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John Johnston [Member Monday #4]

John Johnston

Hi Friends,

Welcome to another #MembersMonday. For this week I decided to feature someone who has really been helping out our members these past few weeks. He has been actively sharing his knowledge and ideas and helping out other members in their Excel problems. He also shares his insights in some of the topics our group has in order to keep and make our group the best Excel group there is.

With this, join me in congratulating John Johnston. Thank you very much John for all the help you have offered and all the contributions you made for the whole Excel community. We are deeply honored to have you in this group. Please continue what you are doing and we hope you will never get tired of helping other members out.

Like other members that we have featured in the past, we also asked John some questions to let us know more about him, and of course to give some advice for us all. Here are his answers:

Here are the questions:
1. How did your start your Excel journey?

It probably goes back to the very late 80’s early 90’s with a brief introduction to spreadsheets at School – It was pretty basic back then (VBA didn’t appear until later versions!). There wasn’t much need for Excel as a front line police officer to be honest! However as tech started to evolve in the mid 90’s opportunities started to present themselves to use Excel to help with certain tasks that needed to be done, such as duty management (which at that time was managed on a big whiteboard with colored pens) and just asking the question “Can we do something with Excel here other than as a layout tool?” – Literally the first step is sometimes just asking that question.

2. Why did you chose Excel?

Part of it was a forced choice, it was all we had to work with. However, Excel is so versatile and powerful it tends to be your first go to application to solve issues and I’ve never regretted learning Excel.

3. How long have you been working with Excel?

As I said, it first came to my notice in the late 80’s early 90’s and that was basic stuff like =A1+A2 etc. but only started working with it properly in the very late 90′ early 00’s. Quite often due to (understandable – if annoying) corporate IT restrictions you have to start being quite creative with built in formula. However, even with the VBA hand tied behind your back it’s quite incredible what you can produce.

4. How has Excel for Freelancers helped you?

As many will have noticed, there’s often more than one way to solve a problem using Excel. Sometimes, through habit, you have a very specific formula or way of doing things, just seeing another way to approach the same problem is massively helpful as your own method may have been limited to solving that particular problem only. However, having your eyes opened to other ways of approaching it often opens doors you previously thought locked. I’m even revisiting some of my older spreadsheets and applying some of the techniques I’ve learned whilst here to improve them.

5. What are your goals?

I actually get a lot of pleasure in knowing that some advice/guidance or otherwise has helped someone achieve something that they were genuinely stuck on. In terms of what Excel can do, actually, I’d like to learn more about Power Query, I’ve often seen it suggested as solutions but know next to nothing about it. There’s always something you can learn.

6. What advice can you give to our members?

This is a difficult one. Never stop learning, don’t just blindly copy/paste formula/code – Worked! – Move on – Try to understand what its actually doing and why it works – ask if you don’t know and be specific – vagueness results in people guessing. There’s no silly questions – I can guarantee that several other members probably have the same question. There’s plenty of people out there who do have a “Helpy Helperson” attitude and will gladly try to explain something. Often, once you understand the concept behind the formula/code it opens up other paths for you to explore and develop ideas for your own project.

Don’t limit your thinking to “I don’t know what Excel can do, so I’ll stick with what I know.” Apply some critical thinking to “I wonder if….” – Try it yourself – there really is so much satisfaction in managing to solve a problem yourself in Excel. You’ll be surprised at what you actually can achieve – If you have asked for help and solve the problem yourself, share the solution so others can learn. Finally, keep it simple, I’ve seen some beautifully crafted VBA sub routines to update the value in Cell A11 (for example) on press of a button – only for the built in formula of =AVERAGE(A2:A10) being able to achieve the same thing (extreme example I know) – VBA is truly wonderful, but it’s not always needed.

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