I couldn’t launch a platform showcasing women in data viz without featuring my friend Thi Ho. She is kind, genuine and super talented!
Thi is a Tableau Social Ambassador, APAC Regional Lead for Viz For Social Good, Tableau Public Featured Author and was named Top 10 in the Women In Analytics Data Viz competition in 2021. Here, Thi candidly shares her unconventional road to data visualisation, what it’s like being a working mother in data viz and what being a Tableau Ambassador and Viz For Social Good leader means to her.
Kimly: Thank you so much, Thi for coming on she will viz. I am so honoured to have you here. Not only do you advocate and support women but you are so talented. There is a lot to learn from you!
Thi: Thank you so much Kimly! It’s my honour to be interviewed by you on she will viz platform! Thank you for your kind compliment! It means a lot to me! Talking about advocating and supporting women, you are our inspiration, Kimly. You not only viz to advocate for women but also take action by creating she will viz platform to amplify women voices in the data viz community!
Kimly: Thank you Thi! Firstly, let’s start off with how you got here. It seems that many people have had unconventional paths into data visualisation. What did your path into data visualisation look like?
Thi: I am one of them! I had been in various jobs before finding data visualisation. I had been working in project management, digital strategy, digital analytics – which was when I knew about Tableau. I learnt Tableau mostly on the job and through online learning resources. At first, I was learning solo and therefore not making much progress in a long time. Only until I found the #DataFam community and participated in the community projects that my learning was accelerated. I’m so thankful for the inspiration and generous sharing of the #DataFam including your “deceptively simple” (a comment from one of the Iron Viz judges) but beautiful, meaningful and inspiring work, Kimly.
Kimly: What challenges, if any, have you met, being a woman in the data visualisation space?
Thi: I think this challenge of being a woman may exist not only in data visualisation but also in other spaces as women often take the role of caregiver in the family besides having a job, although I have known many men in the #DataFam who are very family oriented and great caregivers too. This often results in women having less time for themselves to recharge, up-skill, innovate and lead, and hence affecting their opportunities to come out with new personal projects more frequently or in work context, to climb the corporate ladder.
As a #momswhoviz, there are challenges of being a working mother that I think we mothers can relate to. There are always competing priorities and everyday there is a need to prioritise. I have a long list of topics, charts and techniques I’d love to try out but as you see, I have not been able to create new vizzes for some time. I do miss vizzing and hope that I can get back to vizzing soon!
Thi and her little one enjoy a day out
Another challenge which may apply generally to women is that we usually have self-doubt and low self-esteem. We may not believe in ourselves and in our talents even when others tell us so, and easily feel bad about ourselves when seeing constant great work from others in the community. I was like this for a long time, until I came to accept that each of us has our own pace and our own circumstance. If we do our best within our situation, a small achievement is still worth a celebration.
Women may also not feel comfortable to make new connections, widen their network and reach out for feedback or advice. I was extremely worried about reaching out as I was afraid to bother other people. It’s just not my nature to reach out and connect, but networking is so important in data viz as in any other disciplines.
Kimly: What advice would you give to women wanting to get into data visualisation?
Thi: I would suggest to believe in yourself, your passion and your capability. You can do it if you want and if you make efforts. With a lot of learning resources available and so much inspiring work available in the community and on Tableau Public, the chance to get into data viz is there for everyone.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the #DataFam community on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can start with a follow, a like, a comment, or feel free to send a direct message asking for feedback on your work (but be as specific in your ask as possible so that it’ll be easier for the person to know which area they should look into and help you. For example, is it about dashboard flow, chart choice, colour, or a particular technique etc). Our community is full of kind and helpful people!
If you are interested in data viz career opportunities, besides building up your data viz skills and Tableau Public portfolio, reach out to people who work in the roles you’d like to do one day and seek their career advice and how to get into that role. Also widen your network and nurture the relationship. Eva Murray has a great video about reconnecting with people and nurturing relationships. Opportunities might come in the most unexpected way.
Do not compare yourself with others and do not let the amazing work from the community make you doubt yourself, but let them be the inspiration for your learning. Believe that your efforts will pay off. Aim at making little steps forward within your situation. Celebrate and love yourself for your small wins.
If you are a busy mother or caregiver, try to get some frequent support from your family and your cheerleaders, and/or dedicate some hours at work if your company supports lifelong learning, so that you can get time for learning new skills or up-skilling. Most of all, keep your pace and your balance and do not overwhelm yourself. It is a journey so keeping balance will avoid burn-out.
Kimly: What wonderful advice Thi! You have recently been selected as a Tableau Social Ambassador for the third time, what has that been like for you? What opportunities has being a Social Ambassador presented?
