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.  Continue reading

TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Intro

This is going to be a long post where I assemble my first experience with Alteryx. My intent is to document all the resources (videos, articles, etc.) I went through with the following: key take aways, what I liked, what could be improved & my impression of Alteryx various features/usability. When I say ‘Day 1’, please do not take it literally – I am just documenting the first few hours I have spent with Alteryx, spread over a period of few days.

As a first-time user, I found that there are multiple paths to get started and there is some slight differences between them. This can leave a new user confused and it could also means wasted time in going through multiple resources, not knowing the minute differences between them (as it happened to me). I hope Alteryx fixes this and provides a single way to get started. Or at least unify all the different paths and make it clear in the welcome email. I provide a detailed review of each of these paths and also provide my recommendation on the best path to take to save you the time I ended up wasting in sifting through these resources.

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A Tableau Power User’s Journey as an Alteryx Newbie


It has been a while since I have been hearing a lot of things about Alteryx especially as a great ETL tool for Tableau since Tableau lacks the ability to change the shape of the data (except for the few limited features like unpivoting and union that were added, if my memory is right, in the last 1 year). Having the data in the right shape (or as we call it, having the right data model) makes working in Tableau frictionless and productive. When encountering a tricky reporting requirement, especially one that does not seem easy to build on Tableau, most newbies to Tableau try to write complex calculations or resort to some hacks to solve the problems. Whereas people who are masters in the craft, like Joe Mako, often talk about changing the data model to make working in Tableau easier. Every real-life project that we work on always has a few data model issues that makes data cleanup/data preparation necessary before bringing the data into Tableau. So, we have been on the lookout for good ETL tools that would fit the budget for our clients. But I have ignored Alteryx for a number of reasons which I will explain below and now I have decided to take Alteryx for a test drive now, primarily inspired by 2 people – Joe Mako and Ken Black. In this series, my intent is to capture my entire journey in learning and evaluating Alteryx as a tool for data preparation and data cleansing.

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1.3 Paradoxical Problem 2

This is the third video in the series – Demystifying table calculations in Tableau.

Here, we will look at the second paradoxical problem. If you have not gone through the first paradoxical problem, I recommend you to do it first before proceeding.

Here is the gist of the video:

In the second paradox, we look at another very common business requirement in reporting : looking at figures cumulatively like Year-to-Date (YTD), Month-to-Date (MTD), etc. We have already established that accessing a previous record is difficult for the databases. This paradox also has the same issue, but it adds one more nuance to it.

Here is a text-version of the video for those of you who prefer to read than to watch – please note that this is NOT a transcript of the video.

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1.2 Paradoxical Problem 1

This is the second video in the series – Demystifying table calculations in Tableau.

Here, I introduce you to the concept of the “3 Paradoxical Problems in the Reporting World” and then we will look at the first paradoxical problem in detail.

Here is the gist of the the video:

Some operations are very easy for us as human beings to do, but they are hard for databases to do (and hence for the reporting/analytics tools). It turns out that the most-often needed calculations in business like Ranking, Top 10, etc. suffer from the first paradox – If you want to know what this paradox is about, please watch the video or read on.

Normally, I would like to help you save time by summarizing the key take away first so that you can decide whether to invest your time in watching the video or not. But in this case, if I summarize it, I am afraid that it would take away the impact of the message. So, please spare 4 minutes of your time to watch the video.

Here is a text-version of the video for those of you who prefer to read than to watch – please note that this is NOT a transcript of the video.

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1.1 My first BIG insight about table calculations

This is the first video in the series – Demystifying table calculations in Tableau. In this video, I talk about the first big insight that I got about table calculations that led me to understand it much more intuitively, a feat that I could not achieve even after reading so many articles and watching so many videos.

Here is the key take away from the video:

Imagine you have a view/report that displays Total Sales by Region. Instead of displaying the raw sales numbers, you might display the percentage of sales of each region or the rank of the region, etc. This change in display is what Table Calculations are about.

To define it more specifically, Table Calculations are nothing but a way to change how a summary value like Total Sales is displayed in a view/report in Tableau.

Here is a text-version of the video for those of you who prefer to read than to watch – please note that this is NOT a transcript of the video. When I record the video, I do have a clear idea of the ideas I want to communicate, but I don’t follow a detailed written script as I just want to go with my natural flow as a teacher. Similarly, when I write after I have produced the video, I just want to go with the flow I get in writing as I try to capture the same ideas in the written form.

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A new series on Demystifying Table Calculations

Tableau is an easy to use to tool – As part of my daily work, I have introduced Tableau to a lot of people and normally I see surprise and delight in their eyes when they see first-hand how easy it is to create very nice-looking reports/charts/dashboards and how easy it is to modify them to answer different questions.

However, there are few areas in Tableau that have high friction – they are not as intuitive as the rest of the Tableau. The area that attracts the most attention in the Tableau community is Table Calculations – this is touted as the feature that allows a Tableau user to do very advanced calculations in Tableau. One has to only look at the work of Tableau Zen masters like Joe Mako to believe this statement. However, I see that most people struggle with understanding table calculations in Tableau.

Today, I am starting a new series of posts with the aim to demystify Table Calculations in Tableau. If you want a full story about why I am doing this, please read my post in the Tableau forum here.

Here is a quick overview of what I intend to cover in the series – please note that this list is not static. It will keep evolving as I find better ways to organize the concepts.  I often get better ideas on how to present something after I have presented it a few times – hence, it is better for me to keep this list dynamic so as to capture the best possible inspiration I get to present this complex topic.

The list below will also serve as a Table of Contents for the entire series. As I create each new article/video, I will provide a link here.

Module 1: Introduction to Table Calculations & Mapping the 11 Quick Table Calculations to 3 Paradoxical Problem Families. In addition to this, we will cover the basics like aggregation and level of detail and some important terminology that would help us to cover the ground faster in the later modules.

1.1 My first BIG insight about table calculations

1.2 Paradoxical Problem 1

Module 2: Difference & % Difference Calculations (Year over year Growth is a special case of % Difference)

Module 3: Rank

Module 4: Running Total Calculations (YTD Total is a special case of Running Total)

Module 5: Combining Difference & Running Total – YTD Growth

Module 6: Moving Average – Why Average is a sensitive calculation that can trip even experienced users of Tableau with a background in statistics

Module 7: Percentile – Why this is such an useful, yet rarely-understood concept

Module 8: % of Total – Why am I discussing such an easy and important concept at the end, especially after the heavyweights like Moving Average and Percentile

Module 9: Compound Growth Rate – Though this is a variation of % Difference, this is a bit deep and also has lesser applicability than other concepts.

Module 10: Going Beyond the Quick Table Calculations – Here, we will discuss the single most important function that is the heart of all table calculations. If you understand this function well, your journey with advanced Table Calculations  will be much easier. Here, we will get into the complex scenarios which require you to open the calculation editor to write the Calculations.

Module 11: Real-life Problem Solving – Here, we will take the questions/problems that are most often asked in the Tableau forums on Table Calculations and we will apply the concepts we have learnt so far to solving them.

Module 12: Tour of the best resources on Table Calculations – Here, my intent is to go over the excellent documentation that the Tableau community has produced in the form of blog posts, webinars, TDT sessions (Tableau Data Thursday), conference presentations, etc. to identify resources that will help you to inch towards mastery of table calculations, beyond what I have covered here – This will be like a PhD-level homework on table calculations and NOT for the faint-hearted 🙂