Introducing Josh Hughes and his story
For those of you who don't know, before I joined JLL, my previous career was dedicated to analytics in the United Kingdom's National Health Service. By day I would live and breathe patient data, trying to make a difference to patient's lives and the care they receive, by night I would dive into Tableau and explore sports data and many of the community initiatives we all know and love.
Why am I sharing this you may ask? Well it was July of last year when I first spotted a new Tableau Public author, Josh Hughes, and thought "wow, his design and storytelling skills are exceptional". His first few #MakeoverMonday visualisations really caught my eye. This resulted in me choosing Josh as my #TableauFF (a weekly, Friday themed initiative to encourage the following of up and coming Tableau Public authors) in August.
I noticed he lived nearby so I decided to reach out to say hello. I quickly discovered Josh was a Southampton fan (bad, definitely bad!), but also that he worked in the NHS (cool!), just as I used to do, but during the day Josh actually works with Power BI, only using Tableau in his own time.
Since those early days, last summer, Josh has continued to wow us all with his clean, innovative designs. He has been honoured with two Tableau Public Viz of the Days (no doubt with many more to come) and has also been named a Tableau Public Featured Author.
And now I am honoured to be able to give Josh a platform to share his inspiring story, so without further ado, over to Josh to tell it in his own words....
Hello! I’m Josh - a Power BI user by day and a Tableau enthusiast by night!
As a relative newcomer to the community, I was very surprised (and of course very flattered) when Simon reached out to me to discuss what it’s like working with two BI tools, and what it is that keeps me coming back to Tableau when I don’t actually use it for work.
Well, let’s start with a quick bit about me. I work for the NHS as BI developer, where we use Power BI to build dashboards that enable better decision making and improve patient care.
I’m still relatively new to my role as a BI developer having moved into the position earlier in the year, so am still looking to learn and improve as much as possible. Previous to that I was a data analyst and team leader (still within the NHS), and basically spent all my time building reports in Excel. So I still very much think of myself as an Excel person who’s trying to get good at using BI tools.
After initially getting acquainted with Power BI, I wanted to invest more time in some additional skills to complement just a technical understanding of the tool. I needed to get better at finding the story behind a dataset, work out the best way to visualise the data, and improve my design skills so I could build things that looked professional.
Enter the #datafam.
I discovered the Tableau community on Twitter completely by chance and immediately started browsing through all of the incredible work being posted under the various #datafam initiatives.
The quality of work being produced, the feedback being given to everyone (especially newcomers), and the positivity of the whole community was exactly the environment I was looking for to further my skills as a BI developer.
Sure, everything is very Tableau-oriented, and I ideally wanted to focus my time on continuing to build up my Power BI knowledge. But the other areas I wanted to work on - storytelling, choosing the right viz, design skills - they’re all very much tool-agnostic issues, and could absolutely be improved by getting involved in the community initiatives.
So I put aside my reservations about picking up another new BI tool, set up a Tableau public account, and jumped right in.
Fortunately, Tableau felt pretty intuitive after using Power BI and (with some assistance from online tutorials and blog posts) I was able to start building decent vizzes and dashboards more or less from the get-go, and started submitting my work to the #MakeoverMonday initiative on a weekly basis.
And I’m so glad I did! The guidance, feedback and direction I’ve received for each submission from the community on Twitter has been absolutely invaluable to my growth and progression as a BI developer this year.
My ability to tell a story with data and my design skills have particularly improved, and while I’m not able to produce some of the more technically complex visualisations, I do feel like I’ve been able to design and create some very effective vizzes.
I feel like I’ve really found a home in #MakeoverMonday as a place to continue developing and improving. It’s a really simple idea: once a week we’ll give you some data and an example viz, come up with a better way to do it. It’s such a great way to keep you engaged with Tableau and keep you coming back regularly to continue learning.
If you’re in two minds about getting involved with the Tableau community because you’re a ‘Power BI person’, as I was at first, my advice would be to just give it a go regardless. A lot of the skills and experience I’ve built up this year are transferable between tools and it’s already having a positive impact on the value I’m able to create with Power BI at work.
And the difference between the Tableau and Power BI communities just seems to be so night and day. The initiatives, the availability of feedback from experts, and the ability to share your work publicly is such an overwhelming advantage that Tableau has. It would be a shame to miss out on that just because you don’t use that tool for work.
It does beg the questions though, why don’t these sort of initiatives seem to exist in the world of Power BI? In fact, why does there not seem to be much of a Power BI community at all in comparison to Tableau? Hopefully this will improve in the future.
In terms of actually using the tools themselves, I'm still not decided on which I think is best, or even which I prefer using. You can produce great looking work with both, and both are relatively easy to just pick up and play with - but perhaps my preference will become clearer in time.
The biggest difference I’ve encountered so far is flexibility. Power BI’s great if what you’re trying to build is in their library of visualisations, but it seems very difficult and rigid if not.
For example, recently I was trying to build a bar chart with specific target lines for each bar. As this isn’t a part of the core functionality of the pre-built bar chart in Power BI, I ended up having to hack together an alternative using a third-party bullet chart.
This would have been a walk in the park in Tableau, which offers far more options in terms of customisation. That’s not saying Tableau is better necessarily - just more flexible, which is great when you want to be creative and produce a visualisation that’s a bit more complex than your standard bar or line chart.
Power BI caters more towards rapid-development, drag-and-drop, business dashboards, and to be fair, in most cases the pre-built selections of vizzes are sufficient to get the job done. It’s just when you want to customise something slightly or add an extra level of complexity that it becomes prohibitive.
And I think that’s what it is that keeps me coming back to Tableau: the freedom to build anything, the freedom to create something that doesn’t feel like drag-and-drop, ready-made visualisations.
I’ve found myself being way more creative with my designs than ever before whilst using Tableau. In fact, one of my most popular vizzes (Nintendo Switch sales) is a million miles away from anything I've attempted to make before in Power BI or Excel at work, and really pushed me out of my comfort zone of 'business-y' dashboards.
I’ve convinced myself that learning both tools is going to be a positive thing in the long-run, after initially being concerned about becoming a “Jack of all trades, master of none”.
I’m hoping it will help to keep my options open in terms of future opportunities, and that it will prevent me from becoming just a one-trick pony like I previously was with Excel.
I quite like the fact that I’ve got Power BI to focus on getting better at making professional, business dashboards, and Tableau there as a more creative and experimental outlet. It keeps things fresh, and brings a bit of balance to my journey in BI.
My intention heading into the new year is to continue getting more involved in the Tableau community by participating in more initiatives, starting to give feedback to others (although this still feels very awkward - who am I to judge other people’s work, I’m still new to this myself!), and creating a blog/portfolio site to hopefully give something back to everyone who's offered me so much advice and support.
And of course, I’ll be continuing to learn and improve with both Power BI and with Tableau.
I’m a better BI developer than I was 6 months ago, but also know there’s so much further to go. I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched IronViz this year, or looked at the circular sankey work that CJ Mayes is doing, or seen THAT Viz For Social Good entry by Sam Parsons, and just thinks “that’s the level I want to get to, best keep at it!”.