Alter Everything

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

Where do you start when transitioning from spreadsheets to an analytics program? Alteryx ACE Esther Bezborodko shares tips for driving digital transformation at the organizational level.







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Episode Transcription

MADDIE: 00:02

Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Maddie Johannsen, and in this episode, I got to chat with one of our Alteryx ACEs, Esther Bezborodko. We chat about why you should go from spreadsheets to a full-blown analytics program and how you can make your program scalable right from the outset. Let's get started.

ESTHER: 00:32

So I'm Esther Bezborodko. I am an Alteryx ACE since 2019, and I started using Alteryx in February of 2015 when I was basically given about three months to become a subject matter expert on Alteryx and simultaneously Tableau. That was my entry into the world of Alteryx.


Let's see. I am in love with the Alteryx community, active there, love helping people out. And my focus is always on getting people going in their analytics journey, getting them to a place where they can function faster, have a much better life outside of work, and understand their information. I like to look at Alteryx like solving puzzles. I get paid to help people solve puzzles for a living. How cool is that?

MADDIE: 01:27

Yeah. I love the puzzle analogy. We've heard from other parents who use Alteryx at home and then their kids kind of peek over at their screen and they get so excited thinking like, "Oh my gosh, it looks like you're playing a video game," and stuff like that. So, yeah, the puzzle analogy really resonates, I'm sure, with a lot of people.

ESTHER: 01:45

My son actually had come up with that. He was watching me solve some work problems in Alteryx on my PC and came over and sat down with me and said, "Eema." That's what my children call me, it's mother. "Ima, are you doing puzzles? Can I help you solve this puzzle?" And he was, I believe, seven at the time. And he actually did. He framed the problem in a way that I was able to figure out which tools to use when I explained to him what the problem was. He reframed it and we solved.

MADDIE: 02:22

That's amazing. How cool? Yeah, I bet you were the person that I heard that from. And also, tell me a little bit more about eema.

ESTHER: 02:31

Oh, so eema is the Hebrew word for mother, and that is what my children call me. They call me Mommy or Ima. And I've got three kids. Now, a 12-year-old daughter and almost-10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. My eight-year-old was a little confused by the two names that I had, so she spent the first few years of her speaking life calling me eema.

MADDIE: 02:57

I love it, just blending them together.

ESTHER: 03:00


MADDIE: 03:01

That's great. How cool? Yeah. Thanks for sharing that.

ESTHER: 03:03

I speak Hebrew sort of.

MADDIE: 03:06

Oh, really?

ESTHER: 03:07


MADDIE: 03:07

That's amazing. So cool. Great. Well, one of the things that you were saying, the puzzle analogy is really what you love about your job, but also just helping people scale and understand the importance of upskilling. And I think we've explored upskilling from an individual contributor perspective on previous episodes, and that's super important, but I think it's a completely different skill set needed to upskill an entire team, an entire department, or even an entire organization. And when we think about digital transformation and building an analytics culture, you have to think broadly like that. You're thinking about it in terms of bringing the whole team along, bringing the whole department along. And from your perspective, I'd love to kind of focus our conversation around this, and I'd love to hear first and foremost, how do you get started with something like this?

ESTHER: 04:08

That's always the $50 million question, is where do you start? Right? And it is definitely very different thinking in terms of broad brush how do I get my whole organization going in a product like Alteryx versus, "Oh, you have this one puzzle. Let me help you solve it faster." It's a very different point of view. I've done a lot of the first. I think you and I have spoken a lot about the first, but the second is my passion. It's what I do. I teach analytics for a living. So this is the area that I live in daily. What we found as an organization in trying to up our whole analytics culture and get people excited about using the right tools is figuring out how they're using the tools that they have. So it's all about the use case and what different ways are people using analytical tools to help their clients, to help their teams, whatever the case may be? And then does the tool that we have serve that particular use case? And if it does, then how? And how can we ease their pain points in their use case? And I think that's a big-- getting into the organization, if people are having pain points in a particular way that they're using an analytics program, how can you ease those pain points? That's how you're going to get them into wanting to learn something new as opposed to repeating what they've done for many years.

MADDIE: 05:38

Right. So it sounds like, number one, making sure that your understanding the use cases, understanding what are the problems that we're facing, what are we trying to solve, what insights are we looking for? And then once you establish that, it's looking at what tools do we have, maybe what tools do we need, where do we have gaps, and then trying to work within those parameters?

ESTHER: 06:03

Yeah. That's step one, figuring out how you need to use the technology and what it actually serves. Then step two is, of course, figuring out then how to reach that audience. Right? How do you get them excited? What kind of learning are they interested in? What kind of learning do they have time to do? We can develop all of these-- oh, you have a cute little visitor on your side, Maddie. Is there a cat in the background?

