Data + Women: 3 lessons from a Tableau Visionary

Here are three lessons I’ve learned through my own journey and through conversation with other women in tech.

Note: The following is a guest post by Tableau Zen Master Brit Cava.

Growing up, I never dreamt I would have a career in data analytics. I studied political science, thinking I’d go to work for NGOs.

After college, I worked for non-profits, helping students gain work experience through service learning. I then moved onto Human Resources as a recruiter for a tech company. I worked with data at each job, but it was never the focus of my work.

Then I came across the job description for an analyst role on a newly-formed BI team at Cigna. The requirements may as well have been in another language. I had no idea what Tableau, Hadoop, or Teradata meant.

When I started googling these terms, I was overcome with excitement over what I found! I was so impressed with Tableau. As a creative individual, I was thrilled at the prospect of combining my interest in data with art.

I researched these tools as much as possible. Then in my interviews, I conveyed my desire to learn. I felt fortunate that the hiring manager, a woman whom I still look up to, saw something in me and gave me the opportunity to learn more about business intelligence and Tableau.

Since then, I’ve realized that these moments aren’t strokes of luck; they’re direct consequences of our own actions. I’d gained experience as a data analyst before I even knew what that was in so many words. I’d also worked hard to find a career path.

This and other lessons I’ve learned along the way inspired me to start the Women in Data - SF community with Chloe Tseng. We’re building an incredible community of women who are engaging in an authentic way, learning from one another, and striving to be our best selves.

Here are three lessons I’ve learned through my own journey and through conversation with other women in tech.

1. Yes, mentors are nice, but what you need is a champion

While it is so valuable to have a mentor, it’s even more beneficial to have a champion. What’s the difference between a mentor and a champion? A champion is someone who can vouch for your accomplishments and act as your advocate.

When I first started out in this industry, my manager was a senior director. She became my champion. She always challenged me and gave me stretch assignments. She put me on the radar of higher-up leaders, clearing the path for me to succeed.

My champion happened to be a woman, but that’s not a requirement; men can make great champions, too. Connect with the person who will be more than just a trusted advisor. Build a relationship with someone you want in your corner, looking out for your interests.

2. You don’t have to be an expert in everything

There is an overwhelming number of analytics platforms, visualization tools, database technologies, open-source tools, programming languages, and frameworks in our industry.

I’ve always felt pressured by what I see others doing to learn everything I possibly can. Living in the Bay Area, I’ve had many opportunities to speak candidly with a variety of highly-accomplished individuals in tech, many of them women, who present at our Women in Data meetup.

What I’ve learned is that these people are not experts in everything, they didn’t get to the top by themselves, and it took time to get there. Before I realized this, I held them on unrealistic pedestals and, as a result, underestimated the value of my own skills.

So just remember, it’s great to be driven and motivated to reach your goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Realize that those people you look up to went through similar challenges and frustrations, too. Just because your path isn’t the same doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish similar things. Through connecting with other women in the data industry, I‘ve grown an even larger support network of people who remind me to value my accomplishments!

3. Self-promotion doesn’t have to equal bragging

At a recent Women in Data - SF meetup, for the first time ever, I introduced myself as a Tableau expert. This week (almost a month post-fact), I updated my Twitter bio to include “Zen Master,” and I have yet to update my LinkedIn account. So, needless to say, this is something I still struggle with. But I’m growing more comfortable with it each day.

I am learning that it’s not arrogant to be proud of your accomplishments. You invested so much time and energy to get to where you are today, and you need to give yourself proper credit. I used to be so future-oriented that I couldn’t even appreciate my accomplishments along the way. I only kept thinking that I could—and would—do better one day. That kind of thinking can trap you in an unhealthy cycle of never feeling good enough.

When you’re actually competent, your confidence won’t turn people away. Instead, you’ll find that you have a lot of folks who are excited for you, too. The Tableau community is especially supportive, so if you’re not ready to practice this at work, practice self-promotion in the Tableau community.

Let’s continue the conversation

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned on my journey. Now I’d like to hear yours. I’d love to see more women talking each other, asking these questions, and supporting one another.

Getting involved in the Women in Data community has really helped me grow as a person and a professional. And I’d like to invite you to join the conversation. Leave a comment below, or chime in on our Data + Women Community Forum. And if you’re headed to TC16 in Austin, join us for an in-person meetup on Monday.

For more tips, tricks, and ideas by Brit, check out her Tableau Public profile page and her blog. You can also connect with her on Twitter @databrit.