Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
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We are joined by ACE and Community top contributor Calvin Tang. Calvin talks about his love for the Alteryx platform and the joy he finds in helping people reach their full potential in the Maveryx Community. Also discussed in this episode are Calvin’s insights into User Groups and some tips and tricks for new Community members looking to start their journey.






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Episode Transcription

Ep 156 Q1 Top Contributor Feature - Calvin Tang

[00:00:00] Megan Dibble: Hi, everyone. We recently launched a short engagement feedback survey for the Alter Everything podcast. Click the link in the episode description wherever you're listening to let us know what you think and help us improve our show. 

[00:00:15] Matt Rotundo: Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture.

I'm Matt Rotundo, Associate Content Engineer at Alteryx. And today I'm talking with Calvin Tang, an analytics and automation lead who's also a community top contributor in the Mavericks community. Calvin shares how he started using Alteryx, how he approaches problem solving, ways to get involved in the Mavericks community, and more.

Let's get started.

Hey, Calvin. It's great to have you on the podcast. We'd love it if you could introduce yourself to our listeners. 

[00:00:53] Calvin Tang: Well, my name is Calvin. I've been an active Alteryx user since 2019, active community member since two years and six months ago. So I've been using a lot of different types of tools across my student days and my working days as well.

And currently I'm working with an insurance company, dealing with their COE with Alteryx and also other tools to speed up processes and help my colleagues work better. Beyond that, I'm very happy to be here as well. We're happy to share my thoughts with the whole Alteryx community as well, listening in.

[00:01:26] Matt Rotundo: Awesome. Yeah. Uh, we're very excited to have you on. You have been on the top contributor board for eight consecutive months in a row, which I feel like is a, a pretty impressive quality to have. So props for that. Just wanted to ask you right off the bat. How did you get into all tricks to begin with? 

[00:01:47] Calvin Tang: Yeah, I got into Alteryx because of my sister.

So the story goes, uh, she went to a research institute and they were using Alteryx at their work. And at the time I was studying econometrics, I was still at, uh, university. My sister would come back and show me this tool, like, say, Hey, look at this tool for Alteryx. It's pretty cool. It has a cool name.

It's doing all this sort of fancy stuff. You can just drag and drop. I was wondering if this would be useful for you. And so, you know, my sister introduced this to me. She showed me some concepts, some workflows. I started building on my own, and I had a lot of use cases in my head. Back then, the community was still very nascent, very new.

And the workflows that I built were very shabby. I was studying something closely related to statistics and data analytics. And I thought that this would be a really cool tool. Because at the time, I was just using like R. I was, I know Excel, I know SPSS, I know a bit of SAS. I really wanted something that blinked and something that was easy to use and ArcTrix was that too.

And ever since then, I just kept going, kept learning, kept having use cases. And I really got active in the community about two years ago when I started getting more complex use cases. That's when I started signing up and started asking questions. Very difficult questions and people started answering and that's how I met some people online as well to do that.

[00:03:04] Matt Rotundo: Awesome. Yeah, I feel like we all start off as lurkers on like any online community Uh, I feel like a lot of people can probably relate to your beginnings I feel like it goes without saying that now you are very comfortable in all tricks. It is one thing to be, you know, very comfortable in the program, but it's another thing to go into the community and seek out others that are having issues and problems and questions.

Where do you find your motivation to log in every day and look through all the questions people have and, you know, give your input or give your answers or however you want to approach that? 

[00:03:43] Calvin Tang: I mean, one of the greatest joys in my life is helping people, and it can come in any form, like just having a simple conversation, just answering people, or just talking to people, or maybe posting here and there.

It makes people feel they have a problem, and then you have a potential solution that can help them. It makes my day better as well. One of the main goals why I love using Alteryx and I love using tools in general is so that I can make the lives of other people better. That's my true motivation of getting up every day.