MADDIE: 06:31

Yeah, my cat is-- yeah, he's definitely trying to cuddle during this conversation.

ESTHER: 06:36

Absolutely, as he should. Analytics is a good time to cuddle with our fur babies.

MADDIE: 06:41

He's so captivated by your insights, Esther.

ESTHER: 06:44

There you go. It's about figuring out what they can do, what they want to do, how they like to learn. So there is no one-size-fits-all. Even within the same organization, there's really no one-size-fits-all approach. You can recommend certain kinds of learning. A lot of people love to have an instructor walk them through and they want to get dangerous in a two-hour period. Right? And I call it getting dangerous. It gets them just enough information to get going in the product. Not to be experts, but to get going. And that serves them well. And then there are others who don't really have the time or the inclination to sit one on one with somebody or in a classroom, and they really want the self-service tools. So how do you get those users going on the right track as well as keep track of what they're doing so you can make sure that they're learning correctly? So it's appealing to the different kinds of users then within that use case and having that all planned out and laid out for them. If this is what you want, this is the path you take. If this is what you're willing to do, this is the path you take. And having some sort of carrot for the end. I mean, you always need a reason. So if I tell someone the process that previously took you two and a half hours in SQL Server and Access and Excel is going to take you two minutes in Alteryx, that's quite a carrot to dangle in front of them.

MADDIE: 08:16

Definitely. Yeah. I think that's an important distinction to make is even if people have different learning styles or different capacities to learn or time restrictions or anything like that, the carrot, as you said, is appealing to everybody. I think just having possibility dangled in front of you of these incredible time savings and being able to focus your work on bigger problems, I think that that is going to be appealing to anybody, whether they want one on one coaching or if they want something more self-service. Yeah, I think that's a really good point. And also, when it comes to Alteryx, what have been kind of your game-changers when it comes to finding opportunities for people to learn within the time parameters that they might have within any sort of restrictions? How do they upskill quickly and in their own preference?

ESTHER: 09:10

A lot of that, I think, I have to throw back to community, especially for those who are those consultants who are doing this at odd hours because they really need to get something done for whatever reason, they jumped into Alteryx probably because they were hopefully told to. But if not, they realized Excel failed them and they had another tool that they could really use. I'm going to throw them to the Alteryx for Excel users area in Alteryx Academy because that takes a technology that they're familiar with, it translates it into the new technology. And since many of them are trying to do the same exact thing, it at least gets them going in a self-paced manner that is reinforced with exercises. You can't go through one of those e-learnings without actually actively participating in it, but it does let them upskill in their own time. So I think I do a lot of referencing and recommending to the different areas in the Alteryx Academy, specifically for those who just want to upskill in general, because it's an opportunity to distinguish themselves at work and to say, "Hey, I'm now core and advanced certified in Alteryx, so put me on this more analytical study because I've proved I have the chops to do it." And that's a big-- that's a big carrot in my world.

ESTHER: 10:39

Then I'll push them into working on the weekly challenge because those are fun outside of work that is literally puzzle-solving to climb a mountain, highly competitive, which is fun for my colleagues because we're a competitive bunch and it just gets them rolling and they're learning in ways and they don't even realize that they're learning. That's the beauty of the weekly challenge, is you can get people in there. I can direct them to specific challenges that will get exactly what they need to know for the use case they're trying to solve, but they're having fun doing it. And then when they bring that into their work, it goes so much faster and they've integrated the learning so well.

MADDIE: 11:24

For sure. It can't be said enough how important it is to actually do it and practice by doing. I used to think that I was a visual learner, which I think I still am. It's funny because I'm a podcast person, so you would think I'd be more of an auditory learner. But I think it's ultimately, the kinesthetic, actually doing it I think is so important. Especially with learning a new platform or anything like that, I feel like you have to do it.

ESTHER: 11:53

You have to get your hands in, agree. I'm visual kinesthetic, so I'm show me and let me do.

MADDIE: 12:01

No, definitely. Yeah. And those are great tips. Thank you for sharing those. So I'd love to hear from your experience what happens when you go from spreadsheets to an analytics program, a full-blown program. I'd love to hear how it has impacted your professional career, but also maybe your personal life.

ESTHER: 12:22

I'm trying to figure out how to say this in a way that's constructive and insightful, but in many ways, it can really save your butt. Because the challenge with working in a spreadsheet program, one of the big challenges is that you're working directly in the data source and there is so much room for user error because you accidentally delete something or change something and you don't realize it until it's so many steps down the road. So then you've saved all of these different files and you have to go back and find the correct one and then make all of your fixes and make all of your changes versus a real analytics program where you're simply reading in the data and you're manipulating it. And if you make a mistake, you haven't impacted anything negatively and it gives the freedom to play and make mistakes and learn from them until you come up with the right analysis. And that's actually one of my biggest encouragements to people when they're starting to learn Alteryx, is fail.

