How I Fell in Love with Tableau with John Demby


This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk with John Demby, Lead Creative Strategist at Tableau. Join us as we talk about how Tableau got its start with Pixar, the amazing things people are doing on Tableau Public, and how to start tinkering with this powerful tool today.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with John Demby.

Producing an impossible report.

John first found out about Tableau while he was working in pre-sales at a Salesforce customer. He wanted to create a report to see where people were spending their time, but was running into problems with one company, in particular, that was in their org seventy different times because of all their different legal entities.

“With the tools I had in Salesforce, I couldn’t produce a report,” John says, which is how he came across Tableau. “Within 15 minutes, I had a dashboard I couldn’t have had before,” he says. He was able to group data, create aliases and hierarchies, all with a simple drag-and-drop interface. When he was looking for a new opportunity and Tableau became a possibility, it was a no-brainer.

Bringing better data visualizations to everyone.

Pat Hanrahan, Tableau’s Chief Scientist, originally started at Pixar developing the RenderMan Interface, which helps translate data into visuals. Behind Tableau is the idea of automatically rendering data using design best practices to create the clearest visual representation possible. “Tableau doesn’t ask you, ahead of time, to pick a chart type,” John says, “based on your actions and what you’re doing and how you interact with the interface, it figures out what the best chart type is for what you’re trying to do.”

As Tableau has grown, the community has played a big role in driving innovation. There’s all sorts of community-driven content, not just for business reporting but visualizations for Game of Thrones or the Marvel Universe. “The community has really helped us take Tableau to the next level,” John says, “they’re the ones who have helped us find all of the uses cases and all of the goodness and the ability to discover data that has transformed Tableau into what it is today.”

How Tableau makes a positive impact.

As an organization, Tableau is really focused on having a positive impact on their community through the Tableau Foundation, working to overcome everything from poverty, inequity, and climate change, to global health issues. “Early on, we realized that getting Tableau in the hands of students and teachers was really critical,” John says, and so they offer free one-year licenses for K-college.

Listen to the full episode for all of the amazing things you can do with Tableau, but the bottom line is that they’re focused on helping you see and understand your data better. “There’s no other way to explore data unless you can see it,” John says, and Tableau helps you dig deeper than you ever thought possible.



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Full Show Transcript

Mike Gerholdt: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast where we talk about product, community, and careers to help you become an awesome admin. I’m Mike Gerholdt.

Gillian Bruce: And I’m Gillian Bruce.

Mike Gerholdt: And joining us today is John [Demby] from Tableau, to talk about all the amazing things that Tableau can do. And I got to tell you, we really geek out in this episode because there’s a lot of fun stuff for admins to learn, and understand, and get into some visualizations. We’ll share those in the show notes. So, with that, let’s get John on the podcast.
So John, welcome to the podcast.

John Demby: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Mike Gerholdt: It was so much fun working with you and the Tableau team for TrailheaDX. I told Gillian, as a follow up we had to get you on the podcast. Had to hear your story about how you got started with Tableau and some of the amazing things that are going on in the Tableau community. And then just us chatting before we even pressed record, I’m like, “There is so many neat things that we have to talk about. This could be a 17 part podcast.” Gillian, this could be an entire season.

John Demby: Yeah, yeah. We just keep bringing John back for more, more fun. Yeah.

Mike Gerholdt: It’s the John Demby Tableau corner.

John Demby: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: I mean, it could be a thing.

Mike Gerholdt: Right, I think it should be. So John, let’s get started. For those who didn’t see you at TrailheaDX virtually, haven’t met you, kind of, where did you get started? How did you get started using Tableau?

