Remove the Default Highlighting Effect in Tableau

Have you ever wanted to disable the default Tableau highlighting effect when you select a mark on your chart and then remove the filter? Even when the filter is removed via the “Remove All Filters” process, it can be confusing for the user experience when all values remain “greyed out”, tricking the user into thinking that their filter is still applied. This video will help you remedy this issue and improve your dashboard user experience.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem that is simple and easy to implement. In this video I will show you how to use a simple calculated field and highlight action to remedy the issue. This should be default behavior in Tableau, (help us out here Tableau!)

The solution approach involves creating a boolean calculated field and setting it initially to TRUE. Then, placing this calculated field on the detail of the chart that has a filter applied. Next, adding a highlight action to the same chart that you want to remove the “greyed out” effect for. In the “Add Highlight Action” pop-up box, the Source Sheet and the Target Sheet should be the same and the Selected Fields option should have the boolean calculated field checked.

By following these steps, you will be able to remove the greyed out effect on your Tableau chart when the “Remove All Filters” process is applied.

This not only improves the appearance of your dashboard but also makes it easier to understand the data.


Don’t let the greyed out effect on your Tableau charts hold you back any longer. Watch the video and follow the steps outlined in this blog post to improve the appearance and functionality of your Tableau dashboards.

You can also follow my dapper data adventures on Instagram.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please check out the logo shop here.

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak


Passing Parameter Values from Excel to SQL Server

If you’re working with data in Excel and need to connect to a SQL Server database, there are a couple of ways to pass parameter values from Excel to SQL Server. In my first video, “Passing Parameter Values from Excel to SQL Server,” I show you how to connect to SQL Server and read values from a cell and pass those values to a native SQL query without using parameters.

Advantage: The first approach has the advantage of being quick and easy to implement. This is because it does not require any additional setup or configuration, such as creating stored procedures in SQL Server. Instead, the values are passed directly to the query, which can be executed immediately.

However, this approach can also be prone to SQL injection attacks, where a hacker inputs malicious SQL code into an input field in order to gain unauthorized access to the database.

Verdict: Speed over Security. Good for Ad-Hoc personal use.

In my second video, “Call a SQL Server Stored Procedure using Excel Parameters,” I demonstrate how to connect to SQL Server from Excel and pass cell values from Excel to SQL Server using a stored procedure. This approach is more secure because the values are passed to a stored procedure rather than a query. It simply requires the setup of a stored procedure in SQL Server, and I show you two ways to accomplish this feat.

Advantage: Stored procedures provide an added layer of security because they can be set to execute with specific permissions, and can be audited for changes and usage. This makes it harder for an attacker to gain unauthorized access to the database or to execute malicious SQL commands.

However, the potential small disadvantage of this approach is that the stored procedures will need to be updated and managed separately from the Excel file.

If you’re new to working with SQL Server and Excel, I recommend watching both videos. The first video will give you a good overview of the basics, while the second video will show you a more secure way to pass parameter values.

I always have fun creating this type of content and sharing with you, my YouTube channel followers.

You can also follow my dapper data adventures on Instagram.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please check out the logo shop here.

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

How I Passed the Tableau Certified Data Analyst Exam

I’m proud to announce that I recently passed the Tableau Certified Data Analyst certification. If you found this article, most likely you are looking for a perspective on the exam and how to pass and earn this certification yourself. Here is the story of my journey, which may differ from the typical experience.

I had a New Year’s resolution to add the Tableau Certified Data Analyst certification to my resume because the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate certification I held was due to expire.  If you want to read up on how I passed that older exam, you can find my insights here. Some of those insights will also serve you well on passing the current exam.

I believe that certification has its advantages. It’s a way to signal to potential and current employers that you have some defined level of competency in a targeted skill. It’s also a means to strengthen the case to your employer that you deserve additional compensation (if you are under-compensated). Fortunately, I am compensated fairly now, but this has not always been the case (shout-out to highly competent middle office IT pros toiling away underappreciated, but I digress). Finally, studying allows you to stay up-to-date on the latest tools and trends in your chosen domain.

How Much Experience Do You Need?

