A 16yr Old Wants a Career in Data Visualization. What Advice Do You Give Him?

By Andy Cotgreave 15 Out, 2014
We received an email last week from Louis Booth. He’s sixteen and wants to pursue a career in data visualisation. We are always happy to receive this kind of email and it’s great to see that data visualization is increasingly seen as a valid career path. We gave him some advice but we also seek your advice. What should students thinking about life after school do to get a great job in this area? We turned to social media as well as collecting some of our own ideas. The response on social media was great. You can see the responses yourself on Twitter and Facebook.

Our advice was this:
  • Get active on social media: follow the data visualization thoughts leaders and contribute to the debate. We recommend 2 lists: thought leaders in data visualisation and people who tweet about Tableau.
  • Get your hands dirty with data! Find some great data related projects to try. Download a copy of Tableau Public so you can experiment and share your work. You could set up a free blog in minutes (here’s instructions) and post your work: then ask for criticism. The community online is very helpful and passionate about helping people out. As a student, you can even request a full, free copy of Tableau via our Academic Program. You could take this further and create a "Data Club" at school.
  • As for skills, a great data analyst needs many diverse skills. Andy Kirk covers this in his "8 hats of data visualization" articles.
  • Do a degree or course on data visualization or related field. There are many university programs, or you could enroll on a MOOC. For example here is a list of stats-related courses available on Coursera.
  • Read some books. Here are the ones I recommended a year back. Andy Kirk also has some recommendations.

Below is a picture of Louis and some of the work he's been doing in Excel. Do you have advice for him and others like him? Let us know in the comments below. We would like to thank Louis for his question and wish him the best of luck for the future.

Finally – if you feel like you’ve got the skills, and want to work for Tableau, please check out our careers page.


Submitted by Cindy King (não verificado) on

Thank you for asking the question, that is what I wan't to do when I grow up! Take some database design and SQL classes, along with the math if you get the chance. You don't have to be a database administrator but it helps to understand where the data is coming from and how it is formatted. Intro to programming to learn the logic behind calculated fields.

Mostly be bold and make tons of mistakes and ask tons of questions!! Practice, practice, practice!!!!

Submitted by Gonzalo (não verificado) on

Depends on how far you want to reach. You will find a lot of tools. Tableau is well designed tool for Data Visualization with many features to improve, but the potential to be the best. Firstly, be focus in the back-end tier, or database management (Administration, design and data analysis), and the point to where you want to reach will come by itself. It is not a matter of good luck, but a good starting.

Submitted by Jeff James (não verificado) on

Find a real reason to analyze the data. Nothing for its own sake.

Submitted by Janett (não verificado) on

My first advice would be: learn that not everything needs to be a chart...also...please no more pie charts! I would highly suggest he study and learn the moves of people like Stephen Few and Edward Tufte - and take whatever classes he can - to learn the *beauty* of data visualization. A study in "what people actually see" vs. "what I want them to see" - would be a good idea...psychology, sociology...because no matter how you think data is best presented, there will be someone who won't understand where you're coming from.

....but mostly....pie charts should be reserved only for showing how much actual pie is left :)

Submitted by Paul Byrne (não verificado) on

1. get some data to work with - preferably fairly large volumes. http://www.quora.com/Where-can-I-find-large-datasets-open-to-the-public

2. become familiar with databases and SQL (Postgres for instance is free to download)

3. Work on summarisation and exploring the data to find the best measures and build the best visualisations.

4. Build a portfolio of your analysis to show your achievements and development (Tableau public)

5. get started on Linkedin - show your skill set and ambitions.

Good luck :)

Submitted by Nimbus Kelvin (não verificado) on

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Submitted by Kevin Pemberton (não verificado) on

I fully agree with the posts previous, however one of the most important skills to learn is to ask why? When building visualisations it is far too easy to focus on the data and build vizzes "because you can" and the "data supports it". Don't, always think "Why am I building this? What question does it answer? Who am I designing this for?" Follow this and your vizzes will be useful and appropriate to the audience.

Submitted by Paul Banoub (não verificado) on

Great to see the enthusiasm. I'm jealous of these young guns discovering cool tools like Tableau so early in their careers, but well done to them for sure!

My advice would be to soak up the knowledge of the community like a data sponge. Every time you watch a webinar, go to a talk, read a blog or make a viz you get that little bit better.


Submitted by Tim L. on

Be curious and don't let people dissuade you from your explorations. On occasion, people will claim a correlation here or a causation there with little evidence to support it and may try to convince you that the research has already been done or that your digging isn't necessary. Trust your gut.

Don't be afraid to fail.
Don't be afraid to not end up with an answer.
Don't be afraid to say "I don't know".
Don't be afraid to clarify someone's questions or direction.
All of these should be basic tenets in business, but you'd be surprised how many people are afraid of all four.

You don't have to be the first person to ask the 'why' question, but be the best at answering it.

Consider stretching the scope of your skillset too to go beyond data viz, get knowledgeable about (these are just examples...) Access, SQL, R and maybe even a programming language like Python. This just helps round out what your bring to the table when employers are looking to hire. A data viz expert is a wonderful asset, but a data viz expert who also has the skill to pull and transform their own data, with some skill in automating it all is a godsend in many companies.

Submitted by adrian (não verificado) on

Learn D3!

Submitted by Harvey Summers (não verificado) on

When I was 16 years old, I wanted to work with computers. I read every magazine (Byte, Dr. Dobbs, etc.), took every class, build a computer, wrote Intel and asked for old books (they sent a pallet ful) and read every one. I wrote lots of programs, learned every language (37 of them) and took every job that would teach me something new.

Its been a long 38 years, but its been interesting and paid well. I've been a developer, DBA, QA Manager, Network Admin, Project Manager, Auditor, Security Manager, Risk Manager, Business Owner and more. Today I'm enrolled in a Data Science course at Indiana Univeristy.

I'm overwhelmed at the amount of FREE info, FREE data,FREE Tools and FREE education that you can get. Read and try everything. Learn Python, R and D3js. Get some accounts in the cloud and build yourself a data center/playground. Watch youtube videos and try to build some big data stacks. Then pick some interesting problems to solve.

Get published. Create something that gets a buzz. Do it again. Show that you can communicate well. Get a job.

Test out of college classes (CLEP) and work evevnings. Graduate with no debt by working for someone who pays for your education. Spend a bunch of years becoming expert at lots of different things.

Start answering questions of 16 year ols.

Go here:http://www.datasciencecentral.com/profiles/blogs/data-sources-for-cool-data-science-projects and flowingdata.com and here http://docs.python-guide.org/en/latest/intro/learning/ and http://www.r-bloggers.com/in-depth-introduction-to-machine-learning-in-15-hours-of-expert-videos/ and..have fun.

Submitted by Ajay S. on

I am Ajay working in the Bank in UAE, Before I was a part of software industry but now working in Banking Domain. Hera I have lots of limitation on software. and the worst part we don't have Tableau software in my system. I am very fond of analytics technology and now I am missing all this. Is there any ways I can use some online support to work on tableau software.


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Submitted by Grant Smith (não verificado) on

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