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Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Community Team
Alteryx Community Team

We're joined by Deborah Diesel for a chat about her journey through analytics, data dilemmas, and mentor/mentee relationships.





Brian Oblinger@BrianOLinkedIn, Twitter
Deborah Diesel - @ddieselLinkedIn



Community Picks



Future Alteryx Expert, Wyatt!Future Alteryx Expert, Wyatt!Deborah, Wyatt, and Wyatt's candy loot from the AYX HeadquartersDeborah, Wyatt, and Wyatt's candy loot from the AYX Headquarters 






















Episode Transcription


BRIAN: 00:05 

Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Brian Oblinger and I'll be your host. We're joined by Deborah Diesel for a chat about her journey through analytics, data dilemmas, and mentor/mentee relationships. Let's get right into it. All right. I'm here with Deborah. Welcome back to the show. 

DEBORAH: 00:30 

Thank you for having me. 

BRIAN: 00:31 

Awesome. So last time we talked to you, I believe we were on a beach somewhere for episode five. 

DEBORAH: 00:37 

We had a lot of background noise, waves and things. 

BRIAN: 00:39 

Yeah. Definitely the good kind of background noise you want on the show. So it's good to see you again. So maybe give us a little refresher: who you are, where you come from, how you got into analytics, and then we'll take it from there. 

DEBORAH: 00:53 

Yeah. Well, my name is Deborah Diesel and I'm part of the analytics team at Quest Diagnostics. I just recently took a new position within the company. My background is very varied. I have had all different careers and positions and I used to think that that was a problem, not coming from an analytics background, but listening to your show, I hear that a lot of people come from all different backgrounds. 

BRIAN: 01:16 

Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. We've covered this before on the show but I think that it's so great to hear the backgrounds of everybody and how varied they are and where they come from. And it's sort of this confluence of the minds coming into data and analytics and data science. So that's great to see. So let's talk about your time with kind of using Alteryx. How did that come about? Where are you at today with all of that? 

DEBORAH: 01:44 

Sure. Well, now, I consider myself an intermediate user working towards that advanced level but I'm not quite there yet. I first got my license, I think, at the end of 2016 and I started dabbling around. I didn't really know what the software could do so I was playing around with filtering, joining, sorting, all those things that you can do probably in something simpler like Excel. But it wasn't until I went to-- 

BRIAN: 02:08 

Boo [laughter]. 

DEBORAH: 02:10 

Excel is not a database [laughter]. It wasn't until I went to Inspire 2017. And when I got there, I was just amazed and I felt like I had come home. All the conversations when you're walking by, everything that everyone was talking about were all things that I was interested in. I had no idea I was such a big data nerd until I went to the conference. 

BRIAN: 02:31 

You don't know until you know. So what about use cases? What are the common types of things you're doing with data, either in broad strokes or in detail, whichever you like there? 

DEBORAH: 02:43 

So in the position I had prior, all of the analysis and manipulation of data I was doing, any time I picked up a project and needed to do it, I found a way to automate it. And really, where I found the most power in the tools was to be able to develop analytic applications and be able to put the power to do that legwork in the background and allow the users to get clean data to analyze. Most of the people on my team were pretty adept at analyzing raw data if they could get clean raw data, but that's where Alteryx comes in. They can do a lot of the heavy lifting and cleaning up. Building macros for other teams to use, those were probably the things that I used Alteryx for most in the past year. 

BRIAN: 03:27 

Okay. And where are you hoping to go? Because you mentioned before, you said you're an intermediate user now, that's you words. And so what does that mean to you and what is the next step? Where are you trying to go with all this? 

DEBORAH: 03:41 

In the position I have, I don't work with a lot of spatial data so I want to be able to master spatial data. I know that's the next step for me. And I have done some with the predictive analytics tools but I need more practice, more opportunities to put it to use. 

BRIAN: 03:57 

Sure. Okay. We may have some weekly challenges that you're familiar with. Great. So let's talk about kind of-- since we're on this topic of learning and where are you at, where are you trying to go, I understand that you recently completed a nano degree, a business analyst nano degree, so tell us a little bit about that. Kind of start at the beginning of what it is and how you got to it and sort of how you worked your way through that learning process. 

