“Our clients ask us to interview people when they're looking to bring the visualization function in house, and we can do that. But if you're [hiring] on your own and don't have that deep experience, it is going to be more challenging.” - Brick Thompson, CEO, Blue Margin
The demand continues to rise for data visualization expertise. In fact, by 2028, the global data visualization market is expected to reach $20.16 billion (Digital Journal, 2022). As Blue Margin grows, we've continued to develop and refine the role of our data visualization engineers, labeling the position in-house as “Power BI Consultant,” due to our employees’ frequent external-facing client interactions and Power BI being our dashboard tool of choice.
It can be challenging to hire individuals that possess both the technical skills and business acumen necessary to interface with senior executives and develop reports to drive business outcomes, but our hiring managers have developed a process and toolset to help identify top talent. In the episode, How to Hire a Good BI Visualization Engineer, Blue Margin CEO Brick Thompson and VP of Delivery Operations Caleb Ochs discuss the challenges of hiring data visualization engineers, what to avoid, and what to look for in potential candidates. They’ve also compiled Blue Margin’s screening tools to help listeners in their hiring efforts.
Blue Margin uses these tools to screen data visualization engineer candidates:
- Client Facing Requirements Gathering
- Wide World Importers Requirements
- Viz Assessment Questions
- Viz Assessment - Potential Answers
- Sample .pbix file to assign tasks and assess technical skill with Power BI
For further listening/reading:
- The Dashboard Effect Podcast
- Why Spend Time on Report Design and Wireframing
- Data Visualization Market Worth USD 20.16 Billion by 2028 | CAGR, Share, Latest Trends, Regional Segmentation, Key Drivers, Opportunities, Challenges, Top Players - Digital Journal
Brick Thompson: 0:00
Hey. Welcome to the Dashboard Effect Podcast. I'm Brick Thompson.
Caleb Ochs: 0:07
And I'm Caleb Ochs.
Brick Thompson: 0:08
Hey, Caleb. So what are we going to talk about today?
Caleb Ochs: 0:11
Today, we're going to talk about something that I'm passionate about.
Brick Thompson: 0:16
(laughing) All right. Sounds good.
Caleb Ochs: 0:18
In terms of helping people do this. And that's hiring a good visualization engineer.
Brick Thompson: 0:25
Yeah, that's not easy to do. I mean, we've hired a lot of them. We continue to as well, and it takes some effort.
Caleb Ochs: 0:32
Yeah, we've only hired, probably I could count on one hand, how many have come in and just been able to hit the ground running.
Brick Thompson: 0:40
Right, right. We do a lot of development in house.
Caleb Ochs: 0:42
Alot of training.
Brick Thompson: 0:43
It's true. So yeah, so you can hire a person that's got that sort of innate ability, and then teach them the skills. But I think what we're talking about today is, okay, you don't have a group in house to be able to teach the skills, so you need to hire that person that comes in sort of ready to go.
Caleb Ochs: 1:01
Brick Thompson: 1:03
Okay. So what do you think the biggest challenge is in finding that person? And then we can talk about what the attributes of that person might be?
Caleb Ochs: 1:13
You know, in my opinion, it's that Power BI... Let's, let's use Power BI as the visualization tool. You could use this across Tableau, or QlikView or whatever you want. But Power BI is easy to learn the basics, right? You can watch a YouTube video, you can learn how to connect to data, you can learn how to build a rapport. And there's a lot of people that do that, right? Especially now as this skill is becoming more and more in demand. And then the people who are hiring for these roles, they don't know whether or not this person actually knows Power BI, or knows the visualization tool and how to use it effectively, or it's just kind of putting stuff together.
Brick Thompson: 1:57
Yeah. So, you can talk to someone who's watched a bunch of videos, and maybe can sort of talk the talk, but hasn't really been under live fire and figured out how to do all the things you need to do. For example, someone who doesn't realize you need a date dimension to make your reports work well, or that you should never use implicit measures, or how you use context sensitive filters correctly.
Caleb Ochs: 2:25
Brick Thompson: 2:26
Right. Exactly. And how to use Power Query effectively. Because there's a ton of transforms you can do in there...
Caleb Ochs: 2:33
And how do you model your data, so it doesn't slow down your reports like crazy.
