The Importance of Certification

I’ve long been a huge advocate of certification in technical fields.  I think it is a great way to actively communicate and demonstrate the skill level you have in a particular area.  Even further in my mind it represents the ability to set a foundation to build off of with others.

I personally started my Tableau certification journey last year (more like 18 to 20 months ago).  I was becoming much more heavily involved in my local Tableau user group and felt that I needed a way to benchmark or assess my skills.  I knew I had much more to contribute to my local community and I thought that going through the certification journey and sharing that with the TUG would be beneficial.

So I started by getting ready for the Desktop Qualified Exam.  Independently I went through all the existing documentation and searched for knowledge nuggets that would set me on the right path.  I took the stance of developing out all of my own knowledge gaining to a format that could be digested by a larger audience.  I walked through all of the practice exam questions and did an analysis of the different certification levels to the user group at least 3 times.

I passed the Desktop Qualified Associate around April or May of 2016.  It was a great achievement – and I was able to add definition to what that exam means.  Having the Desktop Qualified Associate certification means that you are technically proficient in the features and functions of Tableau Desktop.  It means that you can answer thoughtful questions using built in features and that you have depth of understanding best practices or efficient ways to get to the results.  If I were to equate it to a different skill – I would say that it means you know how and when to use different tools in a toolbox.  What it doesn’t mean: that you are a masterful architect or that you can build a stunningly beautiful home.

To get to the next level of mastery and understanding, that means you’ll need the Certified Professional.  If you take a look at the specific components that are tested you’ll quickly realize that advanced technical skill is weighted less than storytelling or analysis.  The purpose of the Desktop Certified Professional is to demonstrate that you have a deep understanding of data visualization, using data visualization to tell a story, and how level two (or three or four) analytics or analysis are necessary to start answering deeper and more important (read as: higher impact) questions.

For me to work on preparation here – the exam prep guide was only the beginning.  It assists in the structural components of 1) knowing how many questions there will be 2) estimating time available to spend on each question 3) examples of analytical/presentation depth required to demonstrate proficiency 4) variety of question types.

Probably the most intriguing questions for me are those where you have to assess a particular visualization, give and justify a critique (and specifically how it relates to a described objective) and then provide an alternative solution (also justifying verbally the importance).  This skill is much different than knowing how to hammer a nail into a post.  It is defending why you chose to put a porch on the northeast corner of a home.  It’s a lot about feel.

I had such an awesome time taking the exam.  There are a lot of real world constraints that required me to distill down the most important components of each question.  It’s interesting because for most items there isn’t a single right answer.  There are definitely lots of wrong answers, but right is a spectrum that is somewhat dependent on your ability to communicate out the completeness of your point of view.

I’ve had the title of Tableau Desktop Certified Professional for just over a year now – so I can tell you with a decent amount of retrospective thought what it has done for me.  Just as I am able to describe the test and purpose it served in this blog post – I can do the same thing in all of my interactions.  It keeps me humble to knowing that the PURPOSE behind a visual display is more important than fancy widgets or cool tricks.  That to a large extent my role is to work through the semantics of a situation and get to the root of it.  The root of the question or questions, the heart of concern, the why behind the visualization.  And also the artistry (yes I use this word) behind what it takes to get there.  We have all felt the difference between a perfectly acceptable visualization and the right visualization.  The end user experiences something different.  I firmly believe that deeper understanding can be achieved by spending that extra thoughtfulness and approach to iteration.

So let’s now fast forward to the other certification path – the more recent one: Tableau Server.  What’s interesting is that because my strengths have been built out on the visualization end, I haven’t planted myself in an opportunity to understand the deeper technical components of Tableau Server.  I have always understood and had great depth of knowledge in Site Administration.  That is to say acknowledging and abiding by best practices for sharing, permissions, and managing content.  But – the part that I had not spent time on is creating a sustainable platform to have the vision continuously executed.

So to overcome that minor blind spot – I went on a mission to learn more, to shine light on the unknown.  You’ve seen that play out here on my blog – going on a self directed adventure to deploy a Server on Azure.  Nobody told me to do that – I was internally compelled.  (I should also mention I was honored to have a friend go on the journey with me!)

I’m probably rehashing at this point – but anytime you grow knowledge in a particular area (more specifically technical) it gives you such breadth and depth of vocabulary to be able to connect to other individuals.  You find that communication barriers that were preventing the success of a project are diminished because you now speak the same language.  As I write this I can hear Seth Godin saying that the more knowledge someone has in a particular subject area the more ABSTRACT their language is around it.  Which means that it is extremely difficult to communicate with that SME unless significant effort is taken on the part of both parties to bridge the gap.

So that’s what Tableau Server qualification has done for me.  It’s the first step on a journey to get to the point where I imagine the next level to Server Certified Professional is the act of execution.  It’s less knowledge and verbiage and more tactical.  Also likely there’s more ambiguity – not a right answer, rather a spectrum of right where you communicate your why.

As I wind down this post – I must shout to you “go get certified.”  Ignore the naysayers.  It’s easy to not do something, but you know what is hard?  Doing something.  Being tested.  And why is that?  Because you can fail.  Get over failure – push through that mindset.  The alternative is much more pleasant and unlocks all the potential the universe has to offer.

 

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