DEBORAH: 04:25 

Sure. Well, I first heard about the course from my current manager at the time, and he brought it to my attention. And I looked over at the syllabus and I was really interested in the content. So the courses laid out into different sections and it covers a broad variety of topics, so everything from the data wrangling, they call it - cleaning up the data - to data visualizations, which was Tableau-based, and then we got into the predictive toolkit for Alteryx, so. 

BRIAN: 04:56 

Very cool. So for anybody out there listening to this, if you want to find out more, this is actually hosted on Udacity and we'll put the link in the show notes at So about the course, what was the most challenging part? What was the hardest part? What's the big aha moment that you had? Or maybe there was multiple. Tell me a little bit about that. 

DEBORAH: 05:18 

Well, let's see. The trickiest part for me was not having a statistics background. I saw this y=mx+b and I was having flashbacks to high school statistics. So a few times in the course, I had to take it a little bit slower and really get some fundamental knowledge, but the course was really great about giving links and support for that. I loved the layout of the course. There were a series of short videos with multiple-choice tests in between just to make sure you got the concepts but everything was so hands-on. So at the end of each chapter, instead of taking a multiple-choice test, you had to apply what you learned to a real-life situation with real data, and I loved that. 

BRIAN: 06:02 

Okay. And so have you been showing off the nano degree around the office? Kind of what's the-- 

DEBORAH: 06:09 

Well, I work from home, so [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 06:11 

So yes, the answer is yes [laughter]. 

DEBORAH: 06:13 

Yes, a little bit to my son, "Look at my certificate!" But I feel like I'm walking around with a hammer. I have all these tools and I'm like, "Oh, how can I apply this?" 

BRIAN: 06:21 

Okay. One other question I have about the nano degree. So I'm pretty sure that a gentleman named Tony Moses makes an appearance somewhere in the nano degree. Is that right? 

DEBORAH: 06:32 

Yeah. He is one of the instructors. 

BRIAN: 06:33 

Okay. And how would you rate Tony's performance? 

DEBORAH: 06:36 

I'm going to go 10 out of 10. 

BRIAN: 06:38 

Okay. That's a freebie, Tony. So yeah, Tony has been a recurring theme on the podcast, so I just like to give him the business whenever possible. But if it's 10 out of 10, then I guess he wins this round and there's nothing we can do about it, so. Okay. So let's kind of talk about your career a little bit. We'll kind of circle back to that. So now you have this nano degree, you're looking into doing more spatial stuff. Before we get to kind of where you're going, let's circle back to-- you mentioned earlier on you have a pretty varied background and career in that. So maybe tell us a little bit more about that and how you sort of navigated that path to where you are. 

DEBORAH: 07:20 

Well, I was thinking about this last night before I was coming into the podcast and I was thinking that I've always been an analyst and I've always wanted to build tools, even before I had any software that made it possible. Looking back to all the different positions I've had, I would have loved to have Alteryx at that time. When I was 18, I was working for a building material yard and I was just amazed watching the counter staff use calculators for everything. So they would calculate the selling price of bulk materials like sand, they're selling it by the bag, by the scoop, by the hopper, by the truckload. And every time, they would do it on calculators, and so I built this Excel dashboard where they put in the variables and, based on the price of sand for that day, it would update the price of each type of bulk goods. And now I look at what I'm doing now and I really wish I had had tools like that back then. But I think I always wanted tools like this. I just didn't know they existed. 

BRIAN: 08:18 

Right. Okay. Very cool. So as far as advice-- so one of the things that I think is interesting about you and a lot of the people we have on the show is a lot of times, when I ask people, "What advice do you have from a career perspective?" people go, "Oh, I don't know. Nobody should follow my path." I get this very, "I don't know--" 

DEBORAH: 08:40 

I don't know if I feel qualified to giving advice. I feel the same. 

BRIAN: 08:43 

But you are, right, and that's the point is that everybody we talk to has something they can pass on. And so if there's someone out there listening that is thinking about a career in data or data science or they are and they want to go to the next level, what are the types of things that you would kind of have them focus on? What worked for you? Or maybe what challenged you but helped you get to that next level? 

