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Post by Rob Collie

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Some Obligatory “Biz” Stuff Today, Then Something “Deeper”

I find myself “stuck” in a thoughtful, somewhat unproductive mood these days.  I think I’ve figured out why, and I think it’s worth sharing.  But first let me get some “biz” stuff out of the way, because that stuff is important too.

Biz #1: Power Pivot / Power BI In-Person Classes:  Dates in DC and Indy.

Power Pivot / Power BI Class Power Pivot / Power BI Class

Today we’re announcing class dates in Indianapolis (Oct 13-14) and Washington DC (Nov 3-4).

Hope to see you there, and at the social gathering on Evening #1 – more on that in “connection.”

Biz #2: DAX 2nd Edition Pre-Order / Fund Color Printing / Cool Perks


Our pre-order campaign is going great, thanks everyone!  We’ve exceeded the original $3k goal already, which we originally set to help us offset the startup costs of printing in color, and because we didn’t dare to expect the response we’re getting.  The full costs of a large color print run, however, are quite a bit higher, and if we hit our stretch goal of $20k, that would cover the entire first print run, so if possible we’d like to “reach” a bit.

And you get something in return, too:  “early-bird” delivery of your printed book, anywhere in the world, long before Amazon will start shipping them.

Plus the cool perks, like the exclusive DAX stickers, posters, and t-shirts:

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Biz #3: Introducing the Newsletter

Last but not least on the biz front:  this morning we sent out our first-ever newsletter.  People have been telling me for YEARS that we need to do this.  I’ve resisted, partly for “we don’t have time” reasons, but also largely because of not trusting that it’s something you’d want.  Six years after launching this site, I’m still surprised that YOU, dear reader, are even reading this.  So it’s hard for me to push myself into establishing new “broadcast” mechanisms.  Anyway, let me know what you think.

What’s that?  You’re not subscribed to the newsletter?  Hey, it’s not too late to see a picture of me wearing a tutu (which is, yes, a ballerina skirt).  New subscribers this week will receive a re-send of newsletter 001:

PowerPivotPro Newsletter 001

If You Subscribe Now, We’ll Re-Send You Newsletter 001

Sign up (make sure to check the newsletter checkbox)

OK, Now Let’s Talk… Connection

In the newsletter I mention that I went to the Burning Man festival earlier this month.  I’d never gone before, nor had I ever expected to go in my lifetime.  Cuz you know, scary.  But my friend (who invited me) insisted, despite my attempts to weasel out of it.  And off I went – very reluctantly.

Burning Man has been taking some grief in the press lately – accusations of corporate influence, plus the usual backlash stuff against anything “cool” that’s been around a long time.

I didn’t detect any of that.  As far as I could tell, the festival was still 100% non-commercial and non-corporate, to an extent I’ve never witnessed ANYWHERE.  And it still seemed pretty damn awesome.  Maybe it was way better in years gone by, but I had no reference point.

But I’m not here to tell you about how awesome it was.  I don’t want to be That Guy.  Instead I want to talk about what it was like to return from it.

Connecting the Dots

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These “Outings” are Many Students’ Favorite Part of the 2-Day Class,
and That Doesn’t Bother or Surprise Me – Why?

Let’s start here:  for awhile now, we’ve been doing these “social outings” in the evening, after the first day of our in-person classes.  The idea is for the attendees to be able to interact with each other (and with me), experience spreadsheet/data nerd camaraderie, etc.  The first time we did it, I didn’t know whether people would attend, or whether they would like it.

Surprise:  many people tell me that this outing is their favorite part of the class.  It’s never bothered me to hear that, because the people in question clearly loved the class itself too.  Nor has it really surprised me, even though I hesitated, initially, to organize them.

It just makes sense to me.  Most data folks, especially Excel Pros, live their lives surrounded by non-data folks.  My whole schtick about the “Data Gene” only afflicting 1 in 16 people is very much rooted in truth.

