Explorations Into Excel: A Look At The Last 14 Years Of Becoming The Excel Guy
[Note #1: I’m thinking about giving away a free product for you… IF you’re potentially interested in learning more about Excel and putting together great spreadsheets. But before I go crazy making this thing, I want to make sure you actually want it, so I don’t feel like an idiot. More details near the bottom of the article.][Note #2: in case you’re wondering, this post is a FOLLOW-UP TO THIS POST which received over 20 comments from readers like you who sent me positive messages of support ☺]
The Story of How I Became the “Excel Guy”
Way back in 2002 I started working for the professional services firm Deloitte, which is one of the Big Four Accounting Firms. At that stage in my life I was 23 years old, had just got married and was at the start of a three year journey to becoming a Chartered Accountant in London.
While I was quite familiar with computers, I had not used Microsoft Office in a work environment. Yes I had just completed a four-year engineering course at Cambridge University but for all intents and purposes I didn’t know Excel.
As a trainee accountant I found that I was a complete newbie in Excel. It was like there was a whole new unknown world out there and I was lost in it.
What You Can Learn from My Journey
Now as you follow my journey to becoming the “Excel Guy” over the last 14 years, please bear in mind that it gets better from here. And when you finish you will understand why I think we often learn best by watching someone else who is ahead of us in an area of life, and who is ready to share their knowledge and wisdom in that area with us, and of course by us practicing a lot.
As Lao Tzu explained, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. For me, that first step was realizing that my Excel knowledge was very limited.
After that first step came the years of struggle…
I Really Struggled With Excel In My Early Newbie Years
When I was at Deloitte, I really had no idea what could be done in Excel and didn’t have any best practices to refer to. I realized that different Excel users did things in their own way, and when I went from audit to audit I found different conventions. I was pretty confused, and just got along as best I could.
Most of all I didn’t really have time to think about going on a course to learn more about Excel. Because I was either too busy on the job, or I was too busy studying for exams in audit and accounting and tax and compliance and financial reporting to even consider that my Excel skills could be vastly improved.
Back Then I Was So Clueless
Now that I look back at my early years using Excel, I can see that I struggled. I can even remember thinking to myself “how do I make all these column headings on different sheets look the same?” and it took me ages to work out which font was used, what font size, what border settings, what number format and so on, so I could select each column heading and change its format to look identical to the original – and do that one by one (obviously that was before I found the Format Painter tool!)
I sometimes picked up a few tips from my colleagues as I watched them use Excel, but most of the time I worked solo and didn’t make much progress.
Fast forward to 2006 and I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in London and moved to Cambridge to join a company called CSR plc (formerly Cambridge Silicon Radio) who were global leaders in Bluetooth technology.
Then the next chapter of my Excel story began…
I Saw The Light And The World Never Looked The Same Again
At CSR plc I taking over the role of management accountant from someone who would soon move on to another firm. I’ll call her “Sabrina” (not her real name).
I count myself as really blessed because Sabrina was a very careful teacher and spent a lot of time explaining everything that she thought I needed to know before she left the company.
I saw that her excel skills were really top notch, and she often went into the mysterious “VBA editor”. Before Sabrina showed me the VBA editor I hadn’t seen anyone program Excel so extensively. Sure, a couple guys at Deloitte had played around with macros and VBA but the stuff they did was child’s play compared to what Sabrina was doing.
What she did in 20 seconds would have taken me 20 minutes or more if I did it manually (and I would probably have introduced many errors along the way)
For instance, at the press of a button, Sabrina could retrieve hundreds of records from a remote database, sort that data instantly and apply the correct formatting consistently to the whole data set all within about 20 seconds.
My world was totally changed and I realized I had to learn more about Excel.
I Became A Sponge Absorbing Everything I Could Find About Excel
I decided that I would learn everything I could find about Excel by devouring online articles and videos, buying a couple Excel books and trying out new projects in Excel.
Every single week I picked up something new. Every time someone in the office had trouble with Excel I would immediately go help or listen intently and figure out if I could help.
And I practiced the best tips I learned from my colleagues. Over and over again, I kept practicing until shortcuts were second nature and good spreadsheet design was drilled into my head.
