THE CELL MASTERS
Chapter 22   The Cell Master.  Tushar Mehta  from USA

interview date:20.Dec.2004
Please introduce your self. You may be as thorough as you wish. Feel free to include or omit any detail about yourself.
My name is Tushar Mehta and I currently have my own consulting business. I specialize in building technology solutions that are the most appropriate to business problems. The approach focuses on finding the best solution to benefit my client, not just shoehorning the problem so that it fits a preconceived notion of the correct solution. This philosophy also affects how I approach Excel, as I discuss below.

A bit of history: Not many will know that what evolved into the Microsoft Office suite got its start on the Macintosh. Excel was originally designed for the Mac and that is where I first used it -- one of my first software purchases. It was only with version 2 that Excel became available to the Intel platform.

When do you remember using Excel for the very first time? Can you remember any specific details from that first time?
As I mentioned above, it was on a Mac. Personal computers of that era did not have hard disks. The program came on one diskette -- that's right, one diskette! You inserted it into the computer, loaded the program, popped out the disk and inserted the data disk. If the program needed a code segment not already loaded in memory, out came the data disk and in went the program disk. As soon as an external disk drive became available, I got one. {grin}

When do you remember writing your first formula or VBA code for Excel?
That was so long ago...but, I am sure it was something simple like =A1 or =A1+B1.

VBA code? I would like to think that I kept alive a grand tradition with the one-liner MsgBox "Hello world!" But, more likely, it was an example from Microsoft's VBA reference manual.

On average, how many hours per day do you spend working with Excel formulas and/or VBA code?
That varies. There are times when I use Excel for hours at an end. Then, there are times that I don't touch it. As I mentioned in the introduction, my philosophy is that the customer's needs should dictate the tools we deploy. Consequently, if Excel is not the right tool, I don't use it. As an example, I am currently developing a simulation to teach students about the 'bullwhip effect' in a supply chain. The entire interactive simulation will be web-based, and my Excel use over the past few weeks has been limited to testing my suggestions in the newsgroups or mrexcel.com

Which do you find most rewarding to work with: Formulas or VBA in Excel? Please tell us why?
Both. Neither. At the expense of repeating myself, to me all this stuff -- programming, software, computers, whatever -- is not an end onto itself, but means to an end. When a formula is more appropriate, I use it. When a VBA approach is more appealing, I use it. When Excel is appropriate I use it. When something else makes more sense, I use it -- including investing the time to learn it, if necessary. And, if a computer-based solution is not ideal, I am happy to go low-tech.

If you were going to give a novice, just starting out with Excel, some advice, what would it be?
Be creative. Dare to be different. Take chances. Be prepared to be wrong. There are many people whose work is worth checking out but two, in my opinion, who really think outside the box are Stephen Bullen (www.oaltd.co.uk) and Andy Pope (www.andypope.info). If you want to see how to integrate into your software solutions methodologies from other disciplines such as Management, Computer Science, Operations Research, etc., check out my web site (www.tushar-mehta.com).

Keep in mind that the what and the why of the problem should drive the how, not the other way around. If it means spending a bit of time experimenting and learning something new, do so. It will be an investment that pays off handsomely. After all, there is no rule that requires your first approach to a problem be the last.

And, above all, keep it simple and think -- always -- about your customer. If you had to use your product on a regular basis, how would you rate it?

Please provide a sample of your first work (either as a formula or vba code) in Excel and tell us about it.
That's a tough request. {grin} The first "Wow, how did you do that?" solution was an analysis package. I had developed a mainframe system that provided detailed timing information about every transaction processed by a (mainframe) computer network. It also contained a module for some basic analysis of the data. Subsequently, I created a Excel-based system that complemented the tabular results with charts and some other neat transformation of data.

What is your mental attitude when you are preparing to write formulae or VBA code? And what is your working environment?
Almost always, I start with a loose high-level idea of the solution and work my way towards increasingly greater detail in a structured top-down fashion. The intent always is something that is amenable to rapid prototyping, exceeds the customer's expectations, easy to understand, and easy to maintain.

And, being prepared to be wrong. If it turns out that what I'm doing is not working out smoothly, I will back off and try again. For example, I recently completed an assignment for an air cargo company. It wanted me to convert its existing schedule from one layout to something that was visually more appealing. I discarded the first two approaches when it became obvious that they were overly complex. A few days later, while running (something I do in a futile attempt to lose weight), I stumbled across one that turned out to be easy to understand, easy to program, easy to audit, and easy to maintain. And, stumbled is apt since I nearly fell while thinking of the simplicity of what turned out to be the final design.

Work environment? Wherever I happen to be. Since I travel a fair bit for work and pleasure, I've learnt to work in what most would consider unfriendly environments such as airports, airplanes, and hotel rooms. Then, of course, there are clients' offices, and, finally, my home office. When all is said and done, the last is the one place where I *know* I have everything I will possibly need for a project.

If there special preparations that must be in place before you can begin, what are they?
You mean other than a computer with Excel? {grin} Almost always a good sense of the business issues involved and how the solution must interact with other aspects of the client's business. As the reader has probably guessed, by the time I start work with Excel, I have invested a fair amount of time understanding the what and the why of the problem and researched the best way to approach the solution. It is only after that that I focus on the Excel/VBA development.

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 website is www.tushar-mehta.com

As far as something to think about goes, I'll let three giants from the worlds of Arts, Sciences, and the Humanities, speak for me.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo DaVinci

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction - Albert Einstein

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost, especially the end:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Regards,

Tushar Mehta, BTech, MPPM, PhD
www.tushar-mehta.com
Multi-disciplinary business expertise
+ Technology skills
= Optimal solution to your business problem Recipient Microsoft MVP award 2000-2005

Thank you very much for answering the questions.

This Black belt is yours...

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