12 March 2021

Not Boring: “Excel Never Dies”

Excel is the most popular programming language on earth, and most people who program in Excel don’t even realize they are, in fact, programming. There are an estimated 1.2 billion people who use Microsoft Office, and while it’s hard to know exactly how many people use Excel regularly, estimates put it at 750 million users. By comparison, as of 2018, there were only 10.7 million JavaScript developers and 7 million Python developers.

By being naturally full stack, a single person can build a complex model in Excel without needing to rely on outside help. And for tasks that don’t lend themselves to easy division of a labor, this is an essential quality. Investment Bankers have long argued the reason that analysts and associates will spend 80 to 100 hours a week on financial models (in Excel, of course) is the lack of divisibility of their work; often only one person has all the needed information to build the model.

Excel combines the power of a programming language, the immediate usability of consumer software, and the skill progression of a video game with the flexibility to adapt to nearly infinite use cases. That’s a combination no other software offers, and it’s why Excel has been able to survive and thrive while millions of other applications have come and gone.

And it’s not going anywhere.

Packy McCormick

Excel may seem like an unlike software to love and praise in an era of smartphone apps and cheap entertainment, but its advantages are broad and hard to match by other, more purpose-built software. I have been using Excel for roughly 20 years and still I find new ways to use it, new shortcuts to speed up my work. Recently, I have been particularly impressed with the new Power Query tools enabling users to import and manipulate external data in ways that are both easier and more powerful than before. In fact, I have used this feature to track coronavirus case numbers since the pandemic began a year ago, comparing countries and graphing the results.

Another recent addition that seems very powerful and equally dangerous in unprepared hands is the new LAMBDA function, which allows users to define new functions written in Excel’s formula language, going as far as introducing recursion to Excel. I have personally not tried it until now, but the possibilities seem enticing.

Excel Lambda function

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