ESTHER: 13:23

Fail hugely because you're not messing anything up. Don't be afraid that you're taking the wrong approach. Try an approach and if it doesn't work, you just circle back and you iterate through again with a different approach, but you're not actually changing anything of the underlying. And I think that's a really important concept to think of when you're going from a spreadsheet into an analytics program. It's going to save you time. We actually came up with a calculation that Alteryx does a lot of the simple data cleansing. I mean, something like the VLOOKUPs or array type LOOKUPs that can be extremely slow in Excel are 90% faster in Alteryx. Which is much faster than the number that Alteryx says that they are, which I forget offhand, but some things are actually 90% faster and sometimes even more.

MADDIE: 14:15

That's cool. Yeah, I love hearing the--

ESTHER: 14:16

So you're going to save time, which is a great thing as well, and get some of your life back [inaudible].

MADDIE: 14:22

Absolutely. Yeah. I like your specific use case statistic. I think that's really cool.

ESTHER: 14:27

Other stuff. I found my seventh-grade or my 12-year-old, she's going through algebra right now in math, and there are a lot of figure out multiple variables without much guidance. And I realized that I could create a workflow that stimulated her math and solve much faster and explain to her how it's doing the solving, and we've used Alteryx to complete seventh-grade algebra, which is a really exciting personal use case. I'm helping my daughter do her homework and also helping her understand how an analytics program can work, even in a simple mathematical modeling sense.

MADDIE: 15:18

That's amazing. And what a cool glimpse to give her into your world and also just career possibilities too.

ESTHER: 15:27

Yes. She rolls her eyes at me.

MADDIE: 15:31

Did she just now?

ESTHER: 15:31

If I met her with a laptop when she has a homework question, I get the eye roll.

MADDIE: 15:39

That's funny, but no, I think that's such a cool way to show her there's jobs out there that are using technology and these incredible platforms that will make their lives so much easier. Nobody likes to do homework. Well, I guess I shouldn't say that. We just had on a guest recently, Kenda Sanderson, interviewed one of her colleagues and her colleague was saying how much she loved her math homework. But I would say, typically, I feel like kids don't love to do homework. Right? And so I think showing them that there's software that the homework that they might need to do in their careers in the future can be made so much easier, so yeah, it's never too early to learn for sure. Yeah. And it's also interesting too because we hear a lot of the stories about getting that time back for your personal life, and I just love how you're turning it on its head basically and kind of showing how it affects your daughter's life too. Cool. Well, I'd love to also hear just some advice from an ACE. I'm sorry, my cat is something all over the screen.

ESTHER: 16:47

That's okay. Your cat's very excited to be involved in the podcast.

MADDIE: 16:49

He really is.

ESTHER: 16:50

I can't blame him, it's all their thing.

MADDIE: 16:51

I know. Apparently 2:00 PM Mountain Time is his Zoomy time. So yeah, you've already given us some great advice. But as you mentioned, you're one of our ACEs, and I'd love to hear advice from an ACE. So maybe we can start with your biggest piece of analytics advice. So maybe something tangible like an Alteryx tip that you continuously go back to.

ESTHER: 17:16

So when I am-- I guess this is a more ACEy tip. Of course, I said before about failing. Don't be afraid to fail. Try anything, and if it doesn't work, go back and go through again with a different approach. That's always a big tip of mine. But when we're creating work product of any kind, make sure that your annotating it well so that you can hand off and someone else can understand it. One of the things that we want to do with Alteryx is democratize our work, make it available to anyone who needs it. And the best way to do that is for people to understand what they're looking at when they're looking at something. So it's about annotating, it's about having launch pads where you put your input so everyone understands that something in this area of your workflow is an input, and then your processes are well documented. And it can all be done really simply with lots of comment boxes and the output. And people understand what is going in and your whole process. That makes it easy to share your work. So I think that's very, very important. My other tip, which is from making tons of mistakes using Alteryx and wondering why things are failing, is when you use any sort of a formula tool and you're creating a brand new field, please name the field.

MADDIE: 18:37

Okay, yeah.

ESTHER: 18:40

I cannot tell you how many times-- I mean, I'm an ACE. I am super certified. I forget to name my fields with the new fields.

MADDIE: 18:46

Yeah, that's a good point. And probably name them something different than Field 1, Field 2.

ESTHER: 18:55

In desperation, one, two, three, four will work, but having a meaningful name is much better for your analysis. My other tip in there is please don't forget to set your data type properly.

MADDIE: 19:05

Okay. Yep. That's a great one for sure. And yeah, doing it from the beginning that you don't need to worry about it.

ESTHER: 19:12


MADDIE: 19:13

Cool. So tell us your biggest piece of career advice.

