Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
BrianO
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

We're joined by Patrick “Digan” Digan and Matt “Raise Your Beer Mug” Hochstein for a discussion about jumping head-first into new experiences, Alteryx Server best practices, and the best concerts we've ever been to.

 


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Episode Transcription

BRIAN 00:06 

[music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data and analytics culture. I'm Brian Oblinger, and I'll be your host. We're joined by Patrick Digan and Matt Hochstein for a discussion about jumping headfirst into new experiences, Alteryx Server best practices, and the best concerts we've ever been to. Let's get right into it. [music] Hey, Patrick. Hey, Matt. 

DIGAN 00:28 

How you doing? 

MATT 00:29 

Hello. 

BRIAN 00:29 

How we doing today? 

DIGAN 00:30 

Great. 

MATT 00:31 

Yeah, doing well. 

BRIAN 00:31 

Awesome. Well, it is great to have you both on the show. Thanks for coming on. And, as always, let's start with the-- let's let the listeners know who you are. So Patrick, let's start with you. 

DIGAN 00:41 

Yeah. My name is Digan. I'm an actuary for an insurance company in Indiana. I've been using Alteryx for about three and a half years now. And legend has it that Dean actually came out to Indiana to sell us Alteryx, and we bought it about 10 years ago at my organization, so. 

BRIAN 00:56 

Wow. And so one thing I've been excited to talk to you about-- I don't know if you know this or not, but you're in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Correct? 

DIGAN 01:05 

Correct. Yeah. 

BRIAN 01:07 

Okay. And you were born and raised-- you've lived there your whole life-- 

DIGAN 01:09 

My whole life. 

BRIAN 01:09 

--or just in parts of Indian? 

DIGAN 01:10 

Absolutely. My whole life, born and raised in Fort Wayne. 

BRIAN 01:13 

Wow. So have you gone to any Komets games lately [laughter]? 

DIGAN 01:18 

The Komets, I have not been this year, but I have gone to many in the past. Yes. 

BRIAN 01:21 

Awesome. Well, so maybe I've tipped my hand, but I was also born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So yeah, I lived there for - let's see - I guess 13 years before we moved away. So-- 

DIGAN 01:34 

In all seriousness. 

BRIAN 01:36 

Yeah. No. So every time your name comes up, I'm like, "Dude, I need to go." My grandfather still lives there, and I have a few other family members that are still kicking around over there. So someday, I'm going to make it out there, and we're going to party it up in person in the old stomping grounds. 

DIGAN 01:56 

Absolutely. It's like the biggest small city in the world because everybody knows everybody, and everyone has a connection to Fort Wayne, yet we're only a few hundred thousand, so go figure. 

BRIAN 02:06 

Yeah. So tell us a little bit about you professionally. 

DIGAN 02:10 

Yeah. So I am an actuary. I got my degree in math from Notre Dame few years ago. I started out in the pension world. And so there, we used a very specific pension software, but my whole life, I've kind of been drawn towards programming as an outsider. So I mean, I was the kid who programmed his calculator in seventh grade and things like that, but I never was really drawn to be a computer scientist per se. I just kind of liked to do it for fun and stuff like that. When I started at MedPro, they actually didn't even allocate me a license. We were a much smaller Alteryx shop at the time, but I saw some of my coworkers using it, and I was immediately drawn to it. So I kind of snuck a two-week trial on the side and very quickly fell in love with it. And so I immediately realized just how much value there was and how cool the software you-- how many cool things you could do with the software. So luckily, they believed me. After a couple weeks, they saw what I could do, and they quickly bought in, back in 2015, to what I was doing. And fast forward to 2018, I now basically run the whole Alteryx deployment at MedPro. So that's about 30 licenses plus our server, plus a dev server. And I've now kind of manage all of that on the day-to-day operations in addition to some of my regular responsibilities as an actuary at an insurance company. 

BRIAN 03:28 

Great. And we'll circle back to the server stuff later because I think there's some interesting things there we want to dig into. But Matt, how about you? 

MATT 03:36 

Hi. I am a principal support engineer with Alteryx, and I have been here for about seven years now. I came in back before it was pretty much the gallery as we know it and the scheduler, way back when-- I think it was about version seven when we started calling it Alteryx Web. And we pretty much only had under 100 clients on it at the time, and so just to kind of see how it's just exploded to what it is now and how much usage it's been getting has been completely amazing here. 

BRIAN 04:14 

And where were you born and raised? 

MATT 04:15 

I was actually born and raised in Darien, Connecticut. And then I moved out to Los Angeles, California when I was about 10 and came out to Colorado when I wanted to go to college. And pretty much, I've stayed here, and this is probably the longest place I ever stayed at one time. 

BRIAN 04:35 

Very cool. All right. And one thing I want to address right here, I feel like this is one of the most interesting podcasts we've done from a name perspective. So, Patrick, I'm calling you Patrick, but you actually go by Digan, right, which is your last name. So maybe from here forth for the rest of the show, I will refer to you to the name that you prefer, which is Digan. Right? 

