I am extremely honoured to share my conversation with my first guest on she will viz. Without Nicole Klassen, she will viz may not have been born, so it was only fitting that I share Nicole’s story.
Nicole Klassen is co-lead for #EduVizzers, #DataFamCon and the Feedback Loop, and a firm datafam favourite. In the last year, she received the Vizzie for Most Notable Newbie, third in the Women in Analytics data viz competition, first in Tableau’s #Viz4ClimateAction competition and three Tableau Public Viz of the Days – with many more accolades to come, I’m sure. We chat about the community, vizzing the tough topics, Captain Planet and the role fate played in her being where she is today.
Not all who wander are lost.J.R.R. Tolkien
Kimly: Thank you so much Nicole, for sharing your story with she will viz. I know it will inspire many. First up, let’s talk about your journey into data viz. What did that look like?
Nicole: That was a journey. There’s a quote from Tolkien “Not all who wander are lost” and that’s been like my path here.
When I was in undergad, I studied chemistry, I studied to be a teacher, I studied technical theatre and human resources before graduating with a degree in psychology. I worked in human resources for a couple years after undergrad before going to grad school for social science research and psychology. I actually worked at an inpatient children’s psychiatric hospital as a psychometrist as well as doing program evaluation research with at-risk youth, trying to see if circus skills helped with their symptoms of depression and anxiety. I loved the work, but it was part time and I needed a full time job. So I applied to this job called Research Associate and I was convinced that it was a program research assistant, but it was actually a data analyst position. Through the whole interview the interviewer and I had no idea that we were on completely different pages. I got the job and was so lost on the first day. But I’m so glad that happened because I just fell in love with analytics and I’m here to stay.
Kimly: So it was kind of like fate, then? You got into data viz by accident and you found something you love.
Nicole: Yeh, it was a complete accident. But it definitely worked out.
Kimly: You know I’m a big fan of your work Nicole and the topics that you tackle – they’re tough but important, and I love how you showcase them. What drives you to focus on these topics and how do you pick your topics?
Nicole: One thing that has always been really important to me through all of these different careers and studies – I’ve always wanted to do something that lets me give a voice to people who don’t have one or don’t have a loud one. So doing the work with the children at the psychiatric hospital and with the circus and now that I’m in visualisation and analytics – that’s my avenue for giving these voices.
For personal reasons I don’t viz about children anymore but I still focus on disenfranchised groups, under-represented groups – women especially – and people who need a voice and someone to advocate for them. That’s how I pick my topics. I love scientific research but it’s very “jargony” and a lot of it is behind a paywall so not everyday people can read about it. So I wanted to take these visualisation skills and pick topics that are really important – and there’s a lot out there.
I tend to pick gender equality, climate change, and mental health because I want those conversations to be year round. I don’t want gender equality to be once a month because we struggle with it everyday. And I want to make sure they are accessible and relatable. Putting it in a viz has helped take these really big questions that can be scary and make it a little less overwhelming, because once it’s not overwhelming, people tend to pay attention more. I always put in a call to action because then it’s also not just this nebulous thing – it’s “here’s what you can do”.
I tend to find the topics from reading. I read everything from sci-fi fantasy books, I read the news, I read non-fiction like Invisible Women. If I read something and if it sticks with me, then I viz it. It’s like “oh I didn’t know that. Now I’m mad about that – someone else needs to be mad too so that we can make a difference”. And hopefully when we’re mad enough, something can happen.
Nicole’s Vizzes: Caught in the Storm on Tableau Public (Trigger Warning – Depression) | Next to Normal on Tableau Public (2022 Iron Viz Entry)
Kimly: What makes your approach to data visualisation unique? How would you describe your data viz style?
Nicole: I don’t know how unique it is, because I see a lot of that storytelling style but I consider mine to be visual literature reviews which is something that I did all the time in my research background. The literature review involved taking all the research that was out there and explaining it to the reader – telling the reader “this is what happened and this is why my research study is important”. For me, I don’t find a dataset and then anaylse it and show the insights. I find a topic or a question, then I read a gazillion articles about it to try and find data and then tell that story.
Kimly: I think that’s a unique approach. You’re telling a story with data and I think that’s a real skill to have. Let’s chat about your viz Captain Planet and Women-led Businesses. What inspired you to create this viz?
Captain Planet and Women-led Businesses on Tableau Public
Nicole: My friend Oana and I had just finished our viz for #VizForClimate action and I had read over 200 pages about climate change and especially about how it disproportionately affects women, low income families and low income countries, and that just stuck with me. I kept having that in my mind. Then I read another report that came out a couple of months later about all the female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and I started to wonder – a lot of these companies who are or are not putting in climate change goals – how many are women vs men led and could that be part of the problem? So I went looking through journal articles and I found some articles that talked about how women led businesses tend to want to focus on social and environmental impact. Even if it’s not the businesses’ mission, they are more likely to have that as part of their portfolio. I thought that this seemed like a story that needed to be out there. I went down the rabbit hole and found a lot of great articles that were saying the same thing. You don’t really think about it, you don’t necessarily put them together.
Kimly: I love the viz. It has such an engaging design. And the connection to Captain Planet is really clever. How did you come up with the connection to Captain Planet and the design elements that you chose?
