Episode 43: Developing on Tableau with Gigi Zanolli

Gigi Zanolli is a developer advocate and her mission is to enable Tableau’s developers to be successful in their usage of our APIs and developer tools. Before moving to Seattle, she helped customers all around EMEA with their Tableau adoption. Prior to that, she worked in IT management and completed a double masters in information systems and computer science. Originally from Mauritius, Gigi decided to trade sunny days for new adventures in Europe and now the US.

 

Today, I’m sitting down to talk with Gigi about her early days, what she’s currently working on at Tableau, e-learning opportunities, and what’s coming soon.  

 

Show Highlights:

  • The mission statement for Tableau.
  • The skills required to get into data development.
  • The APIs Tableau offers.
  • Examples of what people have built using Tableau.
  • The developer environments that Tableau offers.
  • The history of the Lightning Web Component that allows Tableau to be embedded in Salesforce.

 

Links

 

 

Episode Transcript:

Gigi Zanolli:

And I was playing another video game at the time, and I wanted to always make the video game better, because I was like, “Oh, I wish we had that, and I wish we should could do that.” And I think it’s how I actually got started with, “Yeah, I want to be in computer science.”

Josh Birk:

That is Gigi Zanolli, developer advocate and product manager over at Tableau. I’m Josh Birk, developer evangelist for Salesforce, and here on the Salesforce developer podcast you’ll hear stories and insights from developers for developers. Today, we sit down and talk with Gigi about developing on Tableau, and we will start with her early days there.

Gigi Zanolli:

So I joined the presales team I think four, five years ago based in London, so covering all Europe and Middle East Africa. And I was one of the only one in my team that actually had a background in computer science. So really quickly I got more and more involved in APIs and getting to know the developer community and work with our developer tools on the day-to-day basis. And then [inaudible 00:01:14] I go to the… into the Tableau developer world and moved to Seattle a year ago, more than a year now. I think I’m losing notion of time. To join the [inaudible 00:01:29] the dev [inaudible 00:01:30] team and be… my first focus, my only focus is the data devs and the Tableau developers using our APIs and platforms.

Josh Birk:

As a fellow evangelist, I find it always good to level set this kind of job. How would you describe your current job?

Gigi Zanolli:

It’s hard. It’s just… one day doesn’t look like the other. Yesterday doesn’t look like today. It is just helping developers to be successful with our APIs and platform, be sure that they have all they need, tools, mentors, to be successful and build their own integration.

Josh Birk:

Gotcha. Okay. So let’s talk Tableau, the company itself. How would you describe the mission statement for Tableau?

Gigi Zanolli:

I mean, I think since the beginning we always have the same missions is we help people see and understand the data. And when I was in presales, I was joking and saying, “Yeah, people is anyone from your grandmother to a actual business analyst.” And I think it’s really true that anyone that has or have a questions on the data, a business question, can answer their own question using Tableau. It’s an easy tool to get hands on.

Josh Birk:

And Tableau talks about their data devs, but who meets the description of data dev?

Gigi Zanolli:

That’s an interesting question. So it’s a very, very broad audience. We have people that are just starting with APIs and developers, but they are interested. They want to push the limits of Tableau. And we have the developers that… [inaudible 00:03:07] has a computer background, science, computer background… computer science background, and that wants to be involved in the developer platform. I will say that anyone that is using the Tableau API’s developer tools is a data dev.

Josh Birk:

Gotcha. What kind of skill set is required to get into data dev?

Gigi Zanolli:

I mean, the first is just being interested in learning. That’s the first step is, are you interested in learning? Are you going to learn about APIs or learn the basics of JavaScript? That’s the main skillset we require for you to join the developer require. We hope when you join the proper platform, you [inaudible 00:03:50] the data dev family, community. Is the first step is like, do you want to learn? If yes, we give you the tools and the opportunity to learn.

Josh Birk:

Nice. And do I have to know any like specific programming languages, or is it pretty open?

