The Rewarding Things Aren’t Easy
Sometimes I forget that it has only been a year at PowerPivotPro. Every new client that I have seems like I‘ve spent months getting to know a business, their projects, and the incredible people that move the needle at an organization. “Time flies when you’re having fun” has never been truer than now, well, maybe college, well the weekends of college at least… and Thursdays too. But now mostly. Ultimately, what I’m getting at is, how did I get here? So, let’s jump into it.
The end of high school brought the opportunity to enter the workforce doing something or listen to one’s parent’s advice and go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so college seemed like the best way to defer making decisions. For the most part, that’s true, right? “I’m done with mandatory school, so I’m going to go to bigger non-mandatory school.” Away I went! Off to University, where I dabbled and dabbled away! Accounting and Financing, History, oh my! Statistics and Parties and oh god I’m high! On Education. ON EDUCATION. For real though, I get a rush out of learning (look it fit the rhyme scheme and college joke theme, don’t hold a good verse against me). Ultimately, I learned a lot but never felt like I “knew what I wanted to do.” This was extremely problematic because throughout high school, and college, people had always asked me “Ryan, what do you want to do when you grow up?” Here I am without an answer. Furthermore, I thought I was grown up?
What a trap question. Shame on adults of yore for asking such a silly question. What do you want to do when you grow up? As if it’s singular? AS IF ITS SINGULAR. Personally, I can’t think of any question more infuriating for a young person, and quite frankly, I can’t wait to ask the future generations this exact question. DO NOT LET THE YOUNGUNS KNOW THAT THIS IS FOR OUR AMUSEMENT ONLY! We earned it.
Oh yeah, my journey to P3. So, I got a piece of paper from my college saying that I had reached a point where I no longer had to pay for my university to acknowledge my affiliation with them. While many of my friends and colleagues had moved on to their internship and jobs, I was ready to become an entrepreneur. A friend of mine and I decided we were going to start a company creating websites and running advertisements for dentists, orthodontics, and chiropractors. Niche, yes, but it was a tried and true business model, with which a mentor of ours had had success.
So, we entrepreneured. We hustled. We built frameworks, mailing lists, prospected, cold-called. Quite frankly, we had a solid product. Unfortunately, it was June of 2008, and we were in the depths of the recession. No one cared what a 22 year had to say for “business advice.” Furthermore, telling doctors that while they studied medicine, we studied business, Just. Did. Not. Help.
I was shit out of luck. I tried, failed, and was living in my parent’s basement. I suppose I was in their basement by choice, but the alternative of being in my childhood bedroom was even less appealing. I was 22, without a job, and dammit I needed to move out. I desperately needed to move out. So, I went hunting for a job. At the time, my main hobby was working out at the local Life Time Fitness, so I figured I’d apply there. Thankfully, I got hired. I was now a Membership Advisor at Life Time Fitness in Savage, MN. I was slanging gym memberships. Not what I had planned on in college, but that’s ok, it got me out of the basement. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a great opportunity. While I didn’t love selling memberships, I got to use a cool piece of software called Salesforce CRM. I got good at building reports for my colleagues, to the point where I ended up getting a job at the corporate headquarters as a CRM admin and National Sales Analyst.
Enter Life Time Fitness corporate headquarters and enter Microsoft Excel. I remember in the interview being asked if I had Excel experience. “No – but I grew up playing Nintendo, so I know how to read the manual to find all the secrets and am a quick learner when it comes to software” apparently was a good enough answer to get the job. The first day when I was being shown an ad-hoc report I was to take over… “you know how to vlookup” “no” “google it, you need to know it.”
As much as I wish my first boss would have given me more instruction, he knew what he was doing. Aaron (my old boss) made me learn how to self-teach. Probably the most important skill in the professional world. Thanks, Aaron, wherever you are (probably in Chanhassen, MN still… I looked on LinkedIn, you’re still there.)
So, I learned Excel there through a bajillion ad-hoc reports. I cleaned so much dirty data. The old way. I wrote so many SUMIFS and COUNTIFS because I didn’t get pivot tables at the time. I learned Excel long division by hand. After several years and multiple CRM systems, I moved to a different company. I still had dirty data problems to deal with and was struggling to complete reports and dashboards promptly despite being what most would call an Excel Wizard. I was reaching my limits and kept thinking “THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY.”
