Generation Data: Q&A with Matt Atherton from Alaska Airlines

Note: This is the first installment in our back-to-school series.

It’s essential for the next generation of workers and business leaders to see and understand data. Tableau’s Academic Program is here to empower students with the valuable skills to help them achieve their data-driven learnings. Our Generation Data blog series highlights interviews with students and recent graduates who use Tableau.

Kicking off the first Generation Data interview, we sat down with Matt Atherton from Northeastern University to discuss how he learned Tableau without ever taking a formal class and how Tableau helped him land a role at Alaska Airlines.

How did you first learn about Tableau?

I was studying finance and accounting at Northeastern University, but Tableau was not part of the curriculum. There was a job posting from accounting professor Bill Goldman, outlining a role for students to help him create resources for the HUB of Analytics Education. He needed a couple of students to work during the summer on what came to be a Sales Profitability case for his classes. The role entailed learning Tableau.

I watched video tutorials on, which was free through my university. It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning because I was essentially helping build curriculum for the case study Goldman’s students would be learning in his next semester class.

Can you share with us your “ah-ha” moment with Tableau? This can be a time you really understood what Tableau could do for you.

Tableau was exactly what I didn’t know I needed! My first internship was data analytics-based at the TJX Companies. My job was to combine a lot of different data sources into one. Honestly, it was really hard. My ah-ha moment with Tableau was a few years later, once I started to learn Tableau. I realized how much time I could have saved if I knew the tool earlier in my career.

How did Tableau help you land an internship or job?

Tableau helped give me an edge in the application process. I had to learn Tableau quickly for my work with Professor Goldman. During my interview, I explained how I used, trial and error, and the Tableau community to learn the tool fast.

How do you use Tableau now at Alaska Airlines?

I’m currently working as a Financial Planning Analyst at Alaska Airlines headquarters. My team and I interpret data presented in Tableau every day. I frequently use Tableau for easy data manipulation and pulling data from various data sources. Even though I’m technically in a finance role, data analytics is still part of my job description. It’s a tool that saves me and my team a lot of time.

What advice do you have for future students interested in learning Tableau?

The tool is fun! Start with tutorial videos—first the Getting Started video on Tableau’s website then on When you’re watching these, think about how to visualize your own data. From there, start using data you’re interested in. Look at community forum pages to find answers to the specific questions you have.

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Photo credit: Flickr user airbus777