Who Are You?

I have noticed a spike in attendance here whenever I mention Excel and not so much when I mention Access.  In part I assume that’s because most of you found me thru my friend Mr. Murphy’s site (or thru the other Dick’s site)….

I am VERY interested in who you are or more exactly what you do and where you do it. 

Of course I appreciate the importance of privacy and our basic human right to just “lurk”, but if you could let me know either by a post on this thread or by emailing me directly at dick@plogic.on.ca I’d be very appreciative.

One of my major goals here is to help foster a “Community” of Access and Excel developers out there.  I believe there are a lot of us out there slogging away in obscurity and I’d like very much to help us all make more money and do better work (in that order actually). 

I also want to build an energy that could perhaps be channelled back to Microsoft to get them to pay more heed to us primarily “Client-Side- Professional-Non-Professional Developers”.  I believe people like us can have an impact on “lock-in” to the Office System and we are even the most likely proponents of their beloved SharePoint, despite the fact that they seem to think that isn’t true.  Help me with that.

Of course any direct correspondence would be kept totally private.

Thanx

Dick

About Biggus Dickus

Dick is a consultant in London, ON Canada who specializes in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Office Development.
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27 Responses to Who Are You?

  1. Dick Moffat says:

    I guess it’s pretty easy to figure out who you are and what you do isn’t it ??? Thanx for checkin’ in.

    I sure hope somewhere along the way we get to meet, have a beer and discuss what it’s like to go thru life being a Dick :-)….

    Biggus Dickus

  2. Gordon says:

    “Client-Side-Professional-Non-Professional Developer” just about sums me up perfectly, actually. I work in a smallish outpost (220 employees) of a reasonably large outsourcing company (10,000 employees).

    I was employed here to manage the client-facing help desk, but was struck by the inefficient processes that the staff struggled with every day. Having previously used Excel only as a semi-advanced user, I started to unravel the reporting and data processing tasks that the team needed to do and found that VBA, previously almost unknown to me, provided very significant benefits with the types of problems we faced.

    Over the months I began to gain confidence and soon my skills were being called on to improve other areas; processing/validation of incoming barcoded items, real-time logging of data in the production area and such like. During this time I branched out from Excel & VBA to Access, PHP, Perl, MySQL & SQL Server, learning as I went along, using nothing more than a web browser.

    Eventually, I got to the point where I was spending all my time doing things like conjuring up little CRUD apps for various bits of the business without any real planning/oversight/reward, so I convinced the company to make this my full-time job. My official title is now VBA Developer, but I feel this both overstates my skill level (it still feels funny to be considered a developer having never compiled an executable!) and undersells some of the integration that I manage.

    That was about a year ago and my path has pretty much continued on. Systems I put in place have played a major part in productivity increases here of about 40% in the past two years, yet there is still massive scope for application of my knowledge here. Having seen what has been achieved here, I’m now being asked to look at sister sites with a view to rolling out some of our improvements with them.

    The biggest problem I still face though is the old “IT but not IT” thing – local IT are supportive and flexible, allowing me extra hardware to set up databases and test software pretty much as I please, but central IT management would have a cow if they knew half the things that I was doing here. Having said that, the business side of management here fully appreciate my contribution to the bottom line, knowing that they would be struggling without my input, but there is only so much support they can give; eventually things have to be run past managers who fear change and loss of control.

    For instance, our main application is so bastardised, fragile and mired in a release schedule that measures even simple fixes/feature requests in years that I am denied access to even a daily read-only dump of our production SQL Server database by nervous DBAs and offshored development staff. Without access to this, or the ability to generate reports from within the application, a contactor and I basically had to build a parallel system to record pretty much the same data, just so we could run reports from the data at will – hardly the way to run a business, I would have thought. It’s worth noting that this parallel system (Perl & MySQL as the contractor liked them and I was happy to learn) has provided 100% uptime for nearly two years, more than can be said of the main app (ASP.NET/Java/SQL Server), developed over years at a cost of millions!

    I’ve held off getting formal training as my own skills have been advancing at such a rate that, at most times in the past three years, something I would have considered advanced six months ago I now carry out daily. Only now am I realising that I probably need some mentoring at the very least. Going hand in hand with the official role as developer is a feeling that I should probably also get a bit more professional with regards to documentation, testing and release schedules etc., but the simple fact is that most of the stuff I do, whilst appearing like voodoo to everyone here, is very simple Excel front-end, Excel back-end stuff that is easy to make relatively bulletproof.

    I would really love to have an updated version of VBA included with the next Office release, bringing it more into line with current VB.NET without going down the VSTO route. I think i’ll have a long wait for that though. My path probably lies in the ASP.NET/SQL Server realm, but as previously mentioned, some feel those technologies tread on others’ toes and I don’t have the same freedom deploying them as I do with “desktop” applications like Excel and Access.

    Blogs like yours and Simon’s have definitely opened my eyes and I sense that there are a great many like me scattered about the place, but, as you say, without a voice. The very applications that have allowed me to branch out into programming seem like they will wither and die as application platforms, but with the installed user base there is probably nothing to stop me carving our a career in this from here.

    What a ramble, who would’ve guessed there was so much to tell?

  3. Dick Moffat says:

    Gordon:

    Wow !!! Not a “ramble” at all – just someone letting it all out !!

    You speak for many, many out there who do exactly the same thing in their organizations. Interesting how it sounds like you are only allowed to deliver what you do because you have a serious BDM protecting you and appreciating your contribution to the success of the company (what a stange idea :-)).

    You are very lucky so far and I hope it continues. As I’ve mentioned before here, IT departments are garnering more and more power in Corporations (and in such a way that it will be impossible to reverse I fear) and they just HATE people like us.

    Tragically the more power IT gets the more likely the BDMs will make a personally career decision that IT is more important to them than you are and than Excel VBA is – regardless of the value it obviously provides.I am glad you are not ignorant of that fact.

    That is the argument I keep making – that there is only one Company that can have an effect on this. If THEY did do something in favour of their Office Client software (Excel and Access) they would benefit, as well as all the corporations around the world that are getting the kind of value people like you provide and also people like us would benefit as well. I used to believe that my work spoke for itself and just by doing good work the benefits would accrue – and this worked for about 20 years. I now see a world where the truth is irrelevant – it’s all internal power politics.

    Delivering good solutions in a timely fashion with reliable technology that allows for rapid development, maintenance and revision has no value in today’s corporate world.

    There’s my rant for today🙂

    Thanx for this Gordon.

    Dick

  4. Mathias says:

    Hi Dick,

    My turn to enter the confessional… By background, I am an applied math guy (decision models, forecasting, probability, that kind of stuff), and I have been tinkering with computers forever as a hobby, so when I came across Excel, this was a match in heaven. Until 5 years ago, one of my specialties was to build financial models using Excel, with a heavy serving of VBA.

    Since then, I have embraced .NET, and drifted away from pure Excel development. I spent a few years developing C# applications, and find it very hard at that point to do any “large” development with Excel, because the IDE and tools are so primitive compared to Visual Studio – and because I really miss formal testing (I am a test-driven development aficionado).

    I have recently come back to Excel, because some of my clients need it. I tend to avoid “pure” Excel work, unless it’s something small. You could say that one of my specialties now is the mixture of Excel and .NET, through VSTO or Interop – for instance, models which require large amount of complex computations, which I move into .NET, using Excel as both a data store and a reporting tool.

    I follow this blog, as well as a few others, to keep up with what’s new in Excel, and also to hear everybody’s tips and tricks; Excel is cool for that: clever tricks can get great results with very little effort… And yeah, I have no interest at all in Access. I was actually somewhat surprised to see that some people do still use Access!