Gigi Zanolli:

I mean, we recommend JavaScript, and we use also saw Python a lot, but [inaudible 00:04:13] have APIs that are you can use C++ if you want to.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Yeah. I guess I hadn’t really considered that. Python’s pretty big in the data visualization world, right?

Gigi Zanolli:

Yes.

Josh Birk:

Okay. So let’s talk some specifics, like what kind of APIs does Tableau offer?

Gigi Zanolli:

So are you ready for half an hour talk?

Josh Birk:

Maybe 15 minutes would… if we could maybe scale it down a little bit.

Gigi Zanolli:

Let me try.

Josh Birk:

Okay.

Gigi Zanolli:

We have a lot of different APIs, and I like to talk about our APIs by use cases.

Josh Birk:

Okay.

Gigi Zanolli:

So we have automation and integration. When you want to automate tasks or integrate with third party tools, we have the best API, for example, for all the management of your Tableau server or your Tableau online environment or web books as well. That’s one of the newest one. Then we talk about extensibility. When you want to extend the capability of Tableau, you want to do more with Tableau, like do a video game, then… Yes [inaudible 00:05:24].

Josh Birk:

Okay. We’ll put a pin… we’ll pin in that and get back to that in a second.

Gigi Zanolli:

Then you have embedding. So we have Tableau that some users have actually another tool, another application, that’s the main application that they want to embed and have the power of Tableau inside the application. So we have a bunch of APIs to embed Tableau. And then we have connectivity. Of course, if you want to connect to data sources in a data source or API but you don’t find the connector in your list of connect native connectors, even if Tableau supports more than 80 native connectors…

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Gigi Zanolli:

… you can actually use our APIs to connect to your own data. Yes. And last but not least [inaudible 00:06:11]… One of them is like, if you forget one, is going to be like the upset person in the family. Like, “Oh, you forgot about me.” Is advanced analytics. In Tableau, you can though some calculated fields to do average, sums, and you can also do forecasting. But some user want to do even more with these calculate fields, and they want to run their patterns quickly. They want to analyze the sentiment analysis of their tweets, for example. So that’s also another category of our APIs, so if you want to integrate with R, Python, or other languages.

Josh Birk:

Got it. And I have to really appreciate that. I can actually remember the first world tour presentation I was doing on our APIs, and I had to turn around to the slide and ask myself that same question. Like, did I forget one?

Gigi Zanolli:

It’s always an anxious moment. And you’re like, “Oh, okay.”

Josh Birk:

It is. It’s an interesting similarity, because we also have a lot of APIs that are pretty much defined by specific use cases and trying to help our customers and developers out. Let’s go back to… because there was an interesting use case that you kind of mentioned there. You said something about a video game running off of Tableau.

Gigi Zanolli:

Yes. I think it’s one of our developer that email us one day and send us… He’s like, “Look, I built Mario in Tableau.” And I was like, “Okay.” And you know, you don’t… You see a screenshot, and your first thought is, “Did you do a screenshot and Photoshop it?” Because it was so amazing. I never thought about something like that, and someone would use our API that way. So then he sent us the actual work book with… he built an extension, and it was actually you could play Mario inside of your dashboard. I was like, “That’s so clever. That’s just awesome.” And it’s just an example of how much you can push Tableau, expand it. So that was awesome, and you could play, and I was making a joke with a coworker. I was like, “Yeah,” I say. “I’m working on Tableau, but you don’t know what I’m doing. I’m maybe playing Mario.”

Josh Birk:

And what was it using Tableau for, like as a data source?

Gigi Zanolli:

So I think the data source was points mostly that he was updating every time you were getting a coin. So I think it was the game. Yeah, the coins.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Yeah, yeah.

Gigi Zanolli:

And [inaudible 00:08:42] remember [inaudible 00:08:43] after that. I think it was also some hack to make it work, and because the interface of the game was Tableau.

Josh Birk:

Well, see, that’s also really interesting, I think, because I think a lot of people think in terms of data visualization as the charts and the graphs, or maybe it’s a super pretty graph that’s kind of trying to illustrate something in some way, but that’s clearly highlighting a very high level of interactivity that you can do.