It's, you know, starting to work, starting to build, starting to answer people. And I would say that the community is designed in such a way that that is very conductive to answer questions. And it's also very conductive to generate interest in certain ideas. And it's very conductive for you to get people onto the same idea as you.

And it's also very good to challenge some perceptions that you may have. For example, I may solve one way and maybe Chiu from Japan may solve in a different way. And I get to learn from how they solve it. I learned a lot from the other community members as well. So that's why I'm there. It's a win win situation because if I answer someone, someone else answers as well, I get to learn a better way, a faster way, a more efficient way, things like that.

[00:04:59] Matt Rotundo: That's, it sounds very selfless when you say it like that. So we, we on the community greatly appreciate, you know, people taking the time to help others with their problems and learn from their peers as well. You know, it's, it's a never ending journey. So then my next question for you then is. When you come across a problem that you don't immediately know the answer to, how do you approach that?

Do you look on the community for other people experiencing something like that? Or do you take your own kind of approach to difficult to answer problems? 

[00:05:32] Calvin Tang: I think the question applies to all problems. Because every problem in the community is very unique. And the way people write is very unique.

Sometimes English may not be their first language. And the English forum is the most active one amongst all the languages. So sometimes you get people who are not fluent in English, and they come in and they have some problems if they are. Now, I think the first problem that anyone would face on the community is trying to understand the problem.

Sometimes a lot of it doesn't come with the proper data, inputs, or even a proper output. Sometimes it's just a one liner. Hey, can you help me with this? And then you look at the question, like, what is this? Right? There's nothing there. There's like no information. Those, those things are really complicated.

And then there are some who really put in the effort. To write the question really thoroughly with copious amounts of detail. There are those who give you very complicated use cases. I mean, I've solved some in the past. And how it would tackle it is the same with any other problem. First thing is always to try to understand.

Put myself in their shoes and see, okay, what they are working with. And try to understand if that outcome is possible with Alteryx. Now, Alteryx is a great tool. Sometimes, what they want may need to be resolved in a different manner with Alteryx, or without outrigs. There are some use cases where people want to do visualizations and they want to do dashboards.

Outrigs is not built for that. So it's easy to tell them, hey, it's not built for that, but there are connectors that you can use and so on and so forth. And I will always go through this process where if someone asks a question, I will check in the community forums, is this question asked? Has this question been asked before?

If yes, I'll just link it to them. If no, this is something completely new. I need to apply some logic here and there to implement what I know to answer them. And there are some times where questions are just really, really difficult and it really cannot be answered. For example, if it's too related, if they have an error here, that's more for Alteryx to answer and not for me as a user.

So I always recommend that you go to Alteryx support for that, right, to get the Alteryx engineers to be much better suited to solve for you. And then there are use cases where it's just out of this world, right? They want to do this complex program and they want to do like a complete iteration of it. If it gets too difficult, I will always try to work with other people.

So if some people just comment, I will just comment as well to get more information. I work together to build a workflow that tries to answer them. And if all else fails, I will just tell them, okay, look, this is just something that's not doable right now. Maybe they write this as an idea instead of a question post.

Then you can look at it. In the future, maybe then you will have an answer. There are very few use cases like that. Altrix has solved quite a lot of problems. And the community has just come up with very ingenious, very amazing ways of solving something. 

[00:08:24] Matt Rotundo: Yeah, I agree. There's a wealth of information on the community.

It's just how you go about finding it. And how you go about asking people for help, and that's where you come in. Somebody that may not be as comfortable coming forth on the community with their problem, maybe because they feel like, oh, this is a dumb problem, like no one else is gonna have this, or oh, no one's gonna help me, like they're gonna make me feel like I don't know what I'm doing.

What would you say to someone that doesn't really have that kind of confidence to post on a community? 

[00:08:54] Calvin Tang: Well, like in life, right? There are no dumb questions. If you have a question, it's just a question. It's neither smart or dumb. If you have a problem, it's not gonna solve itself. It's not gonna magically come to you and say, Okay, the solution's gonna come to you in 35 minutes if you wait.