Thi: It has been a wonderful experience! Being a Tableau Social Ambassador, I have been given opportunities to amplify voices of our community especially in Asia Pacific where our members, while being very talented, are usually shyer to speak up, join conversations or talk about their work like the rest of the regions in the world. This means a lot to me to be able to bring more awareness to new voices, welcome and help others. This is a way for me to pay it forward. When I joined the community, I was very lucky to be warmly and immediately welcomed by the #DataFam. I would like the new members of the #DataFam to feel this way too!
Being an ambassador, I have also been invited for opportunities to speak at events such as Tableau Conference, judge at Tableau Student data viz hackathons, and get to know other ambassadors more personally.
Overall, the experience has made the introvert me become more sociable and confident and more community driven.
Kimly: You are also the APAC lead for Viz For Social Good. I actually got into Tableau Public and found the #DataFam via Viz for Social Good. I attend a Singapore Tableau User Group back in 2018 and Viz for Social Good founder Chloe Tseng presented about the project. I was so inspired. My first viz published on Tableau Public was for Viz For Social Good! It is such a great initiative – why did you want to get involved?
Thi: It’s really nice to know that you attended a Singapore TUG and Chloe Tseng presented and inspired you, and that your first viz was a viz for Viz for Social Good! That is so awesome! Thank you for sharing this story with me!
Viz for Social Good is indeed a great initiative! I have contributed to a few projects as a volunteer as I was inspired by the mission of doing good with our data viz skills. We can give our time and our skills to help non-profits to visualise their data and help them with their specific needs, be it knowing the effectiveness of their programs, or seeking fundings or calling for volunteers etc.
Later, I wanted to get involved in Viz for Social Good as a lead in Asia Pacific as I would love for Viz for Social Good to have a stronger presence and awareness in Asia Pacific and hopefully, we can have more volunteers from this region to join and do good with data.
Kimly: Tell me about how being a Viz For Social Good lead has changed or benefited you and your career – if it has?
Thi: Being a Viz for Social Good lead has helped me understand how this non-profit operates and given me the chance to get to know the amazing team behind it, who are really passionate and willing to give their time to not only do good but also enable others to do good with data, and who does so much behind-the-scene work to get a project ready for the volunteers to work on and run the project from the start to finish. I’m proud to be part of the team and I would like to give a shout out to the whole team!
Being involved in Viz for Social Good has made me a more purpose-driven and community-driven person as I can see that the generous giving of time and talents from the team and our amazing global volunteers can truly make impacts on the great work of other non-profits. I also learn to organise my time better in order to take on additional responsibilities. It has helped me grow as a person, and benefited me and my career in that way.
Kimly: Your Iron Viz entry from 2020 – A Doctor. A Pandemic. A Mental Health Battle, must be one of my favourite vizzes on Tabelau Public. I love how you’ve communicated such a sensitive topic with so much respect. And you bring to light such an important topic. I can’t imagine how healthcare workers have coped during this pandemic. We often take our healthcare workers for granted and your viz really did well to shine a light on that. What inspired you to create this viz?
A Doctor. A Pandemic. A Mental Health Battle on Tableau Public
Thi: Thank you so much Kimly! I’m really happy this is one of your favourite vizzes! It’s my favourite viz too! This is the viz that I put the most efforts, nights and weekends into it. It is my first Iron Viz submission ever. The topic that year was about Health and Wellness.
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of lockdowns happened. While we got to work from home, the front-end healthcare workers had to come to work and face the pandemic in the most direct way. Everyday was a battle for them as while they saw sickness and death, they were also fighting to save lives. They are the true heroes!
I love the topic but after exploring a few datasets, I still didn’t have a story to tell. I almost gave up. One night, my phone showed a headline about Dr. Lorna Breen’s death from The New York Times. I read the news in the late night and could not sleep. The story was so captivating and heart breaking. I decided to tell her story and from there, telling a bigger story about our true heroes and the challenges that they faced which seemed too much for any human being, and I wanted to find out if healthcare systems and healthcare workers in the world were prepared for such a sudden pandemic. Finally, I wanted to end with the message that heroes sometimes also need help, and there was a stigma that we need to fight so that it will become more normalised that our healthcare workers who always put others first, could say, I need help. I hope this viz increases the awareness about the struggle of our unsung heroes and that people will be kinder and more supportive to them.
Kimly: The fact that women physicians are 130% times more likely to suicide than the general population is really alarming. Did you find any reasons behind that staggering figure?
Thi: It is indeed alarming! It’s such a good question! I didn’t go on to find reasons behind that, but I guess women are more easily affected emotionally and mentally and women physicians have to deal with so much emotional toll from their physically and emotionally demanding work. I have always had the utmost respect for healthcare workers as I think they have one of the toughest jobs in the world!
Kimly: I love your design choices here – the timeline, the black and white colour palette, the use of the very prominent word cloud to show the silent changes in Dr Lorna Breen – it all works so well together. Why did you decide to go with these design choices?
