Here are tips that I can guarantee 😉 will help you learn Tableau Desktop faster. The biggest time saver is knowing when the data isn’t in the right form or the Tableau approach you are using to solve a problem isn’t working. If you are trying to create a stacked bar chart for the first time and struggling, and you will struggle, watch a demo or read a tutorial if it takes you more than ten to 15 minutes.
To help set your frame of mind, the real strength of Tableau as a tool is to quickly whip out different views and stories from the data. This much is true and is not marketing hype. Here we go:
- Watch the free, on demand videos that Tableau has on their site. This is the best source of learning.
- I thought there was a forum specifically for newbies. I can’t find it. The forums appear now to be organized by topic. (Maybe they always were?) The search engine for finding questions is pretty good, use it.
- They have a calculation reference library that I just discovered a few minutes ago. It’s probably a place to turn for when you think you might be developing the wheel.
- Join and attend a local, Tableau user group. I’ve attend maybe five Seattle TUG meetings. I’d say that about half the people in attendance are newbies. The more experienced users at these groups are supportive. And it’s great networking for both relationships and to find out what the good places are to work. Start a discussion on the TUG board for your area and see what response you get.
- Create a Tableau Public account right away. It’s free. Publish workbooks to it (see the cautionary statement near the end). You’ll get a sensation of what it’s like to publish. You can share the URLs with colleagues, etc.. It’s free hosting. It’s the place to for your Tableau portfolio on. Any hiring looking for Tableau experience in the candidate will go to Public. Complete the simplest stacked-bar chart, make it as nice as you can, publish, and leave it out there.
- Tableau Public has some sample data sets. Download the sample data sets and try to recreate the published viz that uses that data set.
- When you have some chops, create a free, 60-day Tableau Online account. You will get even more of the sensation of what it’s like to publish and share. You will be able to invite people via email. You can set up projects and manage security. Wait to use this until you have some chops so you don’t waste your trial. (PS – I just went to the site and they might no longer be offering trials. Cost is otherwise $500 per person per year with a one-year minimum the first year.
- All downloadable workbooks can be pulled apart and studied. Prowl Tableau Public and download a workbook that has a feature or design that you want to learn. The data will download with it. This is one of the best way to learn new stuff. I under use this advice.
- To motivate learning, use data that you either know or are interested in. For data you know, use standard business data to demonstrate line charts and the basic, conservative kind of stuff. Use a data set you are interested to do more exploratory stuff like maps, different kinds of charts, background images, etc.. Bounce between the two as you are waiting for answers to questions on message boards.
- If you spend more than an hour trying to figure something out, your approach is probably wrong or there is some limitation in Tableau on being able to use the data in the way you want. I’ve pent way too many hours on approaches that were wrong, like, for example, trying to aggregate already aggregated fields in a calculated field.
- When developing and learning, always import the data and use the extract, saving your workbooks as .twbx files.
- Do some type of pseudo version control. At certain points, stop working on a workbook, number it, copy it, and start working on the new one. Don’t have fear of deleting a worksheet because of something cool on it you want to save. Tableau 8 has functionality to copy worksheets from one workbook and paste it into to another.
- If you have a workbook open and are staring at the worksheet with no idea how to do what you want to do, just do something. It doesn’t matter. Make movement. Click the undo button. If you find yourself clicking on the “Show Me” chart tool helper and nothing happens, you are probably on the wrong track. Get some fresh ideas from a forum or sample worksheet or just put it aside and do something else for a while.
Take the blue pill or is it the green pill? The Tableau GUI has it’s own visual vocabulary. Tableau and the Tableau GUI are not extensions of Excel. Don’t fight it. Think about it like learning a new language. Learn the alphabet, the words, the grammar and syntax, make sentences, make paragraphs (worksheets), an essay (dashboards), then publish what you write. For some reason, one of the big blockers at the early stage of learning Tableau is the difference between the blue and green fields.
Blend, join, neither, or both. This took me months to figure out. Always push the data preparation and data manipulation down to the database whenever you can. First choice always is to create a view in the database if your data comes from more than one table. If you don’t have the privileges or cooperation to create a view in your DBMS, then join in Tableau. A blend is the last resort and you’ll know you have to use it when joining doesn’t work. A task that can be difficult or impossible in Tableau is applying functions and calculating aggregations on data field that is already an aggregate. If you can create the aggregate in the database and associate it with the data that you import or connect to, your workbook will be simpler and your job easier.
Sharing a viz with “restricted” data. Anything published on Tableau Public is available to anybody with a Tableau Public account. But, people have to go out there and look for it. They have to find your account, find your workbook, and download it. Set up your Tableau Public profile so that the workbooks you publish are by hidden by default. If you need a place to share a viz for a job interview, for example, publish the workbook, go to the interview, discuss what you did, close the browser, then delete the workbook via the mobile app as soon as you leave the office. Don’t send the link to hiring manager or friends because they might download the workbook. The probability of losing restricted data this way is low. Always hide unused fields.
Sharing a viz with “confidential” data. Don’t use Public. Use only a Tableau Online account or a local Tableau server.
Always upgrade to latest version of Tableau. You can check for the latest release on the download site. Always stay on the latest release unless you have a reason not to, like the server you deploy to at work is behind. Read the release notes while you’re there.
You’ll soon have some skills and will want to use your new chops to help you land another job. Think of the Tableau sites as social media. Create a history on the Tableau sites using your personal email address. This way, your history will follow you should you find yourself no longer using a work email address.
And, for readers who have gotten this far, the thank you is this final tip. This could save you from many hours frustration. Be prepared to use a schema.ini file when using text files as the data source. If the data in your file looks good in an editor but wacky when you viewing via the “View Data” tool within Tableau, that’s the clue that you might need to use a schema.ini file.