Great Debates: Excel vs. Access

I look at Excel as a gateway to data management and database programming. Let’s start with the basics on a familiar tool.

Someone asked me why I focus on using Excel to teach people how to think in data instead of Access. My answer was pretty simple. Most people in the workforce is going to have more experience with Microsoft Excel than Microsoft Access.

To introduce basic concepts so that more people understand how data works, Excel is the most familiar for my audience. I admit, more technical people will choose a database over a spreadsheet. There are situations, though, that you don’t need a database right away.

For example, if you’re starting a business and you only have 200 customers, you probably don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on software and a developer to manage that data. Maybe not even hundreds on any of the software being advertised on the internet. Maybe you still feel comfortable using paper and you can handle the admin work. It really just depends on comfort level and resources (whether its budget or knowledge of managing data).

From personal experience, I took no joy inheriting Excel files and miscellaneous database solutions that was poorly built, structured, and documented. I’m willing to bet the cause is because the folks responsible for implementing missed out on applying basic concepts. Personally, I believe the concepts are applicable even if the tool is a piece of paper and a pen.

Thoughts? Questions? Let’s talk story, holler @ me.

Fine Tuning

An example of the handouts at the monthly Spreadsheets n’ Brews meetup. Photo By D. Ramos

The last couple of months I’ve been hosting an informal meetup of Excel users at a local pub (the good folks at Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room) called Spreadsheets n’ Brews. It’s interesting to see it grow from the handful of folks starting in October to two handfuls. What I really like about tending to only around ten people at each event is that we can have some really good talks about pain points with daily tasks using Excel or any kind of spreadsheet software.

However, growing the amount of people who attend, I realized I need to approach things differently andĀ  improve how this event goes. One thing that was pointed out to me was some attendees were actually prepared for a class, bringing a notebook. That was really great to see but at the same time brought attention to my ill preparation. So that’s where the fine tuning comes into play. Luckily the group wasn’t so big that I can spend some one on one time answering questions vs. providing a lecture.

I’m definitely going to continue tuning this event because overallĀ  the response has been positive. Even though there was a bit of a challenge to cater to everyone’s needs, the changes I’ll be making will address the concerns brought up to me. For example, based on the feedback I got during the meetup, I’ve identified some topics that should be covered in future meetups. One small tweak I would do, though, is to try to introduce the topic after we have the majority of attendees present.

This meetup started from a group of administrators with complaints but has grown organically and I’m excited to apply some of the ideas that was put on the table. What would you like to learn that you can’t from a traditional class? Maybe I can help you out over drinks. Let’s talk story. Feel free to holler @ me.