Article by Ira Iosebashvili – The Wall Street Journal

When Anand Kalelkar started a new job at a large insurance company, colleagues flooded him with instant messages and emails and rushed to introduce themselves in the cafeteria. He soon learned his newfound popularity came with strings attached. Strings of code. Many of Mr Kalelkar’s co-workers had heard he was a wizard at Microsoft Excel and were seeking his help in taming unruly spreadsheets and pivot tables went wrong.

New York analyst Colin McIllece says being an Excel expert is a “ double-edged sword.” (Mark KauzlarichBloomberg News)
“People would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I hear you’re the Excel guy,’ ” said the 37-year-old metrics consultant from Oak Brook, Ill. Mr Kalelkar said he has become “a little more passive-aggressive,” warning help-seekers, “Don’t come to me, go to Google first.”

Microsoft Excel

Excel buffs are looking to lower their profiles. Since its introduction in 1985 by Microsoft Corp., the spreadsheet program has grown to hundreds of millions of users world-wide. It has simplified countless office tasks once done by hand or by rudimentary computer programs, streamlining the work of anyone needing to balance a budget, draw a graph or crunch company earnings. Advanced users can perform such feats as tracking the expenditures of thousands of employees.
At the same time, it has complicated the lives of the office Excel Guy or Gal, the virtuosos whose superior skills at writing formula leave them fighting an endless battle against the circular references, merged cells and mangled macros left behind by their less savvy peers.

“If someone tells you that they ‘just have a few Excel sheets’ that they want help with, run the other way,” tweeted 32-year-old statistician Andrew Althouse. “Also, you may want to give them a fake phone number, possibly a fake name. It may be worth faking your own death, in extremworldwideances.”
The few Excel sheets in question, during one recent encounter, turned out to have 400 columns each, replete with mismatched terms and other coding no-nos, said Mr Althouse, who works at the University of Pittsburgh. The project took weeks to straighten out.

“Let’s just say that was a poor use of time,” he said. He advises altruistic Excel mavens to “figure out what you’re getting into” before offering to lend a hand.

Microsoft’s Jared Spataro, a corporate vice president for Office and Windows marketing, wrote in a recent blog post that “Excel’s power comes from its simplicity,” calling it “an incredibly flexible app.”
A company spokeswoman said the program has recently added artificial intelligence features that are “opening up new possibilities for all users.”

Nevertheless, years of dealing with colleagues’ Excel emergencies have taught John Mechalas to keep his mastery of spreadsheets a secret.
The trouble often starts with a group email asking if there is anyone who knows Excel really well, said Mr Mechalas, a 48-year-old software engineer at IntelCorp. in Hillsboro, Ore.

“People say, ’Oh, this is just a really quick thing,’ ” he said. “Then I look at it, and it’s not a quick thing.”

These days, Mr Mechalas will lay low until someone has a dire need before offering his expertise. His willpower was put to the test earlier this week, as he suppressed the urge to yell “just come to me for help” while staring at a badly tangled spreadsheet during a presentation.

“I’m an altruist, but it’s not my job to save the world,” he said.

Colin McIllece, 36, a New York purchasing analyst, said being good at Excel has benefits. “It’s kind of like being a wizard,” he said. “You say, ‘I can think of a spreadsheet for that,’ and it’s like you performed a magic trick.”

Mr McIllece recalls one fiasco where a colleague presented him with a huge document saved into a jumble of folders and teeming with dreaded # symbols, usually an indication of an Excel error.
Like Mr Kalelkar, he is now more likely to show colleagues they can find answers to their problems though Google searches—a method even the most experienced Excel users often fall back on. People who keep bothering him get their instant messages ignored. As an Excel expert, “you become indispensable, and that’s a double-edged sword,” Mr McIllece said.

Jen Lipschitz, a 32-year-old data analyst and project manager from Quincy, Mass., says colleagues often turn to her and the rest of her department for help with their Excel travails.
People say, “ ‘This is Jen, she’s in the smart department,’ ”Ms Lipschitz said. “If they can’t figure out why the data is being weird, they’ll just go ask Jen down the hall.”

Ms Lipschitz’s solution: “I’ll just stand there,” she said. As co-workers are explaining the problem, they will frequently figure it out for themselves. She believes some people get overwhelmed by the possibilities of Excel, a program that manages to be at once simple and mind-bogglingly complex.

“People get intimidated that Excel can do so many things,” she said. “They forget that they need to try.”

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