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Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Nicole Johnson joins us live from Day 4 of Inspire 2018 in Anaheim, California to discuss her big Alteryx Grand Prix win.









BRIAN: 00:07 

[music] Live from day four of Inspire 2018 in Anaheim, California, this is Alter Everything, a podcast about data and analytics culture. We're joined by Nicole Johnson to discuss her big Grand Prix win. Let's get right into it. [music] 

BRIAN: 00:29 

Okay. So we are back once again with Nicole Johnson. Nicole, how did you manage to get on the show twice this week [laughter]? 

NICOLE: 00:35 

I needed something fun to do today. 

BRIAN: 00:37 

Obviously. All right. So it's day four, the final day. We are upstairs in the conference hall right now. I think there's a break going on. I see a lot of inspired faces. I think they're in and out of training. So it's pretty cool to see. But the real reason we're here and the reason that you're back is that you acquired some new hardware. And tell us a little bit about that. 

NICOLE: 01:00 

I did. Yeah. It's been a bit of a wild week. I competed in the Grand Prix on Tuesday and, in a shocking turn of events, managed to come out of it with the win. 

BRIAN: 01:13 

Nice. So take us back. Let's start from the start here. So how did you qualify for the Grand Prix? What was that process like? 

NICOLE: 01:22 

Yeah. So a couple of months ago-- I can't quite remember when it was, but earlier this year, they did a round of preliminary Grand [Prixness?]. And I think it was a half an hour Webex, and we basically were given eight or nine problems, had to see how many we could solve in that given timeframe, and then upload the results. And so I think I made it through four or five of them. They all have kind of different point values. And I felt good about it, but I wasn't expecting much. And then initially, there were the top three people who had completed their preliminary round selected. And I wasn't in the original top three, but unfortunately, one of the original members wasn't able to come. And so I got a phone call about a month or so ago saying, "Hey, so you were number four, but actually now you're number three. Would you like to compete in the Grand Prix?" So that was kind of a big surprise and very unexpected. I hadn't thought I had done that well. 

BRIAN: 02:22 

Okay. And I will say for people that are into sports, this is tracking a very familiar trajectory, right, where it's like, "I wasn't even supposed to play, but the dude in front of me got hurt, and they put me in the game, and then" - you know the rest of the story - "great things happen." So tell us about the great things happening. 

NICOLE: 02:39 

Yeah. So it was absolutely crazy. I had never seen a Grand Prix in this format before, so the whole thing was really new to me. But we showed up on Tuesday to a truly impressive display in the center over there, big screens and three podiums up there with a laptop setup and essentially-- 

BRIAN: 03:00 

No pressure added whatsoever. 

NICOLE: 03:01 

No, giant lights, loud music, people staring, thousand people standing and watching you what you're doing. But the format of it's really cool. I mean, you're sitting up there, and the music's blaring, and everybody's excited. Ricky Bobby was the-- 

BRIAN: 03:16 

Ricky Bobby. 

NICOLE: 03:16 

Ricky Bobby, the MC-- 

BRIAN: 03:17 

Shake and bake. 

NICOLE: 03:18 

--of the of the year, and yeah, up there, shaking and baking, and it was intense. I thought I would be real nervous but so much going on. 

BRIAN: 03:28 

Yeah. No. That's great. So how did it go down? Tell me about the-- there's several rounds. Tell me about how the rounds went down. 

NICOLE: 03:35 

Yeah. So there's three rounds, and then the rules were basically that the three of us competitors up there - Ben Moss and Matt Agee and myself - would be given a prompt and have a couple minutes to look at it with our noise-proof headphones on so we can't hear what everybody else is doing. And they'd walk through a couple solutions on the screen behind us, and then we would have 13 minutes to solve that problem in Alteryx given the prompts in the workflow itself, and so 13 minutes, not a ton of time when it comes to making workflows. It's fast but not really that fast. So yeah, you basically have 13 minutes, and you have a pit crew, a call a friend kind of opportunity. If you get stuck about halfway through, you can ask for help. But at the end of 13 minutes or whoever finishes first, second, and third, then you get points, and you're just trying to be the one with most points at the end. 

