No, really, I do.
I have been having a lot of fun lately making Excel do some really cool stuff. But let me take you back.
It was 1993 and I drifted into a role on a legislation help desk – providing policy and legislative advice for my organisation. The team kept track of their queries in a word document, and it was all very messy. I said “Hey – I can put this into a spreadsheet for you, track the calls, and have a link to the document so that you can open up the original question and the response!” I was full of shit, of course. I knew it could be done, but really had no idea how to do it.
So I hunted around for reference information. Examples of what other people had done, and put it all together.
Fast-forward to last year. I’d moved through various teams, and ended up in a new team that send out a spreadsheet report quarterly listing security access to various systems. The team pulled information from various sources, copied, pasted, ran macros, copied results and pasted again, yadda yadda yadda. It took a week for them to compile it.
I spent a month changing the process, automating the queries, establishing VBA modules that create queries to a Sybase database, search email mailboxes for certain emails, grab the attachment and pull data out of it. It now takes 10 minutes. And now I am taking it to the next level. Automatically emailing individual sheets to each person manager for review with single-click responses sending information back to a central repository.
There was other work the team did where a lot of manual processes were carried out. So I set up a spreadsheet portal where every function we did that has some degree of manual manipulation gets automated.
Then during a really busy period, I had one of our Procurement people approach me:
“Hey, I know you are really busy, but we’re trying to get an extract from multiple Outlook calendars we are using for booking fleet vehicles and downloading it. How can we do this?”
“Let me have a bit of a play for 5 minutes and I will see whether it is possible”
Four minutes later I email “Playtime’s over”. A single Google search, and the second result gave me the precise code I needed. Apply it to my own calendar, send them the result. Done.
More recently, I have been thinking about some work I am trying to do for some Facebook groups tracking “rape joke” pages. I knew there was a way to do it, and again didn’t know how. But Google is my friend. I have found some reference material, and now have a proof of concept tool that runs through a list of Facebook pages, pulls out every link on that page, and records the number of “Likes” the page has. So with some more work, I will have a tool that lets me keep track of how these pages are progressing.
Just the last few months, using Excel to link to various database, Active Directory and other LDAP databases, Outlook, IE – it is so freaking awesome. And yes, I know there are other better tools available. I just like Excel because it is what I grew up with.
My plan with the “rape joke” tool is to have two parts to it.
- Interrogate offensive pages and extract all relevant information instantly (TW for the list below – just an except taken from the “I’m Stronger than You” page);
- Weekly (or any other period) run a tool across a list of offensive pages to we know which ones have been taken down, and whether they are gaining in likes.
Honestly, if I could do this for a living, I would. And if I didn’t need to make a living, I’d do it for free. Once I have it working for real, I’ll be sharing it in the relevant forums.
This might sound like it’s skiting, but it isn’t. I just love this stuff so much. It gives me a great sense of enjoyment to be able to take an idea and turn it into something that people can use. Something that saves time and effort. That makes their lives just a little bit easier in some very small way.