DEBORAH: 09:10 

Okay. The first thing I would say is that I have had a few platform trainings at the conference and, obviously, the Udacity course recently. But everything else that I have or have learned has been self-taught. So using the resources that are available online, from the online training to the community, the, is huge for me for figuring things out, that if you're interested, you can teach yourself. Get in there, do the weekly challenges. The second thing which is probably the biggest is that I have had really wonderful mentors over my career, starting when I was 18 years old, or even younger than 18, all the way through, and I don't think that I've been afraid to ask for help and guidance. I have found in my experience, if you ask for help and guidance that most people are willing to give it. And I take that more seriously, especially the last three or four years, trying to pay it forward and trying to share that advice and knowledge back. But you can have a mentor and a mentee, that such additional relationship, but some of the relationships I've had recently have been where I'm neither the mentee or the mentor. But especially at the company I work with, we have a very collaborative analytics community and I find myself calling the same group of people for help and them helping them back with what they're working on. So we inspire each other. 

BRIAN: 10:38 

That's great to hear. And so what are the-- regarding that path and sort of the mentor/mentee relationship, what are the things you're trying to pass down now kind of in the other direction, things you've learned? What are those little nuggets, I guess, for the audience? 

DEBORAH: 10:56 

Sure. Well, lately, for me, it's just being able to pass on my knowledge of the software that I use to new users because there is a really sharp learning curve when you pick up new software, trying to learn it, so I try to make myself accessible by phone, by link message, email to the folks that are at my company to be able to call and make them feel good about asking for help when they can. And then I find that any time when anyone comes to me for help, almost every time I learn something back. 

BRIAN: 11:25 

Very cool. Okay. Favorite tips, tricks. What's the thing that nobody knows about that you know about that everyone should know how to do? 

DEBORAH: 11:36 

Well, I don't know if no one knows this but especially for new users, I love the built-in sample workflows. When you get a tool, you can quickly figure out how it can be used by seeing the most common used cases. So if you want to use something that tripped me up when I was first using Alteryx, a multi-row formula. It just wasn't quite making sense. The use cases are right there, right in Alteryx, as are the tool mastery series. Just reading that article. And within our user group, we usually focus on one or two tools every month and we share that tool mastery and we put together common use cases. Other tips and tricks, let's see. Oh, I attended the user group that Alteryx hosted here a few weeks ago. And one of the presenters, I don't know their name. They didn't send out notes after the meeting but in their workflow, they had a series of containers with wireless connectors and that itself was just inspirational to me because I had to go back in all the workflows that I was building recently, I had to redesign them and they look very neat and tidy. I like the idea of putting step one in one container and calling out what is step one, connecting to the data, step two, cleansing. It makes it easier to explain to other people what's been done. But more than that, if you need to make a change to something that you built a year ago, you come back and-- I don't know if everyone is like this but I look at a workflow I built a year ago and I scratch my head for a minute and I say, "What have I done here? I don't remember." 

BRIAN: 13:06 

Very cool. Okay. How about outside of work? Are there things that you're passionate about that have some sort of bleed over into data or analytics or anything like that? 

DEBORAH: 13:19 

A little. I'm really passionate, especially with my son, Wyatt, to get him involved in opportunities to learn computer coding. So we do's curriculum and CS First. He's super smart at that. So I think that has some bleed over because when he's doing coding with those drag-and-drop languages, it's kind of the same work that I'm doing. I'm dragging and dropping Alteryx tiles onto my canvas. 

BRIAN: 13:46 

Yeah. I was just watching-- a few days ago, they landed another lander on Mars. And I was sitting there watching this unfold in real-time, watching the folks at a jet propulsion laboratory, which is just up the road from where we're sitting right now, and they were looking at screens of data as the lander kind of brought back and they're sitting there in real-time, interpreting that data. And it was so funny to kind of watch them intently focused on it and then get excited over some piece of data that came through. And I was just kind of thinking to myself about, "Wow, this is such a great example of the power of data." And that's being transmitted, I think they said, over 300,000 million miles with a seven-minute delay from when it actually happens to the time it hits their screen. And so to me, those are the kinds of things that get me excited and remind me of the bigger world of data out there and how it's changing our lives and all of these things going on. So anyway, just kind of an interesting one that I was excited about recently, so. All right. So let's move onto our community picks. And I understand that you have a couple of community picks. 

