When I started in Tableau's marketing department two months ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. The largest company I'd worked for had fifteen employees and the smallest had one (myself). I loved working in the unpredictable environment of a fledgling company, where something was always on fire and agility was valued over planning. But I began to feel like I was stagnating – I was working hard, but my efforts were unfocused. I felt like I was reinventing the wheel and knew I needed to be someplace where I could learn from people with more experience.
It took me a few tries to find the right position. Less than three years ago, I was still working towards a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley. Leaving the program was one of the hardest decisions I've made. I still remember standing calling my mother from the courtyard outside my office, trying to explain to her why I was walking away from all the time I'd invested.
My final internship had been the turning point. The work was interesting, but it didn't satisfy me. There wasn't anyone in my office that I could look at and think, "That's who I want to be thirty years down the road." As it happened, the people who did make me think that were all entrepreneurs, and so I left my Ph.D. to find a smaller company where I could get a taste of the non-technical world.
I found an early-stage startup delivering workshops on interpersonal communication and signed on as an unpaid intern. With barely ten employees, the company hierarchy was fairly flat, but I was at the absolute bottom, taking out trash and ordering pizza simply for the privilege of getting my foot in the door.
Fast forward eighteen months and I found myself teaching on three different continents and heading the European instructor team. My resulting career in public speaking opened the door to the world of online marketing, which was the perfect way to blend my technical background with my interests in business. Then I found Tableau. The chance to drive a website optimization project on a grand scale while simultaneously playing with gorgeous data visualizations was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
During my interview, I was asked what would be most difficult for me as I transitioned to an office environment. I guessed that it would be dealing with red tape for the first time, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The lack of red tape and the individual empowerment here at Tableau has been breathtaking. From my first day, I've felt fully responsible for prioritizing my time – which means, in short, that I spend every minute of every day working on something that I personally believe is truly important to Tableau's success.
(For those still wondering, it turns out it's waking up on time that's been the biggest challenge. I'm getting better at it, little by little.)
[UPDATE] I recently posted the first visualization I made here at Tableau, an analysis of our keyword strategy for search engine optimization. Check it out!