The official exam guide states, “The best preparation is role experience and time with the product. To be prepared, candidates are strongly encouraged to have at least 6 months of experience.” I would tend to agree with this if you have used the tool extensively during this time frame. Otherwise, I would recommend at least 1 to 2 years experience with the tool and as a data analyst before attempting to sit for this one. Focus on obtaining the Tableau Specialist certification (it never expires) first before attempting this exam.

Why Did I Get Certified?

For my purposes as a senior manager in a consulting practice, certification certainly has benefits with respect to establishing credibility quickly on new projects. I may hold a manager title but you’ll never pry my hands away from keyboard-centric hands-on technical work, as I enjoy being a technical subject matter expert (and teaching/mentoring others).

Other than employment and signaling purposes, an additional benefit of certification is the personal growth and esteem benefits that you gain from tackling a goal. My body of work is visible online and I have years of relevant experience, thus certification is not something I necessarily needed but something I desired.

The main difference between the new Certified Data Analyst exam and the older Desktop Certified Associate exam is that you will now be tested on Tableau Prep, Tableau Server and Tableau Online. Having to understand aspects of Server and Online were initial concerns I held before taking this test.

I have about 7 years of experience between Tableau Public & Desktop and about a year of experience with Tableau Prep so that was not an issue. I have used Tableau Server to publish my dashboards while on a project at a large Fortune 500 company, but I would by no means consider myself a server expert. I’ve used Prep to transform data for clients without issue as it is easy to pick up with exposure and usage. Look at this listing of domain items covered on the exam.

My strategy to compensate for a lack of deep hands on experience in Domain 4 was to perform really well on all the other domains. Using this strategy, I could still potentially score 91% max (assuming I miss every Domain 4 question which would be highly improbable). If you are like me and have deep knowledge of Tableau Desktop, then you should be fine. Do not use a lack of server experience as an excuse to avoid certification. Simply read up on publishing content at these links and you should have a fighting chance. Personally, I found the Certified Data Analyst exam to be somewhat easier than the Desktop Certified Associate exam. Not easy, just a little bit easier with respect to the Tableau Desktop asks.

This Tableau Prep link could prove useful as well:

Another difference between the Certified Data Analyst exam and the older Desktop Certified Associate exam is the presence of a hands-on lab portion. I honestly found this to be the easiest section on the test, although your mileage may vary. There was one question that had me stumped only because I wasn’t sure what was being asked so I built a visual that probably did not reflect the ask. Other than that 1 question, I felt that I nailed this section.

The official exam guide states, “Candidates are encouraged to comment on items in the exam. Feedback from all comments is considered when item performance is reviewed prior to the release of new versions of exam content.” In hindsight, I should have left a comment on the question stating “unclear”.

For the hands on lab (I’m not sharing anything that isn’t already on the exam guide), definitely be familiar with filter and highlight actions, how to use a TOP N filter, how to use parameters with filters, labels, and how to add reference lines and perform custom sorting.

How Did I Prepare?

Honestly, I meant to prepare for at least a week beforehand, but life got in the way. Thus, I literally crammed my review into the span of 7 hours the Saturday before sitting the exam. I do not recommend this if you are not well versed in the tool. I simply needed to review some concepts. The listing at this website provides great links to official Tableau documentation for the subject areas covered on the exam.


I completed the exam with about 35 minutes to spare. After I submitted my results online, I only had to wait an hour before I received an email stating that I had a score available. This is in stark contrast to when the beta exam was in effect. I heard that results would take months to process. I cleared the 75% hurdle despite studying for only a few hours and not having deep experience with Tableau server. I could have easily scored higher given more study time, but I was happy to pass the exam given the meager study time I allotted to the task. I’m not saying that the test was easy, I’m just fortunate that I’ve had enough experience with Desktop that I could “sacrifice” in other areas and still make it across the finish line. This strategy may not work for you if you have under a year’s experience with the tool.

Focus on These Subject Areas:

However, here is the section you came for, this is my abridged list of test focus areas. Make sure to focus on these subject areas to give yourself a good shot at passing the exam.