DEBORAH: 15:04 

I was trying to narrow it down. I know some people have had 11, but. 

BRIAN: 15:08 

Yeah. So what's been interesting lately? 

DEBORAH: 15:10 

Well, you covered one already. I was going to talk about the coding with the kids. But I guess my number one would be, for Alteryx, is participate in the user groups, your local user group, your industry leader user group. Start one at your company if there isn't one. I co-host our company's internal user group. If there isn't one, start one. You don't need to know very much to start one and the staff here at Alteryx is fantastically supportive of getting those user groups going. There are a number of things that I find most rewarding but I feel like I take away the most from those in-person user groups. 

BRIAN: 15:49 

Can I ask you real quick about the-- you mentioned the internal user group, which I think is the most elusive of the types of user groups that are available. Maybe tell me a little bit about what that is to you and how it runs and what do you talk about with your team. How many people show up to something like that? 

DEBORAH: 16:06 

We're at about 10 to 15, I would say, now. We're still growing our team of Alteryx users. We have a format that kind of works for us. It's really tricky for us because our users are spread out throughout the country, so we don't have an opportunity to have an in-person group, but we host it via WebX. And we open up with just open and welcome. The second item we cover is that we are always encouraging our teammates to take the weekly challenges. So we try different formats to get people excited because, really, the biggest boost that I had was in participating with the weekly challenges. So we'll kind of hype it up in the weeks leading up to the meeting and we'll kind of recap. And I think the format that's worked best for us is to share screen clips of each person's solution and kind of talk about how and why we got to where we're at. We learn a lot. I think anyone has done the challenges knows that's the best part, is once you post your solution, go back and see what everyone else has done and finding all the different ways there are to solve the same problem. 

BRIAN: 17:13 

Yeah. That's great. And it goes back to one of your tips earlier, which is ask for help, receive help. And I think that's the best part about internal user groups within your company, is getting that advice and having that facetime and probably-- you can tell me if I'm wrong but I think also having the space to talk about your use cases that are internal just amongst yourselves and get help with those without feeling like you can't talk about it in a public forum somewhere, right? 

DEBORAH: 17:38 

Exactly. And many of us are operating in the same data sets and doing similar functions. We do that, we do a tool spotlight and what we do is we rotate it around. Volunteers come in and host. We work our way down the periodic table of Alteryx tools. So we started with number one, input, and I think we're on tool 15 or 16 now. Sometimes we'll grab a couple. So our users within our group will volunteer to present. So we'll use the material that's in Alteryx, like I mentioned, or the tool spotlight. And then maybe use cases where we have used that specific tool. And then each week, we have a project-- or each monthly meeting, we have a project spotlight, so users within our little, small community will share a project that they're working on. So we usually do that as a live demo and open up the workflow and kind of show what it does. And the last thing is we invite the users because we're a small group to stay on the line and help plan the next agenda item or the next agenda for the next meeting. And so sometimes someone has something that's not part of our agenda and we can capture it and bring it to the next meeting. We also leave the line open for people that have a data dilemma or a problem. We can kind of troubleshoot right there. They're already on the line. 

BRIAN: 18:53 

Data dilemma. Trademark. 

DEBORAH: 18:55 

Yes [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 18:57 

Very cool. Okay. What else is on your list? 

DEBORAH: 18:59 

Just a shout-out - I have to - to Mark Fresh, who really was the one that really got me going with Alteryx as far as the communities or because I asked the dumbest questions. I go back-- I really didn't know what I was doing and I asked really silly questions. And he really took the time to explain things on my level, which is up here. You can't see my arm motions but I'm up in the sky. And as a really beginner user, he was able to encourage me to keep going. And I felt welcome when I came to the community. 

BRIAN: 19:28 

There are no dumb questions. And I guarantee you that what you've actually done is a public service and there's probably a million other people with the same exact question that search and find yours and see the answer to it. 