DIGAN 04:58 

That'd be awesome. Yeah. I mean, when I started at MedPro, [it was?] the chance for me to make my own way, and so I decided to go by my last name, which is kind of how I got used to being called in college, and I liked it that way, so I made it stick. 

BRIAN 05:08 

Got it. And Matt, how do you pronounce your last name? This is always an interesting one because I've heard it pronounced like 14 different ways, but what's the true interpretation? 

MATT 05:18 

Well, the way you pronounce it is Hochstein, and yes, it translates out to raise your beer mug [laughter]. So I come from apparently a family of legendary drinkers. 

BRIAN 05:32 

Wow. So maybe we need to start referring to you by your last name as well [laughter]. 

MATT 05:36 

Yeah. 

BRIAN 05:38 

Awesome. Yeah. When I was a kid growing up in Fort Wayne, funny enough, of course, last name being Oblinger, there's the obvious sort of bringing that down into a shorter form of OB, no reference to Star Wars there, just me. He was actually named after me just to be clear, but yeah. So yeah, cool, lots of good names on the show. So let's jump into our topic sets. We sort of teased a little earlier about the server. Maybe Digan, let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about server, your usage, what you've gotten out of it. And what I really want to get to is not a commercial for Server, but why do people use it, I think is what we're trying to get to. Right? What's the value of something like that in an organization? 

DIGAN 06:30 

Yeah. Absolutely. So we adopted the server in 2015. We went from about a 5-license deployment to then 5 to 10 licenses, plus the server. And so for those who may not know, the server really has what I'd call three main components that Matt kind of hinted at, the gallery, which is the front end. And when I say the Alteryx Server, that's what most people think of. They think of a URL that they type into their web browser, and they can go in and interact with all the workflows that people have published, and that's the extent of it. But there's actually a couple other pieces. So the scheduler is another one that we at MedPro use a lot. So this allows us for a lot of automation and to run nightly jobs, daily jobs, weekly jobs, and that's really made it a streamlined process to where we can always have things up to date at any time. 

DIGAN 07:17 

The third piece, which is maybe less known, is the API. So out of the box, the server also comes with an API, a REST API that people can hit. And if I can do a quick side story here, we really wanted to use the API from Excel. So this probably is normal use case, but we have a whole bunch of stuff in Excel and some that's just not ready to be a full Alteryx job yet. So in the interim, we said, "What if we could make the best of both worlds where you start out in Excel, and we use the API to send things to Alteryx and have it do the processing?" So we had a team who knows nothing about APIs, and we tried to do it, and we fell flat on our face. We kept thinking about it, and we just-- we don't know enough VBA code. We don't know enough about the OAuth of the authorization. That didn't stop us from trying, but eventually, we realized we just weren't equipped to do it. So we quickly then outsourced it. And the first consultant came back after a couple days and said, "I can't do it," I-give-up-type thing. 

DIGAN 08:08 

So we went to the next consultant, and he had a very similar experience where he said, "This is just too confusing. I can't do it." But that consultant actually sent us the code he had [to date?]. So I'm not one who can write VBA from the scratch, but he had a whole bunch of VBA code that I basically poured over and figured out what he was doing. And I was able to take what he had, which couldn't quite communicate with the server yet, and just basically put the finishing touches on it. And so it's as simple as if you have the word post in a call, you have to have it all caps, and he didn't have it all caps, or you have to have things ordered just right. And you have to sometimes URL and code them. And you have to sometimes have the URL [decode it?]. So he built this entire framework, and I was able to put in the few finishing touches. And it's incredible that first time when we sent something to our server, with everything right and it came back with an answer, and we were ecstatic, and we were doing something very hello, world-type programming. But really, it's unleashed a whole new world where we can take our existing Excel jobs and instead of having some ugly VBA and Excel coding, we can now basically have it all get processed in Alteryx. And that's been a tremendous win for us in the interim where we try to get more of our jobs fully into Alteryx. In the interim, this API was a huge win for us to get that middle ground where we can leverage the best of both worlds as it were between Excel and the Alteryx Gallery. 

BRIAN 09:33 

Very cool. And Matt, sort of shifting to you on that topic, you have a reputation here at Alteryx of being one of the premier sources for knowledge around the server. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you-- how did you journey your way into that? And what does that look like for you today? 

MATT 09:55 

It's really just been length. So yeah, when I came in here, it was kind of the baby steps of when we were at server and just doing what I could to kind of cultivate some relationships on the development side with people over there. And at the time, I was really the only person, the only support engineer out here in Boulder with the development team, so pretty much knocking on their doors, asking questions like-- anything that I could think of, talking to them, so just gathering all of that knowledge that they had and kind of doing what I could to share it with our team. But at the time, I was really the only person that was really interested in the Alteryx server, so I just grabbed all this knowledge that I had, and all of a sudden, as we started selling more and more and as we moved into basically the version 9 and then version 10, finally, we started getting more other reps that were interested in server. So it's just kind of like, "Here I am, the godfather of knowledge," and just helping out where I can. 

