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jdavidb (1361)

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J. David Blackstone has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering and nine years of experience at a wireless telecommunications company, where he learned Perl and never looked back. J. David has an advantage in that he works really hard, he has a passion for writing good software, and he knows many of the world's best Perl programmers.

Journal of jdavidb (1361)

Tuesday April 11, 2006
01:55 PM

Fire me, I don't speak Excel

[ #29284 ]

I'm sorry, but I don't. Despite the fact that for years people in my office have come to me with questions (and occasionally people not in my office that I haven't heard from in five years will call me with quesitons), Excel is to me nothing but a place to put a few tabs with bold header rows followed by rows of data. I can sort them. I'm pretty good at sorting. Oh, and of course I can pull the contents out with Perl (or put the contents in with perl, if required). I can't produce a chart in Excel (or couldn't until recently), and I cannot even enter a formula. The last time I entered a formula into a spreadsheet, it was in AppleWorks in the 1980's (and I don't mean ClarisWorks, which current goes by the name AppleWorks the same way Caldera systems currently goes by the name SCO).

Had a big shutdown process to oversee this weekend. It's the second time I did it. This time around I was only responsible for bringing the processes back online after the routine maintenance, but that is the harder half of the job. The first time I did this, the weeks prior to the procedure were spent with my learning how to perform the shutdown and the recovery. Friday night the maintenance occurred, Saturday morning I brought everything back up ... and Saturday afternoon I started receiving frantic calls telling me I was supposed to be providing status updates and fancy Excel charts in an approved format I'd never seen before and that my calculations that the backlog would be cleared by 9 P.M. were not sufficient. Thanks for telling me what was required ahead of time.

I was unable to provide the desired data that Saturday. Life went on.

This time in the interim somebody else had heavily revised the process, instrumenting the database to report volumes of data about the recovery and the catchup on the backlog. And had produced pretty good examples of the charts that needed to be produced in Excel. I still didn't know how to generate an Excel chart properly, though, so I had to teach myself with Google, which wasn't too bad. I drilled myself a couple of times last week so I would be prepared, and went into the weekend perfectly ready to perform the shutdown process and generate the required charts and reports.

And everything went off without a hitch. This was a shorter maintenance, and the recovery was shorter. In fact, it was all done within about four hours. By that time, the system was completely caught up. After bringing everything back up when I received my phone call in the middle of the night, I got up on Saturday morning, deduced that everything was finished, produced the graphs, and sent them off.

And then Monday I had an email saying, "Oh, you also need to fill out this recovery report spreadsheet for the manager's manager's manager." Err ... wasn't expecting that. Thanks for telling me about it ahead of time. I took a look, the data seemed simple, I started cutting and pasting it out of the spreadsheets I had ... and then noticed I was missing a few things. So I wrote some more queries to get everything I needed out of the instrumentation on the database, and plugged it in, and found out the date format I used was completely different, and on and on and on.

And when I was done, the spreadsheet was giving negative recovery times for some system elements and just plain "ERROR" for the recovery time on others.

"Does anyone really want this?" I wondered, and sent it off. And arrived back at work today to find an observation from the requestor of the spreadsheet that "some of the formulas were wrong." Okay, back to the drawing board.

So here I am, and my group has bounced this spreadsheet around, and it's going to take forever to do it, and plain and simply, I can't diagnose why Excel can't figure it out. I just don't have that kind of Excel know-how. What's more, I can't see why I should spend 16 hours this week reporting that a planned maintenance downtime took 4 hours to recover. But all indications of upper management are that that is exactly what I should do. So here I am, trying to learn Excel. I imagine that if the requestor of this spreadsheet, high in my management chain, were to come to my desk, he'd be saying, "What's the matter with you? Why can't you do this? What kind of a programmer are you when you can't even use Excel? You're outta here!" I was hired on to be a programmer, not an Excel-hack. I guess programming Excel is an Excel skill, and I guess I'd like to learn it. But I'm having trouble seeing what value I'm generating for my employer today.

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  • "What's more, I can't see why I should spend 16 hours this week reporting that a planned maintenance downtime took 4 hours to recover."

    You are improving your manager's manager's manager's comfort factor.

    "But I'm having trouble seeing what value I'm generating for my employer today."

    By learning how to use Excel, you are improving the turn around time on your manager's manager's manager's comfort factor in preparation for the next planned maintenance downtime.

    • Thank you. That does actually explain it in more measurable terms. :)

      Finally solved the problem, btw. (The journal entry was mostly drafted toward the end stages of figuring it out.)

      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
      • You're welcome. I've run into things like this before involving higher level management and more often than not it will come down to making them feel better.

        Congratulations. So now you should be ready to start coding up a Perl solution so that it doesn't take umpteen hours everytime you have a 4 hour window of downtime for scheduled maintenance. :)

        • Actually that's what I did last week for the spreadsheets they told me about ahead of time. And for this part, I already have a Perl solution to spit out the raw data. I just need to cut and paste it into the existing spreadsheet template.

          J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers