Chapter 29   The Cell Master.  Zack Barresse  from Oregon, United States

interview date:25.Jan.2006
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 Zack Barresse, aka firefytr. I am from Boardman, Oregon, United States. I am 26 years old, married to Skye with three beautiful children, Rory (7), Reeonna (5) and Aidan (4). I spent a lot of time traveling in my childhood, living in a different town every year until I was about 13. I had the opportunity to meet many people while traveling and see different cultures and experience things some people have never experienced. I have been at my current home since December 1996. I bought my first house when I turned 18 after I graduated, got married and settled right down. The name 'firefytr' came about in December of 2003 when I joined board and needed a username. I couldn't really think of anything except the fact that I'm a volunteer fire fighter, so I used that. Obviously "firefighter" was taken so I went with a different spelling of it. I have been volunteering with my fire department since December 1998, and I have moved through the ranks to Lieutenant and Training Officer. I was actually one of the first NFPA Instructor II in Oregon when the new cirriculum came about. I thoroughly enjoy the instructional side of fire fighting and am active in my local training association and in-house training. I also work in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as an EMT-Intermediate.

My day job is working as a 'computer guy' more-or-less, where I input figures daily in the tracking and diseminating of water, wastewater and chemical values received from industrial plants and agricultural companies. I then help in reporting these figures to many entities. I have been fortunate in my employment and I have the latitude to expand my Excel knowledge and also to put it to use, which I find is not so common these days as I would have thought.

I co-own with DRJ and help moderate a few other forums. Forums I visit:,,, TechSupportGuy (, Colo's forum ( and some others as well. I was made MrExcel MVP in December of 2004, JMT MVP in November of 2005 and Microsoft MVP in January of 2006; it was (and still is) a very humbling experience. The brilliant minds that I've met on the internet is mind boggling. I feel very fortunate. :)

When do you remember using Excel for the very first time? Can you remember any specific details from that first time?
Off and on, but just like any other run-of-the-mill program, it was of little consequence to me. I never had a real reason to use it before. When I did use it, I only used SUM and other hand-made formulas, i.e. "=A2-B2", etc. The largest formula I used was, "=(A2/1000000)*8.34*B2", the Pounds formula, used to find a chemical loading rate expressed as pounds (lbs., US) from a known chemical level in water/wastewater expressed as mg/L. I struck the jackpot in 2002 when I stumbled (blindly) across Conditional Formatting. I was using Excel when I was working for a municpal water/wastewater system as an operator. I was in charge of keeping track of the chemical on-site generation facilities. It uses rock salt, water and DC electricity to make NaOCl, Sodium Hypochlorite. We needed a way to keep track of how much we used daily and know when to re-order our rock salt. We didn't have any other program except Excel, and nobody else even knew how to open it, which left me. So I used my simple formulas and my newfound Conditional Formatting to make the spreadsheet more easily readable. I have moved on to my current employer since then and use Excel far more extensively.

When do you remember writing your first formula or VBA code for Excel?
I used simple formulas and the SUM function up until late 2003. When I switched jobs I inhereted a number of (what I then thought) complicated spreadsheets to track more data than I had ever seen before. These spreadsheets had a formula I'd never seen before, an IF function. So as with most people who picked up Excel on their own, my first formula was of course a SUM function, but I feel my real start with Excel was in December of 2003, when I came across I was trying to nest more than 7 of these newfound IF functions, which of course couldn't be done in the current version(s). I then found (with the help of Cbrine and Iridium, my hero's) VLOOKUP. That is what I feel my first "real" formula would be. It started me down a long and inquisitive road where I have had the chance to learn many of the Excel functions. My first VBA code was not long after I'd discovered the wealth of knowledge on the internet. After mastering many of the formulas that I now use everyday, I found I could record a Macro to do things in a very quick fashion. I recorded my first macro in March of 2004. Wow! I couldn't believe the power it had, but I also realized that I hadn't even scratched the surface with them yet. I got some more help from the free online forums and had constructed my first VBA routine in late Match 2004 to automatically print specified worksheets in my workbook, which I routinely did by hand every week.

