Excel – The Learning Curve

Pre University

After struggling for nearly 6 years trying to learn excel, I got my driver license. And hormones. And everything that comes with that. I graduated high school and began college – still with my love of science. And until 2007 I ignored Excel. I was going to be a physicist. But, after a series of failures, I ended up choosing to be an Accounting major. I figured “hey, as long as there is business, there will be accountants.”


It wasn’t until my first accounting class that I had to face my nemesis again – Excel 2003. And so began my tumultuous relationship with the program. Eventually I graduated into the real world and became an auditor (thanks Sen. Sarbanes & Rep. Oxley) and gained access to Office 2007 and with it – Fluent User Interface aka The Ribbon.

Sure, I had taken some classes with 2007, but I had never had access to such power. And as an auditor, my job was basically to stare at Excel all day, every day. I learned standard formulas, formatting, and change tracking pretty quickly. It was powerful – and it was never wrong. There were no 10 key tapes to double check anymore. No hand arithmetic. No – Excel became a calculator for me. The greatest calculator I had ever used. And I steadily progressed in my knowledge of Excel.

Once in a while I would hear the word “macro” and I would cringe. I had never seen a macro or even used a macro. When I looked it up and found out it was a programming language – I scoffed. I took a c++ class as a freshman and struggled to squeak out a C. I had even taken an Accounting Information Systems course that focused on Visual Basic, which I also squeaked by. Nope, talking to computers was not my forte. Not going to happen.

An Era Begins

But then, on February 2, 2012 – I asked my first VBA question. I had started a new job as an IT Risk and Compliance Analyst and as part of that role there were certain licensing and provisioning tasks entrusted to me. And geez were they redundant! If only there were a way to process all of this nicely structured data at the same time instead of copy pasting into 20 text files.

And to my surprise – there was! And it worked! And it really didn’t look too difficult – but I still didn’t understand it. So I started teaching myself VBA during my spare time. I learned my fair share of difficult lessons during that time. But in my new position at what basically amounted to a software development company, I was given a Windows 7 machine with 16GB of RAM and Office 2010. And it just so happened that I managed to get my hands on two free Certiport exam certificates. So I did what anyone would have done – I registered to take the Microsoft Office Specialist Excel 2010 exam. And I passed it! A few months later I registered for the Microsoft Office Specialist Excel 2010 Expert exam. And I didn’t even finish it in the allotted time.

This was pretty disappointing, but when I went back over the topics that confused me on the exam I realized I was nowhere near an expert. There are so many things Excel can do besides functions and macros. So I steeled myself and dove right in on superuser to troll around the Microsoft Excel tag. Through trial and error I taught myself pivot tables, array formulas, UDFs, advanced formatting, everything I could get my hands on. It felt great to conquer this beast that haunted me for nearly two decades!

Now and the Future

Right now I’m the all time top user in the Microsoft-excel, Microsoft-excel-2010, VBA, CSV and Microsoft-excel-2013 tags on superuser. And I sit second on the worksheet-function tag. I’m proud of that; it feels great to share knowledge and help others solve problems. It shows persistence – my reach is nearly 2 million distinct users. The majority are people that had a problem to solve with excel and needed some help. But I’m no expert. I’m not even the most talented on superuser. I can’t touch MVPs or the top 250 users in excel-vba on stackoverflow.

I know I have so much more to learn and that’s part of the excitement of trying to become an expert in something. A lot of people say don’t let your failure define you; I say let your failure drive you to accomplish what defines you.

Comments 4

  • Hi Ray,
    That’s an interesting story! I’m sure you went through a lot of resources during your journey. Could recommend at least some of them in order to have a structured knowledge? At the moment I use only StackExchange, but there are so many different approaches to each task that without solid base it’s hard to follow and distinguish best solution from a good one.

    • Hi Dennis,

      I like SE. Especially since stackoverflow’s Documentation has began – vba and excel-vba are good places to start. Another great tool that will help you with common errors and best practices is rubberduckVBA – it’s open source and maintained by members at Code Review. I cut my teeth at superuser rather than stackoverflow – SU is a less busy site and (beginner) questions don’t get skipped over as much. The official Microsoft community is good and there are several MVPs there that have their own sites.

      Honestly, the best structure for me has been to go through questions on these sites, like SU, read the question and try to solve it, even if it’s already been solved. That way you have specific tasks to complete; it has always been difficult for me to think of my own fictional problems and a lot of coding practice sites don’t feature VBA.

  • Hi Raymond. I thought this is the only way I can talk with you. I saw your post on Stack Exchange http://tinyurl.com/jp5vc96 . I modified the code to actually add up cells if the above conditions meet. I would like to explain my problem. Can you please respond to this message.

    • Sure, your best bet would be to post your problem or question on Stack Exchange that way if I don’t know, someone else can answer it. Go ahead and link me to it back here and I’ll check it out.

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