BRIAN 11:02 

Just a kid from Connecticut living the dream and now he's the godfather of server [laughter]. 

DIGAN 11:08 

And I can just second what Matt's saying because anytime I put a question into our consultant saying, "Hey, I'm in the server. I'm knee-deep and stuff," they just say, "How about we have you talk to Matt over here?" He's always their go-to guy whenever I've had questions. 

BRIAN 11:22 

Yeah. Okay. Great. So Digan, one of the things you were talking about is sort of being a little bit of a pioneer. You came into your organization. You brought in Alteryx. You helped ramp it up. It sounds like some of that, from your perspective, is a lot about trial and error. Maybe you could tell us about your approach in that direction and how that's worked out for you. 

DIGAN 11:45 

Yes. I mean, I think quickly, I'll just say when I learned Alteryx-- some people start with very simple things. They do want to go to a sample, try and do baby steps. I just don't enjoy learning that way. It's not as fun. So what I kind of did was I took a couple workloads that were already built by some of my coworkers, and I just jumped in the middle and said, "All right. There's like 30 tools on here. What the heck is going on?" And I just kind of clicked through and tried to figure out what was happening. And when you know nothing about Alteryx, even simple things like how do I make this thing go-- and you figure out, oh, I got to hit the green circle with the white triangle to make it run. And that was the best way for me because it's so easy to learn when you can see all your data flowing through at any point in time. And so I still remember the first time I was trying to figure out joins and unions, which now are pretty trivial, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why are things being duplicated, and I just kept staring at my screen and kept hitting the button until it finally clicked in my head about different things with duplicate keys and things like that. But by just jumping right in the middle, I was able to go from 0 to 60 pretty quickly in terms of just making my way through because I've seen coding languages before in terms of I learned C++ in college, a little HTML, JavaScript, things like that. So I can kind of take that base knowledge and just say, "Okay. How is Alteryx different, and how is it thinking differently?" And so that's really been huge for me in terms of learning that way. 

DIGAN 13:08 

And if I quickly think of a couple projects where it's been easier for me to learn through trial and error in the sense that I'll just try and build something and just kind of get the pieces that I do know and just kind of go beyond where I think-- go beyond my level of knowledge and just trying to expand a little bit beyond that. And you do fall down a lot where you spend a little more time trying to figure out, "Why am I doing something so dumb, and I can't figure it out?" But what happens is you do realize you can get there with a little bit of time, energy, and effort, and certainly other people as well. I mean, I had a few coworkers who were instrumental, right, say, "Look, I've been working in this for an hour, and I don't see what's wrong," and they'd quickly point out, "Hey, here you go. It's right there," and they'd help you out. And so through that trial-and-error process, I've really been able to keep expanding my knowledge base. I never stop learning. And the community's been a huge part of that as well in terms of-- I like to follow the community because other people are bringing use cases that I haven't seen before. I've never thought of trying to attack different problems that way, and so it gives me a chance to just kind of expand my knowledge base that way as well. 

BRIAN 14:10 

Yeah. And I think it's-- I'll throw it over to Matt here in a minute to confirm or deny this, but I think it's one of the things we see quite a bit as people start to learn Alteryx, is they're very careful when they want to build a workflow sort of end to end [and?] then hit Run and figure out what they did wrong and go back and edit it or optimize it or whatever the case is. And one of the things we try to do is urge people, "Hey, just put a tool on the canvas and hit Run, and then put another tool on the canvas and hit Run, just keep hitting Run. Right? Just run it every time, and you'll learn through that iterative or iterative process what you're doing, how it's going to change, what's the shape of the data look like as you add new things." Don't be afraid to hit that Run button I guess is the gist of it. Matt, what have you seen in that direction, and how have you sort of looked at a iterative approach? 

MATT 15:04 

Yeah. Actually, I totally agree with Digan here, and that's pretty much how I learned it as well. I mean, I came in with no Alteryx experience whatsoever. I was sort of coming into the support with that and then pretty much the first day just diving right in. One of my coworkers just gave me-- I guess it kind of became some of the weekly challenges, but he was like, "Okay, just go create this app." And here I am staring at a blank canvas going, "Okay. What do I do then?" And then just start playing with it and then just really pulling down all the tools, looking at them, looking how the configurations are setting up and just kind of playing with different options and doing all of that. And with clients, it's a lot in the same way where they're very inquisitive. They want to know what things do and how to perfectly set them up, and a lot of times, some clients I've dealt with get very frustrated very easily because they're not looking at kind of what their end goal is, which I think is kind of one of the important things. It's you have the data. What do you want to see out of it? And then from there, you can kind of look at what we're giving you and kind of visualize exactly how you want that data to turn out. 

BRIAN 16:21 

So what about fear, right? Because I think it's easy the three of us to sit here and say, "Oh, yeah. Just iterate. Just throw something on the canvas, hit Run, jump in the middle." But certainly, your mileage is going to vary, right, depending on your organization and the culture and the pressures and the expectations and those things. So how have each of you seen-- did you have any fear about that approach, or what were your fears? And then how did you overcome that to get to the process you really wanted to engage in or the end result that you were looking for? 

