For starters, it pays well. The pay is often higher than other more technically challenging jobs in the data science profession. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Tableau developer is $81,514, which is higher than database developers, statisticians, and data analysts. (See footnote for more salary details.)
The work-life balance is also good. You can often work remotely and jobs in this field rarely require much overtime. If you become really good and market yourself effectively, you can work on a contract-by-contract basis, thus improving both flexibility and income.
Tableau development is also in high demand. After working for a single year as a Tableau developer, you will get calls from recruiters frequently. Sometimes multiple calls within a single week.
And best of all – it’s the most creative job within business intelligence. There’s no other job in this field that allows you to exercise more aesthetic flare and storytelling abilities than Tableau development.
You Don’t Need a Particular Background to Become a Tableau Developer
You might be wondering if this job is so great and in such high demand, am I even qualified? Don’t I need a computer science background or know advanced statistics to work as a Tableau developer?
You don’t need either of those things!
While you will usually need a college degree, it doesn’t matter what degree. Nor does it matter what work experience you’ve had.
Here are just some of the diverse backgrounds of the most talented Tableau developers I know:
If you noticed, none of those involved computer science.
As a matter of fact, I think those with a traditional liberal arts background have an advantage in Tableau development, whereas many other data science disciplines really do need a STEM background.
What Is Required as a Tableau Developer?
Tableau is about using good data visualizations and good design techniques to tell stories with data. It involves being good with people and asking the right questions to deliver dashboards stakeholders will actually understand and use on a regular basis.
The programming aspect is often limited and easy to learn. If you can understand the following steps and how I arrived at my conclusion, you can learn the programming required for Tableau:
A = 3
B = 6
A = B
A + B = 12
Regarding statistics, the calculations involved in Tableau development are not advanced either. It’s usually limited to simple concepts like average, minimum, and maximum.
How Do I Get Hired as a Tableau Developer?
There's a big talent gap within Tableau. That means many managers have to hire for aptitude and interest when they cannot hire for experience.
If you can demonstrate that aptitude and interest, you will have an easier time getting a job as a Tableau developer (or other related roles, such as report developer or BI developer).
How to Demonstrate Aptitude and Interest for Tableau Development
The best way to display aptitude and interest for Tableau development is by developing Tableau dashboards in your spare time and involving yourself with the vibrant Tableau community.
More specifically, you can do the following:
Download Tableau Public or Tableau Desktop
Build and publish Tableau dashboards with publicly available data
Read good books on data visualizations
Take a class
Attend Tableau User Groups
Talk to people at Tableau User Groups
Ask people you met at TUG out to coffee or lunch
Learn (just enough) SQL
Learn what quality work looks like
Continue reading for a more detailed explanation of each of these points.
Tableau Public is free. This is what I recommend to start off with. Tableau Public does not allow you to connect to a database, but you can import raw data files (XLSX, CSV, JSON, etc.). Also, anything you build and save will be saved on public.tableau.com. Even though you can change the settings on your published dashboards to make them private, I would still avoid using anything with confidential or private data.
If you want to spend $840, you can purchase a yearly subscription to Tableau Desktop and practice with other types of data sources. So if you work at a company with data sources like Google Analytics or SQL Server, you can connect to them and practice using the data in Tableau Desktop.
#2: Build and Publish Tableau Dashboards With Publicly Available Data
As you get better at building data visualizations and dashboards, you want to publish them on Tableau Public's Gallery for other people to view. This allows you demonstrate both aptitude and interest.
For this reason, you need publicly available data that is free and non-confidential.
Fortunately, there’s tons of interesting data out there you can use. You can use financial market data from Yahoo Finance. Other people use sports data (I don't know how to find that kind of data). The best resource is Kaggle, which has many free data sets available for people in the data science profession to practice with.
#3: Read Good Books on Tableau and Data Visualizations
Do you think you know what makes a good dashboard or data visualization? If you don't know the basic rules (like no pie charts), then it's easy to mess up.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of good books out there that will help you make effective data visualizations that avoid these mistakes and deliver good insights.
Here are three highly recommended books:
Practical Tableau by Ryan Sleeper
The Functional Art by Alberto Cairo
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
#4: Take a Class
Nothing demonstrates interest in Tableau like taking a class on Tableau. If you have no prior work experience, this signals to a hiring manager that they won’t have to spend time training you on the basics and you cared enough about this career to take a class.