DEBORAH: 19:41 

I hope so [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 19:43 

So don't sell yourself short on that one. 

DEBORAH: 19:44 

I will say 9 out of 10 times, when I have a question and I go to the community, someone else has already asked it so then I can save myself the embarrassment of asking my question [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 19:53 

There you go. Okay. Anything else on your list there? 

DEBORAH: 19:56 

Just people that inspired me, Nicole Johnson and Tessa [inaudible], in the community also. That's that. And for shout-outs, you mentioned I could mention a nonprofit. 

BRIAN: 20:10 

Let's do it. 

DEBORAH: 20:11 

So one of my neighbors, her family operates a charity called Tony's Treehouse. And I got an email from them. I was able to give some money to one of the causes. But one of the families that has volunteered with the program for, I think, 13 years lost their house in Paradise, in the California wildfires. So if you're able to and you can find it in your heart to make a donation to Tony's Treehouse and mark Lindsay family on it, they lost everything, their house, trailer, everything in the fire. Their daughter is disabled. Just a family in need that can really use it. Or if you can find it in your heart to give to them or just to the cause in general, Red Cross or Salvation Army. Really terrible fires we've had in California. 

BRIAN: 20:55 

Yeah. That is awful. And I'm so glad you took time to give the shout-out. We'll put a link in the show notes for everybody to go there. It's definitely been pretty tough. Being in Orange County, we're somewhat far away from it but the smoke has come in and everybody knows somebody that's up there or they have a home up there or whatever it is. And it's been pretty tough to watch unfold. So we're recording this on November 27th, which has now been dubbed Giving Tuesday. Hopefully, everybody takes a moment to give back something there, whether it's Alteryx for good or not - it doesn't really matter. There's a lot of folks out there that need some help, so. Great. Okay. So a couple of my community picks. One is the developer community is coming up on its first anniversary, its big birthday for the developer community. Yeah. So it's been awesome to see over the past year, people building macros and apps and sharing content about the STKs and those kinds of things. So super exciting. We'll link to the blog post. You can read all about it there. It seems like user groups are a running theme here. One of my picks that I already had written down was-- we're now doing what we call meeting round-ups and they get posted pretty often, and they're recaps of all of the meetings that have happened across the world. So you can get a sense of when are other people meeting, what are they meeting about, who's presenting, what are the cool use cases they have. So I think that's really cool, kind of bringing back to the people the results of these meetings, and you can kind of get a sense of the cross-pollination of who's talking about different things in different regions, which is really great. And then back to our Giving Tuesday, I wanted to give a shout-out to, again, Red Cross and giving blood. They've been sending a lot of emails, yeah, recently about their-- they have a huge shortage. And if you've never given blood, it's the easiest possible thing you can do. You go, you lay down-- 

DEBORAH: 23:00 

You get a juice box. 

BRIAN: 23:01 

You get a juice box. I mean honestly, just go do that. So we'll put a link to where you can get involved in that too. 

DEBORAH: 23:09 


BRIAN: 23:10 

Very cool. Well, thanks for being on the show. It's always good to have you. I think you're part of an exclusive club now since you've been on two of these things. There's very few people. I think Nicole Johnson might be the other, and a few other miscellaneous folks from Inspire. So thank you again for that and we'll talk to you again soon. 

DEBORAH: 23:31 

Thanks, Brian. 



BRIAN: 23:36 

So you know, Deborah, most people that are on the podcast, they come alone. But you have chosen to bring a friend. Tell us a little bit about who's sitting with us here in the room as we record. 

DEBORAH: 23:48 

Well, this person sitting at the table here is my best friend in the whole world. This is my son, Wyatt. He's nine years old. 

BRIAN: 23:55 

And what else do we need to know? Let's thoroughly embarrass him. I'm going to take a picture while you're doing this for the show notes here. 

DEBORAH: 24:02 


BRIAN: 24:03 

Nailed it. All right. So you mentioned coding and things like that before. How's that going for Wyatt? 