On average, how many hours per day do you spend working with Excel formulas and/or VBA code?
I use Excel everyday for my work. I spend 8 hours a day and use a combination of formulas and VBA. Generally I find my time is pretty much split between the two, as I automate many of my reports and build new functionality in my position that was never there before. Still, a large part of what needs to be done are a series of formulas and computations.

Which do you find most rewarding to work with: Formulas or VBA in Excel? Please tell us why?
I find them both rewarding to work with, but VBA gives me a slightly better feeling than formulas. I think it's due to the fact that VBA is harder for me than formulas and I have always enjoyed a challenge. VBA gives me the versatility at my work to expand my capabilities. It has taken repetative work and shortened it to a few clicks of the mouse or keystrokes. Plus I find that in helping at the free online forums, most of the questions I help with are VBA solutions. Anymore when I try to help with a formula problem there are half a dozen other people that can come up with solutions faster than I can.

If you were going to give a novice, just starting out with Excel, some advice, what would it be?
Try, try and try again. Keep experimenting and trying new things. Go to the free online forums and find a question with a valid solution, then copy the solution to your computer, take it apart and see what makes it tick. If you find something that you know, even if only one aspect, and you help out with only that knowledge (on the forums), then you're bound to stumble across better and more efficient ways of doing things. The learning process never stops until the day that we die.

When I was starting to learn formulas and VBA, I would find a helpful example and I would copy/paste the solution to a text file in Notepad. I would keep two files, formulas.txt and vba.txt. I would update these files with some notes or a new solution. When I couldn't remember how something went, I just referenced the text files. Pretty soon I knew exactly what to search for when I wanted to Google something (it's kind of hard when you don't know what the stuff is called).

Please provide a sample of your first work (either as a formula or vba code) in Excel and tell us about it.
Not even sure what that would be. As with the hand-made formulas I'm sure everybody has experimented with, it was much like, "=A2-B2". My first VBA work was a small loop to print the same sheets twice every time I ran the routine:
Option Explicit

Sub PrintSheets()
    Dim i As Long
    i = 1
        Sheets(i).PrintOut copies:=2
        i = i + 1
    Loop Until i > 3
End Sub

I would actually do it manually now in just a few keyboard strokes as I know a lot more shortcuts than I did then, plus I've developed a large add-in for my work with all my commonly used shortcuts available with only a few clicks of the mouse. But it was still effective for me at the time.

What is your mental attitude when you are preparing to write formulae or VBA code? And what is your working environment?
I don't get too fancy or anything. I like to have music playing. I'm a fan of most types of music, but I prefer rock or adult alternative when coding Excel. I like to keep a fast pace. It's not a "hurry up and get it done" but more of a "let's get a working solution as fast as we can". I do a LOT of experimenting. And I also like privacy. If a lot of people are bothering me it shows in my code. The more freedom I have for myself the more creative I can get with my code. Although sometimes, as I'm sure with a lot of people, I get too close to my code and need another opinion or just need to step back for a little bit and look at the big picture. Much like not seeing the forest for the trees, or missing the obvious. :)

If there special preparations that must be in place before you can begin, what are they?
Special preparations? Yes, of course. I must have coffee. I must be awake. I must have a pc with Excel installed on it. Besides that, not much else needs to be prepared for me. :)

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.
Always use the tools at hand. In the absence of tools, improvise; in the absence of knowledge, seek the tools. Basically meaning, just because you don't know what to use for the situation, doesn't mean it doesn't exist; and just because you can do something fancy, doesn't mean you shouldn't use the tools already provided. Never be afraid to seek help or look stupid, it's how you learn. I've never learned without looking dumb, and I learn daily. Try all the websites, find one you like, it's all about community. There are Excel experts hidden in every crack and crevice on the web. Lastly, always remember to be curteous, love your neighbor and smile A LOT! :D

Thank you very much for answering the questions.

This Black belt is yours...

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