BRIAN: 04:27 

Now, did you use the pit crew? 

NICOLE: 04:29 

I did use the pit crew in the second and the third round. The way they divvied it up was a kind of just general data-prep question for the first round and a predictive question in round two and a spatial analytics question in round three. So I used my awesome pit crew Michael Stead from Decisive Data. I used him in rounds two and three, but the first workflow, I just was blazing on that one. I felt really good about that one. That was a good way to start, build up the confidence. And I think I finished that one in about seven minutes. So yeah, that was a pretty exciting one. 

BRIAN: 05:07 

Now round two, let's dive into round two here-- 

NICOLE: 05:11 

You really-- 

BRIAN: 05:11 

--a little bit. 

NICOLE: 05:12 

--need to dive-- 

BRIAN: 05:12 

Tell me about-- 

NICOLE: 05:12 

--into round two. 

BRIAN: 05:13 

Walk me through round two. 

NICOLE: 05:14 

Well, round two was a bit rough. I am not strong in the world of predictive analytics. And I had taken some of the trainings and things online before coming here. I tried to do a little bit of prep, and then I did actually the advanced analytics platform training on Monday. But high pressure, low-time situations not really work well in my favor, and I think I just was [locking?] myself in circles on that one. That was a very challenging one for me. 

BRIAN: 05:41 

Now, I have to say I was in the audience for this, and when the round two situation happens, I was a little worried. But then they put you up on the big screen, and I saw the fire in your eyes that I've only really seen before in LeBron's eyes and Wayne Gretzky and a few other assorted names that people might recognize [laughter]. It was there, and I kind of had-- I kind of was thinking to myself, "Magic's going to happen here tonight." So with that, tell us about round three. 

NICOLE: 06:12 

Well, you are correct. And I was a little mad-- 

BRIAN: 06:15 

You're a little mad, little-- 

NICOLE: 06:16 

--after round two, was a little mad at myself, and so I'm not even sure if I had actually considered whether or not I could win if I completed round three. I think I just wanted to complete it because I was a little irritated. And so around three - you're right - I was not going to let that happen again, and so-- almost let it happen again way it actually turned out. But that problem was kind of just a basic spatial matching situation with a few formulas applied in trying to find kind of the optimal situation for that workflow. And again, I think it's just the intensity and the pressure of the situation. You kind of get tripped up on things that probably wouldn't usually trip you up. And so I think I was getting a little confused about the order of my formulas and not quite sure where I was going wrong. And so it came down to the wire on that one. And from what I understand-- I couldn't hear anything, but I heard that the MCs were up there trying to decide if they were going to give us more time because it looked like Matt and I were neck and neck about to finish that problem, and they, I think, wanted to see if they could give us more time to finish rather than having no one completed. And what ended up happening was as they were trying to vote on whether to do that, we finished at what looked like exactly the same time, Matt and I. 

BRIAN: 07:44 

I believe the technical term is a photo finish in the business. 

NICOLE: 07:48 

Yes. That was a photo finish for sure and a difficult one to interpret. We had about nine seconds left on the clock. And if you looked at when we ran our workflows, they were - I can't remember what it was - like 10 seconds apart maybe when you looked at the time on our clocks. But then the clocks were about 10 seconds apart, and so I think they actually had to go backstage and ask for somebody who was watching what was happening. 

BRIAN: 08:16 

Now, I heard a rumor, and I want you to confirm or deny this particular rumor [laughter]. I heard a rumor that maybe there was some foul play involved where maybe you had checked the box for the new E2 engine, and that's the reason why you were able to maybe get a leg up. Can you maybe confirm or deny that for us here? 

NICOLE: 08:36 

I can neither confirm nor deny. 