    Keep up the good work,

    Mathias

  5. sumwise says:

    Hey Dick,

    Darren Miller here from Sydney, Australia. I am a qualified (non-practising) accountant with an IT focus. Spent the past 15-20 years working in corporate finance and private equity industry (http://www.linkedin.com/in/darrenhmiller). Developed expertise and a passion for Excel. Do some VBA and Access when required, but prefer to stick to native Excel with no VBA – as my clients and collaborators are generally non-technical.

    More recently started doing financial modelling consulting, and even more recently have started developing some financial modelling tools to help reduce spreadsheet errors, improve reusability, make models more understandable, etc.

    I am also a blogger on Excel techniques for financial modelling (http://blog.sumwise.com).

    My thesis is that although Excel is a fantastic application, it is almost too easy to use, and invites and sucks in novice users who cannot be expected to build something that is accurate and error-free. Financial models quickly get very complex and out of control, and yet significant decisions are being made with these models on a daily basis. What’s the solution? Better awareness, better training, better software? Perhaps a bit/lot of each.

    Cheers
    Darren

    • BIGGUS DICKUS says:

      “What’s the solution? Better awareness, better training, better software? Perhaps a bit/lot of each.”

      Hire US !!!🙂

      When we have trouble with our taxes we hire an accountant, when our toilet leaks we hire a plumber, when we don’t have the time or skills to paint our house we hire a painter – emphasis on the word “hire”.

      One of my major beefs about the Internet is how it builds an expectation that everything is FREE. This is especially true of the people who really DO the work (as opposed to the VC’s who invest and stand to reap all the benefits).

      That is also why MS’s MVP program bugs me – shouldn’t we be building a “professional” community of Excel (and Access) experts rather than one based on giving away our knowledge for free? When was the last time my lawyer or even my mechanic gave away their knowledge for free ? Why should we ? And isn’t having an adequately compensated “community” of experts out there in the interest of clients AND of Microsoft?

      I’ve always said “Why is the only guy who’s gotten rich from Access Luke Chung ?” (which he denies is true :-))…. But I’m not saying rich, I’m just saying an adequate “professional-non-professional” living…

      Dick

  6. BIGGUS DICKUS says:

    Hey Mathias :

    Thanx for your post. Its become apparent to me lately that there really are two types of Excel users – Modelers and Analysts – one uses external data and the other generates all they use. Interesting split in the community – but we still all believe in Excel.

    I am disappointed to hear your comments about
    Access. Ever since Day 1 of Access I have seen a natural symbiosis between the two products and frankly I believe that a lot of Excel spreadsheets should really be living in Access tables with Excel pulling in the data for analysis and further value-add.

    By the way, there are a LOT of people using Access out there still – unfortunately most of them have to apologize whenever they tell people about it. I’d like to see that changed …

    Dick

    • Mathias says:

      Hey just to be clear, that wasn’t meant as a dis on Access; I don’t know enough about it to comment. My general approach is that when I reach the point where there is a need for a database, I take it as a good indication that it’s time to go all the way and write an “industrial-grade” .NET app with a SQL back-end. Maybe I should look into Access, and see if this can provide me with an intermediate approach🙂

  7. Re Beer: me too Biggus. And I wasn’t trying to be glib with my first comment. I just glossed over the part where you asked who you are and what you do.🙂 My real job is as the Controller and Quality Manager for an electronics manufacturer in Nebraska. My other real job is Excel and Access consultant, trainer, tech editor, and occasional blogger. Like Darren, I’m an inactive CPA.

    If I’m not using the Access UI in a project, I simply tell people I’m using “Excel and Jet”. Then I explain that Jet is a database and they assume it’s some fancy esoteric server-based database.

  8. BIGGUS DICKUS says:

    “If I’m not using the Access UI in a project, I simply tell people I’m using “Excel and Jet”. Then I explain that Jet is a database and they assume it’s some fancy esoteric server-based database.”

    Yeah – that’s good and bad though because it plays down the value Access is providing….but I understand it sounds cooler – but maybe tht’s part of Access’s problem – ya think?

    Dick

  9. Gordon says:

    “Excel & Jet” – Good way of putting it, Dick.