I don't think that your life works that way. So you have to take proactive steps to really try to solve your own problem. Like, if you're taking steps in the community itself, I think that's the best way you can do it. Don't conflate your problems. asking a question and expecting people to solve for you.

Now, this is something that I've seen quite endemic in the community as well, where some people expect you to do a full fledged solution for them for free. And I'm not sure if they're doing anything commercial with the answer or they're just trying to You to do their work for them. It's very easy to spot what is a genuine question, what is asked to do a job.

So it's important for community members who do have questions to know how to ask those questions, to phrase it in the proper way and learn from people who give you the answer. It's like, just like, oh, I want you to solve this for me, and that's it. I don't think that's the right approach. Now if, if you're someone who's shy and you want to post on the community, But you're afraid to do so, you know, the community is quite anonymous as well.

You don't have to tell everyone like where you work or your name. Now, if people don't answer you, it could be a myriad of reasons. Number one, maybe the question wasn't properly phrased. Two, there's not much information. Number three, there may be an influx of questions. Because there are some peak periods in the community where you get like thousands questions in a day.

Your question might be buried underneath. and you have to take like the prerogative to go and bump your version up so that people can see it and answer it for you. Don't think like there's a there's an agenda against you, no one answers you. Sometimes it's just because no one can see it and it's important for you to like proactively bump it up and get support.

Something I do as well, I don't really want to say this out, but something I do as well is on LinkedIn when people add me they'll ask me questions on LinkedIn itself and I would say Okay, that's a great question. I would love to answer you, but I think this question is worthy of a community post, and I will answer you there.

I think it's very important to keep the questions in the community and not just outside. Whilst it is nice to post on Reddit or Stackoverflow, For your outtakes related questions, the community offers a better space and more active users there. For example, you have people who have been in the community for about five, six years, and they've seen a lot of types of problems.

And with that domain knowledge, also the expertise and experience. They can be better suited to answer you in a faster way, in a more professional manner as well. I will also say that the community exemplifies gamification. So if you ask questions, if you're active, you're rewarded for it. So you get those badges.

I mean, some people may be into badges, some people may not. But having those badges actually goes a long way. Just like with coding, right, they will be asking you for a portfolio of your work. And I think the best portfolio you can show is the Alteryx community, because that's something that is controlled by Alteryx, and you can't just make things up, and you can't gamify it.

The way you want it, because you have to play by the rules and you get rewarded as such. And I think it's good to start early. Don't make my mistake, like, I waited like two and a half years to get active, and I, I could have done more in those two years, but it's okay, you know. 

[00:12:24] Matt Rotundo: I would love to just plaster all of my badges, like, on my next resume, and say, like, look, I was a, I was a podcast host, I was, I made this many replies on the community.

I think that that would probably go a long way. So we've been talking a lot about what you do for our community, and now we want to switch gears and ask what community has done for you. And so, my question for you Is have you made any real life friends from community? Have you made like connections that you to this day are some of your good friends?

Like how has your personal life been affected by community? 

[00:13:03] Calvin Tang: Oh, there are many types of friends in the community. I mean, I, I met Some aces as well. I just had lunch with Dawn. She was in Singapore with me and I had lunch and we had a very lengthy conversation about Altrix itself and about other things.

And she gave me a lot of career advice as well. The reason why I'm in this job right now is because I actually called her up and asked her for some advice and thinking if it's good. So it's something that's very unique, right, in the community where you can make friends with people. And you can go very far with them.

I had a chat with a few other people. I had a chat with David Pantagro at the start of my job. That's why I told him like, what are my aspirations and how to set up a meeting properly. He gave me some very good pointers. And he gave me a documentation list as well, which I'm very grateful for. He was, he's doing a lot of things with the information lab.