I became the go-to guy for Excel. Not because I knew lots about Excel but because I was so happy to help anyone in the office, in any way I could, when they were stuck with Excel.
You Know What Happened Next? I Started Exploring Excel in What I Think Of As My Adventurer Years
When I moved to a new role in another Cambridge based company (ARM plc –acquired by Softbank for $31bn in 2016) I really started my Excel adventures.
My boss gave me an open-ended challenge – to gather management input on company-wide risks by department and division to create a better version of the corporate risk register. And he left it up to me as to how I would achieve this, suggesting I maybe put something together in a spreadsheet and send it round.
I had spent years teaching myself Excel using Google as my main source of information. I had signed up to numerous Excel blogs for updates and bought many books. Now it was time to get active and build something bigger in Excel.
So Instead Of Just Creating A Simple Spreadsheet And Emailing It Around, I Got A Bit Creative And Built An Automated Database Inside Excel
The managers in different departments and divisions would get a “user-version” while I maintained the “master-version”.
I spent days creating a presentable user interface (UI) and weeks coding the backend in VBA to handle the database operations and version control. Although it was a lot of calendar time, to me it seemed to pass so fast as I was in a flow state.
Then I wrote some more VBA code to automate the process of preparing reports to summarize the Risk Register data in Word using data from the Excel master database.
When I ran the process with my boss he was quite impressed that it worked. There were a couple initial glitches when I tried saving some data to the backend database but soon these were gone and we were able to run the Risk Review process smoothly.
I can remember sitting in meetings with senior managers from ARM and helping to enter their feedback into the Excel VBA application that I had created. And I was very pleased when the corporate-level risk register was summarized into the company’s annual report and published to shareholders.
That’s when I realized that …
… I Had Finally Reached A High Level Of Excel Mastery And Decided To Create Launch Excel!
Throughout my experience of creating that Excel VBA application, I was forcing myself to learn fast because I didn’t have all the know-how up front when I started the project, and we were working to tight deadlines. And I realized that it’s possible to be creative in Excel too.
So I decided that it was time for me to create a website and YouTube channel to share some of my knowledge for others to benefit.
That’s when in 2011 I tried an experiment and registered the domain for launchexcel.com, and set up my first ever YouTube channel. Then I went to work making videos and writing articles on Excel.
And I Am Really Humbled by The Impact I’ve Had With Launch Excel
If you read my previous blog post you know my YouTube videos have been viewed over 2m times, and I have a ton of comments from people who found them really useful. And my blog has been visited over 2.8m times since it started in 2011. Even though I stopped posting four years ago in 2013.
As one commenter in the last blog post wrote
“The way that you present your topics is so much easier to understand than Excels help files. I always succeed with your presentation topics and end up with trial and error efforts with the help files.”
And here are a couple more comments from the last blog post:
“In my search for ways to use Excel more effectively or how to execute certain actions I found your lessons among the best there was to find on the net.”
“I was confident with Excel before I saw your videos but then you took me to a whole new level.”
When I read comments like these I know that my videos and articles have had a positive impact on many of you.
And I want to get to the heart of what I see as the way forward, because I know there is a very big problem that most Excel users don’t know they have…
Now This Is What I See Is The Big Problem For Most People Who Are On Their Own Excel Learning Journey
I think there is a very big problem that many Excel users might not even realize affects them.
It’s a problem I faced in my newbie years, and I think it’s so widespread that almost no-one I know realizes it’s a problem.
You see, most people are not formally trained in Excel. Or even if they received training, it may have been a long time ago. Or even if they received training recently, it may not have covered what’s important to them in their jobs right now, because let’s face it the world changes and our Excel skills often need to be adapted fast.
If you’re anything like me and hundreds of millions of people around the world who use Excel, you mostly learned how to use Excel on the job, watching other people, and searching the Internet for help.
While learning on the job is admirable, and searching the Internet can give you answer very fast, what happens is that you end up with patchy learning. You learn a little bit here, and you learn a little bit there.
In fact, you don’t know what you don’t know (simple as that may sound) and especially in the early years of using Excel you’ll probably struggle to do things and pick up bad habits just because you don’t know any better. And neither do the people who work with you because they learned the same way.
