The Journey of Writing a Tableau Book

A few years ago, a colleague of mine sent out an email asking if anyone was interested in serving as a technical reviewer for a Tableau book.  I was becoming quite involved as a helper in the Tableau forums and so I jumped at the opportunity.  Reviewing was a fun process of reading initial drafts and making comments and suggestions.

Then, about this time last year, the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like to write a Tableau book. After discussing with my wife, I embarked on a journey – one which involved more effort and reward than I ever imagined.  The title Learning Tableau, selected by the publisher, is far more appropriate than I had first thought.  Not only does it express my hope that readers will learn to use Tableau effectively to gain insights into their data, but it was a process of learning for me too.

Learning Tableau by Joshua N. Milligan

My Goals

Very early on in the process, Shawn Wallwork (see his Tableau blog here), who graciously agreed to serve as a technical reviewer, asked me what my goals were in writing a Tableau book.  It was an opportunity for me to examine my motives.  Was it fortune?  Fame?  Well, fortune didn’t seem likely as most technical books don’t sell a very high number of copies.  Fame also seems to be elusive for the technical writer.

Instead, I clarified my thoughts with these goals:

  • Grow and learn. Not only in my understanding of Tableau but also in my ability to teach, mentor, and present concepts clearly and meaningfully.
  • Help Others. I wanted to write a book that would help others in their Tableau journey.  I told Shawn that ultimately I wanted to write the go-to book for the Tableau community.

And what I meant when I told Shawn that was that I wanted to write a book that would give readers the foundational concepts necessary to understand how and why Tableau fundamentally works– the underlying paradigm – and how to think “in Tableau”.  It wouldn’t just give a set of steps to memorize nor would it be a dry reference guide of concepts.  Instead it would be a blend of practical examples and fundamental understanding.  It would then build toward some advanced concepts and leave the reader with a solid foundation on which they could continue to build.


The Challenge and the Help

When I agreed to write the book, I never anticipated how challenging it would be.  I love Tableau training and mentoring.  When I teach a Tableau class, nothing is more rewarding than seeing my students light up with understanding.  But when something isn’t clear for a student, they raise their hand and ask the question.  When I answer a question on the Tableau forums, I usually get a response of “right”, “wrong”, or “kind of, but…” within a day or two.  When I sit down with a business analyst or executive to iteratively build visualizations and ask and answer questions there is immediate feedback.  If something doesn’t look right it gets fixed on the spot.

But a book is different type of training experience.  The author doesn’t receive immediate feedback.  The reader won’t see the written words for months and if there is a mistake, a mis-statement, or an unclear passage it will be too late to correct it after it is published

That’s where the technical reviewers step in.  I had four: David Baldwin, Sagar Kapoor, Joshua Kennedy, and Shawn Wallwork.  The reviewers would go through each draft of the chapter offering suggestions, corrections, encouragement, and other helpful feedback, like this early iteration:

Technical Reviewers' Suggestions

I never knew how much of a team effort writing a book really is.  I am forever in the debt of the reviewers.  Indeed, without the reviewers, publishers, editors, and many others, the book would not have been possible.

The Reward

I also never imagined how rewarding the end-result would be.  I love helping and empowering people with Tableau.  Most of the time the feedback is immediate and very gratifying.  On the other hand, writing a book is mostly a process of imagining how helpful each chapter will be.  And in the middle of typing page after page and building out sample data sets and workbooks, there were times when I was ready to be done.

But now the writing is done, the book is published, and people have started to read it.  And the feedback from readers and the Tableau community has been overwhelmingly positive.  I have received notes, reviews, emails, and personal thanks from many who have found the book to be helpful in their understanding of Tableau.  I am deeply thankful to everyone who has offered support and encouragement at every step along this journey.


My very first time autographing Learning Tableau

My very first time autographing Learning Tableau

8 Responses so far.

  1. Shawn Wallwork says:

    Cool Joshua. Thanks for the shout out. Love the book signing shot!


  2. Joshua Milligan says:

    Thanks Shawn!

  3. Ken Black says:

    I have used Tableau thousands of times. I have also taught many people to use Tableau. As soon as I saw this book by Josh, I bought it because I am one of the vizpainter’s biggest fans. As expected, the book has delivered the goods. Great job Josh!

  4. Joshua Milligan says:

    Thank you very much Ken! I greatly value the encouragement and am glad to hear that you and others have found it helpful.

  5. Annette Harper says:

    Hi Joshua.

    I’ve just started reading your book and your approach seems much better than some other books that are all click this, then click that, and viola! With those, I end up wondering what I was supposed to learn. I feel like I’m getting a much better grounding with “Learning Tableau.”

    However, I have a little problem. I do not have access to Tableau via an employer, and do not particularly want to buy a personal copy for learning purposes, and the two week trial would be too short, so I’ve been using Tableau Public. I realize that some limitations are inherent in this approach, but I was wondering if it might be possible for you to publish the chapter Workbooks on Tableau Public so that I could open them? It’s a little frustrating to have the files and not be able to open them.

    And congrats on the book. I wrote a couple myself a decade ago and it’s a real accomplishment.

  6. Dmitry says:

    Hi! I like you book!Now I am teaching tableau. However, I have one issue with reference lines. It is not so clear about possible options and cases. Maybe you can show us more into new post?

    Thank you in advance

    • Joshua Milligan says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Dmitry. Let me give reference lines some thought. What would help specifically?

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