DIGAN 16:56 

I mean, I would just say I have such a curious personality that I was more excited about the potential of being able to succeed as opposed to the fear of failure. So I almost didn't even count failure as a possibility because I knew that if I just put enough time into it and just stuck with it, that there was no chance in my mind that it wouldn't work out. Very early on, it was so appealing how intuitive the product was, and very quickly, I was able to do some very cool things with it in terms of transforming data very quickly. And so for me, I was in a great position where I had the support of my manager and things like that where I kind of had that time needed to really dive in. And so for me, I never really even considered the possibility that this wouldn't work out. And I think that not having that fear of failure has been tremendous because I've just been able to keep going, going, and keep moving forward. 

MATT 17:54 

Yeah. And I would just say I'm hoping people just aren't afraid anymore because-- or I don't think they should be because I mean, really, Brian, we have this whole community now of people that are totally willing to help everyone out. And just if you're having questions and things aren't looking right, you have a place that you can also go to to see if anyone else is running into the same issue. We also have support. Definitely, please email us. So we can help out too, but I mean, I would hope that there isn't that much fear about jumping in and building a workflow anymore. 

BRIAN 18:33 

Yeah. So let's talk about that actually, the problem-solving and troubleshooting piece. Matt, we'll start with you. What's your take on that? I mean, we talked about community, but what are the other approaches that someone can take when they're iterating through, right, they're working on this problem, they're running into some things that they don't understand, or they're trying to understand how to optimize it in a lot of cases? What does that process look like, and how should people approach that? 

MATT 19:00 

The way I look at it, I mean, I've always kind of looked at what data is going in, what data is coming out, and from there, just kind of looking at the different configurations that you're doing to make sure that those are correct from kind of a workflow standpoint from that. From server, it's a little bit different where it's more trying to get all of the data that you can, seeing where your stopgaps are, where you're having trouble, and kind of what messaging is coming up there, seeing if anything else is happening at the same time on the server. What piece is falling apart? What can you take away from that? 

BRIAN 19:40 

Yeah. And Digan, I mean, you told us at the opening of the show that you have this pretty large deployment of 30-plus people there at MedPro. Maybe talk a little bit about that. I assume that you're sort of known now as "the guy." Do people come to you? What's your advice for them of how to approach that? 

DIGAN 20:02 

Oh, absolutely. Everyone has my email address, and they know where I sit, so everyone knows how to get ahold of me. So I'm the guy who when I build a workflow, I literally have a Browse tool everywhere on every tool output possible, and I'm always trying to watch the data through the Browse tool. And so that's been able to alleviate a lot of the issues, and especially then when you pair that with showing the connection, showing the count because the most thing I see-- the biggest thing that I see wrong with people's workflows is they're just not keeping a keen-enough eye on the number of records flowing through. And at each step, is that step performing as expected? Because sometimes you take for granted that when you put a join, it's not going to duplicate your data. And surprise, surprise, if you watch the count or things like that, you'll actually see where oh, I did lose a few records. I did gain a few records. What's going on? And also the messages, most people, myself included, you kind of get glazed over to the messages because if you have a lot of tools, there's just spouting messages at you at the bottom. And there's so much good information down there at the bottom that we often take for granted. 

DIGAN 21:08 

And so when you start to try and debug errors, that's when you start to really fall in love with the different things that are available to you. And the server is just a whole different kind of-- it's a whole different-- like Matt says, it's a whole different beast in and of itself. Especially, the server is usually going to run as a different account, so that has some quirks to it when instead of running as your username on your local machine, it's not kind of running as a different account, and that account may not have access to the same files you have access to and things like that. And because the nature of the server, it's kind of running in dark where you as the user don't have access to a lifetime, exactly all the things that are running. And so as the server administrator, I've been able to go through the logs and view some of the different screens from an admin perspective. And I open that up to any of my coworkers who are struggling and say, "Here, let me go check the logs. Let me go run it on the server as the server user." And I can do a lot more debugging than what they would have available as a developer who just throws it on the server and just doesn't know why it's erring out. 

MATT 22:11 

So I ask, Digan, how long did it take you to get comfortable with kind of debugging the server and kind of looking at the logs? 

DIGAN 22:20 

So I'd say very quickly, I got like halfway comfortable, but the biggest thing was within the last even six months, we were finally able to take ownership of this. Server's account was running the job. So literally the first two years, I didn't have the permissions for the account that was running the jobs on the server, so I always felt like I was kind of in the dark myself because I'd say, "I don't know why this account wouldn't be able to access that Excel file or wouldn't have access to that folder." And so we finally made a huge switch, which is paid off dividends and saying, "I'm now going to have the account credentials so I can literally log onto that server as the user that's running the job." And there are so many funny things that you'll find with maybe Excel wasn't set up properly and things like that. And so that was the biggest thing. So once I'd finally got that, I feel like I'm now equipped with everything I need to kind of debug anything that goes wrong on the server at this point. 