ESTHER: 19:18

Oh, goodness. I think making yourself distinct in some kind of thing that you love with work. For me, it's analytics. It's about data analysis and data visualization. So my work has given me the opportunity to say, "Hey, I'm an expert here," which then gets me the opportunity to work actually with clients on their understanding, on their enablement, on actually creating the work product, jumping in with teams and working with them. Because I was able to say, "Hey, I'm a distinctive user in these programs." So if there's something that interests you, really go for it, but make yourself stand out. Figure out how to make yourself stand out in that particular platform. And don't be afraid to ask questions. That's, I think, one of the most wonderful things about the ACE community, is it's opened up this whole-- we like to call it our personal support desk for asking tons of questions and collaborating with each other to become more distinctive in our particular areas that we love.

MADDIE: 20:29

Yeah. That's amazing.

ESTHER: 20:31

Yeah. There's been a lot of opportunity that I think Alteryx has given me through the ACE program. I've been able to speak, obviously, at Analyticon, Inspire, Inspire Con, whatever you want to call it now. The opportunity to speak at all of these events, to get up in front of people, the opportunity to teach through different platforms that support learning online, the opportunity to speak at different organizations through user groups. That's all because I was able to, with the support of community and my work, make myself a distinctive user. And I think that's been huge.

MADDIE: 21:12

That's really, really great advice. And going back to the ACE personal help desk that you guys have just to open it up to the listeners as well, if you have a question, there's also discussion boards on the community and a lot of the ACEs are really active there. So if you're looking for more advice from an ACE or tips from an ACE or just any user, I'd encourage you to post there on the discussion board. And if you know the answer to any questions, jump in with the answer too. It's fun to have your solution marked as accepted from the person who needed help. And yeah, it's just a cool place to get answers and give answers.

ESTHER: 21:50

Absolutely. And kind of on that vein, I really started-- I would say my journey to be an ACE started with the weekly challenge. I jumped in, I kind of found it accidentally, and it looked like fun. And I tried one and Sean Adams responded. He's another ACE.

MADDIE: 22:12


ESTHER: 22:13

Yes, legendary ACE who has done this with many of us, by the way. Responded, "Welcome to the challenge. So glad you're doing these. Reach out if you have any questions." And I plowed through these challenges and then I realized this isn't-- once a week isn't enough. "Let me see. Oh, there's this thing called discussions. Let me take a look at discussions." And I realize people are asking all these questions and I thought, "Hmm, I can answer some of these." So I started to answer them. And even when you didn't get accepted as a solution, it was just so much fun to join in the conversation. And at the time I was getting into these conversations, I was not an ACE yet, but I was getting into these conversations with other ACEs about the best way to solve. And three or four of us would solve together and come up with this incredible solution for someone who posted a question. And that became my new daily challenge because there were always some really exciting questions in there. And through all of that work, that's really how I built my Alteryx expertise. Was wanting the challenge of helping others answering questions.

MADDIE: 23:27

Yeah. And as we mentioned earlier, just getting in, getting your hands dirty, trying things, participating is really important and goes a long way. Well, great. Yeah, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate all of your advice and all of your tips. And I could talk to you all day, Esther. I feel like this is--

ESTHER: 23:47

Oh, thank you, Maddie. I miss gathering in person.

MADDIE: 23:50

Me too. Me too. I know. Soon, hopefully.

ESTHER: 23:54

Soon, yes. I miss having drinks with you. Oh, goodness.

MADDIE: 23:58

Me too. Yeah. That's one of the best parts of Inspire. Right? Just having drinks with buddies.

ESTHER: 24:03

Yes, absolutely.

MADDIE: 24:06

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me.

ESTHER: 24:08

My pleasure. Iyela, did you want to jump in and say anything about Alteryx or me being an ACE? You don't have to, love. No. Okay. My eight-year-old does not want to join in on the conversation.

MADDIE: 24:21

That's okay.

ESTHER: 24:21

He's being shy.

MADDIE: 24:22

Understandable. I'm shy as well. But I'm glad that we got that other story about-- I don't remember which kid of yours it was, but I'm glad that we got the other story about the video game piece--

ESTHER: 24:34

Yes, the puzzles and the-- yeah.

MADDIE: 24:35

--and the eye-rolling. Yeah.

ESTHER: 24:37

Both of them, I think, have their own Alteryx story.

MADDIE: 24:39

That's so cool.

ESTHER: 24:41

I'll work on getting them certified. Core certified [music].

MADDIE: 24:51

Thanks for listening. As we mentioned, Esther and I would love for you to join us on the Alteryx community at You'll find those weekly challenges, discussion boards where you can ask questions, and lend a hand if you're able to answer questions from other Alteryx users. And if you're the kind of person who likes badges and general gamification fun, you can earn badges on your community profile by answering questions, completing challenges, joining our events, and more. Hope to see you there.

This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).
Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @TaraM for our album artwork.