Gigi Zanolli:

Yes.

Josh Birk:

Okay. And so talking about some solutions that customers are actually putting out there, are there any kind of cool examples out there of things that people have built?

Gigi Zanolli:

Yes. So we have a lot of different tools in the application that has been built on top of our applications. One came to my mind is all the third party tools. So for example, you are in Tableau and you have to jump from Tableau to another tool, so then they bring the tool inside Tableau by using our extension API, for example. So you just stay in Tableau to, for example, update your application or data record inside your data source so [inaudible 00:09:52] back. So you can add actions directly inside your dashboards.

Gigi Zanolli:

Another one I can think of is partners are using our APIs to bring the… their tools, and they’ve… For example, machine learning partners, they’re using their own algorithm, bringing the algorithm and the technology inside Tableau as well.

Josh Birk:

Got it. And then talk to me about how if… I think there’s some interesting overlap, and it’s like, first of all, if I’m a developer and I’m listening to this, there’s a low barrier of entry when it comes to the development side, because I basically just need to be able to interface with your APIs. What kind of development environment, if I was wanting to start tinkering around with that, does, does Tableau offer?

Gigi Zanolli:

So Tableau offers, we have what we call the Tableau developer program. It’s a free program that anyone can join, and as part of this program, you can get a free dev site. This dev site, you can use it to learn and try APIs and also new APIs, because it’s the last previous version of Tableau. So it’s also a way to keep yourself updated to the new APIs as well.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. And what kind of… because obviously when we’re talking about data visualizations and charts and things like that, the data side of things is really important. Is there sample data that I can kind of just grab off the developer site and work with?

Gigi Zanolli:

Yes. We are using Superstore, so anyone that listening that already seen a Tableau demo may be already familiar with Superstore. It’s what we use for most of our demo.

Josh Birk:

Got it.

Gigi Zanolli:

So it’s just a supermarket or store, but it’s selling different categories of product and sub-categories.

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Gigi Zanolli:

So it’s already there for users to use.

Josh Birk:

Got it. So before I do want to talk a little bit about integration at Salesforce and all of this kind of stuff, but there’s one person I want to make sure… or one dinosaur, I feel like, I want to make sure we give a shout out to. Introduce Flex the T-Rex to everybody.

Gigi Zanolli:

So you cannot be part of a developer program and didn’t know about T-Rex. Flex, basically, is his name. So when we came up with one of our APIs… it’s called extension API, we had to create a new file format, and we decided to go for T for Tableau, EX for extension, and we made it TREX. And then we had name the T-Rex, of course, and his name is Flex, because we are the developer platform, and we are flexible. And every year, Flex has a new yoga position. So I’m not really good about yoga, but I think the one is like… reverse triangle is the one of 2020.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Nice, nice. As a culture that has embraced mascots very well, I think that’s awesome. I think you have other… Tableau likes to be playful with their file formats in general, right?

Gigi Zanolli:

Yeah, we do. And it’s why I like working with this team with so many creative way. So we launched, I think it was last year, a new API called Connector SDK, and the format of the… once you use the Connector SDK, the file format is a TCO file.

Josh Birk:

Okay.

Gigi Zanolli:

So T for Tableau, CO for connectivity, and so it’s every day is taco Tuesday at Tableau.

Josh Birk:

Every day is taco Tuesday at Tableau. I like it. I like it. Okay. So at TrailheaDX, we announced a lightning web component that’s going to allow Tableau to be embedded in Salesforce. Can you tell me a little bit of a history of that component?

Gigi Zanolli:

Sure. So we already have different ways to embed Tableau inside Salesforce. Could use visual force pages in apex code, or we also have Canvas, but a lot of customer asks for the lightening web component, so us to have a lighting web component as Tableau. And it was something that was already in our mind, but with the acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce, that’s something that came up more, and especially when we were at Dreamforce last year. Talking to customers, they were saying they wanted to, like, “How can I get this lightning web component? How can I get it as a lighting web component?” And so that’s where everything started, at Dreamforce. We started with the improvement of lightning web component. That’s name is Tableau Viz Lightning Web Component. It is your way to embed Tableau inside Salesforce.