It was then that I heard what I can only assume was a real-life angel say the words “power pivot” and “power query.” At the time I had no idea what these things were, but I was committed to checking them out.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I had a SUMIFS that had to match a 15-digit alpha-numeric number. 300,000 unique lines vs. 800,000 lines of phone call data. Type formula, press enter. Wait. 1%……..2%……3%….. According to my stopwatch, this formula was going to take 12 minutes to complete. 8.6 trips, up and down the stairwell with one break for a drink of water. Sweet excel gods, this is awful. But wait – let’s try doing this in this new ‘PowerPivot’ way I’ve learned about. KABOOM-INSTANT RESULT DONE.
No amount of memes will ever accurately describe my excitement! I was so excited when I explained this discovery to my boss I used curse words!
I was all in. I bought the books… I bought all the books, and I read the first third of them all many times. Eventually, I read them in their entirety. I was literally reading Rob’s PowerPivot book on the beach in the Bahamas ON MY HONEYMOON and said, “I’m gonna work for this guy eventually.” No shit. I said that. To my wife. Generally speaking, I think that book “The Secret” is kinda BS, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t manifest destiny right there.
But it wasn’t overnight.
I read his book. I struggled. I struggled a lot. Every time I built a report, I drew the model out on paper first (hidden best practice btw). My data is dirty; I need power query…. M is for data monkey, read it, practice it. Preach it. Nobody I worked with would listen. Except for Nate – he’s a cool dude. He got it. The point is, I HAD THE HUNGER. If you can’t get fired up about getting better at something, I’m sorry. These tools changed my life. Even if ultimately, I didn’t apply, and take the test, and pass… I would be a PowerPivot/PowerQuery/PowerBI evangelist. They make everything so much better for most data analysis.
If you read this far, thanks. I appreciate it. I hope it sheds some light on a few things. The reality is I’m not a brilliant computer science major. I’m a guy who came about from the business and was frustrated that there wasn’t a better way to do things. I kept grinding until I found it. And I’m not gonna stop. It took me seven years in the business. I wish I could have found the tools right away and learned them. But if that would have happened, I wouldn’t be able to anticipate all of the user’s needs that I’m able to now. I wouldn’t know about all the common hurdles and challenges analysts face. Every obstacle is an opportunity. I only have that perspective because I’ve overcome obstacles. Hopefully, I overcome more. I’m going to overcome more.
You have to hustle. It has never been easier in the history of the world to learn anything. Buy the books. Or don’t, but read the blogs. Improve your skills. INVEST THE TIME. People at my old gig used to say, “That’s cool that you have the time to read that…” and I’d get a little bit insulted. As if I had nothing going on in my life, no friends, no family commitments, no weekly board game night. No one HAS the time. Some MAKE the time. “I don’t learn best from a book; I learn best when someone to teaches me.” Yeah, me too. However, some things are so impactful in your life, that you can take a suboptimal learning path, such as me teaching myself out of a book because the ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS. If you’re reading this blog, you know. This subject matter is life-changing, at least for the analyst.
Rob Collie. Avi Singh. Matt Allington. Ken Puls. Miguel Escobar. The Italians… They were data celebrities to me. Reading their books was magic. People had called me an Excel Wizard, but I never considered myself mage-like until I had read their content and could execute the patterns. Never in a million years did I think that I would consider them my peers. But they are now. Well, maybe not the Italians…they’re still data demi-gods.
I love being a part of PowerPivotPro. I love my colleagues. The culture of learning. The myriad of business cases we are exposed to.
But that is not the takeaway.
The take away is the work. The time outside the office. The drive to get better so that your work inside the office takes less time…or perhaps less work outside the office. Get more done. Reading that book in the Bahamas on my honeymoon so I could further understand row context. My wife’s support while I read. That’s the takeaway.
The rewarding things aren’t easy.
Forget bending spoons with your mind – there’s no money in it.
It takes a special kind of mindset to “bend” data (and software!) to the human will. As this article demonstrates, we at PowerPivotPro can twist Power BI into a pretzel if that’s what an organization needs. (A robust, trustworthy, industrial-strength pretzel of course).
The data-oriented challenges facing your business require BOTH a nimble toolset like Power BI AND a nimble mindset to go with it. And as Val Kilmer / Doc Holladay once said, we’re your huckleberry.