Monday, March 09, 2015

Excelling at Excel

In the beginning, there was VisiCalc.

And it was good for adding up numbers. Far better than a calculator. Faster, easier to correct mistakes, plus you had a copy of your work.

But I think it only ran on Apple.

So that wasn’t so good.

And then there was MultiPlan, which came to us from Microsoft.

And because it came from Microsoft, and I worked for a company that had a big fat man crush on Bill Gates, we signed up for licenses for a whole boatload of copies that we were going to embed in a product that allowed folks to upload and download data. Which we were going to sell for a boatload of money.

One place we were going to sell a boatload for a boatload was Japan. And when a bunch of guys from Japan came to see our nifty MultiPlan-based product, I got to give the demo.

As it happened, we had an employee who was fluent in Japanese – he had lived there to become a Go master, I believe – so we had a translator on board. So I narrated while the Go master translated. I nodded along, especially when there were words I understood: up-road-a and down-road-a.

But, but, but…before we could figure out how many yen worth of MultiPlan-based software we were going to unload – unload-a? – Lotus released 1-2-3, which was so much more dazzling in every way, shape and form. And MultiPlan -  including the thousands of licenses we’d bought –became shelf ware.

But because my company didn’t have a big fat man crush on Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, we just built stuff around 1-2-3, not on top of it. So no licensing deal to get stuck with. (We did have a little woman crush on Mitch Kapor, however. I was on the shuttle, heading to NYC with my (female) boss and we were sitting across the aisle from Mitch. My boss asked for his autograph.)

And then there was the product that nobody heard of: Javelin.

What was wonderful about Javelin was that, unlike the earlier spreadsheets, it “understood” time.

Which was a big deal for my company, given that a lot of what we had to offer was financial and economic data in time series.

But before we could do much with Javelin, it seemed to disappear on us.

And then there was Excel.

And since then, there’s pretty much been Excel.

Now, I am no Excel wiz – I’m definitely better with Word and PowerPoint – but I’m fairly proficient with it. And use it pretty regularly to (gasp, am I really saying this?) run my business. (I.e., I keep track of my hours, income, and expenses in spreadsheets that I’ve home grown.)

So I was delighted to learn that, if I were entering the job market, and I had more than a high school education but less than a college degree, and if I were thus looking for a middle-skill level job, my Excel (and Word) capabilities would qualify me.

Understanding spreadsheet and word-processing software is a baseline requirement in nearly 80 percent of all middle-skill job openings, according to the report, first discovered by Lauren Weber at the Wall Street Journal. (Source: Huffington Post)

Well, I don’t know if I’d use the word “discovered” here. But, apparently the WSJ was where HuffPo first read about a report from Burning Glass and Capital One.

Outlook, PowerPoint, SAP and Oracle are also on the list.

It’s good to be qualified!

“Technological illiteracy, much less technophobia, is no longer a sustainable option for the modern worker,” the researchers say in their report. “Effectively, entire segments of the U.S. economy are off-limits to people who don’t have basic digital skills.”

Those who can use dinosaur apps like Excel may not be getting hired for the super high-paid tech jobs, but they’ll make more money and have more opportunities than those without working knowledge of productivity tools.

We read a lot about how “tech savvy’ the young folks are these days.

But it looks like they’ll need to augment their ability to use Instagram and Candy Crush by learning to use boring, clunky old stuff like Excel.

Either that or they’ll be plenty of job openings for us oldsters before we drift into full geezerhood.

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