BRIAN: 08:37 

Nor deny. Okay. 

NICOLE: 08:39 

Yes. No. No. No. It was definitely a close one. I think the final result was that I had completed it only a second in front of Matt, and I'm still not quite sure if I believe that. 

BRIAN: 08:57 

Well, it's in the books now. 

NICOLE: 08:58 

It's in the books. 

BRIAN: 08:59 

And so where's the hardware. What's the situation with the big trophy? 

NICOLE: 09:02 

Yeah. Most giant trophy I think I've ever seen. And yeah, it was a ton of fun. I mean, people were cheering, and it was a super cool thing to do. [I?] got to carry the trophy around for a bit. And apparently, they're going to ship it to me, so I'm not entirely sure where that giant thing is going to go. 

BRIAN: 09:23 

Well, so let's ask this, what are you going to do with it? Because I know that we were scheming shortly thereafter at the Coachella party. We were kind of talking about what you should do with it because it's a big-- for those who haven't seen it, it's a big cup, kind of like the Stanley Cup at the top. It's a big cup, so there's room to play in there. So are you drinking out of it? Are you eating cereal? I think Jared Teener had a picture of his small child in the cup. 

NICOLE: 09:50 

He did. My four-year-old's probably a bit big to fit in there. She could probably use it as a basketball hoop though. But now I think the plan is going to be to take it to work and see if I could fill it with ridiculous things. I could probably fill it with Alteryx schwag from the stuffed suitcase full of cool things I bring at home with me. So it could just be my Alteryx treasure chest for the year. 

BRIAN: 10:13 

Very cool. And I was thinking if I'm able to intercept it before it get shipped out, I might put wheels on it so that you can just tie it to a leash and drag it around the office behind you-- 

NICOLE: 10:22 

One of those-- 

BRIAN: 10:23 

--everywhere that you go. 

NICOLE: 10:23 

--little puppy toys that you drag behind you. Yeah. 

BRIAN: 10:25 

I think everybody needs to know that-- they need to know who they're dealing with. When you come into a meeting, the trophy is there. 

NICOLE: 10:30 

Yeah. I'll see if I can acquire myself an intern to bring it into the room before me in meetings and announce me. 

BRIAN: 10:35 

Yes, definitely. 

NICOLE: 10:36 

Yes, the Honorable Nicole Johnson. 

BRIAN: 10:38 

Yeah, presiding. 

NICOLE: 10:39 


BRIAN: 10:40 

Okay. Great. Well, anything else people should know about Grand Prix, about your time here at Inspire, anything else you wanted to catch up on? 

NICOLE: 10:50 

Honestly, this was the most fun thing I think I've ever done in my life. The Grand Prix might seem intimidating, but I can just tell you the adrenaline in that moment, I think I could have flown if I tried. It was so cool to be a part of that, in such an awesome production. And Caitlin and Jimmy are wizards when it comes to coordinating this thing, and it was really awesome to be able to participate against two very formidable competitors. It was truly an honor just to be up on that stage. And I think I would encourage people who are telling themselves they don't have what it takes. That's a lie [laughter]. You can totally do it. I mean, I look at where I was a year ago and it seems insurmountable task. And you can do it. It's out of reach. 

BRIAN: 11:43 

If Ricky Bobby can be up on the stage-- 

NICOLE: 11:45 

It's true. 

BRIAN: 11:46 

--then anybody can be up there. 

NICOLE: 11:47 

This is true. 

BRIAN: 11:47 

And so what does your title defense look like? Are you coming back next year to defend this thing, or--? 

NICOLE: 11:53 

Well, I would probably try to compete every year for the rest of eternity if I could, but with my new ACE designation, I'm actually no longer allowed to compete. But the other ACEs also find this to be an unfair situation that we cannot compete, so I'm thinking we're going to look into an ACE Grand Prix. 