John Demby: Yeah, so I’ve been with Tableau for almost four years now. But my journey started back in, it was a Salesforce journey. I was a Salesforce customer working at another software company. I was in presales just like I have been here at Tableau. And I led a team that was a global team, and we logged our time in Salesforce. So just like you’re used to using Sales Cloud. We’d have accounts, we’d have opportunities, I’d have my guys and gals actually log their time against this. And then I’d want to see a report just to see where we were spending our time. Well, the problem was probably like a lot of people encounter, companies have lots of different names, and so sometimes those companies are in your Salesforce or once, twice, in this case there was a company that had three letters that starts with an I that was in our Salesforce work 70 different times because they’re 70 different legal entities.
And I couldn’t, just with the tools I had in Salesforce, produce a report that let me see where we were spending our time. And so, a Google search, and this was seven years ago. I did a Google search, the first thing that came back was Tableau, never heard of it. Downloaded it. Installed it on my computer. Took a export out of Salesforce and opened it up into Tableau. And within 15 minutes, I had a dashboard that I could not have had before. It actually allowed me to group data, create aliases, all this kind of stuff, hierarchies, drag and drop. And then best of all, Tableau’s built with a lot of visual best practices so, it didn’t even ask me what kind of chart or vis it wanted, it just showed it to me. I just clicked on it and it’s like, “Wow, okay, I see a little bar chart, this is where my guys are spending their time.”
So that’s my Tableau story and Salesforce story. And then fast forward, I was looking to do something different and the stars aligned, and then minute Tableau came on my radar I knew that’s where I wanted to go, so.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. I mean I love how you describe what a lot of admins do, right? Is they Google, they try to find solutions, trying to figure out how to make this work. But, the fact that you landed on Tableau and were so quickly able to kind of get what you needed out of it. I mean I can hear the, “Ha, ha. I kind of fell in love with this at first site.” In your story.

John Demby: Oh yeah, and then as we started looking for other things to use it within that particular company, next thing you know our sales ops people are using Tableau. Some of our sales teams are using it to look at different things. I believe we even started doing some forecast reports in Tableau. Again, for the same reasons, because they were able to aggregate and quickly combine data, and different data sources in Tableau in a way that they just hadn’t been able to do before.

Mike Gerholdt: I think, and that to me was the really cool part is, in seeing the visualization, kind of the demo that you did for TrailheaDX. And then talking with you now, a lot of what I would deal with as an admin is, there’s a lot of structured data that we have in Salesforce, and then there’s also, because it’s Tuesday, an executive decides to throw you a curveball of, I need all of this structured data in Salesforce. And then, oh by the way, I have all this other kind of unstructured data that so and so’s been keeping in a spreadsheet and I got to put it all together. And watching you walk through that visualization and combining that data, that to me was just the neatest part. I also thought, in talking things through with you, the one thing that you said Tableau didn’t render for the longest time was a pie chart.

John Demby: Oh yeah, yeah. In fact we reluctantly were drug to that thing.

Mike Gerholdt: Tell me why. Because everything else in the world has a pie chart as the default choice.

John Demby: So, it’s really simple. I mean, if you’re going to compare really in essence, more than two things. So if I’m going to look at something and I’ve got three attributes, or something like that. So maybe I’ve got three regions of a country or something like that. The minute you go to a pie chart, you can’t visually discern the size differences. But if I convert that to bar chart which is a best practice, I can very easily see that one bar is slightly larger than another bar, but on a pie chart I can’t see that, or a donut chart, I’ll throw that in the same category.
And so that was one of the reasons that Tableau, just because it wasn’t a visual best practice, didn’t support pie charts. And so later we did, we have added those and stuff like that. But it’s a visual that you won’t see on a lot of Tableau dashboards just because most of our community realizes that a better visual to compare more than two, or more than three things, or three or more things, would be a tree map even would be better than a pie chart, so.

Gillian Bruce: So you’re saying people should go on a pie chart diet.

John Demby: Yeah, yeah. Actually, that’s the quickest thing you’ll see a lot of people go is like, “Oh no.” A lot of times I’ll see a customer’s dashboard and the first thing I see is 15 pie charts and I’m like, “Okay, let’s step back from the ledge of the pie charts here for just a second.”

Mike Gerholdt: What, are you opening up a bakery over here?

John Demby: Yeah.

Mike Gerholdt: Is this a dashboard or a bakery?

John Demby: Yeah, there you go, so.

