Excel and Me

I’ll soon be teaching a bunch of students Microsoft Excel. This has been true every year that I’ve been a teacher, but in this case, it’ll be students who:

  1. Are not all that familiar with English
  2. Are not from an urban background

Which is a fun, exciting challenge, and I cannot wait to get started.

As part of preparing for this course, we’re asking folks to fill out a form about their usage of Microsoft Excel. You don’t have to, of course, but if you feel like helping out, you can fill said form here. But designing this form made me reflect on how I have used Microsoft Excel over the years.

  1. I started my career in analytics, building out predictive models for two firms based out of Bangalore. This involved high-falutin’ statistical packages (for the time), but about 75% of the work involved working in Microsoft Excel. I realized (very and painfully) quickly that I hadn’t learned enough about Microsoft Excel in college. But the good news was that Excel was incredibly simple to learn, and the payoffs were (and continue to be) huge.
  2. I then registered for a PhD, and the model that I built for my thesis was entirely in MS Excel. I used other statistical software to test the model and run a couple of additional statistical tests, but the model itself? MS-Excel.
  3. I worked for about five years in the renewable energy industry, first as a consultant and then as a full time employee, but interest rate forecasting, exchange rate forecasting, oil price forecasting was a major chunk of what I did. But in addition, researching about climate change was also part and parcel of the job. Each of these required the creation of a mind-numbing variety of charts, tables, and pivot tables, and Excel was always on the work menu.
  4. And since 2013, I have taught for a living. Not only have I taught at least one course around MS-Excel every single year, but I have also used MS-Excel in ways which ended up being a lot of fun. We built an attendance system using Google Sheets, for example, and I cannot tell you how much fun it was. But we also taught sampling distributions and the central limit theorem using Google Sheets, and so many other things.

So: it hasn’t mattered whether I’ve worked in the analytics industry, the renewables energy industry or in academia. Excel, or spreadsheet software more generally speaking, has been an indispensable part of my work life.

And in addition, I use spreadsheet software to track my invoices, track our household budget, and to track our financial portfolio. I’d probably depress myself out of wanting to work if I used it to track my productivity (or lack of it), but I assure you, this can be done too.

Long story short: get busy learning MS Excel (or a substitute) if you are in college right now. There’s no end of learning material that is easily available online, and if you need any help, please, feel free to teach out!

ashish at econforeverybody dot com