Brick Thompson: 2:37
Yeah, yeah, exactly. What do you know about the Vertipaq engine? (laughs)
Caleb Ochs: 2:42
Brick Thompson: 2:45
Okay. All right, so biggest challenge, I think what I'm hearing you say is that for that hiring manager, it can be tough to have the context yourself, to know whether you're hiring someone who has all that.
Caleb Ochs: 2:58
Right. Yeah, I mean, it's really challenging. And it can really bite you too. Because if you're... you might think, you know, we were just talking before this, we had a client come to us that they've been working with someone for two months to build this report. And they just couldn't get it done. And, you know, when we took a look at it, there was all kinds of very basic things that needed to happen in order to make this work, that just weren't done. And we were able to build this report in less than a week. It just goes to show you that you really need to know what you're getting?
Brick Thompson: 3:36
Yeah. And that is a challenge. So for us, we have a bunch of very talented senior viz engineers here, and senior viz BI managers, and so we can do that assessment. And we do assessments. We have people build reports. We throw technical problems at them. We look at what their DAX is like and so on. But if you don't have that, how are you getting at it?
Caleb Ochs: 4:00
Yeah, that's a great question. You've got to have some sort of assessment, right? I mean, you've got to, you have to come up with a way to figure that out. And, you know, as we're talking about this, I wish I had a better answer for people. I wish... maybe we should just develop something that we could put on our website.
Brick Thompson: 4:17
I was thinking the same thing. I mean, certainly our clients ask us to interview people when they're looking to bring the visualization function in house, and so we can do that. But if you're doing it just sort of on your own and don't have that deep experience is going to be more challenging.
Caleb Ochs: 4:33
Yeah, we should we should just take our internal assessment and put it on our website. And have a little how to guide for the manager. You know, give this to the person, these are the things to look for.
Brick Thompson: 4:47
I like that.
Caleb Ochs: 4:48
Be on the lookout for that. I think we're going to do it.
Brick Thompson: 4:50
Alright, that's going on the to do list. I like it. So as you're thinking about the attributes of a potential hire, obviously that technical background is important for all the reasons we've just been talking about. But when you have someone doing visualization work, it's so much more than just knowing how to drag something onto the canvas so that you get a line chart or whatever you're looking for. You really have to have a good head for business analysis, I think,
Caleb Ochs: 5:21
Yeah, knowing why you're building something is so important. Because that allows you to just understand whether or not what you're building, even if you were asked to build it, actually meets their... answers the question.
Brick Thompson: 5:36
Or meets the goal.
Caleb Ochs: 5:38
Yeah, right, exactly.
Brick Thompson: 5:39
The last thing you want is someone who's going to be an order taker, you might think you want an order taker. Like, let me just tell them what to do and they'll do it. But really you want someone who's able to think about it, because they've got that context of the technical tool, and so they can really help you get an optimal solution rather than something that seems like it might be good, but in the end, just doesn't meet the goal very well.
Caleb Ochs: 6:02
Yeah. And we see it over and over that even the people that are requesting the report, as smart as they are, right, they're usually running very successful businesses so they know what they're doing, don't necessarily understand how a visualization tool works, and the benefits of it, and why it would work better a different way. They're just trying to make the transition from Excel, or just looking at data some way like that, into a visualization type tool. That happens all the time.
Brick Thompson: 6:37
Yeah. And even knowing, again, dealing with senior executives, very smart people, but knowing how much to put into a particular report. For example, people will want to give an order and say, okay, add these 20 things to this one report. And we know, in most cases, that's going to be a report that doesn't get adopted well and isn't used well. You want to try to keep the scope a little lower than that, a little smaller than that. Or adding every bell and whistle that the tool will do. Okay, I want tooltips here, and I want cross filtering this way, but different cross filtering over here. And you can make a mess of it. And if you have someone just taking an order and not knowing, here's what will work best with, especially non-technical business users, you can really end up with things that don't get adopted, and it's just a waste of time and money then.
Caleb Ochs: 7:27
Yeah, make it overcomplicated. And then it takes three days to make a tiny little change because you've got so many other considerations you have to deal with. You don't want to get yourself into that position.