    We have few Office Pro licences here so no Access UI for most, hence the front-end is almost always Excel, which users (think) they know and are comfortable with, but the real bones of most of the stuff I do system is a MDB that sits on the network, rarely even getting touched from the Access UI by me or anyone else.

  10. Simon says:

    I’m here too
    running late as usual!

  11. Dick Moffat says:

    Hey Simon!! Thought you were on vacation …. back at it ??

    Dick

  12. I’m here too! I’m self-employed, and my income is from Excel and Access projects, about equally split.

    I also run the Contextures Excel Website and Contextures Blog

  13. Dick Moffat says:

    Debra:

    Great to hear another “Independent”. But where are you?

    “Equal” is about right for me but it swings back and forth over time.

    Dick
    p.s. I’ve linked to your site here…

  14. Dick, thanks for the link! I’m in Canada, near Toronto. I’ve got a few local clients, and others (mostly USA and Canada) that I’ve never met.

    And my Excel/Access ratio varies over time too.

  15. Dan says:

    So now I’ve been argumentative in the other thread, I’ll actually contribute to this one! Didn’t get chance the other day.

    I work in an Operations area for a large US bank, in the UK (sadly for my payscale, not London) and manage a small team doing business reporting: KPIs, MIS, monthly qualitative + quantitative reporting packs etc.

    I too am a qualified accountant (escaped Finance a few years ago for something new / development), but was hacking around in Excel before that. Perversely I started with VBA in Access, not Excel, automating mail-merges, switchboards and other similar basic things.

    I changed job and was working with Excel producing MIS reporting, with a real git of a report to produce every day – the same formulas to stitch the extracted data together, format etc, and thought “there has to be an easier way”. Macro recording, then tried to figure out what the code did and how it worked (delete all the .smallscrolldown etc).

    More recently I’ve taken a greater interest in *presenting* the information, having stumbled across various blogs quite by accident – I’ve no idea whose I found first, or how, but since you all kindly link to each other it’s easy to build up a nice list to read.

    Most of the ‘technical’ posts I skim through, since I generally find I know it already, or it has limited relevance (we’ve only moved onto Outlook in the last few months, and won’t start on Office 2007 until the autumn!).

    Anyway, that’s me. Hello!

  16. Harlan Grove says:

    I work for a large financial services company and my primary job is various types of cost projection and forecasting.

    I’ve been using spreadsheets since fall 1984 when I got my first PC with Lotus Symphony (which was cheaper at the time than buying 1-2-3 and a word processor, and Symphony also worked with modems). I’m pretty sure I’ve tried all commercial spreadsheets for PC and mainframe systems as well as a smattering of Mac and Unix spreadsheets.

    As for databases, I avoided ever needing to use dBase, but I’ve used DB2 and IMS on mainframes (ever had the joy of accessing IMS datasets using VS-Basic?), Paradox, R:Base and Access on PCs. These days I don’t use databases much.

    Maybe I could call myself an in-house developer, but developing isn’t in my job description even though 100 or so people rely on 3 systems I developed (and even documented!).

  17. Dick says:

    Ah Gordon, we’re like brothers. Every license in my office is “Small Business” except mine. So everything is Excel front end on Access back end. Er, I mean Jet.

  18. Jon Peltier says:

    Dick –

    I didn’t decide to respond here until your follow up shamed me into it. I don’t actually visit your blog itself frequently, but I read the RSS feeds.

    And yes, I’m an indie, doing project work for multiple clients, plus selling click-wrap utilities online. I’m able to survive iun the US because my wife is a schoolteacher who doesn’t make all that much for the hours she puts in, but her benefits are fine.

    • Dick Moffat says:

      Jon:

      I’m honoured you’re here and that you let us know what you are into. From what I’ve read from you I can tell that you believe in the value of what we do.

      Being an Indepenedent has a lot of benefits for us and for our clients. I guess my quest is to find a way to create more acceptance of this concept – both for Excel and for Access and to try to raise the value-prop for this kind of work. Otherwise we will all lose – Clients, Microsoft and us.

      Dick

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