And I've also made friends from the data school as well. People like, you know, Tristan, he's, he's very active on LinkedIn. He's very positive. I made friends like that. That I, I make friends with people from different languages and different culture groups as well. Like, I would never expect to make friends with people like Chill, right?

He's super active. He's like one of my biggest likers on the community. Every time we post a solution, we'll learn from each other. He's just a great guy, right? And I will also make friends with people from Australia. And, you know, I made a lot of friends through Spark as well, and I have a few friends in France.

And when I got more active in the community as well, I made a lot of, I would say, friendly rivalries. I'm not sure if they know that I'm thinking that way, but I think if they listen to this podcast, they would know. There was one time when I was like the top solution provider in the community. I think that was in the month of October when I was the best.

in giving replies, solutions, and likes, and in posts. That was like the first time in Benetton 3 that that happened. And it was the first time we have someone who is different in terms of solutions providers, because usually it's Binu. Binu is always the top solutions guy. And then of course, after him, you have Andrew, who is also super active.

He's super good with macros. Then you have people who are very active in events and not really in the community. I made some friends as well through the advent of code. And it's actually, it's just really, really fun. And I've also had some chances to speak at events. I go for Spark events, I go for Normal Outrigs events, I go for UG events.

In fact, I'm going for the Hong Kong one which is coming in March. And, I mean, I cannot deny that Outrigs gave me a lot, right? Even this job right now, and I made friends from across the world. From Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong. So, just being active in the community, having a job, Having this opportunity, I've made a lot of connections that I'm grateful for.

[00:15:41] Matt Rotundo: So you said that you recently had lunch with someone that came to you. Do you travel a lot and link up with other community members?

[00:15:50] Calvin Tang: Yeah, I think 

one of my goals is to attend different UGs and also see different people. I try to get as many perspectives and have chats with them. I love taking photos. I love keeping memories.

And if I can make a collection of photos or cases, that would be really, really cool. Right now I only have like two, so it's okay, it's, it's growing. I'll show you Singapore, the APAC office is really, really amazing. Really amazing people, very friendly, very hardworking as well. And every time I have a problem, I'll just ask them.

And they've invited me to the LFUX office several times now. And it's a great view of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. And I really love going there. Very cool. 

[00:16:31] Matt Rotundo: I know you did briefly mention your passion for Sparked and education. Could you potentially tell us a little bit about what areas in community that you really find yourself in?

[00:16:44] Calvin Tang: Yeah, I'm a I'm a big fan of user groups. I want to do more and I've been speaking with Flavia as well from the Outlook site. One more thing about the community which I really like is Spark. Now, the whole concept behind Spark is really interesting. Where you're getting free certifications, free education resources, free almost everything.

Just to students and also to educators. And what surprises me most is that most education institutions still don't know about it. And doing my part is all to help them freelance basis. The Altrix Singapore office always jokes that I know too much about Altrix internally, as if I'm working at Altrix, but I'm not.

So I just, I'm really passionate about the tool. I'm really passionate about helping out. And I'm really passionate about just going out there. And I go for Spark events. Thanks to Cheryl, who is based in Singapore. She's the Spark coordinator here in Asia. And she will always invite me to all these institutions whenever I travel.

Like, I was just, uh, at National University of Singapore just giving a talk to the students and showing them objects, solving a weekly challenge with them. Getting them excited about the tool and learning about it, which I think will be very useful in their resume, right, wherever they go. So, I really love the community, right?

I don't know how else I can express it. I just do whatever I can, be it on the community or offline or on site with some other countries. And because of my job, I get to travel a lot. So, whenever I go to a new country, I will show them our tricks. Help them solve a problem, get them on Mavericks, get them certified.

And yeah, that's, that's why I always do. I love the resources that we have. It's one of the best, well curated resources. 

[00:18:20] Matt Rotundo: Speaking of the resources on the community, I know earlier we talked a little bit about newer people to the community. Where would you say are some don't miss resources for new people on the community?

