I am spending the entire year 2012 in Seattle, working with Tableau Software. The topics I will be working on include storytelling and Tableau Public, plus some super-secret projects even I don’t know yet (mostly because we haven’t decided on them).
Being able to do this is one of the perks of being a university professor. After you get tenure, most universities will let you take a year off every five years or so. This is typically called a sabbatical, though in North Carolina the term is reassignment of duties. There are reasons for this that are bureaucratic and not very interesting, but I dislike the term because it sounds like I’m being punished for something (“Professor X’s duties have been reassigned while the investigation into his alleged crimes is ongoing”). Sabbaticals are typically used to write books, conduct research (think archeologist going on a dig for several months), or to (re-)connect with the real world.
I have mentioned Tableau in the past on this website a few times, and since I’m now living and breathing Tableau every day, there will certainly be a bit more of that during this year. It’s a bit disturbing how little many people in visualization know about Tableau, and how many papers at InfoVis and VAST could have been done using it rather than hand-coding some new throw-away prototype. What many people also don’t know (including me until a few days ago) is that Tableau has a very nice academic program that lets students buy the program for very little money.
Coincidentally, Tableau 7 was released today (well, technically yesterday, but late at night and really actually today), which is a very nice update with lots of new features. Besides many highly important but ultimately boring features like new data connectors and server multi-tenant whatevers, there are new mark types: filled maps and area charts. Not only can you make choropleth maps (which are a bad idea in many cases, btw), you can actually use the country shapes in a scatterplot!
Try that in Excel. All of these features are also available in Tableau Public, by the way.
Among the things most people don’t know about Tableau is how successful they are. Yes, I sound like a marketing drone, but it is impressive. At the beginning of this year, the company was at over 350 employees, and they have been roughly doubling in size every year for the past few years. This year is no exception, Tableau is looking to hire a lot of people. They’re working on a spiffy new careers website, though for now you can check out their current offerings on the old one and learn a bit more about the company. It’s a very pleasant place to work, with lots of interesting people and a very friendly and open atmosphere.
So despite the terminology, this is not punishment but rather a fantastic opportunity to work on some projects that are not only of current academic interest, but that will eventually make their way into a real product used by real people.