But in turns out, we are everywhere!  1 in 16 implies a MASSIVE number of people, in absolute numbers.  We’re just… scattered.  The next time you walk into a restaurant, reflect on the likelihood that there are 2-3 of “us” lurking in the crowd, camouflaged.  Trust me, that is the truth.

These silly little social outings, then, are the place where we find our kinfolk.  Like in that Blind Melon video, where she find her Bee People at the end:

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Blind Melon Video on YouTube:  She Finds Her PivotTable People

THAT is why these outings are so appreciated.  WHY DOES THIS EVER SURPRISE US?  Listen up, employees, managers, everyone:  we are all human beings, at the beginning AND the end of the day, and we NEED things.  Human things.  Our roles, in our jobs, YES, those are important.

But connection with other people, and a sense of belonging and acceptance – well those pretty much trump EVERYTHING else (after the basics of food/water/clothing/shelter).

Don’t believe me? Think that acceptance and belonging fall somewhere lower than #1?  Well then…

Why do war veterans want to go back to war?

The documentaries Restrepo and Korengal left a mark on me.  These young men were out there in the worst possible conditions – no power or running water, terrible weather, and oh yeah, being freaking SHOT AT multiple times per day.

And yet, they almost ALL say they’d go back in an instant, if someone would let them.  And watching these films, I believed them.  I even kinda felt a bit jealous, without understanding why.

You can watch the excellent TED talk above by one of the filmmakers, or I can “spoil” it for you here:  his opinion is that they miss the intense connection with each other, something that is missing when they return to civilian life.  They don’t miss war itself.  They miss the side effect of it:  the strong connection with their squadmates.  They return home to our role-based society, with its antiseptic distance between people, and just can’t take it anymore.  They’ve experienced something different, and can’t stop feeling the lack of it.

“Welcome Home” is a widespread theme out there

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When I Boil it Down, the “Cool” Thing About My Trip Was…  Connection and Acceptance

So…  why have I been struggling a bit lately?  I didn’t go to war.  I didn’t place my life in the hands of my companions.  But I DID go somewhere for a few days where the overall vibe was:  openness, acceptance, and connection – both with my companions and with “strangers on the street.”  Even I – the guy who didn’t feel particularly “worthy” of going – felt included.

So I’m feeling the lack of that, these days. A bit of an emotional “hangover,” of much lower intensity than the war vets feel of course, but all that realization does is make me more sympathetic to them.

And we (my wife and I) ARE on a bit of an island.  Two moves to new cities in six years, working remotely from home (or on the road)…  it’s a bit more isolating than even “normal” American life in the cubicle jungle.  It’s been taking a toll, and I didn’t fully realize it until now.

So this “hangover” can also be viewed as a bit of a gift – an educational moment for me.  I’m not exactly sure what to DO with it yet, but that’s my nature – slow glacial grinding on a topic, then sudden realization/action.  Today was one of those sudden moments, and I feel like there’s another one coming soon, as if today was just the precursor.

And don’t think for a moment that I’m “going” anywhere! The reason why this continues to be my profession is BECAUSE of the connection I feel with people like you!  I’m sure I could have found a higher-paying job shilling for one of the competing BI companies by now.  Excel Pros – you are my Bee People.  If anything, I need to get CLOSER to you, not go somewhere else.

Bringing it back around to you…

The above, of course, is mostly MY reflections, but I hazard to guess that it’s relevant to many of you as well.  Let me see if I can summarize:

1) Acknowledge that you, data person, are MORE alone than you might think.  If you sling pivots and VLOOKUPS for a living, or if you used to and are now doing the Power Pivot / Power BI thing instead, you are a bit of an outlier in your office – at least 15 of “them” for every one of “us.”  And that takes its toll.

