In a world of data-driven business, learning Tableau could give you a leg up on getting jobs and advancing your career. Whether in marketing, operations, strategic planning, product development, HR or other aspects of business, data helps companies make smarter decisions.
(Courtesy of Tableau)
Pulling insights from data and presenting them in ways people understand can be a challenge. Tableau gives you the power to do both with an integrated platform that has been used for nearly 20 years. Use this guide to find resources and gain skills to begin using Tableau.
Tableau is a visual data analytics system based on research done at Stanford University.
The software allows people to explore data and make better decisions based on what they can see. It’s fast, easy for beginners to learn and offers greater power for more experienced users.
The main reason to use Tableau is it provides a range of options for analyzing and presenting data.
For a beginner, starting with Tableau is easy. A drag-and-drop interface allows you to immediately turn data into visualizations.
“As a beginner, in about 10 minutes you can figure out how to make the three most effective chart types: bar charts, line graphs and scatter plots,” says Ryan Sleeper, founder of the data analytics consulting firm Playfair Data and author of three books on learning and using Tableau.
The initial ease of use can make it hard to believe how much power Tableau offers. While it doesn’t require coding, a rich programming language supports advanced applications. For example, users can “even invent new charts, more than any other tool I’ve come across,” Sleeper says.
Tableau is compatible with many popular data sources, including Excel and Google Sheets; multiple databases; business software; and common statistical languages. Tableau also works with programming languages like R, Python and Matlab.
That means Tableau can work in typical corporate computing environments, making the package more appealing to companies.
Another reason for Tableau’s popularity is that Salesforce, a cloud-based customer relationship management company, bought the business in 2019. The acquisition gave even more exposure to the visual analytics tool, which had already attracted attention and users. Today, there are about 750,000 registered users of Tableau Public, its free version.
Tableau’s combination of power, compatibility and visibility can open up job opportunities for those well-versed in the tool. Positions that may use Tableau include data analysts and business intelligence specialists. Some jobs might include the software’s name in their title, like Tableau administrator, designer or developer.
A comparison of Tableau pros and cons sums up why learning the software might make sense.
- Compared with Excel, Tableau has a greater ability to apply visualizations.
- Unlike Python, Tableau allows you to start with point-and-click capabilities to quickly get your footing and then add programming when it suits you.
- A robust user community offers opportunities to expand your Tableau knowledge and get help when necessary.
- Some versions of Tableau are more expensive than Excel or Python.
- Getting beyond the Tableau basics takes work. “To get to the point where you not only know all the features of the tool but you’re an analyst, you’re fast and have design skills to make things pop off the page, that takes a lot of thinking and refinement,” says Ryan Nokes, CEO of consulting and training firm Data Crunch.
Tableau offers a number of versions at different prices.
- Tableau Desktop: This is the most basic Tableau tool for creating analytic content like visualizations and data dashboards. A 14-day trial gives you a chance to get your feet wet before paying.
- Tableau Public: This is a free version of Tableau Desktop that lets beginners learn the software. The only hitch is that you save data in a cloud, and all of it is public. It’s great for learning, but you don’t want to use it on company information, as Sleeper and Nokes both point out. You’ll also need to find data to work with, though that can be anything from sports statistics to information about a community project.
- Tableau Prep: This set of tools helps connect to data and prepare it for analysis. Typically, it’s licensed with Tableau Desktop.
Tableau also has several hosting and distribution options. Weigh these choices if you’re in an IT department or want to help your company expand its use of Tableau.
- Tableau Online: Cloud hosting by Tableau reduces set-up time and hardware and maintenance costs. With this version, a company buys, licenses and makes Tableau available over an Internet connection.
- Tableau Server: This version lets a company host Tableau to provide data analytics capabilities to any number of employees.
- Tableau Mobile: The Tableau app allows a company to provide employees with access to data analytics and dashboards through Tableau Online or Tableau Server.
License bundles for individuals cost $70 a month. The price for teams depends on the number of members and how each is using the software.
There are many resources for learning Tableau, including free videos and online tutorials. As you explore ways to begin Tableau or sharpen your skills, here are some tools to consider.
- Tableau Software: The company has free videos that can help build your skills. “I started with the free training videos on the site,” says Chris Grant, data strategy and analytics supervisor at advertising agency Dixon Schwabl. “They get you a really solid foundation.”
- Edureka Tableau training: From directions on how to do specific tasks to a six-hour full training course, Edureka offers training materials through its YouTube channel.
- Simplilearn Tableau Training for Beginners: If you want a step-by-step approach, Simplilearn video tutorials cover why visualization tools are used, how to install Tableau and how to create popular charts. Parts 1 and 2 of this video are highly recommended by viewers.
Online Tableau Courses
- Tableau Software: The company offers online courses on Tableau Desktop and Tableau Prep for $10 per month. Tableau Online or Tableau Server online classes cost $5 per month. A six-week Tableau certification training costs $800. Additionally, the on-demand webinars are free with registration.
- DevelopIntelligence: This training firm has a series of customized Tableau courses, including boot camps for novices, programs for new employees and training for experienced developers. Inquire for pricing.
Best Tableau Books
- “Practical Tableau: 100 Tips, Tutorials, and Strategies from a Tableau Zen Master” and “Innovative Tableau: 100 More Tips, Tutorials, and Strategies,” both by Ryan Sleeper, focus on how to build visualization applications, no matter your experience. $44.99 and $69.99.
- “Learning Tableau 2020” by Joshua N. Milligan is in its fourth edition. Depending on the version of Tableau you’re using, you may need one of the earlier editions. $39.99.
- “Tableau Your Data!: Fast and Easy Visual Analysis with Tableau Software” by Daniel G. Murray, published in 2016, covers core features with step-by-step instructions. $60.
Tableau Websites and Forums
- In addition to offering the software for free, Tableau Public provides ways to learn, with featured visualizations that show uses of the tool. The company also has a blog with visualization and analysis examples.
- AppsforTableau, which makes Tableau extensions, regularly blogs about tips and tricks.
- Developer Rajeev Pandey shares tips and information on his blog.
- Another developer, Klaus Schulte, features Tableau examples on his blog and includes information about how to get the same results.
Getting started with Tableau is quick and relatively easy, given the different versions available, its user-friendly tools and the range of learning resources. Nokes says that in “minutes to hours,” you can be building basic charts. Grant says within the two-week trial period, he became as proficient as he needed to be, at least at the start.
A key advantage of Tableau is its drag-and-drop interface. But mastering all the ins and outs can take much longer. Keep in mind: You’re only as good as your ability to create a story that explains what collections of data mean.
If you commit to learning and improving your Tableau analytics and design skills, and tap into the program’s rich capabilities, you’ll take your abilities in Tableau to new levels.