So you've taken Desktop Qualified Associate, now onto Professional!
Earlier this year, during TC Europe 18, I sat my Tableau Desktop Certified Professional exam and it was a personal highlight of 2018 when I found out that I passed the exam and no, not just because it meant a funky blue t-shirt!
Since I sat the Certified Professional exam I have seen numerous fantastic blog posts shared by the Tableau community, helping people to prepare for becoming a Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate. It wasn’t until this week, when Rodrigo Calloni, aka Rodders, reached out to me and asked for advice relating to the Certified Professional exam that I realised I really should share my experience of becoming Certified Professional. So here goes….
Certified is different, but not necessarily harder
I see lots of people take their DQA exam but a lot fewer people go on to take their Certified Professional exam. I know there are likely to be many reasons for this, Certified is nearly 3 times the price, it is a bigger time commitment, but the more I speak to people about certification, the more I realise, many people simply think Professional is a lot more difficult.
I can honestly say it is not more difficult, it is just different. What do I mean by this? When you take your DQA exam you are given a set of multiple choice questions and you use Tableau to explore data sets to identify the correct answer for each question, for example which country in 2016 had the largest increase in sales? This tests your ability to interrogate data and utilise calculations.
Professional is more about guided analytics, storytelling, data exploration and visual best practice. Instead of multiple choice questions you are given charts to makeover, demonstrating your knowledge of visual analytics, and scenarios to explore through the creation of dashboards and storyboards.
Tip 1: Think insights and user experience, not flashy
You only have 3 hours to take the Professional exam and the chances are you will need the majority of the time. Be realistic, you do not have time to create a complex chart type. With that in mind, when designing your dashboard or storyboard always think and prioritise insight and ease of use above visual creativity.
Tableau want you to demonstrate an understanding of why, rather than how. Utilise filter actions to avoid the need for an overwhelming number of filters, think how highlighting can be used to allow a user to explore the data. Resist the urge to show off; this is not your Tableau Public profile. If you cannot create your chart in 5 to 10 minutes then you are probably over complicating it!
Tip 2: Know your viz standards
Understanding viz standards and use of visualisation techniques such as colour, font, and chart types are a big part of the Professional exam. Tableau really do want you to do more than just demonstrate an understanding of how to build a chart. My experience of the exam is you could, technically, answer a question correctly but that will not always get you maximum marks. For example, you may choose the correct chart type but did you give consideration to how to colour a dimension, basics such as labelling, legends, axis and number formatting or concepts such as discrete versus continuous?
Thankfully there are lots of resources available to help you check your visualisation knowledge:
Plus, let us not forget the obvious! If you are a member of the Tableau Community and thinking of taking your Professional exam you will no doubt be aware of Makeover Monday, Storytelling With Data and the Big Book of Dashboards. All three are about gaining maximum insight from data and helping to tell a succinct and effective story, the very same thing the exam is testing you on.
My advice would be to read a handful of MakeoverMonday summaries by Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray, a Storytelling With Data Challenge blog post by Cole Knaflic or an online article from the Big Book of Dashboards website by Andy Cotgreave, Steve Wexler and Jeffrey Shaffer:
Tip 3: Brush up on storyboards
For my exam questions, a large proportion of the scoring was associated with stories and using the Tableau storyboard functionality. In my working and personal use of Tableau, storyboards is something I very rarely use, my Tableau Public profile has only 1 example on it and I can count on one hand the number of times I have used it at work. If this rings true with you then it is time to brush up on your storyboard skills. Thankfully there are a couple of great resources online that you can use to help strengthen your knowledge of storyboards:
Start with the Tableau Desktop Help Guide to help you understand the principles of stories and what is possible when using them. This will give you a good grounding and will help increase your confidence, let’s be honest storyboards are not difficult in Tableau, it is just most of us do not use them very often.
Having understood the how, it is then time to be inspired by the wow. Check out the Makeover Monday viz by Matt Francis for one of the best examples of storytelling I have ever had the joy to read. Matt breaks down the data into chunks, setting the scene, exploring the data and then ending with a conclusion. It is obvious when you think about it, a good story has a start, a middle and an end, so the same should be present in a good analytical storyboard. In particular I really like Matt’s use of annotation to explain his story, he doesn’t use lots of words, he just makes sure the ones he does use are there for a reason and add value to the story.
Tip 4: You will need to know Table Calculations
Hang on, I hear you say! I thought you said Professional was about visual analytics and storytelling? ell yes it is but at the same time this is Tableau’s highest level of qualification so you will face a couple of questions that require the use of Table Calculations, just don’t let this scare you. The questions I faced about Table Calculations only equated to a very small proportion of the overall score and were very reflective of the examples given in the Professional exam sample questions.
If you take the time, ahead of the exam, to remind yourself about Table Calculations you will be fine, the exam isn’t trying to get you to complete a Workout Wednesday in 20 minutes!
There are lots of fantastic blog posts in the Community that explore Table Calculations but for the purposes of preparing for your Professional exam I would suggest sticking to the Tableau Whitepaper and example use cases. These focus on the core functionality of Table Calculations as opposed to any use for advanced visual techniques in Tableau:
Tip 5: Know your scoring
My last tip could be applied to any exam, however it is especially relevant to my experience of the Professional exam process. The sample questions downloadable from the Tableau website and your actual question paper on the day will inform you how many points are allocated to each question. Read this and use it to plan your time. The storyboard and dashboard elements of the exam were worth a lot more points than the chart makeovers which used the Table Calculations. It is for this reason I actually did my exam backwards, although I will admit that was a personal preference. I enjoy making dashboards and telling stories so by playing to my strengths I gained confidence at the start of the exam and also ensured I focused on the most important questions first.
Hopefully these tips will help you succeed and if you do succeed be proud of your achievement. It is great recognition for not only your Tableau skills and expertise but also that of data visualisation and design.
Good luck and enjoy the Certified Professional ride!