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I Don't Know It All

I am the first to admit that when it comes to Excel, I don’t know it all. Hard to believe, I know (LOL!!)

I’ve had students who don’t seem to believe that. Like any good instructor, I can appear to walk on water from time to time. It’s all illusion, though, trust me. There’s a quote I’ve always liked:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

That’s why I sometimes seem magical to my students. I’m using the sufficiently advanced technology of Excel, and my better-than-the-average-bear knowledge of Excel to produce what sometimes looks like miraculous results. There’s no miracle though, and my magic wand has been in the shop for a while now, so…

The thing is, despite that fact that I know a lot about Excel, and contrary to the belief of some of my students, I don’t know everything there is to know about Excel. I doubt anyone does. It’s an incredible tool that’s been around for a long time, passed down through generations of developers at Microsoft, handled by more people that the typical dollar bill, I’d bet. If there is anyone out there who tells you they know everything there is to know about Excel, you can feel free to call them on their BS. Trust me. No one knows it all.

Sometimes at the beginning of my classes, especially the Excel VBA classes, students will tell me that the reason they came to class is so that they’ll know how to do things in Excel without having to look them up. That’s not a good mindset for Excel. As well-versed as I am, I still refer to online documentation all the time. All. The. Time. There’s a core set of knowledge about Excel that I have committed to memory, like the arguments of the VLOOKUP function, how to pull data in from SQL Server, and how to create a Pivot Table. These are things I do all the time – at least once a week, I’d say – so over time, I’ve memorized them. But there are a bunch of great features in Excel that I only use once in a while, like DMAX, SUMIFS, MATCH, SUBTOTAL, OFFSET, and so many more. I don’t use them all the time, so I often end up doing a quick look up in online help, the Insert Function dialog box, or other online sources to refresh my memory.

When it comes to Excel VBA especially, I spend lots of time looking at the online help. Again, there are a core set of commands and functions that I’ve got memorized, but I often have to refresh my memory on others. I can declare variables, set their values from spreadsheet, and manipulate them in my sleep. But the logic to create a chart is not available right off the top of my head. I’ve done it before, quite a few times. But not often enough to commit it to memory.

Despite this shortcoming, I still work very efficiently in Excel. Why?

I've learned how to learn.

I taught myself to not be intimidated by gaps in my knowledge. I've discovered that there is nothing I can't learn about Excel, given the need, and a good Internet connection. I get the structure, I understand the concepts, and I know the rhythms and rhymes of working with Excel. Have you ever come across a word you don't know when reading a book, and been able to figure out the meaning from the context? It's kinda like that. I've worked with Excel enough that I can anticipate how things will work, even before I look them up.

When I’m working in Excel VBA, I usually work on two monitors. On one, I have the Excel VBA window. On the other, I usually split the screen between the Excel worksheet and a Google search window where I can quickly find code snippets. That, along with Intellisense, is usually enough to get me where I need to go.

The point I’m trying to make here is that you will never know everything about Excel, so you can maximize your productivity by becoming proficient at finding the answers you need.

Or, you know, call me.

About the Author

Kimberlee Martin is the owner of North Port Solutions and has 30 years of business experience. She's worked with several programming languages and database tools over the years, with her favorites being Microsoft Excel VBA, SQL Server, and Visual C#. Her passion is helping small businesses gain insights into their business with effective reporting and data management.

© 2020 North Port Solutions, LLC. All right reserved.

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