Getting to Know 2021 Iron Viz Winner, Lisa Trescott!

by Allen Hillery

Lisa Trescott won the 2021 Iron Viz competition with dazzling and concise visuals and awesome storytelling! For those who may not know about Iron Viz, it’s the largest data visualization competitions where contenders from around the globe compete for bragging rights and a $10,000 cash prize and $5,000 towards a non-profit of their choice!

I had a chance to catch up with Lisa to get her reaction to winning and she used these three words to describe it – “Excited! Shocked! Overwhelmed!” Read on to find out more about Lisa and what this win means to her personally.

Getting to know Lisa

Allen HilleryCongratulations Lisa! Way to go on your Iron Viz win! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Lisa Trescott – I’m a research analyst at MiraCosta College, which is a community college in Oceanside, California. I support the college’s student equity and achievement programs, so I mainly use Tableau to analyze student-level data, identify equity gaps, and determine which students need additional support.

Follow Lisa on Twitter and Tableau Public

LT: Outside of work and Tableau, I love being outdoors. I know I’m fortunate to live in Southern California where I can be outside all year round, and I definitely take advantage of that. I’m also super crafty (sewing, painting, costuming, etc.) and love any project where I have a creative outlet.

AH: How are you feeling right now knowing you just won Iron Viz!?!

LT: Excited. Shocked. Overwhelmed! There have been a lot of emotions and it has all been very surreal, but above all I feel proud of myself. Iron Viz was a huge challenge, and it was a major personal accomplishment just to participate.

I’m also overcome with gratitude for the DataFam and their support and kindness. I never would have made it to Iron Viz without the guidance, feedback, and resources they put out there, and I am so grateful to each and every member of the community.

Feeling the pressure

AH: Let’s think about the significance of your win for a moment. You’re the 4th woman in Iron Viz’s history to reach a global final and the first woman to win in 9 years since Anya A’Hearn in 2012. What are your thoughts? What impact do you feel your win will have on the Tableau and data communities?

LT: I got a phone call from my 12-year-old cousin right after she watched Iron Viz. She was talking excitedly about the competition, gave me her very passionate take on everything, and broke down her analysis of each viz, the charts, and designs. It filled me with so much joy knowing I helped fuel her excitement about data, and I hope my win will inspire similar excitement among women in the community.

I also hope this win helps alleviate some of the added pressure women may feel as members of a group that is underrepresented in this field. When I found out I was a finalist, I certainly felt added pressure to be a good representative of women in data and to prove that a woman could win all these years after Anya. I felt the weight of that nine year gap, and I didn’t want to let down women in the community because I knew they were anxiously awaiting a woman champion again. I’m hopeful that women who participate in the future won’t feel that same level of pressure and will be less focused on their gender when it comes to participating in things like Iron Viz, community projects, and just pursuing their passion for data in general.

I got a phone call from my 12-year-old cousin right after she watched Iron Viz. She was talking excitedly about the competition, gave me her very passionate take on everything, and broke down her analysis of each viz, the charts, and designs.

Lisa Trescott on the immediate reactions after her Iron Viz win.

The importance of data literacy

AH: What does data literacy mean to you?

LT: Working at a college, I’m fortunate to see firsthand how nurturing data literacy directly impacts people’s lives. I get to work with faculty to help them understand their data, which helps them identify and act on equity gaps in their classrooms, resulting in more students passing classes. I work with programs to help staff understand data on students’ needs, and in turn that understanding helps get resources to students who are struggling to make ends meet. Ultimately, data literacy is so important if you want to foster positive change and have an impact in any industry, and I get to see that play out at work every day.

AH: How long have you been using Tableau?

LT: I’ve been using Tableau for 4 years at work, but just joined the community earlier this year. I resisted joining for a long time because I wasn’t keen on getting a Twitter account, but as soon as I joined, I realized what a mistake it had been to wait.  I started growing so much by participating in community projects and getting feedback from others in the DataFam.

Lisa Trescott’s 2021 Iron Viz entry! The theme for this year centered around music. Chartmetric provided a deep data set, global in scope, of nearly 200 million records spanning several years. It included artist popularity, metadata, YouTube listening data, and loads of Shazam history.

AH: What motivated you to do Iron Viz?

LT: When Iron Viz season rolled around, I had no intention of entering. I saw Iron Viz as something for Zen Masters and technical gurus who were way more advanced than I am. Then I saw Sarah Bartlett‘s blog post about why everyone should enter Iron Viz, and she described it as a great learning opportunity and a way to connect with the community. She made me realize how much I could learn and grow just by entering, so that was my main motivation. I wanted to enhance my skills, connect with others in the community, and just have fun with data. The experience was all of those things and so much more.

AH: What was training for the largest data viz competition like?

LT: Before getting the data, I immediately started learning Tableau Prep (shout out to Preppin’ Data challenges! They were a great resource to learn the tool). I also watched videos of older Iron Viz competitions, chatted with some previous finalists for advice and tips, read a few books on storytelling with data, and brushed up on Tableau hotkeys and shortcuts.

Once we got the data, things really got intense. We only had two and half weeks between getting the data and filming the build, which is a pretty short timeline to analyze 200 million rows of data, find a compelling story, visualize it, learn to build it in 20 minutes, and put together a presentation. I also scrapped my original story and started over a week and a half before we filmed, which was a scary decision, but I knew it was the right call.

I ran through the build around 15 to 20 times, and my sous vizzer Esther had a ton of great tips for where to cut down on time. I also ran through the presentation too many times to count. Narrating the charts proved to be a much more difficult task than I anticipated, so a lot of time and practice went into getting it all synced up.

I also scrapped my original story and started over a week and a half before we filmed, which was a scary decision, but I knew it was the right call.

Lisa Trescott sharing her experience training for Iron Viz

AH: What words of advice do you have for the community, especially women in data?

LT: It’s really intimidating to put your work out there. I was terrified to make my first submission to a community project, Real World, Fake Data (#RWFD), and I stared at my computer for probably 20 minutes before getting the courage to hit enter. However, as soon as I did, only good things followed. Mark Bradbourne featured my submission in his blog post for the #RWFD data set that week, and gave feedback on some things that could make it better. Whether it’s through Iron Viz or any community project, if you put your work out there, you’re going to learn and get better.

The Tableau community has your back and wants you to do well. Learning Tableau and data visualization is like learning a new language, and no one is judging you if you aren’t fluent.

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