Gillian Bruce: So, let’s back up just for a second John. So I know you are clearly a Tableau expert, a leader, can you give kind of a high level overview for admins who maybe have heard Tableau but really have no idea what it is and how it interacts? You talked about how you couldn’t get what you wanted from the native kind of Salesforce reporting tools. Can you kind of give a high level overview for admins about what Tableau is and how it interacts with kind of the core features of Salesforce that admins are used to?

John Demby: Yeah, and I’m going to take a one step back, because there’s something that makes Tableau different than anything else that’s out there. And it’s kind of how Tableau was built on the ground up. So when Tableau first came to market, it really was around 1999, 2000. It was really born out of Stanford. One of the cofounders and creators of Tableau worked for a really small kind of movie company, animation company. You might have heard of it, called Pixar. And he was one of the cofounders of an application called RenderMan. And he is what makes Pixar Pixar. So it’s a whole idea of taking data and rendering it visually.
And so then what happened there at Stanford was, they started looking at other data. Could they build a system that would automatically render best practices, look at data, and give it to you in a visual way. And so that’s where Tableau kind of came out of. And it was a different way of just looking at just mounds and mounds of data, but to look at it from a visual perspective. And it’s one of the reasons why when you use Tableau, and you start exploring your data, one of the things you’ll find out very quickly is Tableau doesn’t ask you ahead of time to pick a chart type. It actually, based on your actions, and what you’re doing, and how you interact with the interface, it figures out what the best chart type is for what you’re trying to do.
And so, when you add all that in to just data exploration. Just connecting to data and trying to understand and get insights from your data, that ability to have a helper, or a tool, or a platform like Tableau that just lets you almost immediately see those insights, and find things, and outliers, and things that you didn’t know about. And then with other clicks, make things interactive. To me it’s one of those things that if I’m an admin, I want in my toolkit. I want to be able to, when I get some data, be it either Salesforce data or any other data, and somebody asks me to explain what’s going on, Tableau is really going to give me that edge up where I can see that data very quickly. So that’s kind of my thought in why an admin and stuff would be really interested in Tableau.

Gillian Bruce: I had no idea the connection to Pixar. That makes me love Tableau even more because everything Pixar does I’m a huge fan of.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: It’s amazing.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. That’s so cool. Let’s talk John, about the community. Because you were bringing up with us about some of the public visualizations and the kind of, just this whole… Because I feel like there’s a big crossover in the admin community of individuals that really, really love digging into data and also helping others understand it.

John Demby: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that’s amazing with Tableau is, just like with Salesforce is, our community. We have fans. I mean I literally, I can… Back before COVID when I used to fly or get on a plane to go see customers and stuff like that, if I wore anything with a Tableau logo, I almost felt like people were asking me for my autograph or something. Because they were like saying, “Oh wow, you work at Tableau?” And they’d want to tell me all the things they do with Tableau. And the community is what keeps, and has really helped us innovate.
And so we were talking earlier about a great place where you just want to immerse yourself, is Tableau Public. And it’s a good example of where our community really dives in and creates and shares amazing things. There’s over a million and a half pieces of content up on Tableau Public. We’ve had two billion views. It’s a platform where we’ve had major Fortune 500 companies build out annual reports that are visual, that you’ll find up there. You’ll see content that’s been shared on newspapers and websites and news organizations. You’ll see nonprofits use it. And then if you’re into Game of Thrones, or Star Wars, or Marvel, or you just pick your favorite hobby, you can dive into and see some amazing things.
But coming back to the community, it’s the community that really has helped us take Tableau to the next level. And they’re the ones that have helped us find all of the use cases, and all of the goodness, and the ability to discover data that I think has transformed Tableau into what it is today.

Gillian Bruce: So Tableau Public is a place where I mean, you kind of said, pick your topic and you can probably find something that somebody’s built on Tableau Public. Which is exactly what I plan to do later today, by the way. I’m trying to resist doing it now. Tell me a little bit more about how someone… You described your begin with Tableau… I’m a Salesforce admin, I’m super interested in this, what are the first steps I take? Do I start with Tableau Public? Is there some kind of trial thing I can play with? Where do I go to kind of start dabbling?

