Why I Like Working at Tableau: One Software Engineer's Perspective

By Ross Bunker 2011/06/03

On the occasion of the grand opening of our Kirkland office, I was reflecting on what led me to join Tableau over six years ago and what has made it the most enjoyable employment experience in my career. These are my thoughts.

I came to Tableau having worked for a couple of different companies, each at a different stage of growth and maturity. I started working on databases at a large company that was growing fast. Our team was relatively small and we were the underdog in the industry for our product. It was a great team of people and a successful, rewarding experience. I then joined a small web startup. There was great technical talent with a pioneering vision and product. Alas, the business side was harder to plan and execute than anticipated. The company was sold to a major enterprise java software vendor and the team turned its attention to revitalize growth for the new company. Despite explosive early growth, the java software company had hit a plateau and was trying to achieve the next level of growth by attracting non-java developers to their platform. While there was talent and vision throughout the company, the management seemed too focused on short term results and was unwilling to make any investment that did not yield quick results. This led to frustrating shifts in strategy and plans and led me to jump at the opportunity that Tableau presented when I heard about it.

Tableau seemed like a natural evolution for me. It was an intriguing mix of data and graphics. Pat Hanrahan (co-founder and Chief Scientist) had been my graphics professor in college and I knew of his significant contributions to another startup graphics company in the past (Pat won a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award based on his software development work at Pixar). I went in and got a demo from the CEO, co-founder Christian Chabot. I was blown away at the potential of this product. I’d worked on databases. I knew the value of storing data, and being able to ask it questions using SQL queries, but here was a way for business users to explore data visually! The applications were staggering. But I’d seen great technology before. Great technology isn’t enough. What was the business plan? Christian spent 10 minutes breaking down each market that Tableau could get into and how big they were. And the best part was the revolutionary business model: sell shrink wrapped software to corporations and small businesses so that they could run their businesses more effectively. Okay, maybe not revolutionary, but after the dot-com bubble it was at least “retro”. Christian seemed realistic about the challenges, but his energy and enthusiasm for the opportunity, coupled with the compelling combination of vision and timeliness of the technology, painted a very positive future for this particular startup.

I signed on. Working with about 15 other employees at the time, I joined the process of building this company. And that is exactly what has been done. We now have nearly 250 employees (and need many more to keep pace with our growth), but this company didn’t grow by sitting in the sunlight and getting rained on. It was constructed carefully and deliberately by a team of talented, experienced managers and the excellent employees they have hired. The sales channels outlined to me by Christian on a piece of paper 6 years ago remain largely the same. It has certainly been nudged in a couple of places by the increasing delivery of services via the internet, but this company is nimble and has executed on that vision with great success. I respect and admire the skills of the leadership in all parts the company. Tableau management emphasizes that delivering a great product to customers isn’t just the job of software engineering or quality assurance or product support, but all of them working together along with the sales people, the operations team and everyone else. It is impressive how the whole company works together to deliver a product to our customers that they adore.

And I really do mean adore. The quotes we hear from customers are extremely gratifying to me as a software engineer. This is a product that makes a difference in how people do their work on a daily basis. Our customer conferences (we’ll have our fourth US conference this year) provide an amazing opportunity to interact with customers and hear firsthand what does work and what doesn’t. Tableau recognizes the value of these interactions and places an emphasis on putting developers in front of customers at the conferences.

I’ve enjoyed working at Tableau for many reasons. The visionary product that is loved by customers, the great leadership and the teamwork across all business functions are all key elements. But at the end of the day, it is a great place to practice the craft of software engineering. Working with talented colleagues is not new for me, but I feel that I have learned more here than anywhere else. Tableau’s engineering team cares not only about what we produce, but how we produce it. We spend time reading about the craft of software engineering, keeping up with academic research and learning from each other. When an area of the code becomes unstable due to age or changing requirements, our management team is willing to invest a significant part of the next product cycle rewriting and refactoring the outdated code. This requires a long view of the product cycle and the maturity to recognize what this enables in the future. Once or twice a year developers get to participate in “hack-a-thon”. During “hack-a-thon” you get to take a few days to drop everything else and pour your efforts into any prototype, hack, feature, tool or whatever that you’ve been dreaming of implementing. Then everyone gets to present it. Many of our customer’s favorite features have started as “hack-a-thon” projects. It’s a lot of fun to work on a software product that you can use and be invested in. All this while producing two high quality releases a year. And quality is something we value. Tableau has an outstanding QA team that is critical to product quality, but the software engineers here know that quality starts with them. A feature isn’t complete until you’ve written the unit tests for it.

Tableau is company that knows where its value comes from: Employees. Even as a startup, we were mature and conservative (i.e. no $1 million super bowl ad with a cute ‘+’ sign sock puppet), but mature doesn’t mean stodgy. The company was built by being smart and efficient, not by being tight-fisted and insensitive. Despite our small size, compensation and benefits are very competitive. The kitchen is well stocked with treats (as well as things your Mom would strongly prefer you eat). We have monthly birthday celebrations, wear Hawaiian shirts on Fridays, go curling and have plenty of parties throughout the year. The emphasis is on working smarter rather than longer: family and friends are why we work, not the other way around. Tableau is all about happy, energized employees executing at the highest level and delivering a highly usable, high quality, useful product to our customers. Wanna join us?

Who is Tableau?
• One of the fastest growing companies in the world
• A pioneering company with two amazing Puget Sound locations in Kirkland and Fremont
• A company with fantastic career opportunities

Come to learn about our company, our technology and our hiring plans. We’ll be waiting for you.

Don’t miss this opportunity to get up close and personal with the people of Tableau Software!

When: Tuesday, June 14th
Time: 5:00 – 8:00 PM
Schedule: Doors open at 5:00. Presentation by Christian Chabot, CEO at 6:00

Food and beverages will be served.
Register online: http://www.rsvpbook.com/event.php?498569

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