What Do You Do for a Living mate?

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Sometimes people who have a ‘real job’ and don’t work at a computer all day and know how to use a nail gun and an angle grinder ask, what do you do for a living mate? If I say financial modelling, I get a really odd look like they didn’t hear that right.  If I then say I am an analyst I get only a slightly better reaction or maybe it’s that by now they have lost interest.   “I work with spreadsheets a lot” I sometimes add desperately before it’s too late.  By now the other party is thinking at best he does some dreary admin or office work and is just dressing it up a bit.

What do we do? What do we Excel people who work with spreadsheets, charts, pivot tables, SUMIFS formulas all day really do?  Rob Collie in his great intro to PowerPivot ‘Dax Formulas for PowerPivot’ called us Excel Pros. It’s really worth reading his book to learn about PowerPivot and DAX but the intro is electric for Excel people giving us an identity perhaps even the beginning of a profession. Rob’s definition in his book was that Excel Pros worked with Excel and for more than 10 hours a week and had some attributes namely:

  • They grab data from one or more sources
  • They prep the data, often using VLOOKUP
  • Sometimes they subsequently index into the resulting pivots, using formulas to produce polished reports. Other times the pivots themselves serve as the reports.
  • They then share the reports with their colleagues, typically via email or by saving to a network drive.
  • They spend at least half of their time re-creating the same reports, updated with the latest data, on a recurring basis.

Sound like anyone you know?  I reckon Rob is spot on except he could have added has obvious coffee addiction and seen to suddenly jump from their desk and do silent high fives to imaginary friends.  Even so, if next time I am asked the ‘what do you do’ question I won’t answer, Excel Pro.

I think that’s a great term for people within the same field but I think the best label at least in Aussieland that has some vague meaning and doesn’t sound too pretentious (fatal sin here) is Excel Analyst.   So my take on it all is call myself an Excel Analyst and my definition after a lot of thought of an Excel Analyst, is:

an Excel Analyst cobbles together messy data from a variety of sources, preps it, makes sense of this data and presents that understanding to others in periodic or adhoc summaries, Pivot Tables, tables and charts.

But the key thing here is we work with data and we have to make data work.  A company might have expensive systems, it might have databases and professional database administrators but no matter how good these might be, an Excel Analyst still has to cobble together data from various sources, prep it, make sense of it and then present that understanding.  I am sure that still happens in sophisticated companies including Microsoft (according to Rob who worked for Microsoft in his book yes it does).  Excel is like the data grease between the wheels of companies and businesses and the Excel Analyst is the data grease monkey.

A brief side example – a local branch of a large overseas in Brisbane were introducing SAP which told them what finished product was in their warehouse in all sorts of detail, bin locations, expiry dates etc.  They needed a tool, a Picklist we called it, to use the SAP data and tell them how to optimally despatch from that warehouse by expiry data and bin location which their new expensive SAP system was never going to do for them.  This tool was now one of the critical steps in this hugely costly systems upgrade project.  That job took me about a 1 1/2 weeks including some VBA for the FIFO routine with protection and user friendly controls and my total cost was one of the cheapest things they spent their money on in that systems upgrade project but business critical.  Three years later, they are still using this Picklist and call me ocassionally if something has caused it to stop working.  The power of humble Excel!

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