John Demby: Sure, yeah. So one of the things is, yes. You can get a trial. It’s a 14-day trial and it’s fully functional. You can go up to the website, get it right now. What that’s going to give you is what we call Tableau Desktop. So that is a solution that would install on a Mac or a Windows machine and allow you to connect to any kind of data you could expect. From a relational database, to cloud data sources, to cloud-based apps like Salesforce and others, to just spreadsheets and csv files, to spacial data. You name it, you can probably connect to it in Tableau. But that’s a great place to get started.
And then the support is amazing. We actually kind of adopted the, what I call the YouTube learning mantra. So the idea of people wanting to watch very short videos and how-tos. And so you’ll see on your website a tremendous amount of videos to help you get started. You have a question about filtering, go watch the three minute video on filtering.
And then the community is ultimately the last piece. Get plugged in on Twitter, start asking questions. You’ll really kind of learn that the community is so embracing. They help people figure out things. It doesn’t matter where you go look them up. It could be Tableau community, it could be Public, it could be Twitter, it could be anywhere. And that’s a great way to get started.

Mike Gerholdt: If there’s a long pause on the website it’s because one of us is searching Tableau Public and finding something incredibly amazing.

John Demby: Yeah, there you go. Well you know-

Gillian Bruce: Mike stop it, focus.

Mike Gerholdt: Totally, totally wasn’t doing that. Totally wasn’t reading about The Dark Knight and Joker.

John Demby: Yeah, there you go. But you know what else is… I’ll tell everybody here too. This is something, I’m a parent, most everybody, if you’re not a parent you know kids, or you know people that have kids, or you know a teacher out there. And so, one of the things that Tableau did early on was, we realized that in all of the things that we want to do for good, we do embrace, just like Salesforce does, nonprofits. And we try to do good with our software. We’ve done some amazing stories, if you go look at our Tableau Foundation, about helping stamp out malaria. Helping with Ebola. Nowadays we’re everything COVID up on Tableau Public in our data hub.
But early on, we realized that getting Tableau in the hands of anybody, especially kids and students and teachers, was really critical. And so you can actually go to, I think it’s, or Our academics, or something. And you’ll actually see where you can sign up for a one-year license for free. And that’s K through college. And we encourage those that are in college, when they go off to their internship, to take Tableau with them, use it at their internship to help kind of propel their career and things like that. My kids have used it in high school. We’ve had data kids where we’ve shown things… I think at one point we had an event in, it might have been Hong Kong or Singapore, where we had a seven year old come up and show a visualization.
And you’ll see some of that on Tableau Public. You’ll actually see some kid’s visualizations as well. So if you see one that’s a little bit more Pokemon-oriented, that might be a kid that actually has charted his Pokemon collection or something in Tableau. So but yeah, it’s things like that I think is what makes Tableau, Tableau.

Gillian Bruce: I mean, that’s so cool. I think especially now where a lot of people with school age children are having a rough go of it given the current climate of maybe school’s happening, maybe it’s not happening, oh my goodness. I mean, what an amazing kind of resource and oppurtunity for students to dig in a little bit. I can just imagine the As that I would’ve gotten on so many reports had I had access to Tableau and been able to tinker around. I mean, I would’ve looked amazing to my teachers, so-

John Demby: Yeah so, so let me tell you a funny story about that with my middle daughter. So she just graduated, but she took stats her senior year and they had to go get… They were analyzing I think, football metrics. So they had to pick a team, she picked Cincinnati Bengals, mostly because I went to TCU, we’re a TCU family. And Andy Dalton, who used to play at TCU is the quarterback there. So that’s why she picked the team, not because they’ve ever won anything, right?

Gillian Bruce: I was going to say, that’s an interesting choice in a team.

Mike Gerholdt: [crosstalk] clearly their winning record.

