Tableau Community Spotlight: An Interview With Kate Schaub

Kate Schaub Bio

Kate is currently the Business Intelligence Technical Lead for the State of Montana’s Department of Administration. In this position, she oversees the Enterprise Tableau environment as well as the use of data analytics, and the design and creation of dashboards, whether it’s for executive use, to be included in custom applications, or for public consumption.

Outside of work, she is active in numerous community-led data projects including Makeover Monday, Iron Quest, Sports Viz Sunday, the SWD Challenge, and the Feedback loop.

When she’s not working on various Tableau projects, you can find her on a tennis court, either playing competitively or teaching lessons. She’s also an avid traveler and photographer that tries to go to at least one new place each year. Her most recent adventure to somewhere new included Stavanger and Bergen, Norway and Reykjavik, Iceland where she hiked Priekestolen and Kjeragbolten (Norway), and snorkeled in the Silfra fissure (Iceland).

Above: Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure – Iceland
Above: Sitting on Kjeragbolten – Norway
Above: Standing on Priekestolen – Norway


Kate’s Viz of the Day


Michael: Hello Kate. I really loved your Curacao Sea Turtles VOTD dataviz you created for #IronQuest earlier this year. I thought it was beautiful as well as informative. Can you tell my readers your process for developing this dataviz? For example, how did you decide on the topic, find and gather the data, design and then develop the data viz?

Kate: Hello, Michael, and thank you for including me in your Tableau Community Spotlight series! It’s been great to get to know other Tableau Community members through your blog, so I’m thrilled to be included!

This viz was the product of an interesting mixture of community-led projects as well as internal brainstorming on how to combine two passions of mine, Tableau and photography. For quite some time, I had been trying to figure out a way to use my own photography within a viz, and for the longest time, I didn’t have a topic that worked well with the two. I had almost given up on this idea when the second round of the Feedback Loop (run by Josh Smith) started last spring, and I figured I’d give it one last shot to see if I could come up with something in this no-rules environment.

To start the project, I first needed to find a topic to focus on, so I started going back through pictures of my past vacations trying to find some inspiration, and a topic I could find data on. As soon as I came back across my pictures from snorkeling with sea turtles in Curacao, I knew that had to be my topic. It was such an unforgettable experience at the time, I wanted to find a way to share that experience with others.

The first drafts of this viz really looked nothing like the end product. Once I had the data I was looking for and started creating the viz, I really didn’t have a good idea of where I wanted it to go, which is why the Feedback Loop was invaluable to this viz. I submitted two versions of the initial [very rough] drafts (see below) in order to get some feedback from my peers within the group to see which version worked better. It’s too much to share here, but the feedback I received really did shape the final viz. In some areas, I needed more details. In other areas, data I had included really didn’t work well with the overall flow. During this time, I also realized that I needed to find a balance between sparking curiosity and bringing to life the real threats sea turtle face. I wanted to not only share my experience with others, but I also wanted this to be an educational piece to raise awareness about the threats to the sea turtle population. As you can see based on the images, I practically threw away both first drafts and started from scratch in order to tell the story and incorporate all the feedback I had received.

While I was working on this viz for the Feedback Loop, the next #IronQuest topic had been released, Sea Creatures. I was thrilled when I heard this, and that gave me even more motivation to finish this viz! As soon as I finished it up, I submitted it for both #IronQuest and our next round of the Feedback Loop. The final version of this viz turned out to be an infographic style, filled with pictures, shapes, and other visuals, so users get the entire story just by looking at the static image, but also with some interactive pieces where users could learn additional information by interacting with the viz on Tableau Public. To my surprise, it was selected as Viz of the Day on May 21st!

Curacao Sea Turtles, Version 2
Curacao Sea Turtles, Version 1

Michael: You are a Business Intelligence Lead with the State of Montana. Can you tell my readers a little bit about how you use Tableau at work?

Kate: I joined the State of Montana’s Department of Administration 5 years ago as a SQL Server Database Administrator. Now, our definition of database administrators is a bit different from the norm in that we aren’t designing databases or writing code. Here, we host and manage over 1,200 SQL Server databases and over 200 Oracle databases. Our team is responsible for the setup and maintenance of our database environments, security, disaster recovery, etc.

