Last week, I headed to Las Vegas for two days at Tableau Conference 2015. CEO Christian Chabot welcomed the crowd of over 10,000 “data rock stars” in the opening keynote.

Chabot set the morning’s theme of research and development (R&D) by sharing that every member of Tableau’s R&D team was in Vegas for the week. Additionally, it was revealed that Tableau will spend more on R&D in the next two years than the company spent in the previous 10.

VP of Product Management Francois Ajenstat next took the stage to introduce a team of developers who quickly became the stars (or rock stars, more appropriately) of the day. Each one was polished, poised, and enthusiastic as they shared Tableau’s latest features:

  • Roger Hau (while wearing a phenomenal Hawaiian shirt) introduced Data Interpreter and demoed the new Union feature, as well as the ability to perform cross database joins.
  • Amy Forstrom referenced Joey Bats’ recent heroics to demonstrate the data highlighter, earning multiple “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience over the course of her presentation.
  • Christine Chambers explained how Tableau is trying to make advanced analytics accessible to anyone, with features like outlier detection algorithms, clustering, and drag-and-drop analysis.
  • Tyler Doyle presented on achieving self-service at scale, and received roaring applause upon announcing version control in the newest version of Tableau.
  • Michael Becke demonstrated the ability to create and preview device-specific dashboards and perform cross database filtering.
  • Ronnie Yates bravely shared his nickname (“Old Man Sausage Fingers”), before showing how even those with swollen digits can operate the Tableau 9.1 Mobile App.

Data prep functionality shone nearly as brightly as the developers at the conference. Check out the latest Aberdeen research on data prep:

Next up was VP of Mobile Engineering Dave Story to announce the launch of Vizable, a free app for interactive data visualization on the iPad. Mr. Story manipulated a movie earnings dataset to show the app’s functionality. He used Vizable to test his personal opinion that The Hobbit trilogy is superior to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and was forced to admit the data was not on his side, much to the delight of the audience (and me). I got play to with Project Elastic, Vizable’s prototype, at least year’s conference, so I’m looking forward to taking it for a spin and seeing how the final product turned out.

Day Two

CMO Elissa Fink opened the second day keynote and introduced motivation expert and best-selling author Daniel Pink. Mr. Pink immediately addressed the challenge of talking about motivation first thing in the morning with an audience that had attended Tableau’s Data Night Out (featuring the talents of Fitz and the Tantrums) the night before.

Nevertheless, the crowd was engaged as Mr. Pink shared some fascinating concepts from his work. He explained that controlling contingent rewards (an ‘if-then’ reward) are great motivators for simple and short-term work. However, they are poor motivators for complex and long-term work, which require individuals to be focused on the work rather than the reward.

With this in mind, Mr. Pink  stressed the importance of fairly compensating employees, as even animals have a reaction to inequity in rewards (seriously, click that link — a monkey throws a cucumber at a scientist!). I nearly stood up and applauded when Mr. Pink called out performance reviews for what they are – “awkward kabuki theater conversations.”

Famed astrophysicist and general science stud Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson closed out the day. Dr. Tyson spoke at Tableau Conference 2014, and was invited back due to overwhelming attendee demand. He did not disappoint, and delighted the audience with his presentation entitled, “An Astrophysicist goes to the Movies.”

His talk covered everything from the preposterousness of the film Armageddon, to the poor calculation of the Drake equation in Contact, to the possible weight of Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer). The highlight for me, though, was Dr. Tyson sharing his frustration with a lazily incorrect night sky in the original cut of Titanic, and his sheer joy upon convincing James Cameron to update it in the 2012 3D re-release.

Dr. Tyson generously stuck around well past his slotted time, and gave thoughtful answers to a wide range of questions. Anyone who enjoys Dr. Tyson’s take on popular movies should check out his collaborations with Cinema Sins on Gravity and Interstellar.

I’d like to thank everyone at Tableau for their hospitality, and look forward to following the company’s activities as they prepare for Tableau Conference 2016 in Austin.

Read about the best practices and impact of data rock stars in Aberdeen’s new report, Data Discovery and Interactive Visualization: “Affect thro’ their Eyes.”

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