Interview with Christina Gorga
I had the pleasure of meeting Christina Gorga at TC18 in sunny New Orleans. A group of people, most whom had never met each other, planned a day of exploring the city together the day before conference. It was such a fantastic opportunity to meet people and really connect. It was there that I met Christina – being guided around the streets of New Orleans with a beer in hand (well Christina didn’t – she was pregnant!) listening to our guide tell us about ghost stories and the city’s vibrant history. Later in the conference, it was announced that Christina had received the first Tableau Community Founders Award. I recall realizing in that moment what an intensely wonderful women she was with big ideas and a genuine desire to connect people and build community. I was so happy I had met her earlier in the week!
Christina Gorga is currently the Lead Data Visualization Designer at Booz Allen Hamilton. But outside of work she is the leader of a little community of her own at home where she spends her time with her husband of 5 years (together almost 11!) and their beautiful daughter Emma, who is a wee 8 months old. Christina has a number of interests including reading and watching science fiction, visiting museums and art galleries, and enjoying craft beer (ah, another lover of a good hop palette!).
Lindsay Betzendahl (LB): Christina, how did you discover Tableau and get involved in the #datafam community?
Christina Gorga (CG): I discovered Tableau in 2015 after exploring a couple of data viz tools during a Data Visualization course through Tech Change moderated by my friend, and all-around awesome data visualization and capacity building trainer, Ann Emery. At that time, Tableau Public became available for anyone to use so I downloaded it to my laptop and quickly realized how fun and iterative the design process was with the tool. I was working in the program evaluation/education research space at the time so Excel and other open source data tools were preferred above Tableau from a cost standpoint.
Eventually, I started reading a lot of Tableau blogs prior to jumping on Twitter – namely the blogs of Bridget Cogley, Ben Jones, Andy Kriebel, Josh Milligan, and Steve Wexler. I came from a background of working with a lot of experimental and survey data so Steve’s blog content was particularly helpful of getting my head around manipulating and prepping survey data for Tableau. Bridget was instrumental for getting me out of my SAS/Excel/Stata head and into a Tableau state of mind.
I didn’t really “join” the #datafam community, loosely speaking, until 2016 when I took a role with Michael Cristiani’s team at The Lewin Group, which is a boutique healthcare consulting firm with a focus on research, healthcare analytics, and program evaluation. I had to use Tableau nearly every day for work and had to scale up quickly in my knowledge. I failed miserably as I tried to wrap my brain around LODs, table calcs, and parameters, but Michael always gave me the sense that I knew more than I realized.
I went to Tableau Conference for the first time in 2018 and I absolutely loved it. One of the best things I did was coming in one day early and hanging out with you (Lindsay) and several others in the community on that Bourbon Street/French Quarter guided walk. I got to meet so many people I had been following on Twitter finally in person (Mark Bradbourne, Trina Arnett, Susan Glass, etc). The whole conference was a whirlwind but I really learned a lot mostly by getting to know others and how they are using Tableau. I align more with the design-focused spectrum of the crowd in the #datafam but I’m always hoarding for more tips on managing my Tableau Server users, embedded analytics, and advanced calculations. You never know when something might come handy so I keep a Tableau bookmark folder on my browser with lots of blog links.
LB: You really had had a rich experience! Connecting with and being supported by some of the “greats” so early on must have been so rewarding. I never had the pleasure of meeting Michael. It’s so wonderful that you were able to work side-by-side with such an instrumental and kind man. Clearly, the Tableau community can feel like family quite often. As you mentioned, meeting up with those people in the French Quarter, whom had all never met, felt so natural. We all had such a good time! So, tell us, what makes the community so great in your opinion?
CG: The Tableau community is special in that so many of us came to using the tool via different career paths. Not one person I’ve met in the Tableau community has the same journey. Because of this factor, I find that everyone has different ways of approaching data and design problems. If I have a color-related question, I can holler out to certain folks who are really good with that aspect in their work (What’s up, Marian Eerens?). If I was wrapping my head around some very messy data and client requirements, Vince Baumel and Kate Brown have always helped me out in a pinch. Bridget Cogley, I really lean on for thinking hard about the implications of our work to different audiences and developing empathy. The Tableau community has really surprised me with kindness and selflessness that I have not seen in local data meetups or in other tool-focused communities. Tableau is, of course, a company, but the users really grabbed onto the mantra that data is for everyone.
More recently, I have been impressed in the way that the Tableau community helps each other through tragedies. Many #datafam members have reached out to our Australian friends amid the catastrophic brush fires impacting their country and wildlife asking how they can help. I think that example demonstrates how much we’re willing to support each other out even outside of our shared passion for data.
LB: I love that you mention that while Tableau is a tool the users really believe in the mission – data is for everyone. And with that mission and mantra comes so much empathy to ensure that others have access to data, can interact with the data, and so often can also feel what the data stands for. It’s almost like that emotional connection is really what helps thread together what otherwise could have just been a loose group of people with the same interest, navigating in the same general direction. We have made bonds. We have connections. As you said, you have your “go-to” people for various Tableau/data-related needs. How cool is that?
I also know that motherhood comes with a lot of emotions and emotional connections. You are a new mom. What has been your favorite thing about motherhood thus far?
CG: It’s the little things I love at this point with Emma developing right before my eyes every day. She’s such a happy baby and I love watching her explore her world and taking her out to places for the first time. When she giggles and babbles at 6 AM every morning, it’s the best thing to hear and I’m not even a morning person. I am exhausted most days after being mommy but everything is better when you get baby snuggles and laughter.
LB: Ah, we all know about that exhaustion. But it’s worth it! What are some challenges you face trying to balance family life with data life and work life?
