I Hear it’s Good to Have a Tour Guide?

Intro from Rob:  I once read that one of the producers of Fight Club had originally been “turned on” to the book by a friend.  Said friend had described the book, and its author, as an “important new voice” he had discovered.  I’m feeling very much that way about Shika Simpson, the author of today’s post.  An important new voice.  I think you will see why.

BTW folks if you use Reddit, please drop in on the Excel subreddit & “upvote” the link to this post. Shika has done a great job here and I think it’s a good opportunity to awaken some of our brethren :)

Once upon a time, long long ago…

Once upon a time long long ago, an intern happened upon a middle manager who was keeping track of large amounts of “physical” data by…sorting it into piles on a table.

Said intern looked to the skies and cried, “This is REALLY stupid.”

In that moment an Excel junkie was born.

Hello Power Pivot World!

Greetings and salutations, all. I’m Shika Simpson (feel free to come say hi on my [link removed due to 404] blog or on LinkedIn) I work in K-12 education, specifically in student assessment.

I found my way to Power Pivot after spending the better part of the last school year slogging through the unsatisfying data output from a new testing software I was put in charge of and regularly looking to the skies and crying “this is REALLY stupid”.

I’ve always been a bit of a self-starter when it comes to learning new products. One summer break I spent most of my free time in our study (the walls were stone and it was cool there…ok fine I’m a big nerd. You got me), hunched in front of my family’s massive Compaq desktop teaching myself to use Microsoft Office.

As luck would have it, my internship would soon prove that was valuable. The aforementioned middle manager was storing the information for new hires in PILES. For the positions being hired for, each applicant had to submit numerous pieces of paperwork (transcripts, medical clearance, background check, etc.) and he was sorting the applicant files based on what they had turned in.

As keeping track of this was going to be my responsibility I quickly got to work on a Access database where I could create a list of applicants with fields to tick off who had turned in what. In under a week I had catalogued all the current pending applicants (there were upwards of 500) and was able to give a daily update to him (which he then passed on to HIS boss) on the status of all the new hires with the small effort of a few mouse clicks.

And thus began my career in using my self-taught knowledge to make my superiors look awesome for their superiors.  (Note from Rob:  I am laughing, I am crying, I am nodding.)

Its the cirrrrrcle of corporate.

A few years later after I had moved on to my current workplace where I started as the administrative assistant.  While there I revolutionized the sending out of our corporate Christmas cards via mail merge. 

Because all the address labels were being typed out manually, each year.  Mostly the same addresses as last year and the year before.

I looked to the skies and cried, “This is REALLY stupid.”


(Note from Rob:  Shika is fast entrenching herself as the poster child for the “accidental analyst” meme.  See also: accidental architect).

Clearly I’m a “work smarter, not harder” kind of girl.

But again, being prepared paid off because my then boss saw my potential, and nurtured it by putting me to work on learning and using pivot tables (original flavor). I’ll spare the details but it was a gruesome data set involving state wide standardized test data.

Pivot screencap


The next frontier

Fast forward to summer 2013.  Once again I was facing a data problem.  Excel’s “conventional weapons” were no match for it, meaning I was performing MANY manual steps, repeatedly.  Wash rinse repeat from here to the horizon.

I looked to the skies and cried “This is stupid.”

After a furious Google search I learned three things:

1. Power Pivot existed

2. There was a whole world of people doing what I do under the umbrella of BI.

3. I needed it. Now.

“See?  I told you all my venting on Twitter was productive!”

As I am wont do, I took my frustrations regarding finding appropriate learning materials for Power Pivot to twitter. I take my frustrations for everything to Twitter (70K+ tweets back me up there) and for once, I actually got something out of it. Through some kind of special magic Rob found me and decided to show me the way. In short order I had his book and a new summer project.


SPOILER ALERT. ITS REALLY HARD.  (Rob note:  I want to delete this line, but I won’t)

But it can be done.  (That’s the spirit!!)

Rob has been lovely enough to allow me to post here and I can only surmise that my purpose is to say that learning Power Pivot is a thing that can be done. Even if, like me, you just considered yourself a nerd with a thing for spreadsheets and had no idea that there was a entire new field springing up around you…populated with nerds with a thing for spreadsheets.

I’ve only been playing around with Power Pivot for a few weeks, focusing mostly on trying to dial into the “brain” of the program. Its not enough for me to just know how to do things, to have any hope of retention I’ve got to understand the why. Rob’s book has been a great help in this process.

Anyone using Power Pivot in Education?

Another aspect (and I’d LOVE to get feedback on this) that I’m really puzzling over is honing in on the best ways to use this data in the classroom. Most of the Power Pivot work of others that I’ve been able to sample has focused on accounting and business functions, but I know that there is a way to make Power Pivot education friendly.

What has proved to be most useful this far is the ability to make connections between data sources, which will allow comparisons to be made between state administered exams, our district level assessments, and maybe one day classroom tests.

The journey will be long, but I think I’m heading in the right direction.