I’m not telling this to cause you any new discomfort.  You already experience it every day and “suffer” its impact.  People ask you for impossible things and have no idea why you can’t deliver, for instance, so you don’t exactly swim in sympathetic waters.  The Data Gene is unkind in this way, and I think that “allowing” yourself a moment of realization on this front is, in itself, therapeutic.  Yes, your job actually IS difficult in unique ways that few people understand!  Your suspicions have been correct all along!  Ahhh…  breathe it in.  It won’t “win” you any new sympathy from colleagues, but self-sympathy is very valuable (and it’s different from self-pity and/or bitterness, so steer clear of those).

2) Acknowledge that you, data person, are LESS alone than you might think!  1 in 16!  We’re everywhere!  You brush against kindred spirits every day in public without knowing it.  (While I was writing this, my wife called to tell me that her physical therapist just told her that her husband has their entire LIFE in pivottables.  Not kidding).  We’re out here, we understand you, and yes, we even LOVE you.  You are our people.

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I’ve been encouraging Microsoft to put this kind of poster in airports, forever.
Would it stop you dead in your tracks?  You bet it would.
They just need to DO it, but clearly, the art is too expensive.

3) Yes, if you attend one of our classes, come to the social outing!  I know that it may sound intimidating, and not all of us are blessed with “class president” social skills, but it will feel like home.   We take a loss, financially-speaking, on these outings (we collect $20 from each of you but spend quite a bit more than that), but it is NOT a loss.  It’s a win.  We do it for a reason.

Rob Collie

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Nice!!! You have to hear the tone that comes with that. I can’t say much more other than you sound like a man connected to his own sense of self and passion for what you do.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing Rob. It sure doesn’t feel like 1 in 16 sometimes! Glad that I can come to the blog to learn things about myself as well. 🙂

    I’ve been tempted many times to give into the Cognos’ of the world but always come back. At some point, I switched over for good and never looked back!

    Cheers,
    Kellan

  3. The feeling of isolation and the lack of understanding of the difficulty in the pretty amazing things we pull off daily can take a toll. I’m lucky to have had a coworker and friend who was in the same boat so there was a support system, albeit a small one. Having this support system also helped me improve my skills by learning from him by seeing techniques he was using and adopting them. Even with this relationship, I was still always searching for folks with the “data gene”. Though we data types are separated by corporate borders and it is difficult to find each other, We. Are. Legion! The beauty thing is there is a greatly under used mechanism that exists where we can easily find each other, The Modern Excel User Group. I’ve been a part of the Redmond “chapter” since it’s inception and it has been wonderful. It’s a place where people can learn from each other, see what challenges they have and share your challenges, network, talk about upcoming developments in the from Power BI stack, and even commiserate with others.

    So if there isn’t one in your city (and there probably isn’t), start one. How? I don’t know, I’m an introvert but start with the LinkedIn group (https://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=7435035). The Redmond chapter actually uses meetup.com to organize monthly gatherings (if you’re in the Puget Sound area, the MEUG is on tonight, 9/16/2015, http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Modern-Excel-Users-Group-MEUG/events/225077215/). Starting and/or being involved with a local MEUG will benefit you both personally and professionally and I encourage you to get involved.

  4. Do you ever want to truly feel like you’re not alone. Post a vlookup reference on a non “data” forum. When someone responds back index match, you are instantly best friends. This interaction happened to me the other day on the seton hall pirates message board. It’s almost the same as shouting ba ba booey.

  5. This year I went to the Excel MVP conference in Amsterdam nd began the day with a passionate discussion of favourite Excel keyboard shortcuts – before breakfast! It was brilliant. Have to say I felt a tiny tear form and slide down my cheek…. If you think that as an Excel lover you feel isolated – try being a female version of that! I teach Excel and one of the best things about that is people saying in class “Jeez, this is magic. I NEVER knew you could do this stuff with Excel ! “.

  6. Rob, have to say you are one of my Excel heros…and I loved the honesty, passion and integrity of this piece. I don’t really know much about Burning Man – but you made me want to go…. 🙂 .You are also an excellent writer…

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