BRIAN: 12:14 

Ooh, okay. All right-- 

NICOLE: 12:15 

[We'll?] have to-- 

BRIAN: 12:16 

--stay tuned listeners. 

NICOLE: 12:16 

come up with something. 

BRIAN: 12:18 

So the one thing I did want to plug before we sign off here, call this thing a show, is Nashville. So how are you feeling about Nashville next year? 

NICOLE: 12:26 

So stoked for Nashville. I think that's going to be awesome. I mean, if they had such crazy cool music experiences this year in Anaheim, I can only imagine what they're going to try to pull off. 

BRIAN: 12:38 

It seems to be the prevailing thought that given the musical situation that occurred here in Anaheim, that going to Nashville might take that up a notch. In fact, I'm looking at a-- let me dig this out of my pocket right here. They had Nashville guitar picks lined up on the check-in desk this morning to get you fired up. So I play a little guitar. I think you should learn, and then this time next year, you would do a duet or something on stage in Nashville. How does that sound? 

NICOLE: 13:07 

That sounds like-- 

BRIAN: 13:07 

Bring the trophy. 

NICOLE: 13:08 

--an awesome plan. Yeah. 

BRIAN: 13:09 

Put the trophy up there. 

NICOLE: 13:11 

Yeah. We can throw something on top of it and turn it into a drum. 

BRIAN: 13:15 


NICOLE: 13:15 


BRIAN: 13:16 

Hey, thanks so much. Congrats on being an ACE. Congrats on the Grand Prix. Congrats on-- 

NICOLE: 13:20 

Thank you. 

BRIAN: 13:21 

--each-- I feel like you're everywhere and doing everything. Did you do certification when you were here? 

NICOLE: 13:26 

I did not. 

BRIAN: 13:27 

Oh, my goodness. 

NICOLE: 13:27 

No. So that's all right. I'll leave something for next year. 

BRIAN: 13:30 

Yeah. You got to pace yourself. You can't blow it all in one year, so. 

NICOLE: 13:33 

No, can't check all the boxes at the same time. 

BRIAN: 13:35 

You got pretty close. All right. Well, hey, thank you so much. 

NICOLE: 13:38 

Thank you. 

BRIAN: 13:38 

And we will see you again soon. 

NICOLE: 13:40 

We will see you in Nashville. 

BRIAN: 13:41 

All right. Bye-bye. 

NICOLE: 13:42 

Bye. [music] 

BRIAN: 13:47 

Hey, everybody, Brian here. I just wanted to take a moment to step outside of the show and say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who came out to Inspire this week, our customers, our partners, our prospects, many, many more. There was just a wonderful show, and I personally witnessed so many great conversations and relationships being built, and of course, all of the session content. You have to stop and think about all of the people that spent their time volunteering to deliver sessions for us or deliver training. It's just incredible how the community comes together at this event. And on this show and at Inspire, we talk a lot about data and analytics culture. And I think the most important thing to remember about that is that what's really great about data and analytics culture is the people, and you really see that shine through at Inspire and many other places. So thank you from the bottom of all of our hearts here at Alteryx for coming out, spending a week with us, giving us your time and your insights. It's truly incredible, and it's our honor, it's our privilege to have you and host you and entertain you. And hopefully, we delivered on that great experience for you. For those of you that maybe didn't come to the show, we missed you. We want to see you in London in October. We want to see you in Nashville, Tennessee next year for Inspire 2019 and hopefully, many, many more conferences beyond that. So anyway, it's really important to me and to everyone here to say thank you to everyone. We really appreciate your business and your time, and we love you frankly. So thanks again, and we will talk to you soon. Bye-bye. [music] 

14 - Magnetar
14 - Magnetar

@BrianO, we love YOU more!! You and your colleagues sure know how to make 3000 people feel very, very special... me most of all!! Looking forward to Nashville, and the next podcast too... thank you for ALL that you do!!


One of my favorite pictures from Inspire!One of my favorite pictures from Inspire!