About a year into my position, we were in a situation where we needed to add data analytics and visualizations into various projects, so we were on the hunt for the best tool to use. We used SQL Server Reporting Services and Microsoft Datazen before finally landing on Tableau, and that was the best decision we could have made.

We now have an on-premise Tableau environment where we host Tableau Server and 20 Desktop licenses within our Department. As the Business Intelligence Technical Lead, it is my job to oversee our environment as well as the use of data analytics, and the design and creation of dashboards.

We use Tableau for a variety of dashboards. We have an internal ‘scorecard’ site that is full of executive dashboards that display key metrics our Bureau Chiefs and Supervisors reference on a regular basis. We also use embedded dashboards in any of our custom built applications that need reporting included.

Due to the vast number of databases we host and the fact that other State of Montana agencies can “hire” us to create visualizations, my day to day work is a lot like Makeover Monday in that, most of the time, I’m asked to create visualizations using data I’m unfamiliar with. While this can present numerous challenges, it also keeps things fresh and interesting.

Michael: Can you tell me three of your favorite Tableau Desktop tips and tricks?


  1. PowerPoint – Whether using Tableau Public or Tableau Server, we all know there are limitations, especially with how fonts are displayed once a viz has been published. PowerPoint has turned into an an excellent resource for creating custom background images, titles, shapes, etc. All of these can be saved as images and added directly to your viz.
  2. Be sure to follow #TableauTip, #TableauTipTuesday, and #tinytableautip to get tips from other community members. I’ve learned so many things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For instance, on a dashboard, press ‘G’ and see what happens (Thanks, Vince!).
  3. Information and other icon buttons are a great way to add instructions, additional information, and ‘calls-to-action’ on a dashboard, without cluttering your viz. Create these using custom shapes, and add the information directly into the tooltip!
Helena, Montana

Michael: I have been to most of the States in the USA, but, sadly, have never been to Montana. I have always wanted to go there. What can you tell my readers what about Montana that makes it so unique? If I were to visit Montana, what would be some of the things I would want to go see?

Kate: Montana is unique because we are such a massive state, but we have such a small population (according to Kevin Flerlage, Montana is the reason for hex maps), so there’s a lot of open space and you aren’t constantly in crowded areas.

If you were to visit, the top recommendations would have to be both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Yes, they are going to be more crowded with tourists, but the scenery, wildlife and outdoor activities are absolutely worth it, especially if you’re willing to venture outside of the most popular areas. If you have more time and want to avoid the tourist boom during the summer, we also have some unusual sites to visit such as the Berkeley Pit in Butte, numerous Ghost Towns, Flathead Lake, and Lewis & Clark Caverns.

Michael: What do you feel is missing from Tableau Desktop? What features would be on your wish list to see added to the application?

Kate: On a daily basis, I think the two biggest things missing in Tableau Desktop, for me, are spellcheck for titles, text boxes, tooltips, etc. and the ability to copy/paste dashboard objects like containers, text boxes and buttons. Both of those features would make things more efficient, especially at work!

Michael: What were your three favorite things you attended or did at #TC19?


  1. Meeting so may of the #datafam members that I’ve been interacting with online for the past year. These connections developed into instant friendships, and there’s no better feeling!
  2. Fanalytics – this is a perfect time to spend time with the Tableau community members, both new and returning, in one spot (we all know how crazy connecting at the conference can be), and honor those that give so much back to the entire community through the Vizzies awards.
  3. Iron Viz – it’s absolutely incredible to see what the participants have come up with, are able to create in such a small amount of time, and how different each story is using the same data set.

Michael: What is next on your “To Do” list? What can the Tableau community expect to see from you in the near future?

Kate: I think in the near future, I want to spend time getting more involved in the Tableau community. I already participate in numerous community-led projects, but I’d like to work towards helping others learn and grow just like the community has done for me over the past year. It’s one thing to receive support and encouragement from the community, but in order for it to continue to flourish, we all need to give back as well.

Also, if I can find enough Tableau users and interest in Montana, I’d really like to start a Tableau User Group here, even if it’s virtual due to being spread out across the state. I think user groups can be extremely beneficial to helping others learn and flourish, as well as to build a connection with like-minded people on a more intimate scale than the entire Tableau community. 

Tableau Public


A small sampling of Kate’s datavizzes on Tableau Public

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