A data science career change with the help of the Tableau Community

Learn how the Tableau Community helped Tableau Social Ambassador Alice McKnight transform her career path into data science.

To celebrate our Tableau Community in advance of Tableau Conference, we’re highlighting a few Community members who have re-engineered their career and life paths with Tableau. Alice McKnight started using Tableau in 2020 and it transformed her career journey into one that now focuses on data visualization and using Tableau every day as a senior consultant at phData. She is attending her first in-person TC this year and will be a panelist for the virtual session: Ready. Set. Go! Jumpstart Your Data Career. 

When did you first become aware of Tableau?

Alice: I first saw Tableau at a presentation at work [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and I wondered how they made the charts because I'd been building everything in Excel. These charts looked nicer and more engaging. Following the presentation, I decided to read up more about Tableau. 

When I went to TC, I was blown away by what people were doing and how they were using Tableau. That's when I got, you know, the fire—let me learn more about this and build what these people are building.

This was right around when COVID-19 began in 2020. Tableau Conference was also held virtually that year, which was very beneficial because I had just convinced my branch chief to give me a Creator license. I had been playing around with it and building simple charts, but when I went to TC, I was blown away by what people were doing and how they were using Tableau. That's when I got, you know, the fire—let me learn more about this and build what these people are building. 

Alice’s first attempt at creating a business dashboard. She says that “creating something like this was the reason I joined the Community.”

How did you find out about the Tableau Community?

Alice: When I got the license, I would try to build things, and I would Google X, Y and Z. I started watching these tutorial videos and learned about Makeover Monday. Then I went to TC and there were sessions about the Tableau Community. Then there was the Fringe Fest and I attended some of those sessions. I was so impressed by the Community members who took the time to make these presentations and provide resources. There was a lot that I wanted to learn so I officially joined by participating in Makeover Monday. 

I also reconnected with someone I knew years ago, Candra McCrae and asked her to review my work. She works at Tableau now. She told me to post my work on Twitter, so I started posting and following other Makeover Monday participants. I did this in my free time at home. I had a little toddler and when he would go to sleep, I’d spend a couple hours doing Tableau.

You have switched jobs since then, yes? How has Tableau been instrumental in your career path?

Alice: Yes, I joined Tessellation in May which has now merged with phData. I learned about Tessellation through Twitter because several employees were active in the Community, creating resources, and leading Community initiatives.
This led me to take their self-paced Tableau training. As part of the course you are required to complete a capstone project incorporating what you learned in the course. Once you complete the capstone, you schedule time with a coach who provides feedback and scores your work. When I met with one of the coaches, she asked me if I worked in data analytics, and I said no. She said, “I think you really have potential if you're interested. Let's keep the lines of communication open.” 

Through her I talked with several people at the company, and was extended an opportunity to join the company as a consultant. I had to do a lot of thinking because I had been at the CDC for almost 20 years. I love public health work, I love what I did, but I was also really, really into Tableau, and even when I was doing some of that at work, it wasn't the majority of my job, but it had become the part of the job I was most excited about. 

I remember asking my husband, “Should I do this?” And he said, “You have to. You really like this because you stay up at night watching videos and building things outside of work. If you don't like it, you can always go back.” 

I'm not a risk-taker by nature, but I decided to do it. It was a great decision. One that I am happy to have made.

Can you share a few of your proudest moments using Tableau or favorite vizzes?

Alice: One I'm particularly proud of I can't show because it was CDC-based data, but I won an agency award for those initial dashboards I created during the COVID response. That work also brought some highlights to my particular team's work that we hadn't gotten before, and I got a lot of recognition for that. That dashboard was also used by my team's leadership—they discussed it, and it helped make decisions, so it did the job that I intended it to do. 

Some of my first work was a mess. By the time I started Makeover Monday, I remember making my very first viz,  it took me a week or so, and I was super proud of it, but I was scared to post it to Twitter. Putting yourself up for critique and for people to give you feedback, if you’re not used to that, it can be difficult. But that first one I’m very proud of. It was also the first time I was brave enough to post to Tableau Public and tweet.

Alice’s first viz, “The Gift of a Full Life"" on Tableau Public.

Then there’s my first Viz of the Day about Black representation in Congress, where I got a lot of positive feedback. It was the first time where I sourced the data, prepped it, and created a viz. It was something personal for me that I just wanted to do, and people liked it and engaged with it. 

Alice’s first Viz of the Day, “Black American Representation in Congress.”

Can you tell us how you joined the Community career panel for this year’s TC? 

Alice: Around 2021, I wrote a thank you note to the Community, because I never would have made the leap without them. Shortly after that thread, I just kept creating and posting a part of the Community. I was nominated to be a Social Ambassador last September [2021]. 

The Community team at Tableau reached out to me and thought I’d be a good person to be on the panel because I recently transitioned into this new career path primarily through 
the Community, so I have a lot of experience in making this a career. I didn't go to school for this, and making that change about halfway through a career, it’s different than entering straight from college.

If you had anybody who was thinking about getting into data visualization or the Community, what words of encouragement would you give them?

Alice: I always tell people to make a Tableau Public profile. Make things, you don't have to Tweet it, but you can publish it to Tableau Public and you can hide it. You want to get practice, you want to build. Join Twitter and follow people until you feel comfortable displaying your work. You can do everything in the background until you build yourself up to a place where you can make that first public post. 

Tableau started me on this learning trajectory where I realized you are never done learning, there's always more things to do. This has definitely opened all kinds of doors for me.

Now that you have this amazing new career path, are there any other goals you’d like to achieve?

Alice: I always want to get better with Tableau. I still have a lot to learn. I definitely want to pair my data visualization skills with data preparation skills by skilling up in Tableau Prep and Alteryx. Tableau started me on this learning trajectory where I realized you are never done learning, there's always more things to do. This has definitely opened all kinds of doors for me.