Also, classes allow you to learn things you may miss through self-study. Even if you are a great self-starter and typically teach yourself most new skills, a class will dramatically shorten the time it takes for you to learn the tool.
#5: Get Certification
Getting certified in Tableau demonstrates aptitude. This is recommended if you have no prior work experience building Tableau dashboards.
A hiring manager will see that not only have you learned the material – you also were able to get outside verification that you knew what you were doing.
After you get hired, don’t waste time getting more certifications. Literally no one has ever asked me for certifications because I have demonstrated work experience and a portfolio of Tableau dashboards.
#6: Attend Tableau User Groups
This is a big one that will go a long way to finding job opportunities.
Most major metropolitan areas have a Tableau User Group (we often just call it "TUG"). If you want to find out when and where your next TUG event is, visit this link here to find the community page.
#7: Talk to People at TUG
Tableau User Groups (like most professional tech groups) have a reputation for quiet people who stand in the corner and don't say anything at all.
Don’t be one of those people.
Walk up to people and say hello. Introduce yourself to other audience members and the speakers as well (speakers love hearing compliments on their talks, FYI).
As you talk to these people, ask to connect with them on LinkedIn. (You can connect to my LinkedIn here.)
#8: Ask People You Met at TUG Out to Coffee or Lunch
Believe it or not, you don't have to wait until the next TUG event to talk the people you met again. You can meet them outside of these events as well!
As you make more connections, ask people you connected with to coffee or lunch. (Make sure you offer to pay)
During these meetups, ask them sincere questions about their own career and how they use Tableau in their organization. You may also ask advice for finding work. They may know someone that’s hiring and what those people look for in a candidate.
Whatever you do, don’t outright ask for a job. That’s just tacky. You may ask if they have openings and apply if they do, but don't ambush the person with a job request.
I’ve regularly met people for lunch and coffee for years. Many times, I’ve been asked to apply for a job as a result. One time I was outright offered a job without asking, applying, or interviewing.
But I have never – NEVER – gone into one of these meetings intending to get a job from it.
These meetings are about building relationships within the broader analytics community. Make building relationships your goal for these meetups and good things will come of it.
#9: Learn (Just Enough) SQL
Most of the data you’ll connect to with Tableau exists in a SQL database. While it’s not always the case, many companies separate database development and Tableau development into two separate roles. So not knowing advanced SQL isn't a deal breaker for working in this career field.
But even if you have no desire to write advanced scripts to manipulate data, you will still need to learn just enough SQL to get by. Specifically, you’ll need to know how to write a SELECT statement, along with a WHERE clause. GROUP BY and ORDER BY are commands you should also know.
You can take some free lessons at this link on how to write SQL.
If you want to learn more SQL and combine it with a career in Tableau development, you can take on a role called Business Intelligence Developer, which includes both skills. These roles are more popular on lower volume teams that don't require specialization.
#10: Learn What Quality Work Looks Like
The best practice on data teams is for one team member to quality check another team member’s work. Not every team does this. But it is still a skill you should develop (and it’ll help you improve your own dashboards as well).
As you develop your own dashboards to publish on Tableau Public, get really good at being skeptical of your own work.
Prove to yourself that your data and your work is accurate and works as intended. You can do this by repeatedly checking your work.
For a free guide on quality checking a dashboard, click on this link.
Last Tip? Apply for Tableau Jobs
All the steps outlined above will increase your chances of finding a Tableau developer job, but you don't have to wait until you've completed all ten steps to start applying.
Put yourself out there and start submitting applications for Tableau jobs on LinkedIn, Ziprecruiter, and Indeed. You may get lucky early on.
If you don't get a job immediately, don't despair. Continue to show employers that you have a big interest in this career field and the aptitude to do it well. At the end of the day, most (smart) employers would much rather work with someone who is passionate about their work than someone with lots of experience and zero passion.
Footnote If you don’t have any professional work experience, $40-50k is a reasonable starting salary for Tableau development. If you’ve had professional work experience with no prior Tableau experience (or other data analytic roles), $55-65k is a fair amount to start out at. These salary estimates are based on my past experience as a developer and manager, as well as data from Glassdoor. I won't guarantee though that you will earn these exact amounts.