Hello P3 Nation! After having the privilege of working with so many of you to share your journeys and techniques I was inspired to share my own. This is a bit of an intimidating group, and I struggled a bit with what to share. After much deliberation, I compromised with myself on a journey story.
My journey does not start with a love of Excel, a great career, schooling, or anything even remotely techy. My trip kind of begins where another trip ends. In real life, the good guys don’t always wear white, and the bad guys don’t always wear black. We all live in different shades of grey, and my outfits were starting to get kind of the darker shade of grey.
Looking back, I would say that I had a narrow perspective on the opportunities that were available for someone like me. I had worked several equally terrible jobs where shift meals and air conditioning were the closest things to a benefits package that I was going to get and the thought of doing that type of work and the poverty that comes with those choices did not appeal to me. This sort of reasoning led me to places where desperation became a primary driver in my decision-making process and would surely cost me my life or my freedom. This lifestyle came to an end one day in the blink of an eye. I remember white flashing through the hospital as I was rolling through and thinking I’m not going to make it this time. I’m not going to see my daughter grow up…this is it. That’s when I knew that if something didn’t change I was going to die and not eventually of old age…like soon.
Recovery time from the hospital was slow, but after some time, I was healed enough to where I could begin to maneuver around. Determined to assist me in making some better choices my mom passed along an opportunity to do some administrative work as a contractor supporting NASA. I interviewed and was tentatively hired to do some light administrative work. I think it was for like 15$ an hour and it was the highest paying job I had ever had. It was so exciting to feel like something was finally started to work for me. It was like there was this momentum that had shifted. Most people would celebrate…me it just made uneasy. Whenever something good happens usually something worse follows.
After a couple of months of admin drudgery, I started to pick up on some of the business tasks and was introduced to Excel. I was not terribly impressed, and my interaction was limited to things like = A1+A2 or SUM(A1: A3). I started to participate in data calls where I would be tormented by different people asking for the same data in a slightly different way over and over and over again. It was at this point that someone took the time to show me something that changed my life. I will never forget the first time Anthony Loggia stopped what he was doing to show me how pivot tables and VLOOKUPS worked and how powerful this combination of things could be (Thank you, Anthony!). I was in awe. It was everything. This is where I understood how little I knew and how knowledge was going to be my weapon against redundant, productivity-draining, soul-crushing repetition.
I started reading every book I could on things Excel, and it wasn’t long before I came into contact with the PowerPivot plugin and ultimately the book “DAX Formulas for PowerPivot: A Simple Guide to the Excel Revolution” and that broke my brain. The push to understand the concepts from that book changed my life. I’m still pushing. I would say that I’ve seen greater ROI in learning those concepts than in either of the two masters degrees I earned while working and learning. I pushed through understanding modeling and basic DAX, and like magic, an opportunity to work on a database project came along. Talking about my hatred of redundancy in a job interview led the way to a chance to work on this database project. After listening to the requirements I concluded that this was not a database, this was a web app, and I was in way over my head. Did I mention that I also wasn’t a developer?
The next two years working on this project were some of the most challenging, frustrating, and rewarding yet. I won’t bore with you with the sprint by sprint details, but I got paired up with an excellent development team, and I think we ended up with a great product. An issue that showed itself quickly in our great product was that our reporting was very inflexible. This was kind of a turn off to our stakeholders, who loved the software, and our list of requirements was growing by the second. Almost immediately we were tasked with extending our reporting capabilities. Power BI Desktop and Excel were the shortest paths to where we needed to go, and by the way, we need it now. Remember how I was basic to intermediate DAX…enter SQL, hierarchies, granularity and CALCULATE.
There’s a sort of addictive quality the haze your life becomes when its all about the deadline, the problem, and the solution. The deadline and the problem consume everything, and only the quest for the answer remains. It eats all the time, and it’s Google and books and forums and books and time just trying to get the data you need and test to make sure it’s right. I can’t describe how frustrating the quest for the solution is or how glorious victory feels when you get there, but if you know you know. We met that deadline… were given more and the cycle continued. I left that project and came back and still have a small part in its continuing function as being responsible for “ad-hoc” reporting. This means when we need to add functionality to the software to meet a new requirement that we don’t want to build into the software it’s back to the lab…lol.
Thank you all for coming along on this journey with me. I know it was a little long-winded. Words are powerful things. You never know the impact a simple sentence can have on the right mind on the right day. It can be life changing. It can be lifesaving. I started this journey at 15$ hourly, 12 years later I’ve broken my first hundred thousand and am making good strides on my second. Thank you, Rob and P3! Your books and this blog have assisted me through many a long night, and the knowledge shared has benefited me greatly. The path from point A to point B is not always straight and narrow. Sometimes there are curves and bumps. Keep walking. Know where you want to go. Be fearless and know that you have something of value. If you are lucky, you will find mentors who will empower you to do more than you ever thought possible. Invest in yourself and don’t let fear keep you in your comfort zone. In that uncomfortable, scary space, amazing things are possible!
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