Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tools of the trade...

For someone who works in finance & commercial, Microsoft's Excel & PPT are the glue that hold most organisations together. Forget the multi-million dollar BI implementation approved, ironically, by the CFO, when some analysis is required, its 'open an Excel spreadsheet' time every single day.

This week I found myself talking to a grad in my team about the tools worth getting familiar with, & I shared with her how my thinking has evolved over the last two decades:

Stage 0:
What's this Excel thing? And who on earth needs a million rows & 256 columns?

Stage  1:
Wow, I can get some pretty decently presented tax computation worksheets. The IF statement, especially those 6 nested conditions cover nearly all my likely needs.

Stage 1.1:
Why didn't someone tell me I could use VLOOKUP  instead of those nested conditional statements?

Stage 1.2 to 2:
There's so many more formulas? And you can combine them?

Stage 3-7:
Whoa!! Alt  + Ctrl + Shift + number keys + arrow keys + Page Up/Down keys can move me around the worksheet/ workbook faster than moving my hand to the mouse & then clicking!
Ok, time to learn to touch type because I can do things at x times the speed of mouse clicks.
Formulas, referential indexing, Data Analysis add-in.. holy f**8!!!! Pivot Tables, External Data, connecting to databases, MSSQL, formula auditing, charting......  there's more stuff here that will make my reporting life easier than ever..

Stage 8:
What's this 'macro' thing? It's totally pointless, does all sort of nonsense when I record something & then push play..

Stage 9:
I can take someone else's macro & copy it & then change it to suit my needs? I can integrate it with OLE & ODBC & SAP & Hyperion & other VBA reference libraries to automate some of my daily tasks? What am I going to do with all this spare time?

Fast forward several versions of Office release later, & all the power I need for my day job at my finger tip memory (PowerPivot, PowerQuery, PowerBI),  - there's no need to learn anything else... & well, Tableau came along that made visual analytics easy as point & click (grrrr, no finger memory possible, but I think that is deliberate to make you think while you click around dimensions & measures)

So if you're starting out in your career, it's probably best to get really good at three things with your tools:

1. Touch Typing (there's probably reams written on why this is important). Keyboard shortcuts in Excel will save your a$$ at midnight when all you want to do is shut the damn thing off instead of reaching for the mouse once again. My experience is that you will not even be working at midnight once finger memory takes over.

2. Navigation shortcuts using keyboard.  Get as familiar as possible with:
  • Windows application keyboard shortcuts (that Win key + numbers can fire up the application you need)
  • Excel keyboard shortcuts (and don't bother memorising these - watch the screen light up when you hit the Alt key). 
  • Any other application - before you start playing with the application, read through the help file for keyboard shortcuts  (yes, even Tableau has a few!)

3. Get at least a basic understanding of how code works. You don't need to be a coder or programmer (you hate it so much & it also explains why you'd rather be an accountant :)) - but knowing how the thing you work on works (it is software after all!) will give you a few ideas when you're struggling to do something that seems nearly impossible (which will happen soon enough, anyway)

As the creator of D3.JS Mike Bostock says: "Code is the most general tool we have"

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Progress... slow, but progress

The last few days, I've been spending a lot of time on teaching myself to think through problems in a different area.
The course on Deep Learning is pushing the boundaries of my comfort zones.
Every day, however small the progress may be, it feels like a breakthrough.
Waking up way before dawn again today, I spent just under two hours tackling the implementation of backward propagation in python code, vectorised no less.
It was very very hard going for me, yet, after I submitted the assignment & saw the score, there was a tiny sense of accomplishment.

That feeling, amid all the weariness, is very valuable to me at this point.
That, & the music I surround myself with.

Of course it is only month-1/ course-1 of a 5 part course, so things will only get harder from now on.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Public transport conversations, & a minor personal breakthrough

A lady sat down next to me on the train this morning. She was already on the phone when she got on the train. I knew because she had a distinct voice that carried. She was 'coaching' someone, from what I could overhear one side of the conversation.

Two things stood out: In the course of her conversation, she advised her 'mentee' that someone had to just go out & talk to people, & just do some work. There was no question about why that was needed, just that something needed to be done.

The other was her story of a conversation she had with someone a few years ago, on dealing with stress. The person in question worked at a hospital, & would walk around the place, to get a perspective that whatever was causing them stress wasn't causing people to die.


I've been putting off doing an assignment on the Deep Learning course because I simply couldn't get my head around what seemed a basic concept. The lack of motivation in the last couple of days was partly that too, perhaps?

Anyway, after dinner, & reading to the 6yo, I approached the problem using paper & pen. It took an hour or so to draw out the concept, & about 10 minutes to get through what seemed to be the hardest part of the assignment.

Which reminds me, I used the same technique at work today to design a report that I'd been putting off.  Broadly, the #Tableau report needed to keep track of where each customer lay on a price curve, with the price table axis at irregular intervals. Writing out the steps in full make it amply clear where the problem was & how to solve it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A new week

Toastmasters had their World Championships of Public Speaking last week, over a 3-day period. Congratulations to Manoj Vasudevan, who won the third place in 2015, won this time round. I've not heard the other speeches, but Vasudevan used the same speech again, with a different title. The same speech on the world stage twice - I'm not sure I agree with the strategy, but clearly the judges thought otherwise. 


The kids have their public speaking finals at school this week. Both are totally stoked (& very rehearsed) with their speeches. I'll get the chance to see the 11yo deliver hers today.


Struggling with motivation the last few days, & it's been the lowest I've felt in a bit. My threshold for bullshit has sunk to a new low, & plenty of it around lately. Or maybe I'm just noticing it a lot more.

I've challenged myself to do some exercise every day, physically & mentally - and it's slowly starting to bear some effects. Doing the Week 3 homework on the Deep Learning course is quite an intense effort, and certainly having some effect on my motivation clearly. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

This & that

Pessimistic? or cynical? Or healthy skeptic?
Or as George Bernard Shaw pointed out: "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who don't have it".

also related; consultants - help or scourge?

A great interview: Om Malik talks to Louis Rossetto of Wired fame