The dataviz community is broad and encompasses practitioners from a range of backgrounds, professions, and interests. In an effort to get to know the community, Nightingale periodically features interviews with dataviz practitioners to showcase what working in dataviz looks like for them.
Today, we’re chatting with Jarrett C. Hurms, a dataviz professional and graduate-level instructor, whose courses focus on the elements, best practices, and ethics of dataviz and dashboards. He is also on the Executive Board of BlackTIDES (Black in Tech, Informatics, Data Science, Epidemiology, & Social Science). You can find him on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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Nightingale: Hi Jarrett – Let’s start with an introduction. What is your background, and how do you use data visualization today, both in your day job and your teaching?
Jarrett Hurms: My name is Jarrett C. Hurms, and I am a Data & Business Process Analyst in the finance/banking industry in Charlotte, NC, where I work in process improvement, data quality and data remediation, database management, and visual reporting of our data quality efforts using Tableau. In addition, I also work as an Adjunct Professor of Decision & System Sciences at Saint Joseph’s University (in Philadelphia, but I teach remotely from Charlotte), where I have taught online graduate MS and MBA-level courses in Data Visualization and Master Data Management for the past two years. I teach everyone from young, recent college grads getting an MS or MBA to more seasoned professionals to C-suite executives.
Nightingale: How did you decide what to focus on in your dataviz classes? Conceptually, what are the most important principles to cover?
JH: For my dataviz sections, I have students ranging from those who have never made a dashboard in their entire life to some who make dashboards on a daily basis; the range of experience does bring about an interesting dynamic in my classes. I often start with the bare basics of just getting a dashboard out there. One important aspect is looking at Stephen Few’s “11 Most Common Dashboard Mistakes” (from Few’s book, Information Dashboard Design) and having conversations about, what are best practices to live by in dataviz? What are easy mistakes everyone makes? How can we prevent common pitfalls in dashboards? How can we make dashboards more accessible?
Nightingale: You’ve focused on different tools in your classes, including Qlik and Tableau in the past, and will be switching to PowerBI and Tableau in your upcoming class. Why did you decide to focus on the tools that you did? Why the switch from Qlik to PowerBI?
JH: As an adjunct, there are some aspects of the class that I inherited, which included the use of Qlik and Tableau, both of which I love for different reasons. Personally, I do find Qlik to be a good way for beginners to get the gist of creating dashboards; however, I see the market is moving more in the direction of PowerBI and Tableau. PowerBI has made great strides in the past few years, and many companies have now adopted PowerBI, to the same level as Tableau. My department allows me to be flexible with the tools I can teach, so after figuring out how to make it work for Mac users, I’m going to use PowerBI for the first half of my Spring 2022 sections and Tableau for the second half.
Nightingale: You noted that you live in Charlotte, NC, but teach at a university in Philadelphia, PA. What is it like teaching dataviz online?
JH: I was already acclimated to online learning from a student perspective since I decided I wanted to start my career in Charlotte but attend the MS in Business Intelligence & Analytics (MSBIA) program at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, which had an online option. SJU is great for student-faculty relations, as I’ve made long lasting relationships in both my undergrad and grad departments. With that, I already had an initial comfort with teaching online. I enjoy it especially because the MSBIA program includes students from across the country, so that brings an even greater diversity in industry, job function, and geography. Online teaching also works for me in terms of flexibility, given that I work full-time and I teach part-time. Honestly, I still feel connected to my students online. I always reach out to my students, and they’re comfortable reaching out to me, whether it be for dashboard questions, grad class questions, or career-related help, to the point where many of my former students still stay connected with me.
Nightingale: What is one of your favorite assignments to give to students?
JH: One of my favorite assignments is a Viz Critique, which is given towards the end of the semester right before the final project. In this assignment, students make a dashboard in Tableau then are assigned to review and provide critiques on three of their peers’ dashboards; they in turn get critiques from three of their peers. At that point in the semester, students have made great strides in improving the quality of their dashboards, to the point to where they can provide meaningful critiques to others. It’s one thing to make a dashboard, but to be able to critically look at other dashboards and determine what makes a dashboard effective or not is another layer to truly learning about data visualization.
Nightingale: You mentioned that your courses always include content on ethics in dataviz. What are some of the key points you think everyone working in dataviz should know?
JH: Ethics is important in every part of data, and no matter what class I teach – Data Visualization, Master Data Management, or another class – I always try to talk about it. Specifically for data visualization, it’s easy to deceive the viewer, whether on purpose or accidentally. I try to talk about and show real-world examples of how a viz can be deceitful, whether that is because of an issue with the aspect ratio, the axis not being properly balanced, etc.
Nightingale: In addition to your full-time job and part-time teaching, you have also been deeply involved with the BlackTIDES organization and Black in Data Week. Can you tell us about your involvement? What are the goals of BlackTIDES and Black in Data?
JH: BlackTIDES exists to form community, bonds, events, and support for professionals that are Black in technology, informatics, data science, epidemiology, and social sciences. We create programming every month in the form of networking events, workshops, lectures, a podcast, and – our newest addition for 2022 – Twitter Space conversations! Of course, our big event every year (starting in 2020) is Black in Data Week, which is a week of virtual events from speakers from all across the globe.
Nightingale: What’s the best way for people to get involved?
JH: The best way to get involved is to follow @BlackTIDES1 on Twitter to stay abreast of and of course attend any of our upcoming events.
Nightingale: To wrap up—we know from the DVS State of the Industry survey that much of the dataviz community is self-taught. For people looking to improve their skills, can you recommend a favorite book or resource?
JH: Two of my favorite books in the data visualization space are Steven Wexler’s The Big Book of Dashboards and Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design. Both of those books are great for learning how to make dashboards. And download either PowerBI or Tableau (either is great to work with). The most important thing is to constantly PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! I cannot stress this enough, that it’s not enough to make a couple of dashboards then move on, but you need to continue practicing your craft.
Claire Santoro is an information designer with a passion for energy and sustainability. For 10 years, Claire has worked with governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and higher education to accelerate climate action by communicating complex information in an engaging, approachable way. Claire holds an M.S. in environmental science from the University of Michigan.