Start here: Here are 5 useful videos from my catalog that you should review to level up for the exam. I promise they are worth your time and will help you prepare. Do me a favor and like the videos to help others find the content as well!

I used this link to acquire access to a free practice exam:

Additionally focus on these areas from the exam study guide:

  • INDEX function
  • Parameters
  • TOP N Filter
  • Context Filters / Data Source Filters
  • Exporting Options
  • Sets
  • Extracts
  • Map Density
  • Percent Difference
  • Know How to Interpret a Box-Plot
  • Know How to Build Dual Axis Charts
  • Understand FIXED LODs
  • Understand TOTAL vs SUM
  • Understand Hierarchies
  • Understand Show Hide Container Functionality
  • Design for Mobile Layouts
  • Blending Data
  • Know How to Add Totals to Charts
  • SPLIT Function
  • Row Level Shading

Also follow Jared Flores as he has a great YouTube channel focused on Tableau Prep.

Best of luck to you. I know that you can pass this test if you have decent hands on experience with the tool. For those of you without a Tableau license, use Tableau Public to study and fill in gaps by reading blogs, watching videos and using Tableau official documentation. I believe in you!

Need Personal Data Tutoring?

Are you a beginner that needs help understanding data topics in Tableau (or Excel/SQL) and would like someone with experience to discuss your problem? If so, contact me here to schedule a 1 on 1 virtual meetup. Make sure to describe the concept that you are trying to learn in the message so I can understand if I can help. Depending upon your ask and time required we can discuss cost. Access to Tableau Public will cover most of your study needs regarding the Tableau Desktop sections and lucky for you, that is a FREE tool.

About Me (Data background):

  • Experience: 15 Years Industry + 8 Years Analytics Consulting
  • Tableau Certified Data Analyst
  • 2X Tableau Ambassador
  • MBA – Georgia Institute of Technology
  • M.S. Information Management – Syracuse University
  • B.S. Computer Science – Clark Atlanta University
  • Certified Business Intelligence Professional
  • YouTube 2.5 Million Views on my Analytics Channel

Image :@anthonysmoakdata (Instagram)

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please check out the logo shop here.

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

How to Swap Sheets in Tableau

Learn how to perform a useful Tableau hack that allows you to display multiple sheets in one container on your Tableau dashboard. In this video I use my personal training dashboard to show you step by step how this trick is performed. This tip is a must know for the intermediate to advanced dashboard builder as it will help you save space on your dashboard.

Learn more about the dashboard used in this video:

Interact with the Dashboard here:

Watching the video will make the concept clearer but I will provide an overview in this post.

Step 1: I create a Parameter named “Select a Chart”. You can see that I have chosen a list of allowable values and I place into the list the names of charts that I want to swap.

Step 2: I create a calculated field named “_Selected Chart”. It only holds the value of the parameter I created in Step 1.

Step 3: (Use screenshot below)

1. Place the “_Selected Chart” calculated field on the filter shelf of a chart that you wish to show and hide.

2. Edit the “_Selected Chart” filter and select the “Custom value list” option.

3. Type in the respective name of the chart that corresponds to the value that you entered in the parameters allowable values list in Step 1. Hit the plus button to the far right to add the value. Additionally add the value of “All” to the Custom value list in the same manner.

IMPORTANT: the value that you enter into your chart must match EXACTLY to the value that you placed on the parameter allowable values list.

Repeat this process for every chart that you wish to show and hide, making sure to type in the exact same chart name that you entered in the parameter allowable values list in Step 1.

Step 4:

Now it’s time to place all of your charts into the same object (i.e., horizontal or vertical container) on your dashboard . Make sure to show the parameter named “Select a Chart” on the dashboard so you have a combo box with the names of your charts inside that you can select.

Make sure to watch the video for exact details!!

Please like and subscribe on the Anthony B. Smoak YouTube channel.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please click here

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

How to Become a Data Analyst

I’ve been working with data for some 20 plus years as of the writing of this post. In the video below I captured my thoughts on the required hard and soft skills it takes to succeed as a data analyst. If you are looking to start your career in data as someone who has not yet graduated or as someone with tangential work experience, then this video will serve you well.