BRIAN 23:14 

Very cool. So let's move along into-- I think we wanted to talk about scripting languages [because?] Digan I think that you have some great experience in this area. And tell us a little bit about that. 

DIGAN 23:27 

Yeah. So I mean, in college, I took a C++ course and loved it. I mean, it was awesome. And my whole life-- like I said, I started programming on a calculator in seventh grade. It was really when it started with basic if/then else statements. And I'm not very deep in any one language or topic, but I'm very wide in the sense that I've tried out 10 or 15 different languages. And once you see one, you can actually-- you don't know the next one, but you have a baseline of I know how to write a loop or I know how to write an if/then else statement. And so each language has its own quirks about it and certainly functions differently. Each language has its own language, but that's been huge for us in terms of now that Alteryx is now pairing with things like R and Python and even command line or BAT files. So with all the functionality that's built into Alteryx, we've been able to kind of expand it even further where-- an easy example is one like simulation. So Alteryx comes now out of the box with the simulation tool. And so we had a simulation project, we quickly went to the tool, and our use case was a little more specific than what that tool could offer, so I kind of jumped right into [viewing?] out R. And so the tool was open source. Basically, Alteryx has the code right there, so I copied the code, poured through it, and kind of tweaked it for what I needed. 

DIGAN 24:51 

And so I don't write the best R code by any stretch [of?] the imaginations. People might laugh at the way I'm doing things, but I was able to accomplish exactly what I wanted to accomplish. And it took a while to write a 30-line piece of code because I'd never written it before. But again, I was able to see exactly what was going on at every step of the way, and I put a lot of print statements where I kept printing out, "Here's your data set," at every step. And whenever it didn't look wrong, I-- with the power of Google today, I could Google and say, "I'm trying to run this statement in R, and it's not working," and people would give you different solutions. And so now, we have very viable simulation tool for our use case where I was able to write the R code. And then after that, there's a whole bunch of Alteryx processing with it, but it all happens seamlessly where it starts in Alteryx, goes to R, and then right back to Alteryx to process the data, and that's been the biggest one. 

DIGAN 25:46 

And then on a side note, we won the Alteryx Excellence Award in 2016 for the server usage. And so that's one where we took the server, and I quickly discovered that most of the commands were stored in a JavaScript file. And then all the formatting was basically one CSS file. And so I never took a course in JavaScript, but I know enough that I kind of poke through it. And we basically fundamentally changed the way it operated in several respects in terms of we want it to feel more like an app gallery on your phone. So you go to your phone, you see all of your apps with just a picture and a name. And that's what our server is now. It's just all these apps with just the picture and just the name, and it scrolls forever. So there's no limit to how many you can put on that first page. And that was just we're able to pour through those couple files and through a lot of trial and error and just seeing what did or didn't work. We have like 30 changes at this point where whenever we get a new version of server, we apply a whole set of changes that better customizes the Alteryx product for our use case. It's certainly not for everyone. I think Matt can probably attest that I could do a lot of damage in terms of messing with the back-end JavaScript files, but we save a lot of backup copies, and we can always revert if things don't go well. But for us, it's been hugely beneficial in terms of more customizing it to our exact need. 

MATT 27:14 

That's really cool, and actually, I mean, yeah, just playing with that kind of piece to it. Just, I mean, you have it there and seeing what it can do. Yes. Please definitely keep backups. And I think also anytime that you upgrade, it's going to get overwritten, and so definitely make sure that you do have a backup that you can just overlay back on. 

DIGAN 27:35 

And to your speaking of overwritten, the cool thing is we have actually deployed it now through an Alteryx application. So we've put all of our modifications in a few tools in Alteryx. So literally, Alteryx reads in the several JavaScript CSS files, all the changes are done in Alteryx, and it outputs it. So it's basically automated to the extent that things don't change, 

 

and we have a bunch of checks in there. So I think we're using Alteryx to adjust Alteryx. 

BRIAN 27:58 

Yes. Yeah. And I want to go back to one thing you said that I think is a really important point, Digan. You were saying-- at the beginning of that piece there, you said, "I do things the way I do them. And they may not be considered perfect or the way other people do them, but they work." And this is something I was exploring recently. I was at a user group meeting in Phoenix, and they were doing a demo and giving some practical problems to the folks in the audience and saying, "Hey, here's a practical business problem. Can you solve this with Alteryx?" And people would go and do it. And a couple of the people that were in attendance kind of remarked, "Well, mine looks different than what you've done," whatever was up on the screen. Right? And we were making the point to them to say, "Look, it doesn't really matter. Right? If you get to the same answer, do it the way that works for you." Now, there's certainly arguments to be made for efficiency and speed and how much it's documented and all of those kinds of things that you would want to make sure you have handled for someone else to reproduce it or understand what you did should you go off to do something else in the organization. But I think it's really important that people understand this concept of do it the way you wanted to it and use these products and these tools the way that your brain works, not the way the tool necessarily is going to make you work. So maybe you could kind of talk a little bit about that. 

