From Urban Planner to Data Analyst: Lynda Chao’s Journey to Tessellation

The Early Signs

Growing up, I have always enjoyed creative activities; from doodling to ceramics or graphic design, this part of me persisted well into college. I knew I wanted to pursue a profession that felt practical but also allowed me to have some creativity involved. I was not sure what I was going to do until I found myself in a geography class and discovered the world of maps. Maps showed me that data can be transformed into visually interesting and informative pieces.

Data and Urban Planning

My interest in maps led me to major in geography and it was how I ended up in the world of urban planning. Maps are used a great deal in planning, from informing decisions to displaying demographic data, land use, and more. I interned at the Metropolitan Council, where I delved deeper into regional planning, transportation, land use, housing, and other planning areas. Planning entails a great deal of data and public engagement that drives a lot of the policy decisions, plans, and insights across the organization. Working there instilled me with a sense of confidence that maybe that was what I was meant to do: urban planning. It was a unique space for me to combine my passion for data visualization and work on projects that made a real impact in the community.

Subsequently, that led me to pursue my master’s degree in urban and regional planning. There, I discovered the power of Adobe Creative Cloud; I used InDesign and Illustrator to create visually engaging data reports and plans. I continued to apply these skills at my internship with Metro Transit, where I developed maps in ArcGIS Pro for public engagement and transit analysis, as well as designed transit station scenarios using Remix Streets

Getting to Know Tableau

After graduate school, I landed a planning position with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). I felt relief–being able to get a job during COVID–and excited to finally become a full-fledged planner. One of my main responsibilities was to update Tableau dashboards on MnDOT’s performance measures website and develop new ideas for visualizing data. That was my first encounter with Tableau. I did not really know what Tableau was prior, and my first impression was that it was sort of clunky and kind of sucks. Nonetheless, it was a tool I wanted to become more familiar with. 

That’s when I learned about #MakeoverMonday and Tableau Public. Browsing through the different visualizations on Tableau Public and seeing the different ways the same dataset from #MakeoverMonday could be visualized was inspiring. There was a lot more to Tableau that I did not know about… It led me down a rabbit hole where I spent evenings on #MakeoverMonday projects to further develop my Tableau skills while incorporating the design and creativity elements I enjoyed. I started to acquaint myself with SQL and tried my hand at some introductory Python courses through edX. Throughout that journey, it became clearer to me that what excited me the most, was always the data and design part of my projects. That was when I decided to work on pivoting my career from urban planning to mostly data visualization and analytics.

Tessellation Comes Knocking

I first heard about Tessellation at a Tableau User Group meeting I attended in the fall of 2020. I kept Tessellation in the back of my mind as one of the doors I would try to knock on down the road since it seemed like a really cool company that aligned with my career interests. Fast forward a few months later, Tessellation stumbled upon my Tableau Public portfolio and knocked on my door instead. It was a pleasant surprise since I did not have a traditional data science or analytics background, and I thought it would take me a few years before I broke into the field. 

My relationship with Tableau is still fairly young and I still feel like a bean sprout… But it felt surreal and reassuring to be recognized by a Tableau Zen Master, indicating that I am probably doing something right. What draws me to Tessellation is the culture of growth and excellence. Not only am I able to cultivate my skills and challenge myself here, but I also get to work alongside a talented team of passionate and encouraging individuals. Some journeys into data analytics were linear, while others may have taken some turns and detours along the way. I am ecstatic to continue my journey with Tessellation, and be a part of the dream team!

Want to Learn More?

Have any questions, comments, or curiosities? Feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn or email at

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