Do You Need a Computer Science Degree to be a Data Analyst?

This question is frequently asked by people such as yourself looking to make a move into data. The answer is no. You do not need a computer science degree to have a very successful data career. In the video I give my thoughts on computer science, but the reality is that although it may be helpful from a “getting a first job” perspective, it is not a requirement to succeed. Although I have an undergraduate computer science degree from Clark Atlanta University (shout-out to HBCU alums), some of the brightest minds I’ve worked with in the data space do not have a computer science degree. Bottom line; a formal computer science degree certainly helps but it is by no means necessary. All you need is the willingness to learn the tools and the perseverance to get your first data opportunity.

Hard Skills Required (View Video)

I’ll give you a hint, data visualization skills are a must and Tableau is the tool of choice for me.

Soft Skills Required

I’ll keep it short here and simply state that you should always look for ways to differentiate yourself and not just be seen as an interchangeable commodity worker. To paraphrase famed Harvard professor Michael Porter, a differentiation strategy advocates that a business must offer products or services that are valuable and unique to buyers above and beyond a low price. In this metaphor, think of yourself as a business and you bring multiple skill sets to your employer (other than being a single focus technical employee who can be easily outsourced for a lower price).

To be a differentiator, do not think of yourself as just being a tool specific analyst. Learn how to take requirements, communicate well, develop exceptional writing skills for business emails and documentation. Finally, learn how to present your analyses to people several pay grades above yourself when required. You want differentiation to be your competitive advantage. You do not want “low cost” to be your advantage for obvious reasons (if you’re like me, you want to be paid fairly for the value you provide).

Future Career Paths

In our jobs we desire mastery, autonomy and purpose. After a certain point in your career you may want to take a leap from the descriptive analytics path and move towards a predictive analytics path. Descriptive analytics (think data analyst or traditional business intelligence reporting analyst) deal with what has happened in the past while predictive analytics focus on what will most likely happen in the future. In order to level up in predictive analytics, you will need python, statistics, probability, and/or machine learning skills.

If you want to make the leap from data into management, you can consider obtaining an MBA or a masters degree in Management Information Systems. I happen to have an MBA from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a masters degree in Information Management from Syracuse. This may seem like a bit of overkill but I work in consulting where credentials are overly appreciated by clients (and I am a lifelong learner).

Interact with my Tableau resume here.


A career in data can be fun (in the early learning phases) and lucrative (mid to late career). In my case it has been a fulfilling career ever since I started work as a data analyst at General Motors many years ago. I turned myself from a commodity to a differentiator by not only learning the basics but also adding business understanding and a willingness to share what I know on this blog and my YouTube channel. I know that you can do the same. If you put in the time to learn along with the perseverance to land that first data role, you won’t need much luck at all to accomplish your goals.

Looking to land that first role or trying to move ahead in your current role? Then check out this post for the Keys for a Successful Career as a Data Analyst.

-Anthony Smoak

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please click here

Thank you!!

Build Better Sparklines in Tableau

So you want to add some spice to your bland looking Sparklines in Tableau? You have come to the right place (start by watching the video above). Let’s talk about how a Sparkline is defined per Wikipedia:

“A sparkline is a very small line chart, typically drawn without axes or coordinates. It presents the general shape of the variation (typically over time) in some measurement, such as temperature or stock market price, in a simple and highly condensed way. Sparklines are small enough to be embedded in text, or several sparklines may be grouped together as elements of a small multiple. Whereas the typical chart is designed to show as much data as possible, and is set off from the flow of text, sparklines are intended to be succinct, memorable, and located where they are discussed.”

Here are a few examples of Tableau specific sparklines in action (with latest complete month bubble indicators and reference lines): Notice how I do not include any data axes, but you can clearly recognize the data trends in the visuals.

Here is an example of how I used the sparklines demonstrated in the video to build a out a classic yet refined looking Tableau dashboard.

Interact with and download this workbook here.

For reference purposes I am going to list three formulas used in the completion of the sparklines, you’ll have to watch the video to learn how to put them together.

In this exercise I am using that standard Tableau Superstore data set which you can perform a Google search to find if you are using Tableau Public.

