.
How can people learn more about your work? (e.g., portfolio or website URL, social media handles, etc.)
Follow me on Twitter (@ItsElisaDavis), and if you don’t have an account yet, go make one! Then, follow me and all the #Datafam you can find.
I was initially reluctant to be on Twitter, but it turns out it’s not just for journalists and Elon Musk! Tons of your data heroes are RIGHT THERE tweeting back at you, and no matter your experience level you will make new data friends if you put yourself out there.
I’ve also got a Tableau Public portfolio. And I have a little baby blog/website at ElisaDavis.com! I don’t know why it’s easier to write 1,000 tweets than one blog post, but hopefully I’ll gradually get more content up there. In the meantime, it’s a great way to keep track of my upcoming TUG talks [Tableau User Group, essentially a group of people — Tableau users — organized by geographic location, like Madison, WI, or specific interest, like healthcare or veterans advocacy] (build the tool you want to use yourself, right?).
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