Nicole: Down that rabbit hole of my research and since it was about women and climate change, I really wanted to make sure that I was lifting up women’s voices in that area. For example, Christina Figueres who was a diplomat from Costa Rica was the person who got the Paris Climate Accord negotiated and done. Men had been trying for years and had failed. They failed about two or three times before they said to Christina, “let’s see what you can do.”
I wanted to find more women activists because I knew that there was more than just one. I came across Barbara Pyle who co-founded Captain Planet and I loved Captain Planet as a kid. I was going to pull just the colours from it because I had only watched the cartoons, but when I was looking up images for the colours, I found out it was also a comic book. So there we go! It was lifting up this woman who had done so much and all these leaders were saying what a big impact Captain Planet had made and I wanted to make sure she was heard too.
Kimly: What would you say was the most challenging part of creating this viz?
Nicole: That one (and most of mine) is just pulling together the pieces. I had larger datasets from the World Bank and as I was putting together the outline and everything, I kept asking questions like, “women-led business – is that only a US problem?” I kept asking questions which meant that I had to find more data to answer them.
Creating the actual viz took around eight hours at most but all of the research took around 48. This is why I get maybe one viz out a month if I’m lucky, because I just spend all my time reading – going down the rabbit hole.
Kimly: What’s the one thing you want people to take-away from this viz?
Nicole: I really want people to know that women having a seat at the table – in any table – but in this case, the C-Suite table, is more than just checking that equity box. The biggest problems can’t be solved if half the population is being excluded based on their gender. Women have solutions – let us in. This is another way we can help besides checking that diversity box.
Kimly: I loved watching Captain Planet as a kid and I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was pretty progressive – tackling climate and environmental issues and the diversity of the characters. My favourite planeteer was Gi for obvious reasons. Who was your favourite planeteer?
Nicole: My favourite was Linka for similar reasons – she looked like me and that was really cool but I will say, I always wanted Wheeler’s fire power.
Kimly: Let’s talk about community. You’re a relatively new member to the datafam but you’ve made such a big impact and a big splash in your first year – you received the Vizzie for Most Notable Newbie, you also came third in the Women in Analytics DataConnect Conference data visualisation competition and you’ve participated in Iron Viz too – what prompted you to join the community and what’s been your impression of the datafam?
Nicole: The Atlanta Tableau User Group is really what promoted me to join the community. I had been going to their meetings for a few months – I moved to Atlanta eight months before the pandemic hit so I didn’t get to go to a tonne of in-person meet-ups.
Shortly after the pandemic, they announced that they were going to run an Iron Viz ATL for the user group. So Oana and I entered and it was a lot of fun. Then we saw on Linkedin that they were promoting this and they mentioned Twitter. I thought “I want to know what they are saying about us”. I hadn’t been on Twitter for years so I said, “we’re going to join Twitter so we can see what they’re saying about us!”
They announced that the Flerlage twins were going to be the judges which led me to their blog and I found the blog post about what the community is and how to join it. That’s how I found it. Seeing all the content and just being a lurker – I learnt so much. I was overwhelmed, honestly, with how much stuff was coming out, but also how kind everybody was. I never saw anybody negatively critique a viz. So for somebody with depression and anxiety, that was something that was really important to me. Everyone was so kind and positive and that’s why I’m here – I just try to give back to that. It may not be perfect but it’s a group that genuinely wants to support each other and I think that is something that is career changing and more careers need that.
Kimly: In what ways has being connected to the community helped you in your career and in your data viz journey?
Nicole: It has helped so much. For starters, my data viz skills increased exponentially, just because I was around so much more inspiration. I had been working in companies that in the past year or so had bought Tableau before I started, so there weren’t a lot of experts to learn from. Being around the community and seeing everyone’s vizzes along with the blogs, interviews – it was overwhelming, but it was this inspiration that helped me grow faster than I would have ever done on my own.
I felt really lost at first but then I found these groups and people like #MomsWhoViz who, again in their generosity, helped me figure out how to handle all the content that was coming in.
So I think it’s the connection, the inspiration. Your journey and your career is going to grow just based on that. But it also increased my confidence because I put stuff out there that people seemed to connect with. Even if it was like ‘this looks really pretty”, at least having that support helped me put out more and more and helped me do more and more advanced types of vizzes, and that confidence translates outside of just Tableau Public.
Doctor Who Synopsis on Tableau Public
Kimly: And lastly, who are some inspiring women that you follow or look up to in the data viz community?
Nicole: There are so many.
Of course you and your vizzes for starters. Even before Iron Viz, just seeing how you put together your vizzes, your storytelling and your kindness and passion. That was an inspiration to show that I don’t have to do poster dashboards if that’s causing me grief. I can do what makes me feel comfortable.
Honestly, there are so many women and I don’t want to forget any, so I’ll say that every woman who puts herself out there and advocates for herself and demands to be heard and demands that seat at the table – they are an inspiration.
There’s Shazeera who puts her whole authentic self out there and vizzes her personal data. That is so inspirational.
Bridget Cogley, who had no idea who I was but saw the meltdown I had on #MomsWhoViz, gave me her phone number to let me rant. But also gave me the tools and the confidence to advocate for myself. Anyone who lets you do that is so inspirational.
I can’t wait to hear from all the amazing women that I’m going to hear from through she will viz.
I was so inspired after chatting to Nicole – she’s genuine, honest and an all round lovely person. Check out Nicole’s visualisations on Tableau Public, and connect with her on Twitter.
And if you are a woman in data viz who wants to share your story, please don’t be afraid to reach out.
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