DEBORAH: 24:09 

Well, he's brilliant at it. I think he's going to be third-generation progammer as far as I can tell. It just seems so natural, I feel like, to kids, if you put it in front of them because they have so many electronics in front of them. But instead of just having them play a game where they're tapping a screen, let them be problem-solvers. 

BRIAN: 24:30 

Yeah. And so which code camp? Which one are we doing? I know there's so many of them now. 

DEBORAH: 24:34 

I like I took actually a teacher's course on how to teach it just so I could teach him. It was sponsored, I think, by Microsoft. And so we do that one. We were doing a little bit with Scratch, which is a lot of fun too. 

BRIAN: 24:51 

Okay. Yeah. It's great how all the big tech companies are getting behind it. I got an email, I think, yesterday from Apple. They're doing some free code stuff in their stores as well. So that's great to see. 

DEBORAH: 25:03 

If our kids will even code. Because it might be all AI by the time they're grown up [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 25:08 

Well, someone's got to tune the machines, right, so. Okay. Cool. Anything else we need to know about Wyatt? 

DEBORAH: 25:15 

How much can I share here? 

BRIAN: 25:17 

As much as you want. 

DEBORAH: 25:18 

He's turning a shade of pink [laughter]. Cheeks. 

BRIAN: 25:22 

Should we get him on here? Do we want to hand him a microphone? 

DEBORAH: 25:24 

That would be fantastic. 

BRIAN: 25:25 

Hold on one second here. All right. Hang onto that and just kind of hold that right there. All right. So we're here with Wyatt. Wyatt, how are you today? 

WYATT: 25:38 


BRIAN: 25:39 

So tell me about your mom. What's awesome about your mom? Too much. There's so many things, he just can't get it all out right now. What's your favorite thing about your mom? 

WYATT: 25:51 


BRIAN: 25:51 

Everything [laughter]. Smooth operator. So how are the coding camps going for you? 

WYATT: 26:00 

They're going good. 

BRIAN: 26:02 

What's the best thing you've learned so far? 

WYATT: 26:05 

I do like Hour of Code. And you play games, you code the games. 

BRIAN: 26:11 

And what's an example of a game? Can you give me an example of what one of those is like? 

WYATT: 26:16 

Like there was this Hot Wheel one and you code the car to drive around the track. 

BRIAN: 26:26 

And what language is this in? Which language are they teaching you to code? Or at this point, is it just a game that they're having you play and you're sort of abstracted from the code? Have you actually written actual code yet or is it you're just in the phase of playing the games? 

WYATT: 26:41 

Just drag-and-drop. 

BRIAN: 26:42 

Okay. Okay. Got it. And so is that your favorite one? Or what's your favorite one that you've done so far? 

WYATT: 26:49 

My favorite one is and Scratch. I like doing Scratch a lot. 

BRIAN: 26:55 

What makes it different? What's better about Scratch, in your opinion? 

WYATT: 27:00 

I like making the games because I always play them at the end. 

BRIAN: 27:07 

Well, that is a good treat. And so are your friends doing this? Do they do any of this through school or is this all kind of extra on top of that? 

WYATT: 27:15 

I do it at home. 

BRIAN: 27:18 

All right. And so what are you hoping to get out of this? Is this something you want to do for a career someday? Do you think it'll help you-- I guess we'll start with this. What do you want to be when you grow up? 

WYATT: 27:30 

A video game designer. 

BRIAN: 27:31 

Okay. So this is good. So this is kind of giving you the basic knowledge, kind of getting you involved in that. Is there something specific you want to do in video game design? There's graphics, there's storytelling, there's building the actual code. 

WYATT: 27:47 

Building the actual code. 

BRIAN: 27:49 

Okay. So I'm going to definitely throw some ideas at you later. I don't want to say them on here because I don't want anybody to steal my awesome video game ideas. They're probably awful. I probably have the worst possible video game ideas. What kind of game do you want to build? If you could build anything you wanted, what kind of game would you make? 

WYATT: 28:07 

Probably Fortnite but more appropriate [laughter]. 

BRIAN: 28:12 

Awesome. All right. Anything else you want to tell our listeners while you're in front of the mic there? 

WYATT: 28:17 





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