My name is Victor Muñoz, and this year I decided to find my purpose in life. I used to work as an Information Security Analyst, but through a journey of self-discovery, I found my true passion in data visualization. I want to share my experience in the Data Visualization Society (DVS) mentorship program, the projects I’ve worked on during this period, and most importantly, I want to share the emotions I’ve felt along the way. Why? Because I believe it’s important to normalize the fact that various emotions are part of this incredible journey.
After realizing my passion for data visualization, I began looking for books and online resources with the goal of building my new career path. It was in the middle of May 2023 when, almost by fate, I found an Instagram post for the DVS mentorship program. Thank you, Instagram algorithm!
At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure about applying, as I had just decided to pursue my new career path, and I didn’t even have a portfolio or a preferred platform. But my curiosity grew bigger, and I began filling out the application. The application form served as an inspiration for me to craft a career roadmap. I mentioned on the form that I wanted a mentor to assist me in achieving three specific goals:
- Understand my career path.
- Develop my personal brand.
- Create visualizations.
Now, looking back on the whole experience, I realize there were several lessons that I took from the mentorship and the first one was before I’d even been accepted to the program:
LESSON 1: It pays to be proactive.
I was certain that I shouldn’t wait to be selected by the DVS team to start working on my goals. And to maximize the benefits of having a mentor, I needed to have some progress to receive feedback. I decided to be proactive.
I started by building my online presence; I experimented with different domain names, and finally, I created my first website to start showcasing my services and portfolio. Additionally, I needed to start creating some visualizations, so I installed Tableau Public and began teaching myself how to use the tool.
And guess what? Just a few days after submitting my application, I received an acceptance message from DVS. I was JOYFUL about this opportunity, but at the same time, a bit NERVOUS because I was about to meet my mentor and speak in a language other than my native tongue.
But all this worry vanished during the first meeting. The cross-continental group was fascinating. My mentor, Dr. Mahadia Tunga, executive director at Tanzania Data Lab, had two mentees: Jasmin König, a doctoral researcher from Germany, and me, an aspiring information designer from Colombia. I really appreciated the diverse perspectives within the group. Our initial meeting served as an introduction, where we discussed our careers, our experiences in the data visualization world, the program goals, and logistics.
LESSON 2: Believe in the process.
Even though I hadn’t yet discussed any technical details with my mentor, I didn’t stop working on my visualizations. I was feeling SKEPTICAL, CRITICAL, and occasionally CONFUSED. (Is this the right career for me? Did I make the correct choice changing careers?) Later, I understood, these emotions are all part of the process, and that’s completely normal.
In our second session, our mentor provided resources and shared her experience, including insights into the Information Is Beautiful Awards judging criteria. One key takeaway was that it’s not just about the beautiful; visualizations need to be clear, impactful, creative, and inclusive. Also, we discussed the importance of considering the cultural and political context, such as the significance of certain colors in different regions.
I continued creating visualizations over the next month, and to my surprise, one of them was selected as the “Visualization of the Day” on Tableau Public. For those unfamiliar, Tableau features a daily selected visualization to highlight work on its platform. When I received the news, I was SHOCKED. I was still trying to understand the workings of Tableau, and just processing all the emotions from the previous month.
LESSON 3: Connect with your community.
Connecting with Tableau’s Datafam Community and participating in different projects provided me with very good resources and support. Special thanks to #VizOfficeHours (Michelle Frayman, Nicole Klassen, and Zak Geis), who have been like additional mentors throughout this journey.
In the third meeting of my DVS mentor group, we agreed to present one of our visualizations for feedback. I presented the Visualization of the Day and received very good recommendations, mainly related to user experience and accessibility.
Feeling more CONFIDENT at this point, I decided to incorporate the feedback into my next visualization. I decided to represent the elements from the last Grand Prix of figure skating as flowers.
LESSON 4: Learn by following your passions.
If you’re just starting in the world of data visualization, working on projects aligned with your interests can be incredibly motivating. For me, that includes topics like history, social impact, security, science fiction, personal finance, indoor cycling, and figure skating.
When I published the figure staking visualization, something incredible happened. A week later, I was contacted by a strategic communications consultancy in the UK to create a visualization showcasing healthcare issue prioritization across different regions. What made me so HAPPY was that the client referred to my figure skating visualization as a reference.
At this point, I was both ANXIOUS and unprepared. When I set my goals for this mentorship program, the holistic aim was to find a job in data visualization, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. The offer wasn’t finalized yet, I shared my proposal with my client and also reached out to my mentor for guidance. She kindly agreed to a session to share her experiences and advice.
We also had a couple of sessions to learn about D3, a tool of mutual interest for the two mentees. In my overall plan, I aimed to learn at least two visualization tools, and D3 was my second choice. I really enjoyed these personalized training sessions with someone experienced in the platform; it really enhanced my understanding.
A few days later, I received an email from the client confirming their interest in working with me based on the proposal I had submitted. I was feeling very ENERGETIC, my first client! I was so THANKFUL for the insights of my last meeting; my mentor shared with us. We discussed the process of acquiring clients, setting clear scopes, and pricing strategies. At the time of this writing I am happy to share that I have successfully completed my first freelance job in data visualization!
I already mentioned that following my passions helped me enormously. It might not work for everyone, but I’ve been working remotely since 2021. I now consider myself a traveler. I find that exploring new places enhances my creativity. And looking at inspiring work from others, I find that creativity distinguishes great visualizations. Looking back at my visualizations takes me on a journey to the places where they were created.
In conclusion, my four lessons of the DVS mentor experience are: be proactive, believe in the process, connect with your community, and learn by following your passions. I am very HAPPY to have achieved all my goals during the mentorship program. I now know the path I want to follow in my professional life. I have a website, and I am using Twitter to share my creative process evolution. My small portfolio showcases various visualizations, each representing one of my interests.
I am very GRATEFUL for my mentor Mahadia Tunga, and my fellow mentee, Jasmin König, who inspired me to express emotions through my work. And thanks to DVS for this incredible opportunity.
Victor Muñoz is a data enthusiast who is currently pursuing a career in Information Design, with Tableau being his preferred platform. With a strong background in information security, he is committed to enhancing his data visualization skills, building connections within the community, and working on meaningful projects. As a lifelong learner, Victor is interested in a wide range of topics, including history, social impact, security and privacy, science fiction, personal finance, and indoor cycling.