Let Me Bore You: Spreadsheets

And it's time for another entry in our practical yet boring columns.  This time I'm going to discuss another exceedingly common and boring thing that's worth knowing how to do in your career.

That thing is Spreadsheets.  Yes, spreadsheets.  Excel.  Columns and rows and sums.  Those things.

And as exciting as they are not to many people (personal note: *I* love spreadsheets), they are something you're going to want to know a lot about, and they're something you're going to want to use.

So.  Let's get boring.

A spreadsheet program basically is something with a grid that lets you put data in, and process it in various ways, from adding it up with simple formulas, to complex reports that would make a mathematician's eyes bleed.  The most prominent one, of course, is Excel, but you can find spreadsheet programs everywhere, including online app suites like google docs and Zoho.

Arguably, the spreadsheet was THE first killer office app.  A typewriter could do a letter just fine, but a spreadhseet?  That let you get and sort data, do math, and do it efficiently, accurately, and in a way that was easy to change.  A spreadsheet, really, is a relatively friendly database.

That's why it's an indispensable skill to know how to use one.  Data is important to anything you do, spreadsheets let you easily manipulate it.

First, simply, a spreadsheet lets you do mathematical work very quickly once you learn it – budgeting, calculations, reporting.  A weekend spent learning Excel will give you the ability to do your home budget and even that of a small or side business.  I've been doing my home budget in Excel for fifteen years – and I'd say in a more complex world and economy, a good budget spreadsheet makes life a lot easier.

However, it's when you go beyond simple numbers and calculations that the power of the modern spreadsheet comes out.  As I said, a spreadsheet is a friendly database – you can do almost ANYTHING with it.

A spreadsheet is a great organizational tool – you need a formatted grid for data, addresses, etc., a spreadsheet is for you.  It gives you an instant, simple layout, and a way to sort things easily.  I use a spreadsheet for some contact management just storing text entries – and my mother uses it to catalogue my stepfather's baseball memorabilia.

A spreadsheet is a great graphical tool.  It's a grid, after all, waiting for you to fill it in.  You can use it to make a schedule for a convention – each column a room, each row an hour in theday.  You can use it to build a plan for a project, columns acting as simple categories for activites (let me note I love Microsoft Project, but it's not for everyone).  A spreadsheet is a grid WAITING to be filled in with your data.

A spreadsheet is a data storage tool.  Throw in some data and save it and you're done.  It can usually export to a variety of formats – or interface with other programs.  Spreadsheet-stored data usually converts easier to other applications.

If there's a flaw with spreadsheets its almost that they're overused today – I have seen people do things in Excel that should have been done with other applications or even whole custom programs.  It's easy to try everything with a spreadsheet – though probably worth the effort.

So, go get Excel or whatever.  Get to know your spreadsheet programs (doing a home budget or plan is a great start).  It's an indespensible skill.

Boring you over . . .

– Steven Savage