Where is this going?
So Here’s What I’m Coming To… Here’s What’s Being Demanded Of Me… And Here’s What I Feel Compelled To Do…
Here’s the deal.
The need for well trained Excel users far outweighs the supply. Worldwide there are over 1.2 billion licenses for Microsoft Office, and I’m guessing that the majority of people with Office licenses use Excel. If I’m right then this means there are hundreds of millions of Excel users around the world right now.
But how many people who use Excel have received instruction or training in how to use it well?
And how many Excel users just pick up a little here and a little there, building up a patchwork of knowledge that sort of gives them what they need now but which can become dangerous over time because of bad habits?
From my experience, there are far more people who start using Excel without going on any kind of training course than there are people who start their careers by going to some kind of training. I’m sure you’ll agree.
So here’s what I feel compelled to do…
I want to put together high quality and easy-to-access online training courses to show you how to use Excel more effectively, from the ground up.
Now I won’t be able to cover all angles because Excel is so flexible that you can use it for simulations and deep analyses and even create pretty powerful applications in Excel. But what I will do is I will begin with the fundamentals of Excel and build up.
So this is where I’m starting…
The Time Has Come For An Online Excel Course That Shows You How To Make Great Spreadsheets
It turns out that many spreadsheets are made by people who don’t have the right training to make great spreadsheets.
Over time their spreadsheets turn into monsters that are difficult to use, hard to update quickly and full of formula errors.
I recently came across this Forbes article about Excel in the financial world “Microsoft’s Excel Might Be The Most Dangerous Software On The Planet”
“…it’s all become so complex and it’s handled in such a slapdash manner that no one is really on top of it anymore”
“…we’ve tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of financiers and bankers throwing trillions of dollars around the markets on the basis of their incomplete spreadsheets and their ignorance of how they’re doing it wrong. Pretty scary really.”
While that article talks about the complexities and errors arising from using spreadsheets in banking and finance, the truth is that Excel is used so widely in many different fields that something similar could be said of other industries and activities.
And one of the reasons for this is that Excel users aren’t taught goods ways of making great spreadsheets that are (1) friendly to use and (2) easy to update.
So… I’m Planning To Make A FREE Excel Boot Camp Training Course For You, IF You Want To Learn How To Make Great Spreadsheets
I’ve been really humbled by the support and excitement surrounding my last blog post. Many of you have said you really look forward to me doing more with Launch Excel. And there seems to be a lot of interest in online Excel courses from me.
But to test the waters… I’m thinking about making a value packed, 100% free “Excel Boot Camp Training Course” for you, IF you are serious about wanting to improve your Excel skills by picking up good habits to make great spreadsheets that are (1) friendly to use and (2) easy to update.
Here is what I’d like the free “Excel Boot Camp Training Course” to include:
- A video module on how to create great spreadsheets
- A video module on how to check your spreadsheets (and others’ spreadsheets too)
- A set of PDF handouts to summarize the video lessons
But Here’s The Catch
Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and will inevitably keep blogging this thing out of proportion and make it into a much bigger package than it needs to be (or you even want it to be)…
… I want to get a special list of everyone who is interested in improving their Excel skills and getting access to this free “Excel Boot Camp Training Course”.
So Here’s What I Want You to Do
I’m making a list of everyone potentially interested in getting my free Excel Boot Camp course AND getting in on the start of Launch Excel 2.0
Anyway, if you’re interested, then:
- Click the button below to enter your name and email address, and if I end up making the free course I’ll send it to you at the email address you list below
- (optional) leave a comment below with any suggestions on what you’d like to get from this course – that will help me plan it better.
If enough people get on this “interest list” (I’m thinking 50 or more) then I’ll make the free course and send it to EVERYONE on the interest list.
And if no one wants the free “Excel Boot Camp Training Course” then no worries.
Hope to see you in the interest list 😊
Update (14-Feb-2017) – Last week when I wrote this article, I was thinking if at least 50 people signed up to the interest list, then I’d go ahead and make the free Boot Camp course. Well as of today I see that a total of 165 people have signed up – yay! So I’m definitely going ahead with the course 😁