Thi: Thank you so much for loving my design choice! It was inspired by Priya Padham’s Iron Viz submission, A Study of Happiness. I loved her black and white design choice and thought it fitted perfectly with my story. This choice also saved me from my usual struggle of choosing a good colour palette. I would like to thank again all the people who kindly gave me feedback to improve this viz: Adam Mico, Lindsay Betzendahl, Priya Padham, Judit Bekker, Brian Moore and Zack Bowders.
Kimly: What was the hardest part about creating this viz?
Thi: The hardest part was telling Dr. Lorna Breen’s heart-breaking story with respect and from there, telling the bigger picture of challenges faced by our healthcare workers and healthcare systems especially in the pandemic context. Suicide and mental health are tough topics and this was my first time vizzing about these.
Kimly: If you were to create this viz again, would there be anything that you would change or do differently?
Thi: Maybe I could try to find out why female physicians have a much higher tendency than male physicians to suicide and suffer from psychological burdens as per your great question above. But overall, I would keep the viz intact as I was living through all the emotions while creating the viz. If I redo it, it might not come out as effective.
Kimly: What’s next for you in terms of vizzing? I know things can get busy, and this is totally selfish of me because I miss seeing your vizzes!
Thi: Thank you Kimly! You’re so kind! I miss vizzing too! I hope I can find time to viz again! At the moment, my energy is channelled into building and supporting communities including the #DataFam, #VizforSocialGood, and the internal community in my company. Together with a few passionate colleagues, after months of planning, we finally organised our company’s APAC Tableau Day event which was the first in this region. It’s so great to see our community come together for the first time for sharing and learning.
#IronViz 2021 | 1 Year Of Netflix Joy In Solitude (Or Not?) on Tableau Public
Kimly: And lastly, who are some inspiring women that you follow or look up to in the data viz community?
Thi: It’s really difficult to name all of them here! Here are a few names in my very long list.
- Kimly Scott – yes you! You have inspired me since I first joined the community with your vizzes focusing on important topics about women. You are also the first woman of colour and #momswhoviz to get into the top 3 in Iron Viz. You told your story so genuinely and convincingly via your viz “Two Countries” on the Iron Viz global stage! Thank you for representing us! You are also making a change by creating this amazing she will viz platform to promote women. I can’t wait to read more stories about women in data viz!
- Priya Padham – Priya is so talented and skilful in both technical and design aspects. Her vizzes are innovative and trendsetting! One of my favourites is her Safe Houses in Tanzania viz! She has also been an active speaker at Tableau Conference and TUGs! She is a very nice and supportive friend!
- Eva Murray – Eva is amazing and has done so much for the community, especially women! She has been co-leading #MakeoverMonday project with Andy Kriebel to help people improve their data viz skills, and has been writing books to help people with building analytics community, being a more effective public speaker etc. She also created The Maple Square platform that promotes women for data & tech public speaking opportunities. She also runs a programme to coach women working in data & tech.
- Lindsay Betzendahl – Lindsay has amazing Tableau skills and she is one of the superstars in my eyes, but always been kindly available for giving feedback to help others improve. By joining her #ProjectHealthViz initiative, I have learnt to treat each data point which represents a person with respect. I love her viz “The Race for Survival” collaborated with Kevin Flerlage.
- Sarah Bartlett – Sarah in my eyes is a superwoman. I’m amazed at all the work she has done for the community. Her #IronQuest project has helped me get familiar with Iron Viz format, learn from other submissions and improve my skills.
- Meera Umasankar – Meera’s clean and effective viz design gave me a lot of inspiration for my early days joining the community. She also completed one whole year of #MakeoverMonday!
- Dzifa Amexco – Dzifa is a cheerful and lovely person! Her vizzes bring out important topics especially about diversity. I love her Juneteenth viz!
- Gandes Goldestan – Check out Gandes’ amazing Tableau Public profile. She created beautiful vizzes, especially business dashboards. Her HR Dashboard has over 1,300 favourites and 97,000 views!
- Jyoti Lunaych – Jyoti’s vizzes have clean and beautiful designs. We have similar unconventional path into data viz career. Check out her Superstore Dashboard and Viz for Social Good viz.
- Johanna Josodipuro and Nicole Klassen – Both Johanna and Nicole won the Vizzie Award for “Notable Newbie” at TC22, and both are frequent & awesome volunteers of Viz for Social Good. Check out Johanna’s Build Up Nepal viz and Nicole’s Viz for Social Good – TEWWY viz!
- Wendy Shijia – Wendy is a wizard! She has experimented with so many different techniques and tools! I love all her map vizzes!
- Ellen Blackburn – I always refer my team to Ellen’s business dashboards! They have beautiful & effective designs and lots of features!
- Autumn Battani – Autumn is so resourceful and creative! Check out her wonderful YouTube channel to learn more about creating dashboard wireframes in Figma.
- Sqlbelle – She has created amazing Tableau educational videos which are very well explained and easy to follow. Check out her YouTube channel.
And, as always, if you are a woman in data viz who wants to share your story, please don’t be afraid to reach out.