John Demby: [crosstalk]. Yeah so, but so she had all this data but then the stats teacher was asking her things like, “Well, I’ve got to have the mean. I’ve got to have this and that. All these stats questions.” And I said, “Well look, let’s just take that data you just got from the Cincinnati Bengals website, let’s load it up into Tableau, let’s build this little quick visual.” And then there’s an info card that you can click, and then it gives you all the stats. And I said, “Write them all down. Give them to your teacher.” She’s like, “This seems like it’s cheating.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know if it’s cheating or not but, at least they gave you all the answers without you having to go run all these complex statistical analysis.” So maybe it was cheating. But, that’s the kind of thing that I think is really enlightening in Tableau, and some cool things you can do. And yeah, she got an A, I think, so.

Mike Gerholdt: Even though she picked the Bengals.

John Demby: Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: The only winning thing the Bengals have ever been a part of.

John Demby: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah.

John Demby: Right.

Gillian Bruce: All right. But I think that’s so cool because, to your point though, it’s not cheating because the technology exists out there and you know how to use it. And I think that really ties back to kind of admins, we should all pay attention to this because, I mean, it is incredibly powerful. And just like the teacher wants to know these specific data points, you’ve got executives that want to know the same thing and you can save hours and hours and probably years of training to be a data scientist by tapping in to the power of Tableau and being able to pull that.

John Demby: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah. And Gillian, I also hear tinkering.

Gillian Bruce: Yes.

Mike Gerholdt: Which is a lot of what we talk about on the podcast, a lot of what Leanne talks about. Just the ability to kind of get in there and tinker with something, but also have the tool intuitively help you, right? I don’t think necessarily, it’s cheating. It’s just, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you build something that has a wheel, right?

Gillian Bruce: Yeah, there’s a reason we invent stuff, right?

John Demby: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Gerholdt: And this helps, you get that a little bit farther. And to me, I think it helps make the subject more interesting so that you really do want to dive into it. And as an admin for me, I’m thinking, well this the very important part that I can help my users understand why it is so critical that they input the right data, so that we get the right output so that we can make the right decisions.

John Demby: Yeah it is. I mean it’s a… And even just I think, Tableau just in general as a… Our tagline is, “We help people see and understand their data.” And so much of that is the exploration and seeing your data for the first time. If you look at it in a spreadsheet, you’re not going to see anything. But if you start bringing that data in, you’ll be amazed at what you can find. You might find… We could spend hours talking about stories where, in one particular customer, an intern came in, used Tableau liked we talked about. They gave them… This was an auto manufacturer. They gave them some data that was related to warranty claims, and said, “Do something with it.” And then he came back and found about $6.5 million of fraud.

Mike Gerholdt: Whoa.

John Demby: And basically what he found out was, there was some dealers that were selling cars on paper, then they were performing different warranty things, and billing it back to the car manufacturer, and then they were putting the car back in inventory. And so, I mean, and that was just one example but just finding just, even outliers in your data that make you wonder, “Okay, why is this…” And over the last couple years, we built some of that technology into Tableau. We actually have a feature now that’s called explain data that, if I’m looking at a chart, or looking at a whatever, and I click on something because it doesn’t seem right, it’ll actually analyze all the data and then come back with a report saying, “The reason this is higher than this is because you had these particular things going on.” Or it may be one unusual record that you should take out, or something like that.
So really, just seeing your data, that’s what Tableau’s all about. And there’s no other way really to explore data unless you can see it. And that’s the hard part that I think a lot of people don’t understand.

Mike Gerholdt: I’m going to nominate that as soon as Salesforce figures out how to make Tableau talk that it sound like Jarvis from Iron Man.

John Demby: Yeah, I think that makes sense. Yeah.

Gillian Bruce: Oh [crosstalk].

John Demby: We do have natural language so we can sort of talk to Tableau, but no, we don’t have a voice out. So that would be it. That would be an interesting-

Mike Gerholdt: Not yet. But forward looking statement.

John Demby: Yeah. Add thing.

Mike Gerholdt: John this was super fun. We need to have you back and do a Tableau corner every, I don’t know, every time you feel like it.

John Demby: Yeah, no. Anytime. I would love to come back, share more stories, examples that customers have used Tableau both with Salesforce and just with data inside of their organization to do transformational things. Tell you a little bit more about things we’re working on and the solutions, some additional kind of exciting things that we’re doing to make access to data even easier. And all that kind of stuff. But yeah, I’d love to come back anytime.