Where would you point them? 

[00:18:35] Calvin Tang: I would say, always start with the academy, like that's, I get a lot of these questions on the general forum, like, A, how do we start learning Alcheryx, how do we get good at Alcheryx, and I would say, you gotta go through the academy, because the content that's available on the academy is curated for people who are beginners.

So if you go through that, you'll be able to learn at a very quick pace, and it's free. Now, there are other ways of learning as well. I always recommend doing weekly challenges. It's the best way of learning. So, you learn best by doing, right? You don't learn best by theory alone. So it's good to take your hands on objects, the design tool itself, get a free trial license, or if you're a student, get a SPARC license and start building.

I think that's the most important. Otherwise, it's very difficult for you to pick up objects if you don't use it. Another resource on the committee itself that I would say you need to use is, there is this one onboarding tool where you can go all the way up. You can see some use cases there as well from the success story.

Now, this is something not really recommended by a lot of people, but if you're listening in. If you go to the success stories, they would usually put their workloads up there. And you can see many use cases for different industries. Now, if you're working in finance or the airline industry, or even the taxation industry, or trying to start a COE.

There are a lot of good nuggets of knowledge in those posts. Not many people visit them, but if you go there, you can see a lot. 

[00:20:02] Matt Rotundo: Very cool. We will be linking all of those resources in the show notes too. So if you're curious about any of them, please go check them out. And then one final question for you, Calvin.

What are your community goals for this year? What are you working towards this year? 

[00:20:20] Calvin Tang: Well, this year, last year's focus was more on trying to get noticed by outfits. Right. Well, I feel like you did a good job there. And. Yeah, I mean, it's paying off, and this year's goal is very simple. Try to have more quality solutions, rather than quantity.

Try to have more room for ideas, make more applications, macros for people for free. I'm trying to get very serious on the auto documentation, which I'm trying to work on. Now, I posted the idea on Outlooks, and it's been accepted, but I want to work on a bare bones version and put it onto Outlooks, and maybe Outlooks can build on it.

And offer it as a add in to version 2024, maybe. Now, another goal of mine is, is of course to, to be an ace, to be Altrix certified expert. I've already sent in my application or not. Another goal of mine is to travel and get Altrix out there. So this year is fully packed with travels. And then last year I was, when I was taking my holiday, I was in Taiwan.

And Altrix doesn't really have a foothold in Taiwan. Some are very strong, they have some vendor relationships there. But, when I spoke to some companies, and of course the company that I work with, And introduce them to Updrakes. It was really interesting getting on board with this idea. I'm going to many countries this year and see if, you know, if I can show them my work and get them excited.

And try to attend more UG events around the region. Try to visit the Japan office, try them with friends. And try to attend the UGs there as well, take pictures of aces as well. And of course, I'm planning to make it to Inspire this year in Las Vegas. So most people will be congregated there, so that's one of my goals as well, to see everyone and to speak with them in person and to really enjoy what Inspire has to offer.

[00:22:05] Matt Rotundo: Wow, yeah, it sounds like you have a very busy year ahead of you. We will all be rooting for you over on the community, so uh, Wanted to thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate your time and the guidance that you give on the community to both new and seasoned members. 

[00:22:25] Calvin Tang: Yeah, thanks for having me and really thank you for taking the time and speaking with me.

I always love talking to you. Events at Alteryx always has a spot in my heart, and I will always take time out of my day to do events like this and also to help Alteryx and the community as well. It's all my passion, so for allowing me to live my passion. 

[00:22:44] Matt Rotundo: It's our pleasure. Thanks for listening. To learn more about topics mentioned in this episode, including user groups, the Spark program, and the Mavericks Academy, head over to our show notes on

This episode was produced by Megan Dibble (@MeganDibble), Mike Cusic (@mikecusic), and Matt Rotundo (@AlteryxMatt). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.