Do you ever feel like you could use some support in your data viz journey? I did. I still do!
Even though I felt intimidated at the time, in September 2017 I decided to reach out to Tableau Zen Master Mike Cisneros to ask him to be my data viz mentor.
This was one of The. Smartest. Things. I’ve. Done.
I’ve listed below what I believe to be the most important points to keep in mind when getting started. If you are interested in this topic, as well as the broader points of the Benefits of Finding (and Being) a Tableau Mentor, please watch the talk about mentorship that Mike and I gave at Tableau Conference 2018. (Note: Unfortunately my microphone was on the fritz and my audio is a bit spotty at times during the talk.)
Here’s my most important takeaways when getting started as a mentee.
Take time to think about what you want before you reach out to someone.
At the very least, you should take time to understand your needs and expectations before you reach out to a potential mentor.
If you would like to learn more about what a successful mentorship looks like, I found this book to be very helpful: One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One.
When I say “Mentor” I am describing a formal, professional relationship. Maybe you have something more informal in mind. Or maybe you are looking for more short-term support.
In any case, ask yourself these questions before you ask someone to support you:
What do I hope to achieve with the mentorship? What will be the purpose of the mentoring relationship? What are my goals and how would a mentor support those goals?
I personally wanted someone to critique my work and provide guidance. My goals were to improve my technical skills, pass the Tableau Qualified Associate Certification, build my Tableau Public portfolio, expand my professional network, and pivot into a career in data viz.
If you believe that a mentor could help you with your own goals, then the next step is to start to identify a pool of people who could potentially provide that support.
Consider that there are possibly hundreds of Tableau mentors out there.
Great news! If you want a list of names of potential Tableau mentors, you can find them by using these resources:
Mark Bradbourne launched the MentoringMeetup.com website in December 2018 to provide a space for folks to volunteer to be a mentor. To see a list of potential mentors, click on the Mentors tab. You can scroll through and access links to additional information, such as the person’s social media pages and their blogs. Mark has also created the site so that people can use it to set up virtual meetups.
You can also search more broadly. Go to Tableau’s website and scan through the list of Zen Masters, Ambassadors, and Tableau Public Featured Authors. Or make note of who regularly attends and leads the Tableau User Groups in your area.
If you didn’t know yet, I can tell you that the Tableau community is very active on Twitter. If you have a Twitter account (or are open to starting one), search @Tableau or #Tableau. Identify those people who are answering questions and contributing to the conversations.
In this step you want to ask these questions:
Who appears knowledgeable and seems to enjoy sharing knowledge with others? Who spends their time creating, learning, and sharing?
I identified Mike a potential mentor based on his contributions to Makeover Monday and after reading his blog. In fact, in August 2017 Mike wrote a blog post about Using Your Capital to Elevate Others. That told me that he was clearly interested in supporting others in the Tableau community.
It is to your benefit to be selective.
To determine who will be a good fit, specifically for you, you’ll need to dig a little deeper.
Again, take time to think about what you want and need. Here you will narrow down the pool of people based on their skills and characteristics. I’ve noticed that it can be helpful to read a person’s blog and Twitter feed to learn more about their personality. If you appreciate the work AND the good vibes someone is putting out there, that person could be a great fit for you.
Ask yourself these questions:
Does this person have the specific skills or knowledge I am trying to learn? Does being in the same geographical area or time zone matter to me? Do I have preferences for age range? Gender? Ethnicity? Lifestyle? Do they seem friendly and approachable? Do I think we could get along?
Your first conversation should ideally be a get-to-know-you meeting.
Let’s say you’ve identified a few potential mentors. The next step is to make first contact.
This message should NOT be sent to 10 people all at once. If you did your homework then you should have a very short list of who you think would be the best fit for you.
This first message should only ask to set up a get-to-know-you meeting. This is not the time or place to ask this person to be your mentor. You need to first have a conversation to determine whether you click personality-wise and to determine whether the potential mentor can help you reach your goals.
I recommend you include a sentence or two in the message that makes it clear that you are familiar with his or her work. It also helps if you can share details about what the two of you have in common. It will be appreciated if you can let the person know why you are interested in talking to him or her specifically.
The message should end with a direct and clear request for a conversation. Here’s what (part of) my message to Mike said:
I’m interested in what you do at Evince Analytics and what advice you might have for me in my quest to have a career in data visualization. Also, to be completely honest and forthright, I am seeking out a mentor. I don’t know if you have any interest in mentoring someone, and I can’t say right now that we would be a good match. But, if this might be something you would consider, I’d like to have that conversation.
If you would be willing to meet with me for a 30-minute conversation please reply to this message.
Everyone appreciates a ‘thank you.’
In that first email, and in all other interactions, make it clear that you appreciate the person’s time and support.
If you follow these suggestions you will likely have success in finding a potential mentor and in getting that person to agree to have a first get-to-know-you conversation with you.
In the next post I’ll cover the topic of So you Found a Tableau Mentor–Now What?
This is where you and your mentor will develop a plan for the mentorship and determine the logistics. I’ll encourage you to create SMART goals, track your progress, and make decisions about the future of the mentorship.