Mike Gerholdt: Cool. I’m definitely… We’ll include a link to the Tableau Public so you can shop the cool Tableau things. I will also include the link to the Joker one that I found.

John Demby: Yeah, there you go.

Mike Gerholdt: And I think we’ll probably include something about Game of Thrones.

Gillian Bruce: Yep. There was a pretty morbid one that I found that I am very excited to dig in further tonight, so.

John Demby: There you go. Well my work is done here. I guess I have helped you explore the interesting side of data. But yeah, and you know just in closing on that, Tableau Public just turned out to be a, I don’t know if I want to use the word life saver, but it’s become a critical component to the COVID thing. I can even show you, if this was visual, I could show you the spike in Tableau Public traffic that happened once organizations started building COVID-19 dashboards. There’s maybe almost every state probably has something built up on Tableau Public. You have organizations, people have looked at the Tableau data hub for COVID-19, and reswizzled that data and published in sites. And so, the spike in the amount of resources that… I mean traffic doubled when COVID happened. And it was because it was a public, free, sharable resource that people could create those insights very quickly and then share them out to the world, even embedding them in their own websites or whatever. So yeah, big fan of Tableau Public. Like I said, it’s kind of the YouTube of data visualization out there.

Gillian Bruce: I love it. Thank you so much John, I really appreciate you taking the time to share with us. And I am excited to hear more and see what else people do with Tableau, with the Salesforce connection now. I mean gosh, there’s so many possibilities, this is really fun.

John Demby: Yeah, we’re excited. Sky’s the limit. I mean now that we have all these different additional resources and stuff there’s amazing things on the horizon for us and for Salesforce.

Mike Gerholdt: Sweet. Thanks John.

John Demby: All right, thank you guys.

Gillian Bruce: Well that was a great conversation with John. Gosh, we could really talk with him forever. Which, don’t worry, we’ll have him back. So you’ll get more of John for sure. Some top takeaways, I mean geez, so much we talked about. Especially about Tableau and all the amazing things you can do. My top three takeaways are number one, I didn’t know that Tableau had roots in Pixar which is pretty amazing, and that explains a lot about how amazing the visualizations are. Kind of that focus on visually representing things in the world.
Tableau Public, check it out. It is such a cool resource. As John says, it’s like the YouTube of visualizations. So take some time to poke around there. There’s some really amazingly powerful data sets in there. Especially given all the things happening in the world right now that are helping a lot of organizations do important work. And you may be able to find one about the death rate of Game of Thrones and who’s responsible for the most deaths. Hint, Khaleesi’s responsible for more than half of them. And I’m not surprised.
All right, and thirdly, anyone can tinker with Tableau. So admins, this really is one of the most powerful tools that you can now add to your tool belt. You can sign up for a free trial for 14 days and if you really kind of want to use this and implement more in your org, I mean, use that trial to kind of demonstrate what you can do, show that to your executives, get some buy-in and then hey, Tableau and Salesforce, we’re now one, we play together. So bring that into your org and I promise it’s going to be a huge one. You’ll get the As on all those reports that you otherwise might get from your executives.

Mike Gerholdt: #tinkerwithtableau.

Gillian Bruce: Ooh I like that.

Mike Gerholdt: I know, it’s good. They could a tweet a picture of what they tinkered with.

Gillian Bruce: I love it. I love it. Tinkering is great. Well if you want to learn more about all things Salesforce admin, make sure you go to to find more resources. And as a reminder, if you love what you hear on this podcast, please make sure to pop on over to iTunes and give us a review. I know Mike and I absolutely pay attention to those, we read them, we really appreciate your feedback, so take a moment and do that for us please. It helps more people find us and get all this great information.
You can stay up to date with us on social for all things admins @salesforceadmns, no i, on Twitter, and you can find myself @gilliankbruce, and my amazing other host Mike Gerholdt @mikegerholdt. Stay tuned for the next episode and we’ll catch you next time in the cloud.


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