DIGAN 29:27 

I just like to refer to it as you're on your Alteryx journey, especially if I'm posting in the community and don't know the person. I'll say, "I'm not sure where you are in your Alteryx journey, but here's how I would do it." And hopefully, that's reflecting here's how I would do it having done this for three years now, so trying to say, "This may not be where you're at. This may be over your head, but you'll get there. It's just a matter of time," and things like that. I still remember when I started out struggling with some of the tools. And I built plenty of brute force workflows that-- they're really ugly, but they did the job. And kind of, to your point, you get more efficient and faster, and you can learn exactly how it's processing. And that's been the way I've done that as well, is leveraging the community through the weekly challenges. There's like a hundred and, what, twenty-seven, twenty-eight challenges at this point. And so if I go back and look at some of those early ones, I just kind of laugh at the things I was doing. And not only am I getting to solve these problems but then I can see how a whole bunch of other people would solve those problems. And there's been a number that you're just kind of an odd. We're saying, "I would have never thought to do it that way, but that's really cool," or, "I can now take that and use it somewhere else in my day job." So that's really neat to see that progression. 

BRIAN 30:47 

So one of the things that we do here in the Alteryx HQ in Irvine is we have Theme Thursdays that are actually run by Tuvy Le who's part of the team here and manages the ACE program. And this week on Thursday here, it's Band T-Shirt day. So I'm watching all of these people walk by the glass here. I've seen a Rolling Stone shirt. I've seen a Taylor Swift shirt. I've seen MGMT. So there's a pretty wide spectrum of band shirts strolling around. And this is reminding me to ask you, Matt, some questions about your-- I know you're a big music fan, and that you've done some really cool things in relation to that, so maybe you could give us a little insight there. 

MATT 31:30 

Well, I guess, you can say I'm an avid concert hound. I go to a lot of live shows. So that's one of the things that kind of really, really interest me. And yet, with Alteryx, for me, it's been learning how kind of APIs work, so finding one of the music sources that has an API. How can I connect to it? What information can I pull back from them, and what can I do with them? So working, I think, with Spotify or Setlist, certain ones like that. And it really is kind of just learning what I can from that, but that's pretty much what I do. 

BRIAN 32:14 

Very cool. And who's the best band you've ever seen live? 

MATT 32:18 

For the experience, I would say he was Tom Petty at Red Rocks about four years ago. He was playing with-- or five years ago. He was playing with Steve Winwood, and it was pouring the entire show, and everyone was soaked. A lot of people didn't bring parkas because they weren't expecting it, but everyone was just so energized to see him singing around, dancing here at Red Rocks. It was just such an awesome experience anyways. That probably goes down as one of the best concerts I've been to. 

BRIAN 32:51 

Very cool. I saw him with Steve Winwood on that same tour, not in Colorado, and a lot of Indiana references in Tom Petty songs. Digan. 

DIGAN 33:01 

There you go. I'm not much into music myself, so I wasn't aware. 

BRIAN 33:05 

All right. Well, I'll have to send you some Tom Petty songs-- 

DIGAN 33:08 

You have to educate me. 

BRIAN 33:08 

--and point out, yeah, all the Indiana references that get [drafted?] there. Very cool. Anything else you guys wanted to talk about before we move on to community picks? 

DIGAN 33:18 

I think there's just one other thing I brought up. The only other thing I wrote down here was there was a cool situation a few years ago where someone had put a post out in the community about trying to build an org chart, and they wanted to know how to automate it in Alteryx. And someone said, "Why don't you try Google Viz, see what that can do?" And I [inaudible] I have no interest in building an org chart personally, but I bookmarked it because they mentioned Google Viz, and I had never heard of that before. And so I came back to it four or five months later when I had a spare moment, and it was so cool because we weren't a Tableau shop yet. And so I was able to take this one person's unrelated community post and follow the person who suggested use Google Viz. I was able to leverage the Google Viz API and build these really cool interactive charts in the Alteryx Gallery. And it took a little bit of playing around with it, and I did publish a community post about it so someone else could kind of leverage the work I'd done. But it was just neat because I was able to follow the community and get an idea from somewhere else from an unsuspecting source. That one post that they put out there kind of tipped something in my brain. I'll just be able to follow through with it many months later, and so that was kind of neat to see it come to fruition at the end. 

BRIAN 34:39 

All right. So let's get into our community picks, and Digan, we will start with you. What's interesting to you lately? 

DIGAN 34:46 

So everybody in the podcast mentions weekly challenges, and I will second their sentiment, but I'm going to do it one more and give some specific references and callouts here. My, I think, top four weekly challenges, either moments or whatever, if you go back to weekly challenge number 47 about vehicle identification numbers, you have to check out Jamie Laird's craziest looking formula tool. So most people had several formula tools, a lot of formulas. He put it all into one ridiculously looking formula tool that actually functioned, and it was really cool to see what he did with that. Certainly not the way you'd probably do it in real life, but it was neat to see his creativity and the way he could actually do it and accomplish it that way. Number 59 with the anagrams, Alteryx's own Adam Riley came in, and he had an original post where he solved the problem the normal way. And he said, "Can I do this in one tool?" And some of these challenges-- we'll try to get to that. And he was able to come up with a really cool regex solution, regular expression, where he solved that more or less in one tool with a whole bunch of ugly looking-- not ugly looking but regular expressions with the anagrams one. Number 73, there was a Plinko Challenge. This is my personal favorite challenge. It's straight probability, which is what I do every day, so it was perfect. And it was really neat to see how many different ways to solve it and different solutions people were getting. And they may not have always been right, but it was really cool to see the way they were trying to attack this pretty much straight mathematical probability problem using Alteryx. I think someone may have built out a Plinko board with their tools just for effect. 

