From Game Warden to Tessellation: Shaun Davis

I’ve always had a passion for data, I was just in denial for many years. I loved the game SimCity, where users can create (and destroy!) their own worlds. The idea of creating something out of nothing in a virtual world, all according to a plan or vision, was one which captivated my imagination.

I loved surfing, but grew up in South Florida where the conditions were less than ideal. Understanding when the surf would be best required analyzing maps, geometry, weather forecasting and an understanding of the different beaches in the area. All of that data helped to predict when the waves might be best, but what about my experience? I created an Access Database to help me track the conditions, number of people and the fun factor. I never analyzed the data or created a bar chart, but realize that it was another step toward my current career with Tessellation.


Dramatic re-enactment of me building the database

From high school onward, my goal was to become a Game Warden. I studied criminology throughout high school and college, ultimately graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Criminology. I worked for a conservation agency throughout college and after, which is where I got my first exposure to data analysis.


Caption: Why spend all day in the office collecting data when you can go outside and collect data

I attended a weeklong training course in Geographic Information Systems software. I had always loved maps. SimCity was simply a GIS that the user got to change the map and underlying data. My wife, ever the keen observer, noticed that I wouldn’t shut up about the class the entire week. She encouraged me to pursue my passion and over the next year I completed a certificate at FSU in GIS. What I didn’t realize at the time was that GIS was simply a data visualization tool; whether visually or with algorithms, I was analyzing the spatial relationship between data. 

Shortly after completing my certificate, I changed disciplines from conservation to transportation. In my new role, I was asked to analyze larger and more complex data. I did what I could with excel, GIS and Access. While at this agency, I got an email inviting me to a day and a half training class on a software called Tableau. I literally wrote down how to say the name (Tab-low). Like the GIS course, I ate up every second of the class. This tool made things so easy! 

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. The training class was part of an evaluation my agency was doing of the software and they (at the time) decided not to pursue acquiring Tableau. Tennyson be damned, it was worse to have Tableau’d and then lost then to have never Tableau’d at all. 

I left the transportation world and ended up at a non-profit that provided health insurance for low income children. My charge was to build an analytics center of excellence. This was my first purely data centric role and I loved it. I had supportive leadership that gave me the freedom and resources to build their data analytics from the ground up using Tableau. I attended the Big Book of Dashboards workshop and like the GIS class, loved every second. 

That was the missing piece in the puzzle. I was finally able to quickly design visually compelling, yet simple dashboards. Preattentive attributes became a part of my vocabulary. I started following data viz gurus and Zen Masters, participating in Makeover Monday and continuing to grow my abilities. While waiting for a long running extract to finish I saw a tweet from Luke Stanke, announcing that he and two other co-founders were starting Tessellation.


The We are Tessellation! blog post spoke to everything I had been trying to do throughout my career. They wanted to create lasting impact with their clients and communities. Their values of being a family, intellectually humble and coming diverse perspective convinced me that this was the right fit. I contacted the team and sent them my resume and a short description, unsure if I was good enough to join such a talented team. I simply laid out who I was and my experience and hoped for the best. 

I joined the team at Tessellation in October 2018 and have enjoyed the experience. I met the team for the first time in person at the Tableau Conference in New Orleans and knew from the get-go that this was the right choice. The company culture is one which is open and approachable. My journey to the world of data analysis and visualization has been non-traditional and circuitous, but the trend line has always been headed to where I am now.

I live in Tallahassee and am the husband to a great wife and father to three adventurous kids. We all enjoy the outdoors and college football.

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