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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.

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This Post Has 25 Comments
  1. So true. I’ve got a hdozen Udemy, edX, and Coursera completion certificates on my cubicle wall at work, all a testament to the time I spend at home learning everything I can get my hands on about Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power BI. I tried to explain to our “new guy” how much time he’ll save if he educates himself on at least Power Query, but it doesn’t look like he has the fire. It’s a shame, too. I can get the same thing done in a fraction of the time it takes anyone else to do it. I guess you just gotta wanna.

  2. Ryan.. Love this.. I get the part about the data celebrities… I feel that way totally when I am around them as they have so impacted my data journey also. And you are a good trainer. Thoroughly enjoyed being in your class earlier this year.

  3. Ryan, it is great to hear these kind of stories… So many people, myself included, sometimes think we aren’t “good enough” because we see others as “super tech geniuses” (since we didn’t major in CS in college). Avi Singh has a great YouTube video about “not feeling like he belonged” at the Microsoft MVP conference and how other MVPs expressed the same feeling. But as Avi and you have shown us that it is really about have passion for learning and sharing and grinding it out when needed to get better every day… or in other words “investing the time” because the “the ends justify the means”. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. “You have to hustle.”

    “Invest the time.”

    It’s perfectly natural for an organization not to have either one of these. It takes a certain kind of weird to be passionate about this the way the P3 team is. And time? Well, it’s your call whether you want to spend your late nights in the office and your honeymoon in the Bahamas doing this, but you don’t have to.

    1. I should add, I agree 100%. For individuals, if you have the hustle and have the time, you will get there and yeah the ends justify the means. But as a fellow “business” guy, I think organizations do overestimate how much they have of either.

      1. I hear you on the organization side Mat- Orgs will never have the time. Hopefully they hire the right people who make time 🙂

  5. 7 years? Man, that’s nothing. I became a DAX evangelist after 20 years of torturing data (or vice versa) with Excel, Access and VBA. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  6. I just love this. To see others with the same enthusiasm I have for PQ and PP is very encouraging. I work with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and over the past year I’ve found myself gladly working nights and weekends–eager to see what I’ll be able to accomplish next. I regularly wake up in the night wondering if I dreamed what I’ve just built. Millions of data points moving in harmony almost instantly, exactly as I need them to–giving up their secrets and endless actionable insights. Just prioritizing them all is a job in itself. I can’t even guess how many times my jaw has dropped and I’ve pushed myself away from my computer in stunned amazement whispering “sorcery.” Indeed, once you get rolling, these tools produce results that are indistinguishable from magic. The only downside is that it drives you a little nuts when people look at one of your paradigm-shifting, game-changing tools and shrug it off despite the fact that unleashing that kind of power on one’s desktop was barely even conceivable a few short years ago and totally unimaginable in regular Excel.

    Speaking of regular excel…

    “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” ― Albert Einstein

    1. Steven, I read your comment and if not for the order of magnitude difference in the budget sizes, I’m only in the 10’s of millions, I could have sworn it was written by me as it so closely mirrors my ‘enlightenment’ over the past year or so with PP/PQ (and PBI in the 3 months since I convinced IT to install it for me!).

      I also agree that it’s a little disheartening to get the ‘meh’ response when you replace a report that takes DAYS to prepare and provides the WRONG information with something that is a) correct b) provides better insights and c) literally takes 10 minutes to refresh (and that’s only because IT’s attitude is “tell me what you want reported and I’ll write a Crystal report” and they won’t allow me to connect to source systems so I’ve got to manually export the data I need)

      1. Ben, exactly. IT has been having a discussion for 3+ months just to decide whether or not to give me read-only access to the SQL server! Meanwhile, tons of manual exports and loading into PQ. And since peeps are throwing around the size of their budgets, I’m responsible for a $10 billion annual budget!

  7. Awesome message Ryan. It comes at a time when, as much as I love the process of learning, I was starting to have doubts about a payoff. Your story is an inspiration.

  8. Wow, great article. I remember bringing up PowerPivot to others, their initial reaction was “we don’t have time to learn this”.

    I never understood why some people are unwilling to invest in learning things that can actually get them out of the Excel mess they are currently in.

    These tools free us from a lot of manual monkey-work, while allowing us to produce more with less time.

  9. Great story! It mirrors my own experience. I probably went the long way in that I got out of college, went into banking for a few years and started using excel in the mid-90s (dating myself). The great thing is that in the last ten years I have learned a lot of information about creating dashboards on many different platforms (COGNOS, IBM TM1, etc.). I also used Access for many years and then SQL Server basics, but only got serious about it in 2010. In 2013 enters, PowerPivot, my life changed as I learned more and more putting in the hard work. Then Power Query and learning the M-code. Finally, I am incorporating everything that I learned into Power BI. I hope to be one of your colleagues soon. I know I will be a success. Thanks for the great support!

  10. Another great article from the guy who taught and got me started in Power Query! Thank you Ryan and I am still spreading the PP and PQ gospel you started here!

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