DIGAN 36:23 

And last but not least is challenge number 75, which was the Scrabble one. And that was one that kind of became cool as people tried to see how fast they could make their processes. It was one that I solved, and it took two minutes for my process to run maybe. And other people were able to get more creative and were able to get it down to-- I think some people literally had it processing under one second, and it was really cool to see the progression and number of different people on the community having really cool and innovative solutions to a fun problem dealing with Scrabble letters. And I think the only other one I'd mentioned on the-- one other one that community-- it's several years old, but I always like to have people look at-- Chris Love came out with a quick challenge in 2015 just on the community saying how many different ways can you find all the sales corresponding to the most recent order using the sample store data. And I think Mark Frisch, Marquee Crew came out and posted three different ways to do it. But then Ned came out and said, "Look, all your ways are going to involve either a sword or a join. What if I could do it without either of those?" And he came up with this ridiculous-looking Multi-Row Formula tool to solve the problem. And the only way I know to find it is-- I remember Chris Love just calling it bonkers, and there's only a few posts on the community with word bonkers in it. So if you go search for bonkers, his is the first one to come up, and it's just really neat to look through the way Ned totally flipped the problem on its head and was able to solve it in a totally unexpected way, just using some creativity. 

BRIAN 37:55 

I'm really looking forward to our community analytics now in the next few weeks after this podcast is released where the word bonkers is our number one search term. That's going to be great. 

DIGAN 38:04 

I hope so. 

BRIAN 38:07 

Awesome. How about you, Matt? 

MATT 38:08 

One of my favorite ones is-- basically it's a posting asking people to list any kind of available free big data sets that they have that they found online. It's one I have bookmarked and I use pretty much all the time when I'm trying to find sample data or something like that, just working with my own workflows or troubleshooting another client's issue, something like that. And I think it's actually been really, really cool because the post was started back-- I think it was like 2015, and people are still adding to it this year. So that would probably be one of the biggest ones. Second is I would just like to give a big shout out to the developer.alteryx.com community. I mean, I think that was very, very much needed, and it's great to see kind of all the activity that's happening on there. 

BRIAN 39:04 

All right. And I will round this out. Couple of picks from my end, I want to give a plug. Inspire Europe is coming up, and there's actually three ways to get free passes. So you can participate in a couple of different ways. One is Road to Inspire. So we did this for Anaheim this year, and we're doing it again for Europe. And it's a really great-- if you've never seen this before, go check it out on the community. We'll put the links in the show notes, but it's a really great little contest that we put on where we want people-- similarly to what we do on this podcast every episode. Tell us your story. Tell us about you, how you got to where you're at, how you got involved in analytics, and tell us about why you love it, and how it's helped your career, your life, or whatever it is. So Road to Inspire is great, and the winners of Road to [Inspires?] actually get to come to inspire us for free and get awarded there and things like that. So that's a really great one. And it's really cool to scroll through and see other people's entries and see what's out there. 

BRIAN 40:06 

The other one is the Excellence Awards. So on community under Getting Started, there's an area called Alteryx Use Cases. And we used to do this just once a year for Inspire, but now we're doing it year round. And at any time, you can go to that area, and you can submit your use case story about how you use Alteryx or how-- again, what the business results have been for you. And those automatically enter you into the Excellence Awards. And so at every Inspire, we pick a couple of those, and we award those. And you actually heard Digan mention earlier that he won one of these a couple years back for his work, and that's another way to get to go to Inspire for free, which is really cool. 

BRIAN 40:44 

And then the third one, of course, is the Alteryx Grand Prix, which we talk about quite a bit. So go look for how to get involved in the Grand Prix. You might find yourself up on stage rocking out and conquering the world with some epic workflows. So definitely come to London. We'll love to see you there and hopefully get involved in some of those things I just mentioned. The other thing I wanted to talk about real quickly was Alteryx for Good is so important to us. You hear me talk about this all the time. One of the things that we've been doing out of our offices is donating blood to the Red Cross. There's a shortage right now of available blood for people, so anytime you can find those to go-- find some time to donate your blood would be awesome. We'll put the links in the show notes to where you can go and do that. I think it's important that we think outside of ourselves a little bit, not just what analytics culture is but what our culture culture is and get involved in that. So those would be my community picks. 

BRIAN 41:53 

So Digan and Matt, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for being on the show, and I can't wait for the next time we see each other. 

DIGAN 42:03 

Hey, thanks, guys. See you in Portland, Brian. 

MATT 42:05 

Thank you. 

