Chapter 10   The Cell Master.  John McGimpsey AKA J.E  from USA :

interview date:11.Mar.2003
Please introduce your self. You may be as thorough as you wish. Feel free to include or omit any detail about yourself.
I'm John McGimpsey - I go by J.E. professionally and in the newsgroups, just because - and I live in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

I'm an independent consultant in three primary engineering fields (environmental, telecommunications, and nuclear safety), though I've dabbled in several other fields. I'm a former nuclear submarine officer, and I've managed hi- and lo-rad laboratories, environmental and nuclear instrument manufacturing companies, and take on application programming jobs for several clients, primarily using XL/VBA and *nix/PHP/SQL.

I first got my hands on a PDP 11/50 in high school, followed by getting one of the first Commodore PETs with a whopping 16K of RAM and a cassette drive. I taught myself programming in Basic and Assembler, and branched out when I upgraded to a SuperPET, which came with Basic, Pascal, Fortran, Cobol, APL, and assemblers for it's dual processors (M6502 and M6809). I switched to Mac early on, though I also had an Amiga 1000. I now have exclusively Macs, though I run a test dual Windows/Linux box for a client.

When do you remember using Excel for the very first time? Can you remember any specific details from that first time?
I remember version 0.9 (and had seen its' predecessor). I'd already written two spreadsheet programs for the Commodore line in assembler, and was interested in the differences.

Mine were flagrant "look and feel" thefts from VisiCalc. I thought at the time that XL was a pretty solid product but that it was gonna get creamed by 1-2-3.

When do you remember writing your first formula or VBA code for Excel?
My first formula was the day I first saw XL - having designed my own, I had to put it through its paces. I first started writing VBA code when XL5 came out. I found it very frustrating to use the macro recorder and resolved never to use it again - I now use it occasionally when I want to quickly develop some code that I can rework by hand.

On average, how many hours per day do you spend working with Excel formulas and/or VBA code?
1 to 2 for clients, sometimes many more on the newsgroups.

Which do you find most rewarding to work with: Formulas or VBA in Excel? Please tell us why?
I fluctuate. VBA is very flexible in some areas, and I love the challenge of figuring out the optimum way to code a process.

I also find it easier to code an application than to train clients on what worksheet formulas are doing. But XL also has a lot of power under the hood, and VBA UDFs are always slower than using built-in formulae, so I'll sometimes spend a hours optimizing a formula-based solution to improve my clients' productivity.

If you were going to give a novice, just starting out with Excel, some advice, what would it be?
  • Learn to use Help. It's not perfect, but it will save you time and frustration.

  • Design a solution for each problem - think about the inputs and outputs before you try to figure out a formula.

  • Validate your assumptions: every version of XL has a few known bugs - it's unlikely you'll ever run across them. Instead, when things go wrong, you're probably making a fundamental logical error, so back up and work through the problems step-by-step,

  • Use the newsgroups - there's an amazing amount of free, friendly talent available at all hours of the day.

Please provide a sample of your first work (either as a formula or vba code) in Excel and tell us about it.
From 1985? Don't have a clue. My first major work was in the Navy using XL to validate and plot reactor chemistry data, and of course was therefore classified.

What is your mental attitude when you are preparing to write formulae or VBA code? And what is your working environment?
No special environmental preparations, my office is a shambles. Coffee is mandatory.

Commercial work requires a detailed specification, compliance matrix, and I generally sketch a layout and flow diagram before I write a line of code. In the newsgroups, I generally just dash off whatever comes to mind. I usually end up writing the formula and code in the newsreader, then pasting it into XL to make sure it works.

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.
A plan is just a common reference from which deviations are measured. But having a plan will pay huge dividends. Save early, save often.

Keep backups. Use Help. Read the newsgroups. Choose Mac.

Thank you very much for answering the questions.

This Black belt is yours...

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