Topics: 3 min readtime

Iron Viz - Road to the Final

Written by Timothy
Sunday 9 December, 2018


"Transcript" of the viz on Tableau Public. We'd recommend to consume it there if you can, as it contains a bunch of fun and interactive charts.


Las Vegas, TC15. The first time I saw Iron Viz, with Shine Pulikathara, Skyler Johnson and Matt Chambers contesting on stage to build the best possible viz and story in just 20 minutes. I was amazed! Having used Tableau for a year and a half then, my dream became to one day climb that stage and compete against the very best.

I entered as many feeder competitions as my schedule would allow. During this journey, I learned a terrific amount of things related to Tableau, data viz, storytelling, working with data, gathering data, and what not. It's been a great voyage, which has led me to the final in 2018 after the third feeder contest of the year! It took 9 feeder entries, but that was definitely worth it.


The preparations for the Iron Viz final did not start immediately after the last feeder contest's results were announced. While Tableau was sorting out every aspect around the data and the practicals (such as travel), the contestants were eagerly awaiting the moment they would receive "their" data.

As soon as we obtained that data, the race began. The theme of the data was revealed to be Weather (provided by IBM The Weather Company), and we were to try and enrich this data with other interesting sources. To me, this was possibly the hardest and most stressful part of the contest. Having and idea, trying to see if it will work, spending time validating hypotheses, and then throwing it all out again. Repeat. Build something, discard. And again!

After managing to settle on a theme (with certainty this time), the actual building began. While Tableau Prep had also served in the exploration process, it was now the ideal tool to shape the data in the optimal way, and to precalculate some of the complex variables included. In Tableau Desktop, the challenge was mostly to create something interesting, attractive, and accessible, while still being able to build it in 20 minutes.

At the end of the whole adventure, I'd spent a whopping 107 hours and 46 minutes just preparing for the final (almost all in two weeks)!


Once we had an idea of what the final product would look like, it was all about getting there as fast as possible. On stage, we would have 20 minutes to completely build our story, while under pressure and being scrutinized by 17 000 people in the audience!

My strategy was to start by breaking down the whole workbook in sizeable chunks: the calculations first, then the first two sheets, the next two sheets, etc. I started practicing each of the first few parts completely separately, and added the next part after around 10 runs, each time.

After sufficient practice on the individual elements, it was all about being able to run through the whole works as fast as possible. Interestingly, you'll see that the times for the full run-throughs have not really improved as we progressed. This might be because I'd already reached optimal times for each separate piece, and was just reiterating through the same whole process. In any case, the best advice came from my sous-viz David Freifeld, who said it would be best to ensure we can consistently make it under 18 minutes. This vision, I believe, enabled an optimal course of building during the final too.


Following a colleague's advice, I tracked some fun metrics with regards to my whole preparation journey. These include the total time spent and speed runs in the previous two sections. But, I also used a combination of Spotify and Last.FM to track what music I had been listening to in the preparation period!

Below, you'll discover my (potentially horrible) taste in music, and see what genres were most prominent. I guess we're confirming the hosts' introduction as a heavy metal fan, but you might be surprised in the end. I mean, check out that Most Listened To track. Funny, right? Well, tell you what, this was the most energetic, wacky and ludicrous track I could find to race through my speed runs, and it worked! Listen to it below...


After the final took place, the six of us (contestants and sous-vizzers) headed to the Data Night Out, and had an excellent time! So many people came out, and were curious about how we experienced the final. If you want to relive the experience yourself, use the button on the right to view the full event on Youtube!

As for myself, this has driven me to try and spend time motivating people to participate in as many data initiatives as you can! There's Iron Viz which is a great competitive environment to learn at a fast pace, but there are loads of other great things going on to help you get even better at what you love doing: visualizing and analyzing! Check out the likes of Makeover Monday, Workout Wednesday, Sportsviz Sunday, Data For Good, and many others. All of these are focused on letting you learn and experiment in a fun and/or safe environment. In the end, you'll quickly notice how awesome you're becoming at what you do every day (for work, supposedly).

To conclude, I wanted to thank all of the people who made this journey possible for me. First and foremost are my parents and fiancée, who have motivated and supported me since... forever. There are also my colleagues and friends, who were present in full force at the final, and/or watched from far away countries. And finally, the Tableau Community, which is really a family like no other, and has driven me to participate in events such as the ones mentioned above and Iron Viz itself. Most importantly, the community has inspired me to be a better version of myself every day.