Anna Foard taught Highschool AP Stats before teaching Tableau classes for corporate clients. She enjoys connecting data to real world visualization to help people how to understand data insights. Anna sat down with Accelebrate's Julie Halbersburg to discuss teaching, why she loves Tableau, her favorite resources, and more.
For the entire video interview, please visit https://youtu.be/WGBI2dCYEgc
Accelebrate: Thank you so much for joining today. I'm excited to get to know you better. What got you started with Tableau?
Anna: I taught high school for 14 years. I taught AP Statistics and math. I've taught every single math there is except for Calculus. In school when you're teaching courses, you'd like to connect the kids to the real world and what they're going to be doing, but especially with AP Statistics. Because this is a college level course, they're getting college credit. I started looking at what are some solutions for them as they venture into college and then beyond that, because obviously statistics is useful and visualizing data is all useful in the real world, but how can I connect the two to get them to see the reality?
I started looking at other solutions, and for a while I was teaching the kids how to graph it using Excel and how to statistically analyze their data with Excel. And I stumbled into using Tableau, and I taught them some tricks using Tableau. It's a very easy drag and drop interface so that they're able to connect with their data, learn their data very, very quickly and then also show somebody else some insights. So that's where I started. And then from there I decided to start training corporately to teach other people how to understand the insights of their data.
Accelebrate: Wow. So, there's really not anything you can't use Tableau with, in terms of looking at data and visualizing it.
Anna: It works very well with clean data. So as long as you're bringing in data that's been cleaned or that it's clean enough to be able to analyze, I think that Tableau works very, very well with that. If it's pretty messy, you can run it through Tableau Prep first and then Tableau Prep will help you prep it for Tableau.
Accelebrate: That's so cool. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and your background in general?
Anna: I'm from Athens, Georgia. I pretty much lived in Georgia most of my life, but I moved around a little when I was younger. I lived in near Niagara Falls. And then after college I lived in Philly and DC and Baton Rouge. And so, I got to tour around a little bit in the East coast. But going into college, I went to the University of Georgia. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I liked math, but at that moment the thought was, well, I could be a math teacher, or I could be an engineer. I don't want to go to Georgia Tech, but I don't want to be a math teacher. So, I majored in print journalism, but my math brain just kept pulling at me, and I didn't do very well in English courses when they asked me to write essays and I'm going, "I don't want to write an essay. I want to write creative writing."
So, I switched to business and I got a degree in business, which brought me on to the business world for a while. That's when I worked in DC. I worked for Corporate Executive Board, which is now owned by Gardner. I did best practices research, and that's when I really started to connect with statistics and analyzing data and looking at insights.
It's a long story, but I ended up going back to school to be a teacher after a couple of years working in DC. I went to LSU for grad school. I was a TA. I started teaching statistics and college algebra, basically, to undergraduates, which was at the time close to my age, which was really nerve-racking at that moment, because the first time I ever taught was in front of college students. It was a lot. It was a huge learning experience for me, especially wanting to go into teaching with high school. So after that I taught high school for 14 years in Atlanta, and then beyond that I've gone into Tableau consulting and Tableau training, and I now train trainers in Tableau training as well.
Accelebrate: What's your favorite thing about being a technical trainer?
Anna: That's a good question. I think it really comes back to my favorite thing about being a teacher. I love connecting with people. I love meeting new people and connecting with people and being able to learn about them and what makes them tick. So, when I walk into a room, when I train, I always ask the class what their goals are. I have a syllabus. I know exactly what I'm going to teach, but I tweak that for every single training based on the individuals in the room. I always personalize to whatever level I know how, and that brings me joy and it brings them joy. And I love that connection where I can help someone learn not just a piece of software, but how to improve their own path and how they are going to grow.
Accelebrate: Amazing. It's the best reason. Can we dig more into Tableau specifically? What are some tips and tricks that you would offer people who are maybe new or even more advanced to Tableau?
Anna: If you're new to Tableau, my biggest trick to say, a tip really, would be don't get frustrated with all the formatting. I think at first when you learn it, you can immediately gain insights, and then people suddenly will level off in their knowledge because formatting and just little nuances in the software, you'll forget where it was. I tell people, "Don't worry, there's 400 different ways to do something in Tableau," which a lot of times they're really are. It's super easy to get caught up and frustrated, and I know from experience that it's easy to get frustrated with, "Oh, how do I do this one thing?" Well, there is this amazing tool called Google and most things that we can figure out, I do it all the time. I have to Google, "Oh, what was that thing I knew how to do yesterday?
In Tableau, the other thing, that whether you're advanced or new, you'll find out very quickly is if you're not in it often you tend to forget how you did that thing. So again, I always recommend you can Google it. There's a lot of resources out there as well to just being able to find out how to do that one thing that you may have known or you think it can do, you just don't know how to do. It's a great tool. Sometimes it can get frustrating if you learn something and forgot it, but luckily, it's easy to overcome that.
Accelebrate: So, it's like learning a language. Use it or lose it.
Anna: In a sense it is. It really is, especially when you get out to building out dashboards in certain types of ways that you want it to look a certain way. Like how did I do that again? But for initial analysis, going digging right in, it just it's like riding a bike. You just get right back into it.
Accelebrate: Sure. So it sounds like you use Google, mostly. Are there any other specific resources that you like to learn from?
Anna: Yes. Tableau has a fantastic community board. You can type in a question. Most of the time when I Google a question, it comes right up to the community boards and somebody else has asked it three different times and there's 40 different answers. Tableau has an amazing community of people behind it. You can find them on Twitter. You can also find them on the community threads that they're answering questions left and right. I recommend if somebody is on Twitter to just look for it, like the hashtag of Tableau or we do #datafam, because we're like a family, those of us in Tableau community. You can find some amazing people. They're very helpful and they're very happy to help you in your journey.
