THE CELL MASTERS
Chapter 06   The Cell Master.  John Walkenbach  from California, USA
  J-Walk & Associates, Inc. : http://j-walk.com/

interview date:3.Feb.2003
Please introduce your self. You may be as thorough as you wish. Feel free to include or omit any detail about yourself.
I am John Walkenbach, and I earn most of my income by writing spreadsheet books and magazine articles. In addition to about 35 books,

I've written approximately 300 articles and reviews for magazines such as InfoWorld, PC World, PC/Computing, Windows, and several others that no longer exist.

For about three years, I wrote the monthly spreadsheet column for PC World.
I also developed several popular Excel add-in products, including Power Utility Pak, JWalk Enhanced Data Form, and Extended Data Functions. When time permits, I do some consulting -- usually spreadsheet-related.

I did my undergraduate study at the University of Missouri (major in psychology, minor in computer science) and then earned a Masters and Ph.D. in experimental psychology at the University of Montana (a great place to live!).

After graduation, I spent a brief period of time doing work that was actually related to my coursework. I soon lost interest in psychology. I began my second career in the banking industry, purely by accident (it was the only job I could find). I worked for a financial services data processing supplier in Oregon, a large credit union in Los Angeles, and eventually landed a job as V.P. of market research for a large Bank in San Diego. Currently, my third career lets me work out of my home in sunny San Diego, and be my own boss.

For fun, I play guitar, read books, watch movies, and surf the net. Check out my daily weblog at http://j-walkblog.com/blog/.

When do you remember using Excel for the very first time? Can you remember any specific details from that first time?
I don't recall exactly, but it was Excel 4. I hated it. I was accustomed to using Lotus 1-2-3, which was fast and snappy. Excel, on the other hand, was very slow and the user interface was terrible. Over the years, the product improved and I eventually came to love Excel. But Microsoft has dropped the ball and now I'm back to where I started. Once again, I hate Excel.

Back in the old days, I was the spreadsheet reviewer for InfoWorld. I kept very busy, because spreadsheets were very popular and there was a lot of competition. It was an exciting time. I was able to work with all of the spreadsheet products, and I saw lots of innovation.

But, unfortunately, that has all changed. There is no more competition, the innovation has stopped, and the spreadsheet world is no longer exciting for me. Maybe it's time to start looking for my fourth career.

When do you remember writing your first formula or VBA code for Excel?
My first formula was probably something like this:

=A1+B1

Anyone who is reading this is free to copy that formula and use it in your own work. No charge.

My first exposure to VBA was the beta for Excel 5. I had done some Visual Basic programming, so it wasn't too foreign to me. In order to learn Excel VBA, I decided that I would write a set of utilities. Those utilities were called Power Utility Pak -- and the product still exists today (although virtually every line of code has been rewritten).

On average, how many hours per day do you spend working with Excel formulas and/or VBA code?
It varies. When I'm writing a book, I use it constantly. But for my own work, it averages about 20 minutes per week (not much at all!).

Which do you find most rewarding to work with: Formulas or VBA in Excel? Please tell us why?
I think I enjoy creating formulas more than writing code. I don't know why, I just do.

If you were going to give a novice, just starting out with Excel, some advice, what would it be?
Experiment, and try new things. And then experiment some more. Also, read Excel's Help. It's not as bad as you may think.

People often ask me how I learned so much about Excel. My answer: I am an expert experimenter. Books are good, up to a point. But you will learn the most when you dig in and have a goal in mind. Usually, learning for the sake of learning does not work.

Please provide a sample of your first work (either as a formula or vba code) in Excel and tell us about it.
I don't think I've kept any of my old work. My web site has many, many examples that can be downloaded.

What is your mental attitude when you are preparing to write formulae or VBA code? And what is your working environment?
When I write complex formulas or code, I almost always break it down into smaller parts and experiment with various ways of writing it. Then, when I'm satisfied that I understand how it works, I incorporate it into the larger work. As an example of breaking a formula down into smaller parts, see my discussion of "megaformulas" at

http://j-walk.com/ss/excel/usertips/tip079.htm

My working environment? It's a room in my house, next to the kitchen. It has two computers, networked together. Fast cable modem.

I have a good stereo system in my work area, and I usually listen to jazz or ambient new age music. But sometimes I prefer aboslute silence. I must have a hi-resolution display. Currently I use a Silicon Graphics 1600SW LCD monitor (1600x1024).

I can work only when I'm alone. When my girlfriend comes home from work, I stop working and have a cocktail.

Finally, please give us something to think about - a reminder of your words here; a phrase that has helped you; a link to your own website. Anything that you think is important for the readers to remember.
My Advice: Don't trust Microsoft.

At one point in my life, I was a very strong supporter of Microsoft. But the company has changed over the years, and I simply don't like the direction in which they are headed. In many ways, Microsoft represents all that is wrong with corporate America.

Most people who use Microsoft products really don't know much about the company. They tend to just accept whatever is thrown their way -- and that includes software. Fact is, Microsoft has let Excel stagnate. They are capable of creating a MUCH better spreadsheet product -- a product that's designed to meet today's needs, and actually includes features that people have been requesting for years. They have the resources to create a product that is designed so well that users will actually take advantage of its advanced features.

But they don't. Microsoft continues to take the easy path, and simply applies duct tape and cosmetic face lifts to an aging product. Maybe they are actually working on a completely new Office suite that will replace the current version (but it won't be Office 11). But then again, there is really no economic or competitive incentive to do so. Kind of sad, eh?

-John

Thank you very much for answering the questions.

This Black belt is yours...

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