Brick Thompson: 7:39
Yeah, I think another challenge along the same lines is not just having a good head for that business analysis and understanding, but is someone who can interface with senior executives, because very often, not always, but very often, a pretty senior person is driving some of these reporting initiatives. You know, they're not inexpensive to do, and they can have a huge impact on the business. And you really need someone that can sit at the table with a CEO, a CFO, a Senior VP, comfortably, and also be able to push back so that when they're getting an order that they know is not optimal, that they're comfortable and tactful, in being able to ask questions and hopefully get the person to see a better way to do it. Or be convinced themselves, but not just sort of fold, "Okay, I'll take the order."
Caleb Ochs: 8:28
Yeah. I mean, when you think about having these discussions with people, it's talking about some of the most important things in their business, right? And it's really easy to get off track or go down a rabbit hole. And being able to pull it back to like, what are we trying to accomplish and have those types of conversations and participate in them and keep at least help keep it somewhat centered on, "Okay, remember, we're building a report and what do we need it to show us? All those other things are great, but, you know, let's start somewhere." It's really important.
Brick Thompson: 9:01
Yeah, yeah. So it's not just technical skill. But a good visualization engineer also is going to have quite a bit of people skill, as well. And sometimes it's hard to find that.
Caleb Ochs: 9:12
Yeah, it's really hard. Right. And, you know, especially now with, like I said, at the beginning, all these people learning, you know, the technical tool, that's kind of half of it. You got to know the technical tool. Maybe it's more than half because you said it's the most important thing. (laughs) But you need to have that other piece of you're going to be very effective.
Brick Thompson: 9:33
Yeah. And I think, you know, we've found that often highly technical people can be a little bit introverted. And we tend to hire sort of extroverted introverts. People that are good at sitting down and coding and making that happen and enjoy that, but also can walk into the room and run a session with senior executives comfortably and engage in a good way.
Caleb Ochs: 9:59
Yeah, and a lot of times it takes a lot of practice.
Brick Thompson: 10:01
It definitely does. Yeah.
Caleb Ochs: 10:03
If you can find that person that's able to do that, and has the technical aptitude, I mean, you've definitely found something.
Brick Thompson: 10:09
Yeah. And then I think also, very closely related, you want the person, even though they're very technically minded and need to be really on top of the details and the tactical things that you need to consider as you're building visualizations, you also want them to be a good conceptual thinker. So to be able to disengage from the tactical of, "Okay, I'm going to put a line chart here" and instead think conceptually about, "Alright, what is this thing we're trying to get done? What are the metrics we're trying to move by making this dashboard available to people?" And really connect in that way before they figure out, "Okay, here's the nuts and bolts of how I'm going to make that happen." It's so easy to dig in and just start building really cool looking visualizations, but could miss the mark, if you don't have that conceptual thought.
Caleb Ochs: 11:02
It's really a balance. I mean, as you're talking about that, I was thinking about myself. I'm on the opposite end. I like to just build stuff that's going to get me to the goal, but then it's almost so crude that other people can't attach to it. Like I get it. Like, this is perfect. But it's still not adoptable. Because I'm really the only one that is enjoying it. Because I know it.
Brick Thompson: 11:25
Yeah. And that's an important point. If you're building and just for yourself, okay, fine. You can just sit down and do that. But if you need it to be more broadly usable, you have to really think at a different level.
Caleb Ochs: 11:37
Brick Thompson: 11:38
All right. What advice do you have for people. It seems like we've laid out an impossible task here.
Caleb Ochs: 11:45
It is really hard. And I'm serious. So we're going to... we need to put some stuff, some of the things that we have, out and make it available for people to use.
Brick Thompson: 11:54
I like that. We'll do that.
Caleb Ochs: 11:56
Yeah, if you're listening to this, when we get this up, we'll put it in the description or something, a link to it. But something like that. Hopefully that can help. And, you know, taking your time for sure, really vetting technical, and then interviewing. You want someone that you can talk to. It's hard, it's hard.
Brick Thompson: 12:22
Okay. So, some advice on things to look for, but understand that it's challenging for sure. And you've got to really be careful.
Caleb Ochs: 12:34
Yeah, it's kind of like hiring anything else. Right. But this one has unique challenges I think right now with kind of the demand for this skill and the lack of people that have it. And then the other piece of advice I'd give is, recognize early if things aren't getting done as quickly or as well as you think they should be. And then get that person some training. Make a change if you have to, but do something. Don't just think that you don't know what you're talking about.
Brick Thompson: 13:08
Yeah. Okay, great discussion. Thanks, Caleb.
Caleb Ochs: 13:12