Calculated Fields

Calculated Field #1 (Name: SPRK_CircleMonths)

This calculated field puts a circle on the penultimate month data points. Penultimate is just a fancy SAT word way of saying “next to last”. When the month of the data point on the line chart (Order Date) equals the next to last order date month in the dataset, then return the Order Date.

If DATEPART('month',[Order Date]) = DATEPART('month',dateadd('month',-1,{MAX([Order Date])}))
Then [Order Date] END

Calculated Field #2 (Name: SPRK_CircleMonths)

This logic will be applied to the circles generated by the previous calculation SPRK_CircleMonths. Only the next to last month will meet the TRUE condition (which will be colored as red).

DATETRUNC('month',[Order Date]) = DATEADD('month',-1,DATETRUNC('month',{max([Order Date])}))

Calculated Field #3 (Name: SPRK_RefLine Profit)

This logic will return the profit associated with the next to last month in the dataset to display on the reference line.

if DATETRUNC('month',[Order Date]) 
= DATEADD('month',-1,DATETRUNC('month',{max([Order Date])}))
THEN [Profit] END

When you put all the functions together in a manner according to the video, you end up with a more refined sparkline in my opinion. Big shoutout to the Data Duo for the inspiration on the dashboard I created and this technique. If you haven’t checked out any of their work make sure to do so.

Please like and subscribe on the Anthony B. Smoak YouTube channel.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please click here

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

Top 10 Functions in Tableau You Need to Know

Welcome Tableau learner!

Normally my videos are geared towards the intermediate level user in Tableau but in this post I want to share a video I recorded that tackles basic functions in Tableau that you should know. You will NOT be effective analyzing data in Tableau if you do not have a basic understanding of these functions.

I love to use data from in my videos. Specifically you can grab the player statistics I am using in the video here.

This video is so good, it received a mention in the Monthly Tableau roundup. See for yourself!

Also, here is a link to all of the Tableau functions from the knowledge base.

Please make sure to share this link with a new Tableau user in your circle and let me know what you think of the videos in the YouTube comment section.

Please like and subscribe on the Anthony B. Smoak YouTube channel.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please click here

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

Easily Unprotect a Sheet in Excel if you Forgot the Password

How do I unprotect an Excel worksheet if I forgot the password? I’m going to come to your rescue. This tip will come in handy when you are under pressure to make some changes and don’t feel like performing massive rework. Save yourself some time and watch the video.

You can follow along with the steps below, but give the video a try if any of the steps are unclear.

Let’s say you want to unprotect your file but you get a message like the one below when you try to change a cell value.

  1. First make a COPY of your protected file in order to avoid potential corruption. Make sure the File name extensions box is checked on the View ribbon in File Explorer.

2. Change the file name extension from .xlsx to .zip

3. You might see a text box appear that says, “If you change a file name extension, the file might become unusable. Are you sure you want to change it?” Select Yes.

4. Double click on the zip folder to open it. Make sure you have a zip file program installed on your Windows machine.

5. Navigate to the xl folder and open this folder.

6. Next navigate to the worksheets folder and open it.

6. Open the .xml sheet that corresponds to the sheet you’d like to unprotect. In my case this is sheet1.xml

7. Within the .xml file perform a CTRL+F to find the term “protection”. You should have a hit on the term if your excel sheet is protected.

8. Do not change anything in the file yet. Make a copy of this file and copy it to your desktop or another safe place to where you can easily navigate.

9. Open the copy of your .xml sheet in notepad.

10. In the copy of your notepad .xml file search once again for the term “protection”. When you find the appropriate section, make sure to delete the entire line between and including the opening and closing < > values.

11. Save your notepad file and copy the desktop .xml file back into the zipped folder. It is ok to copy and replace the file at this point.

12. Rename the .zip file back to .xlsx and your file icon should turn back into the appropriate Excel icon.

13. Congratulations!! You should be able to open your file now without the password protection popup box and make appropriate changes. Leave me a comment on the video if this tip helped you out in some way.

Please like and subscribe on the Anthony B. Smoak YouTube channel.

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel.