TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Part 1

This is Part 1 in the series TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Intro. In this post, I am talking about my first experience with Alteryx and then my impression of the first tutorial.

When I opened Alteryx Designer (v10.6) for the first time, I got this ‘Getting Started’ window. My first reaction – ‘Wow!’. This is something I have started seeing lately in a few consumer apps on the mobile and it was refreshing to see this kind of help in an enterprise-grade ETL tool. The workflow demonstrated is very simple – just utilizing a select, sort and filter operation. You can watch each step (an animated gif) at your own pace and move on to the next step. 

What is clear from this first minute into Alteryx is the high-level workflow in building an Alteryx workflow.

  1. Bring a data source into Alteryx using drag-and-drop
  2. Build out the rest of the workflow using drag-and-drop
  3. Run the workflow
  4. View the Results
  5. (may I add?) Rinse-and-Repeat, if needed.

If I recall my first impression of Tableau, I was not sure whether it was so clear like here as to the steps involved in creating a report from start-to-end. So, here is a nice idea that Tableau can use to help its first-time users.

Given how inviting this intro was, I checked out the second tab labeled ‘Tutorials’. Alteryx Getting Started - Tutorials.png

Again, another very elegant and inviting display of a number of Tutorials. My first impression – very professional. For each tutorial, there is an overview describing what is covered in each tutorial along with a listing of the tools used on the right-side of the window. I am starting to like the nice icons used for the tools. I clicked on ‘Open Workflow’ on the first tutorial ‘Preparing Data’.

Here is a summary of my impressions on the first Tutorial – ‘Preparing Data’

  • Instructions in the first tutorial were very clear – by default, the toolbar ‘Favourite’ was open where I could find the 2 tools needed for the job very easily – Input Data and Select. Once I finished this tutorial, there was already a very helpful link at the bottom with a link to the next Tutorial ‘Filtering Data’
  • In the Select tool configuration, I saw a field named ‘Unknown’. Out of curiosity, I located the file in Windows Explorer and opened it by double-clicking it. The file does not have any such field – why is this field added by Alteryx in the Select tool config? Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 12.22.04 PM.png
  • The first major problem I faced was locating the sample files. When I try to go to folder where the sample file is supposed to be stored ‘C:\Program Files\Alteryx’, I could not find ‘Alteryx’. Then I tried ‘C:\Program Files (x86)’ and there also, I could not find Alteryx. Then, I scouted around the entire menu (starting with File Menu and then Help Menu) to see whether there is a link to open ‘Samples’ somewhere – I could not find anyone. I tried to search for ‘Alteryx’ in my windows and it was taking too long. So, I decided to ask Uncle Google ‘where is alteryx sample files‘. Fortunately, the first link I got was Solved: Where can I find the sample data for the Alteryx Tutorials. Scrolling down, I found the first helpful clue – I might have done a ‘non-admin’ installation. I copied ‘%localappdata%\Alteryx\Samples\SampleData’ and pasted in the Windows Explorer and voila – I finally got to see the Alteryx sample after wasting about 10-15 minutes. Now, I went back to the download link and saw that there were 2 options – non-admin installation was recommended for evaluation purposes and I chose it since I was going to evaluate. Here are some requests for the Alteryx team:
    • Please include a link to the Samples in File Menu. What I found surprising was that I found this page which claims that there is indeed a menu File -> Open Sample. But I could not find it in my Alteryx Designer 10.6 on windows.
    • Since you have provided 2 installations and recommended non-admin installation for evaluation purposes, please refer to the place where Alteryx is installed in your documentation. It was frustrating to spend so much time looking for the place where Alteryx is installed. That spoiled the great first impression built by the ‘Getting Started’ tutorial.
  • When the workflow finished running, I got a modal window (Modal means that I have to explicitly dismiss it). Somehow, I did not like this window – reminded me of the old-school program design. I clicked on ‘Do not show again’ and the next time, I ran the workflow, I have no clue whether the workflow is running and when it finished, etc. – I don’t also know how to get the window back.Running the workflow a few times, I figured out the subtle clues to recognize when it is running. There is a beep sound when it finishes. Is there a way to display this information in a non-obtrusive way, say in the Results window here? There is no trace of the workflow steps here in this window – why? I am probably missing something here. Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 12.32.04 PM.png
  • Given this is the first tutorial, why can’t we use a simple Excel file that everyone can understand, rather than an unknown and new format file called Alteryx database? When I examined the contents, they seemed simple data which can be easily stored in an Excel. Am I missing anything?

After I finished doing all the tutorials, I watched the getting started videos. The first video in the series provides a nice overview as it introduces the key terms in Alteryx – Canvas, Tool Palette, Favourite Tools, etc. – Very well done!

What I did not like in the first video was that the Excel used has 2 sheets – output and output$ and the explanation given by the presenter was neither clear nor satisfying. They should just remove the named range called output and just keep only the sheet named output and they should mention in the video that the sheet names get a $ at the end.

One more thing that I really liked was the Results messages window – the presenter was showing that each tool writes very helpful logs with hyperlinks to see how the tool got its input and how it produced the output. If the output is a file, the link to that file was provided, thus making it easy for us to launch the file. Lot of attention has been paid to the details here – these would definitely very helpful as we build more and more complex workflow for real-life situations.

The second video in the series (Preparing Data) repeats some of the content from the first video which could be avoided – sorry for being so finicky 🙂 – every second counts 🙂

The presenter show how the results window could be easily popped out and then docked back – this is also well-done!

This is Part 1 in the series TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Intro. If you want to go to Part 2, please click here.

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