Why I used to hate Power BI and how that has made me a better teacher.

(NOTE: This post was originally written in November 2022)

Hey there,

I’m in New Orleans this week at the American Evaluation Society conference. I’m mainly here to teach a Power BI Crash Course workshop to Evaluation professionals who have never used it before. I named it “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, because I strive to make (and teach) dashboards that are fantastic and easy for users, and also because it’s an awesome name.

I forgot to take a photo of the crowd of 53 people in my workshop (It went very well and I forgot to take a photo – I think everyone had a great time and learned a lot), but here’s a photo I took yesterday when I was snooping around to check out my workshop room.

(they actually moved us to a new room twice the size of this one to fit us all. We would have been on top of one another in this small room shown below.)

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All 53 people in this workshop were brand new to Power BI. They were all trying something new.

I LOVE people who are up to trying something new. LOVE them.

And, I’m here for them. Every Single One of them. I am here to make every single one of them not only love what Power BI can do, but give them the knowledge and techniques to make useful and easy dashboards using it.

I used to work in an Evaluation and Research department. Evaluators are awesome. They are the professionals that measure when and if programs, projects, and actions have merit, value, and significance. Basically, they answer the question of “Is this thing worth doing?”

So, they are not technology experts… they may have some data skills, but it’s not the main purpose of their job… they are brand new to Power BI and it has to be easy for them to GET how to use it.

That brings me to the main point of this post:

I used to HATE Power BI

… and that hate has MADE me a BETTER teacher.

When I started using Power BI, I was busy with a thousand different things (as we all are at all stages of our lives) in addition to learning Power BI.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to devote 100% of myself to learning the nitty-gritty technical details and data geekiness that Power BI “experts” know. I needed to make charts and dashboards, and fast.

Learn how to make Power BI People-Friendly. In your email. Once a month. Easy-peasy.

I couldn’t make it work. I’d throw data into Power BI and try to visualize it and I’d get mysterious jargony error messages that had no relation to the english language. If my data was formatted incorrectly did I get an error message that said that? NO. If I put a continuous data variable in a place that should have a categorical one, was there any error message at all? NO.

Things just didn’t work and there was no explanation. I hated it.

Additionally, every online resource by Microsoft (and others), and every how-to YouTube video on Power BI was basically equally inaccessible. Every one of them assumed that their viewers had used Power BI at least a bit and understood the basic nuts and bolts. I hated those too.

I eventually muddled through, and now not only make dashboards that are loved by users, but have started hacking functionality in Power BI that no one else has figured out yet.

BUT, I have not forgotten how much I hated Power BI when I started using it.

It wasn’t totally Power BI’s fault… it was the fault of the documentation and the Power BI lessons out there. They were not accessible. They were not easy. They were not user-friendly.

Power BI doesn’t have to be hard or scary or frustrating or &#!%$*!! It CAN be EASY…

My responsibility as a teacher of people new to Power BI is to make it easy.

Very few people have the time and energy to devote 100% of themselves to learning a new piece of software, and more importantly, they should NOT have to.

When I teach, I teach for my audience. If you’re brand new to Power BI, I make it make sense for you. If you already have some experience with it, I teach you some more advanced things, using what you already know as a starting point.

This is why I get amazing feedback from students when I teach. Feedback like “Joe’s expertise, patience, kindness, and attention were instrumental to my development”.

I get this feedback because I won’t let myself forget how much I hated Power BI when I started using it. That hate has made me better.

So, whether you need to learn Power BI or Excel or some other piece of software (or anything, really), look for the teachers that make it accessible. Look at their testimonials. Talk to their formal students. Make sure they haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a complete newbie.

If you’re a teacher, do what I do. Think about your students’ perspective. It’s just like thinking about your end-user if you’re creating a dashboard, or one chart, or a report, or a memo, or ANYTHING. Think about your user.

Some teachers think that teaching is about showing how smart they are. It isn’t. It’s about their students.

Remember that, and you can’t go wrong.

Need to know more about how I teach Power BI? How I totally customize Power BI training for every group I teach? Why I get so many glowing testimonials?

Get in touch with me. I love to teach people new things.

You can reply to this email (or comment below if you’re not reading this in your email.)

Email me at joe@traversdata.com

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