BRIAN 42:07 

Absolutely. And as always, we'll put the links in the show notes to everything you heard about today. So if you want to read more about either of these two guys or the things we talked about, go to community.alteryx.com/podcast, and this episode was produced by Maddie Johannsen. So thanks again, guys, and we will talk to you later. [music] 

MATT 42:29 

So hey, then if I can ask, Brian, I mean, so you-- well, Digan, you don't go to a lot of concerts at all, or I mean--? 

DIGAN 42:36 

I've been to a couple. I've been to a couple. I'm just not nearly the music buffet. It sounds like the two of you are, so when you put me in reference to YouTube, I'm going to come up away short when it comes to music knowledge and things like that. 

MATT 42:48 

Well, but then no, I mean, you have to have a favorite concert then. I mean, have you really gone-- I mean, have you seen anybody more than once, or--? 

DIGAN 42:58 

I've not seen anybody more than once. I would say I saw Relient K who was a small Ohio band at the time. They came to Fort Wayne to the Coliseum, and they played with maybe a few other bands, and it was really awesome to see them live. And I think they're still doing it all these years later. So they're a little bit of a smaller band, but I was following them at the time, and they came to Fort Wayne. So it was pretty cool. 

MATT 43:21 

Those are actually some of the best shows. Yeah. I mean, those are awesome shows [inaudible], yeah, very small, intimate. 

BRIAN 43:28 

Yeah. So I've been to a ridiculous number of live shows, and I could probably go on for hours about bands and shows and whatever. The story that I always like to tell people when people ask me what my favorite concert was is sort of like an off the wall kind of one. I mean, I've been to so many that are great and artists that I love. The one that I always tell the story about though is one time, my dad and I-- oh, what's it called? - we were down-- it was Southern California, and we were down there for an air show. And so we drove in from-- I used to live in Phoenix, so we drove in the night before the air show. And wherever we were at, there was not a whole lot to do, right, other than just go to the air show. But it turned out that like 30 minutes down the road, there was a fair or something like a state fair, and so we were like, "Hey, we got nothing to do tonight. We'll just go to this thing." And we showed up, and it was like, "Hey, what's going on here?" And someone asked us, "Hey, are you going to the concert?" And we were like, "We don't know. We don't even know what's going on. What's happening?" And they were like, "Yeah. Smash Mouth is here." 

BRIAN 44:34 

And now, music fans probably are hearing this going, "Oh, Smash Mouth." There's a reputation there. But here's what happened, we go to the show-- and I'd heard Smash Mouth. I knew who they were. I didn't know really much about them from a live music perspective. And they played a couple of songs, and they're one of these bands where they got like nine people on stage, right, just bongos and shakers and just an auditoria explosion essentially. And so at one point, they saw this guy down in the front row who had a Van Halen shirt on, and they were like, "Oh, yeah. We should play some Van Halen." And they played, I think, Runnin' with the Devil, and it was spot on, unbelievably spot on, the vocals, the guitar, the whole deal. And so the crowd was going wild. And they played like three or four Van Halen songs in a row. They just kept going. They were like, "Well, if this is what you guys like--" and that is one of my favorite concert stories because it was unexpected. We had no idea what we were getting into. And you got this really cool kind of unique experience in there. So you never know who you're going to run into and what's going to happen. 

MATT 45:44 

It's so true. 

DIGAN 45:46 

So Brian, you're jogging my memory here. I guess, Matt, I could say I have been to two Ben Fold concerts now that I think about it because he came to college, and he performed there at the step and center at Notre Dame, and he kept getting the word geodesic dome into every song because it was this horrible building that should have been demolished years ago. And it was raining. So there was literally rain falling [down?] the whole time. And so we just kept making fun of it. And every song, he'd throw a geodesic dome reference in there. And then a few years ago, he came to Fort Wayne with the philharmonic and kind of played with the orchestra. And that was a really neat experience because, to Brian's point, it was so unexpected because not only did you have Ben Folds, you had a whole orchestra playing with him, and it was really a cool experience to be at, so you're bringing back all these memories now, so [laughter]. 

BRIAN 46:34 

And were those shows with the philharmonic, was that at the theater downtown? What's that called? 

DIGAN 46:40 

Yeah. It was at the Embassy. 

BRIAN 46:41 

The Embassy Theater. 

DIGAN 46:42 

Yeah. 

BRIAN 46:43 

Yeah. Yeah. See, those are the venues, those tiny-- it's not tiny but those smaller, intimate-- I think that building was built in like the early 1900s or the late 1800s or something if I'm recalling. 

DIGAN 46:54 

Oh, absolutely. They've maintained it really well though. So I mean, the inside is immaculate, and it's awesome to have a concert there. Yep. 

BRIAN 47:01 

Yeah. There was one time I was back in town. And again, just random, the Goo Goo Dolls were there, which was always one of my favorite bands growing up, and we went to a show, and to be in my hometown at the Embassy Theater, which is an amazing venue-- and I think we got good seats because-- yeah, just wild stuff, so very cool. 

 

This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).

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