How I got into the DS riding on the back of a simple visualization about eating burgers.

Getting into the Data School (DS) can be tough. Of the 200 applicants in the last round, only ~20 make it through to the next stage and only ~8 eventually get hired. The application process is very simple, make any Viz you want, publish it on Tableau Public, share it with the Data School, and wait. But what can you do to stand out?

Coming from an academic research background, the only data visualization experience I had was making graphs in Excel. When I applied for the DS, I had honestly never heard of Alteryx or Tableau. Regardless, I submitted a Viz with only a handful of hours of Tableau experience and a dream. I know what you’re thinking. Did I really gamble my potential data analyst career on a burger? No. And here’s why…

  • I chose passion

You have the option of choosing any dataset and making any visualization that your heart desires. In fact, the DS encourages it and links you to free datasets on a range of topics. You should consider, however, that the dataset you choose is ultimately a representation, and more importantly, the first impression of you. What kind of person picks that dataset? Would they be a good fit for the school?

My dataset was the nutritional information from McDonald’s burgers and a couple of nutritional requirement equations. I chose burgers because I like burgers, but more importantly, I chose to focus on nutrition because I have always been fascinated by how we feed domestic/commercial animals (hence my research) and whether we could apply that idea to humans. How much of one type of food can someone eat in a day – and how terrible of an idea would it be?

  • I was different

The dataset you want is usually the one you have to make yourself.

The DS is going to receive a lot of applications, and a lot of them are going to use the same datasets. Is there a dataset out there that focuses on the one thing you want to focus on? Probably not. So why not make it If you want to stand out, be different. Show them something they have never seen before. Something that makes them go ‘aha!’. This could be what you show, or the way you show it.

You see nutritional information every day, but most of the time those numbers mean nothing to you. Why? Because those numbers are absolute and not relative to you. Instead of just displaying magnitude, I showed what these numbers mean for you. Telling someone a burger has X kJ in it doesn’t have the same power as telling someone that one burger meets Y % of their daily nutritional requirements.

  • I knew my audience 

Think about who is reviewing your application. Do you even know who is reading your application? The effectiveness of your Viz is directly related to who is viewing it. Would they find it interesting? What level of detail would they understand? The DS is filled with regular people who just happen to like data. Check out the Tableau Public Gallery but also, check out The Coaches  attend the Information Night (more important than you would expect – even the Coaches’ brief introductions helped me understand my potential audience better).

Do people want me to talk about the specific equations that you use to calculate nutritional requirements or just see how many burgers they can eat?

  • I sold myself (not my soul)

Your Viz is a demonstration of your understanding. The more thought you put into your design decisions, the better it will look. It doesn’t have to be perfect… or even good (cough cough).

Why did you choose the graphs you chose? Are they the best choice for that specific purpose? Are those components necessary? I’ll be honest, my first Viz could really use work, but what matters is when I finally had the chance to present my Viz, I turned up. I presented confidently (presentation skills), made it engaging (interaction with audience), showed off what I did well (knowledge), was upfront about what needed improvement (critical thinking) and really listened to their feedback (good attitude).


Would I recommend that you submit a Viz on something simple like burgers? God, no. My Viz was authentic to me, but also drew from my strengths, highlighted what I COULD do and what I DID know. Above all, you’re selling yourself, the Viz is just a medium.

Also, don’t use pie charts. You’ll go straight to jail.

The Data School
Author: The Data School