I’ve worked through a major life inflection over the last five years — going from using Excel the old way to using Excel the new way, from Old Excel to Modern Excel. Now I’m going through another transition — I’m working full time at PowerPivotPro to help other Excel people make this same transition. I want to share a little of my story because you may see some of yourself in it.
Sometime in the middle of 2012 Tom Osterbind leaned over the cubicle wall and asked me if I had heard of Power Pivot.
I started off my career as an analyst — living through 5 cubicle years of analyst work from 2011 to 2015 — armed with Excel, crunching numbers, developing information, helping decision makers bring data into decisions. In 2011, working at a large global bank, this work felt amazing because I was great at it. People respected my work; they respected the work. They feared my mighty VLOOKUP, INDEX/MATCH, & Pivot Table skills. We produced things relatively quickly that were accurate, good looking, and most importantly useful. I was an Excel Pro basking in the glory but not for long.
As everyone who’s worked with me knows I’m naturally uncomfortable with complacency, especially in the skills game. What I know now may be worth a lot but damn look at this better way of doing things! Just a year into my Excel Pro life I found myself writing the same Excel formulas over and over again, copying and pasting data in a thousand ways to make a chart, doing as much re-work as actual work, and not doing nearly enough thinking. I was really, really good at it but there wasn’t much satisfaction in the work. After all I was trained to solve complex problems in accounting and finance.
At this very moment there are tens of millions of people that power the global economy with Excel who are experiencing this same dilemma.
These folks didn’t enter the workforce as Excel people. They are accountants, financial analysts, supply chain people, marketers, and many others. They are senior executives and entry level analysts who are interested in moving the needles for their organization. I’m one of these people. We show up in the morning, open Excel, and get to work trying to turn our organization’s data into information into reports into decisions into business results. It’s an exhilarating proposition but the work itself can be a real slog. It was for me, until sometime in the middle of 2012 when Tom Osterbind leaned over the cubicle wall and asked me if I had heard of Power Pivot.
I wanted in to the party and I started knocking on the door.
Tom was my cubicle mate then and is still a good friend today. We were trying to a solve a problem that seems pretty simple on its face. We were trying to make a report that would produce financial ratios for different cuts of data — customers, regions, products, etc. The ratios had to compute correctly at every detailed level of the report as well as in the subtotals and totals. Most Excel users familiar with this type of problem would tell you that the only solution requires calling your spouse and telling him/her that they can go ahead and eat dinner without you, you’re working late. It’s a bullshit, non-solution solution — doing this kind of basic thing in Excel just didn’t work, and if you do get the result together god help you if a manager asks you to change something about the report — ”Cool you broke it out by product category, would you mind doing the same thing but by product subcategory?” “NO, NO, NO!” … that’s what you’re thinking. “Sure, no problem” … that’s what you actually say and then get back on the phone with your spouse.
Of course there are lots of solutions to this problem but the one we stumbled on in 2012 was Power Pivot. Microsoft had quietly released this add-in for Excel 2010 that allowed all sorts of magic to happen and we downloaded a copy and started exploring. Here’s what we discovered …
Excel people, my people, listen up. 90% of the drudge work that you do on a daily basis in Excel is not necessary anymore, and the solution to all that mind numbing work is right in front of you, in Excel.
A few months later in the fall of 2012 I took a job in a sales and marketing department where I got to do Power Pivot all the time and damn I started having fun. People would bring me their reports that we’re taking three days to complete every month — super manual work. We’d transform that spreadsheet into a report that would update automatically with the click of a button producing more accurate information. We were doing all of this with Excel, but not plain old Excel, Excel with Power Pivot.
As a result of a few early wins I started doing this work for people all over the company. Officially I was “Marketing Coordinator”, unofficially I was “Lead Power Pivot Evangelist”. There’s one universal thing that happens when a person catches the Power Pivot bug — they won’t the shut the fuck up about how awesome it is. I was this person. “Oh I see you’re using Excel, might I share with you the life-changing magic of Power Pivot? Oh you’re not interested? (grabs mouse) Here let me just show you this real quick.”
In the three years at that job I built some amazing things and inspired a couple of people to join me on the Power Pivot journey (cheers to you Joey Azar) but at no point did I feel like I was doing enough. My Excel people needed to hear about this. There were a few people that had carved out a space on the internet to share this story — Rob Collie & Avi Singh — and I was very drawn to their message. I wanted in to the party and I started knocking on the door.
Everyone who has experienced the drudge work of doing things the old way is ready for the new way, even if they haven’t articulated that yet.
In 2013 I had the good fortune of meeting Rob Collie at a conference and hearing him speak. Rob might not remember this but I asked him what it would take for him to mentor me and he basically said “you can’t afford me.” He didn’t mean it in a mean way and I didn’t take it personally. Three years later I’m on the PowerPivotPro team and he’s mentoring me and he’s paying me so HA, take that Rob. 🙂
I started working at PowerPivotPro in the fall of 2015. I’m on the field trip now — seeing dozens of client situations every month, learning what works and what doesn’t in training and consulting. I’ve gone from being a Power Pivot enthusiast to being a real expert. An expert in my mind is someone who’s made all the important mistakes in a field and lived to share those stories with others, and that’s basically what we’re up to at PowerPivotPro. We take the sum of our team’s experience and help individuals and organizations get further along on their Power Pivot journey. Pretty cool, right?
Here’s my message to you, my Excel people, if you’re an Excel person reading this and haven’t started working with Power Pivot you’re not alone.
My guess is out of the 500M people that use Excel worldwide, only about 5M of you are using Power Pivot (that’s a measly 1%). Getting this number from 1% to 5% would bring an enormous amount of value to businesses around the globe.
We want to bring this experience to Excel people. Notice I didn’t say we want to bring people this tool to people. We start all of our trainings off with a discussion about emotions — it’s really touchy-feely stuff because learning new things in life is not fundamentally about your talent, it’s mostly about your motivation. And everyone who has experienced the drudge work of doing things the old way is ready for the new way, even if they haven’t articulated that yet. We start with the motivation, the organizational decisions that you need to make to move the needle, and then bring in the tools.
Looking forward to sharing lots of Power Pivot over the next few years. For now though I’m headed out to the beach …
Austin is VP of Operations & Growth at PowerPivotPro (http://www.powerpivotpro.com)