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Interview with PeiYing Huang | The winner of the 12th Data For A Cause challenge


In this interview PeiYing Huang shares her experience as the participant of Data for a Cause challenge. PeiYing is the winner of the 12th Data For A Cause challenge for War Child Canada. The goal of the competition was to visualize War Child's efforts in creating an environment where children and families can thrive.

PeiYing is a recent MBA graduate with focus in quantitative analysis and marketing. Prior to her MBA, she was a project analyst in charge of price and cost analysis for large scale projects in a technology company.

How did you get started with data visualization?

I spent most of my career working with numbers. I really enjoy helping people by providing insights from analysis. I have always looked for a better way to interpret and present my analysis. My MBA study at York University further expanded my skills in data analysis and visualization. The first time I leant about Tableau was through a two-day Tableau Workshop hosted at the school. Tableau amazed me with its user-friendly functions and its interactive visualizations. It quickly became my favorite tool for data visualization. Now I am taking an analytics role in a large retail company in Canada. My company is at the early stage of moving from traditional BI tools such as Excel and Access to Tableau. I am happy to be helping with this transformation.

Why did you decide to join Data for a Cause for WarChild Canada challenge?

Since I was a high school student, I’ve been proactively participating in volunteer activities of different non-profit organizations. Personally, volunteering is my way to try to make a little difference in the world by rolling up my sleeves and doing something for people in need.

Professionally, I would love to put my skills into a good use and learn by giving and sharing. I learnt about Data for a Cause from the Using Data for Social Good workshop at York University. Since then I was fascinated by the cause this organization has been promoting and I really wanted to be part of it.

Data for A Cause Challenge not only brings a meaningful purpose behind the visualization but also empowers both the non-profit organizations and the participants in many different ways. As a Tableau newbie with just one-year tableau experience, this challenge provides me the wonderful opportunity to sharpen my data visualization skills while making an impact by helping other non-profit organizations. This is definitely one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have ever had in which I truly learnt a ton while giving back.

How did you create your data visualization?

There is a four-step process I usually apply to create my visualization: (1) Know the purpose/goal (2) Get the data/Verify and Clean the data (3) Analysis/Visualization (4) Review: if my analysis/visualization meet the purpose/goal.

In War Child Canada's case, I started from reviewing the dataset and getting a sense of what’s going on. Before I dove deeply into the data set, I did an extensive research of War Child Canada and the situation in Afghanistan. I read through War Child Canada’s website, mission and vision, relevant articles, annual reports as well as open data from Human Rights Watch, UNICEF and IDMC.

I tried to get a holistic view of what their core values are and why it matters to the people whom they are helping now and to the people who want to help. By understanding the purpose and their core values, it’s easier to define the key metrics that may bring the most value and get to know what the key messages I may want to deliver through this data visualization. For me, this is the most important step in the data visualization process because it helps to strategize a good storyline to tell with data.

Next, I structured the story with simple questions that may intrigue people, such as “How bad is the situation?” “How does the organization help?” “What’s the impact they bring?” and pulled out the most relevant analysis to answer these questions.

In terms of analysis and visualization, it is a trial and error process for me. I played around the Show Me panel in Tableau and tried different graphs.

My rule of thumb is simplicity. I love to present any dashboard in a simple and elegant way to communicate the story with minimum text explanation. Holding up this rule in my mind, I tried to apply as few metrics as possible to answer the questions I ask in each section of my visualization.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered in this case was to visualize 26 UNICEFF metrics that represent inequality situation in Afghanistan in one graph. I wanted to design it with a visualization like “People Graph” in excel but there’s no such function in Tableau. In doing my research, I found Tableau Community Forums to be a great resource to learn advanced visualization skills from other masters. I ended up finding a creative solution shared in the Forum.

When I'm finished with plotting all graphs and metrics in the dashboard, I’d ask myself if my visualization achieves the goal I wanted it to achieve or if my metrics and graphics well answer my questions in each section. This is the final review part in my data visualization process – to evaluate if my analysis and visualization meet the purpose.

PeiYing's data visualization (click on the image to view the interactive version):