When studying at university at one point many students will have to deal with data in one form or another. Especially if you are a business or social science student, statistics and data visualization will play a role in your undergraduate and postgraduate life at one point or another. Usually, you will be given access to a statistical software package such as SPSS. While these programs are really good to help you analyze data quickly and effectively, they are no good at visualizing your results. What I have done in the past, and probably many others finding SPSS data visualizations horrible, I copied the relevant data output to Microsoft Excel and built my graphs there. Now, though I have spent many, many years using excel and, believe it or not, I love it (I think it is really powerful in many sorts of ways), Excel is also no particularly advanced program for making nice data visualizations. It gives you more flexibility than for instance SPSS, but that’s it.
So recently I came across Tableau. What is Tableau: It is a really nice piece of software that aims at making data visualization visually attractive without you having to learn how to use costly, professional design software to make elaborate charts and graphs. And what’s more, they offer a one year license for free to all students with a valid university email address.
Now, I don’t want to be seen as advertising any particular software here, but as I said it is free; there is no cost attached to it if you are a student. So why not sharing this knowledge! And when you look at what has already been created with Tableau, you sure want to give it at least a try.
I have downloaded tableau a few months ago myself and I have already created a few nice charts with data from my PhD project. So I have already gained some knowledge on what can be done with it and what can’t. From these experiences I can tell you, it is not 100% self-explanatory to use it and you need to experiment a little and try different things out; but after a while you get the hang of it and it starts to become a lot more powerful. In this way it is similar to Excel. As I said, I have used Excel extensively over the last years but it also took me a lot of practice to get to my current level of expertise in using it. The good thing is that the Tableau employees know this and they have provided quite a lot of tutorials that show you how to use their software. Again, the available tutorials are by no means comparable to the amount of support available for Excel or SPSS but they are pretty good nonetheless. Of course the first time you try to play with your data in Tableau after having watched the first tutorial you think, I haven’t got a clue how they did it in the tutorial (at least that’s what I thought…) but the longer you try the more knowledge you’ll gain and the better you’ll get at it.
So if you have to deal with a lot of data, I would encourage you to download this software and try it out. It may give you an edge in coursework as well as in later job searches where differentiating skills are required.