Josh Birk:

Got it. And what kind of API is that leveraging on your side?

Gigi Zanolli:

So we are using the JavaScript API, the API we use when we embed visualization inside an application.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Any kind of limitations with the component?

Gigi Zanolli:

So you need lightning. So I know some users [inaudible 00:14:57] so that’s one of the requirements. And then…

Josh Birk:

That makes sense.

Gigi Zanolli:

Yeah. When had the conversation… So, you need lightning, and right now it’s in beta, so you just have to wait until end of September, October before installing the lighting web component in your production environment, but we are planning to have it on AppExchange as soon as it’s ready.

Josh Birk:

Got it. And it’s available in App Builder right now if you’re not in production, is that correct? Or is it an un… like a managed package to install?

Gigi Zanolli:

It’s a beta managed package, so you can install it in sandbox, I think, and Scratch Orgs.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Got it. And, okay, so personally I know I like some JavaScript. I know some APIs, and I’ve done some data visualization in the past, but what kind of… So I can get access to a free developer edition or for a developer environment, get access to some data, but what kind of sample code is out there to kind of help me get started?

Gigi Zanolli:

So if you don’t want to get hands-on and get your hands dirty in code, you can just go to AppExchange, but we made the decision to open source the lightning web component to our developers, so it’s going to be… I mean, it’s already available in beta on GitHub, so if you check the Tableau GitHub, you can find the project already, the repo.

Gigi Zanolli:

The next step is we have a lot of customers asking for new functionalities, and it’s not everyone is the same. They have different functionality depending of their environments. We had a customer asking about localized dashboards, for example, and they wanted to see if a dashboard, if a Salesforce user had his local in French, could go in Salesforce and have a dashboard in French. So switching the dashboard URL. And that’s something we cannot do in our [inaudible 00:16:54] components, so we are thinking about blazing it with some sample codes where you can actually wrap the lighting web component in our [inaudible 00:17:04] web component inside your lighting web component to personalize it and customize it to fit your own needs.

Josh Birk:

Gotcha. And are there examples out there of just building visualizations themselves?

Gigi Zanolli:

So we have a lot of e-learning. Tableau has its own learning where you can… you have a lot of videos and tutorials on how to get started with Tableau and building visualizations.

Josh Birk:

Nice. Well, and of course talking about e-learning, what about Trailhead?

Gigi Zanolli:

So it’s coming. It’s coming. It’s fresh from the press.

Josh Birk:

Nice.

Gigi Zanolli:

We are working to have a trail, I think it’s module, I think is the right term.

Josh Birk:

Mm-hm (affirmative).

Gigi Zanolli:

We are working to have a module for the Tableau Viz LWC. So we are working with a team ,and hopefully this year or early next year, we are going to have a module for Tableau Viz LWCC, but Tableau already has its own trail as well. So if you just want to familiarize yourself with Tableau, we already have a trail on Tableau.

Josh Birk:

And that’s our show. Now, be sure we will be linking back to Trailhead in the show notes so that you can catch up on that learning. Now, before we go, I did ask Gigi about her favorite non-technical hobby, and it turns out she’s going back to her roots.

Gigi Zanolli:

I think it’s really quarantine-focused 2020, and playing Animal Crossing. I’ve been addicted to Animal Crossing since the beginning of the quarantine, so if anyone wants to sell turnips or have a good price for turnips, send me a message, please.

Josh Birk:

I like it. Evangelizing for the community not just in the real world but on a game island as well.

Gigi Zanolli:

We actually made our… I mean, I made the T-Rex t-shirts in the game, so we have a custom design with Flex.

Josh Birk:

Thank Gigi for the great conversation, and of course my thanks to you for listening. If you’d like to learn more about this podcast, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast, where you can see the show notes, hear old episodes, and have links to your favorite podcast service. I’ll talk to you next week.