Accelebrate: That's awesome. Outside of Tableau itself, do you have any blogs, videos, other sources that you recommend?
Anna: Oh, absolutely. My number one favorite person to look at his blog or his videos is Andy Kriebel and Andy Kriebel is a Zen Master. He's out of the UK at the data school, and he actually used to live in Atlanta and he's a friend of mine, and I was lucky the day that I met him. He became my friend because I had always turned to his videos and his blogs to learn Tableau, so now I feel like it's my duty to explain it to other people. Here's how you learn Tableau. Watch Andy Kriebel. He gives these amazing tricks for most anything you haven't even thought of Tableau could do - He has a trick for it.
Accelebrate: He's a Zen Master and a Tableau expert?
Anna: In Tableau, experts in Tableau are called Zen Masters. There are a lot of these. There are Zen Masters all through the community. You can also Google Tableau Zen Masters, and they are all very willing to help. They have some great blogs. I'm going to have to tell you a couple more. Ken Flerlage has some fantastic blog information if you want to integrate Tableau with SQL or just trying to work with SQL in custom SQL and want to know how to understands SQL. I think if you are looking for some brilliant dashboard effects, some artistic effects, I think Ken has a twin brother, Kevin Flerlage, who also has a blog who I'm always like, "Why didn't I think of that? That's brilliant." He has all these different types of tricks on how to make your dashboard shine.
So another one would be Ryan Sleeper. If you are creating dashboards and designing dashboards within for consulting work, if you want really a clean, crisp dashboard, Ryan Sleeper has some amazing tricks and tips, not just for the visualization side, but the calculations go more in depth. He explains some harder, more complex calculations and simplifies it and makes something that seems complex so easy. So those would be a few that I would recommend right off the bat.
And then in the Tableau community, like I said, on Twitter is a great place to follow and learn more. I mentioned Andy Kriebel, but he and Eva Murray, and Eva is another Zen Master, they run Makeover Monday (#makeovermonday On Twitter). So if you were going to practice more with Tableau and you wanted to learn just to get practice in different types of datasets and you wanted to get in there and see how to visualize another type of data, it's less quantitative and more categorical or vice versa, follow makeover Monday. They have datasets every week. In fact, all the previous weeks from all the past three years, I think it's actually in year four now, are up so you could pull that into Tableau and rework whatever visualization they want to make over.
So, they'll usually post a visualization that it doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad visualization, but they always say, how would you make this over in your own way? And it's a great practice. And then if you join in on the weekly makeover Monday, they'll also, if you submit it on the site they tell you how to submit it, but if you join in and you submit it, they will also give you feedback, which is amazing. Very, very helpful if you are new to Tableau.
One thing I did was I would watch the makeover Monday reviews when I first started learning Tableau and I would watch what they would say to other people. So, then I would learn from the feedback they give someone else and be able to digest it as I went into practicing more in Tableau.
Accelebrate: That's a fantastic tip for Tableau users and trainers. Just look at the feedback. What are some of your frequently asked questions and feedback in your Tableau classes?
Anna: The most frequent thing that I am asked has to do with how to connect what they just learned back to their own data. I noticed that pretty right off the bat. So, what I started doing is have students and participants in the courses and give them a moment to discuss within their groups or with their partner next to them. How could you implement using this concept with your data? Is there data that you use on a daily basis that you could analyze in this way or you could find other insights this way? And what that does is gets them thinking in that term before they even start asking that question. I'll still get the question. The question actually improved my training ability, because I could head it off and get them thinking about it from the front end.
Accelebrate: Yep. And do you have any advice for children or teenagers who may want to get into the data field when they grow up?
Anna: My biggest advice for anyone wanting to go to analytics would be don't just look at the numbers and the data crunching. Really consider how important communication and questioning is, because what I noticed coming into this field and being a math teacher for so long is people who are pure math and they want to stay analytics, they stay on that side of the road and would want to move into a position where they're doing more with data, they have to learn how to ask questions and ask the right questions. They have to learn how to communicate to stakeholders and know who those stakeholders are to be able to do it in a simple way. So being able to hold on to those what some people would call soft skills is really key and very important in data and analytics. And that would be a recommendation I would give anyone young or old who wants to move on into this career.
Accelebrate: That's fantastic advice. Just a little outside of work, what do you like to do for fun? I know you love data, but what else?
Anna: I like to run. I get up at 4:45 and go to the gym. I have this group of friends that I go to the gym with at 5:00 a.m. This morning we squatted. It was fun. And then I start my day. I've been doing this for about 10 years now and it's become my hobby, and it really gets me in the right mindset for the rest of the day. My other hobby, like I said, I like to run. I like to run trails. I like to go hiking. I like to be outside. I have two little boys, so I love to take them on nature hikes and just enjoy nature.
Accelebrate: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our viewers and readers?
Anna: I just enjoy training. Being part of the Accelebrate team has been one of the best experiences I've had after being a high school teacher. I miss my kids, but I've been able to connect with humans all over the United States now. We're all just like kids. We like to be treated with respect. We want to work hands on. We want to get some breaks. We don't want to just sit there in professional development that someone made us do. I'm overjoyed that I get to do this and lead people through this learning experience and have fun with them. So, thank you for bringing me on.
Accelebrate: Thank you. We love working with you and just love to hear that. Your passion definitely shows when you're teaching and with anyone you talk with, and really just through this conversation, I can hear it through everything you're sharing. Hearing that just means the world to us. Thank you so, so much. We all at Accelebrate really enjoy working with you and we really appreciate everything you do for our clients.
Anna: Thank you so much, Julie. Thank you guys for bringing me on. Again, this has been an amazing adventure and I love it.
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