CG: Most of my challenges boil down to 3 critical things: time, energy, and backup care. Right now I’ve been out of that early infant stage a couple months with my daughter where it was so critical for me to be #1 mommy around the clock when we were not sleeping. Several activities and goals I wanted to achieve during my maternity leave and the past year went to the wayside as I tried to find my new normal and what I can feasibly take on in a given week. One week I may be trying to meet a lot of high-priority work deadlines and family/life/home projects get the short end of the stick. Other weeks I have to pay more attention to what is going on in my personal life such as taking care of a sick baby, going to appointments, and family emergencies out of town. You sometimes cannot win so you have to stick to your gut on what matters in that moment. I won’t sugarcoat that this may be one reason working moms feel like they cannot move up the career ladder is because those responsibilities have traditionally fallen on our shoulders.
Another factor is energy: What is going to provide the most value to my life right now but will also not completely tap out my mental, physical, and emotional capacity that day/week/month? This is why I have decided to participate in one data viz activity a month whether that’s the Feedback Loop or #ProjectHealthViz. I think that is an achievable goal that will still allow me to be connected to others in the #datafam but also give me the space to give my limited energy to other things that spark joy.
One issue I find hardest at times is being able to go to TUGs and other local data community events at the frequency I used to prior to having kids. Often the times for those events overlap with bedtime schedules and the few hours I get alone with my husband and daughter during the weekdays because our work and commute hours total around 10 hours a day (welcome to the DC region). I am a very social person and get a lot out of those events so it has become more evident that we need to have a mixture of virtual and in-person TUGs as well as more support for working moms to attend. I am grateful that my husband and I can arrange for one person to be at home with Emma that night so I can attend a TUG or give a talk/panel discussion when I know of events in advance. Other times it is really difficult and I have had to pass on events in the last year due to lack of backup care options on weekday evenings. One solution I’ve seen is that for larger events such as Tech, Rebalanced DC with corporate support is to hire on-site care for a few hours so working moms could attend. I would not expect this to happen for TUGs but it would be great to see at more data and tech community events. I think you will see an increase in working moms to attend these kinds of events with something like that implemented.
LB: Wow, that’s a really fantastic idea. It’s true, it’s very challenging to get to events in the evening during the regular schedule and usually the only moments we have with our children during the week. What advice do you have for other mothers in the data viz space?
CG: Find your tribe! It doesn’t even necessarily be a group of working moms but individuals who understand your goals and how to get you to where you want to be. I lean a lot on other working dads in the #datafam for advice too on both technical and family/baby questions. Josh Smith and Zach Bowders have been incredible in this regard and also have a great sense of humor to get through those parenting bumps.
One thing I’ve found that works really well for me and may work for others is to WRITE IT DOWN. I find that when I put goals/aspirations on a sticky note by my laptop corner, I’ll see that every day and it will continue to remind me of what I’m working towards, whether that’s a new viz project or to find some time to look up fun data sets on Google Data Search (my new favorite thing!). If the goal or task is written down, I am more likely to complete it.
LB: Yes, writing goals down makes it more real and achievable. I have to write down my goals and do-to lists otherwise they fall to the wayside. How do you create time for your hobbies? If not, do you have goals to find time? What needs to change?
CG: My hobbies have become a bit more sparse as of late and I don’t have the time to travel into the city to see friends as much as I would like during the weekdays which means my old pastime of karaoke competition nights are not possible. Yes, I used to be in a team-based karaoke league, and yes, I miss dressing up like it was Halloween every Monday night.
What I have tried to do is find more hobbies to share with other first-time moms and their babies to do together. I met a couple of awesome young moms during my maternity leave through the local hospital group and library story time who love craft beer, wine, and trivia. My goal this year is to reconnect with a couple of those women and their partners through trivia nights at nearby breweries. There is also a DC-based Geek Girls Who Brunch meetup I’ve been meaning to go to but have not had the chance to connect. Sometimes you need some ladies who understand Battlestar Galactica and Klingon, right? 😊
Another hobby I have managed to keep up with is physical activities. I go to a combination of strength training, martial arts cardio, and yoga classes each week. My husband and I take turns going to the gym either in mornings or evenings to have baby coverage. Having that alone time is really crucial to my mental health and I feel 100 times better after hitting the gym compared to times I have had to skip out.
LB: That is fantastic advice! I agree that it’s so important for one’s mental health to have some alone time and do something that you want to do. I also love the balance you have with your husband – switching off gym time so that you both have that opportunity. What’s one thing you think we can do to support other moms who viz?
CG: Cheer them on! I think it is really important to recognize working moms in the data viz world and let them know you value their work. Use the #momswhoviz tag to highlight others doing awesome work. In addition, we should highlight other women that are in other modalities of the broader data community, including those that are not Tableau users. I have found many more active working moms in data viz that use Python, R, and so much more by being tool-agnostic in my search to make connections with others.
At work, consider joining a Women’s Interest Group or one that is geared towards Working Parents. If your organization doesn’t have one yet, speak up. This will allow you to meet other working parents across the career spectrum and talk about creating solutions for flexible work and awareness for leadership and HR.
LB: Such good advice – praise, recognition, inclusion, expansion, and connection. What is your favorite viz that you’ve done and why?
CG: I have done so much work that I am proud of in my work but due to confidentiality and PHI/PII in the healthcare space, I cannot.
One of my more adventurous vizzes was to create a visualization on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter in Lake Superior. This was the basis of my Iron Viz Water entry in 2018. My family is from Michigan so I wanted to create a viz with a personal connection to the Great Lakes.
For more information on #MomsWhoViz, please check out my original post here and my viz template here. Subscribe to follow my blog for more updates and interviews with other mothers in the dataviz community.
Also, please email me if you know of mothers who should be spotlighted by emailing me a link to a visualization they have done.
Thanks for reading!