I’ve had a number of career conversations lately. People reach out, wanting to pick my brain on various topics: they are interested in “getting into” data visualization or want to write a book. These chats tend to prompt some self-reflection. What advice would I have given myself ten years ago? What would I do differently today?
I did not set out with a master plan to build a business. That is what has happened, though, as I’ve followed my passion, focused on doing good work, capitalized on opportunities, and tried to share as much as I can with others. I articulated my mission when I first started blogging back in 2010: to rid the world of ineffective graphs. This was the point where a class I was teaching at Google sparked interest for a conference talk, which led to workshops, where I somehow worked my way into the dream job of helping organizations around the world achieve their goals by improving the way they communicate with graphs and presentations. (For more on the evolution of storytelling with data, check out Episode 3 of the SWD podcast, “How I’m Building This.”)
At one point, I had to make the decision: am I good with things as they are, or do I want to scale? In business school, when we talked about scaling, it was mainly conversations around diversifying or acquiring or generally doing things to make more money. But that’s never been my goal. The reason to scale—from my perspective in this space—is to reach more people. I am a strong believer that there is a huge amount of value out there to be obtained by work that is already being done that simply isn’t being communicated as well as it could be. And I think I—we—can change that.
In the past few years, I’ve scaled in a couple of ways. First, through a book. In 2015, storytelling with data: a data visualization guide for business professionals was published. In 2017, Elizabeth and I found each other; she shares my love of data driven communication and is doing an awesome job bringing related strategies to organizations large and small. Randy and Jody do a ton behind the scenes to ensure we are thinking big and the business runs smoothly and efficiently. There are also a number of other lovely people who help support us in different ways. We have officially become a team! Our overarching goal today remains the same—beyond banning bad graphs, we aim to help others be better data storytellers and drive real change through data. We are fortunate that this aligns with something that individuals and organizations recognize as important and want to develop.
Still, there is so much more to do. In many ways, we’ve only scratched the surface. As a result, we’ve been evaluating additional means to scale. In the past year, I have been working diligently on my second book (it’s nearly done!) as well as new projects for you (more on this soon!). But we’ve been running at capacity. We can reach more people if we search for others who share our passion. I am excited to announce that SWD is hiring new team members to help with this goal.
So, what would I do differently today? Looking back, there have been some difficult points (here’s one, and another, more recently this). But I am very happy with where things are at currently and extremely excited about the future. Though things have been challenging at times, those bumps have, in part, led us to where we are today and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do what I do and call it work. Because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing. What advice would I give myself ten years ago: look forward to April 2019, when you’ll kick off the process to expand your team and spread the lessons for effective data storytelling to even more people!
Visit our careers page to learn more about our current openings.