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Interview with Charley Kyd on Everyday Excel



As mentioned earlier, I have conducted a small interview with Charley Kyd – an Excel MVP, author of four books and 50+ articles for various national media, owner of exceluser.com and creator of popular products like plug-n-play excel dashboard kit. He sent me the answers almost a week back, but I could push the interview only today due to my travel and settling down stuff. As expected the interview is very entertaining and useful. I hope you like this.

Q: What are your 3 favorite formulas?

I don’t have favorite formulas, but here are three functions I use all the time:

  • MATCH (with the third argument equal to zero)

Q: If I am an excel newbie, what three books or resources you would recommend?
MrExcel.com forum for asking questions
Check out Microsoft discussion groups and microsoft.public.excel newsgroup for asking questions

Q: How can managers and analysts be more productive in using excel?

  • Don’t upgrade to Excel 2007, or, if you do, keep a copy of Excel 2003 on your computer. (When you install 2007 on top of 2003, answer No when the install program asks if you want to upgrade to the new version.)
  • Wherever possible, separate your data from your presentation, then use formulas to pull your data into your presentation. (My three “favorite” functions help you to do that.)
  • Learn shortcut keys. In versions prior to Excel 2007, the Alt key commands are consistent. And 2007, allows you to use the earlier versions’ Alt-key combinations for many things.

Q: What resources (books, websites) would you recommend for this type of people?

I’ll be talking more about separating data and presentation at ExcelUser.com over the coming year. Subscribe to my newsletter to be alerted about developments.

Q: Do you think a small business owner run her shop using excel and few free tools ? What you suggest her?

Yes and no. I would not recommend that you use Excel for accounting. Quicken is really inexpensive and does a much better job. But Excel can help in many other ways, including analysis, forecasting, pricing, and so on.

Q: Where do you think most of us waste a lot of time while using excel ?

  • Importing data from other systems / sources?

    We perform the same reporting or analytical task over and over again, but with different data. When you notice yourself doing this, try to come up with ways that you can use formulas in one workbook to pull the data you need from a data workbook. That way, you can merely point your analysis or presentation to an updated data workbook without having to do everything over again from scratch.

  • Formulas and errors ?

    Many people don’t know how to switch to manual calculation. (Tools, Options, Calculation, Manual.) This allows us to work on a big spreadsheet without waiting for it to calculate all the time. Then, when we want to calculate, we merely press the F9 key.Many people create much larger workbooks and spreadsheets than they should, and then get lost in them. I try to keep my workbooks and spreadsheets small, unless I have a specific reason not to do so.

    Many people create many links between workbooks. This is a problem because the links can break, or get broken, or generate circular calculation errors. I try to link only from data to presentation.

    Assume we have a column of data in the range A5:A10. If we want to sum that data, people generally enter the formula =SUM(A5:A10). Instead, I format cells A4 and A11 with a full border and gray fill. Then I sum using the range A4:A11. This allows me to add or delete rows between the gray borders without having to worry about formulas that reference that data. As long as I don’t touch the two gray border rows, I know I’m safe. (I don’t use this approach if I’m going to print the page for others, because it looks ugly. But that’s not a problem most of the time.)

  • Formatting ?

    I try never to use Merge Cells for centering labels across several columns. (In fact, I doubt that I’ve used Merge Cells more than half a dozen times, *ever*.) Instead, I use Format, Cells, Alignment, Horizontal, Center Across Selection. This achieves the same results but without my having to deal with the problems that merged cells creates.

  • VBA ?

    VBA is very powerful, and can be a lot of fun. But be careful, it can grow to be an addiction. Most VBA users have found themselves spending hours to write a program that saves them several minutes. That’s obviously not a good use of our time.I try very hard to comment my code heavily. And when I look at old code, I *always* wish that I had commented it even more heavily. When you’re in the middle of a project, the reason for each line of code is obvious. But six months later, the whole thing is a mystery. COMMENT YOUR CODE.

Q: What is the best way for a non-programmer to learn and use VBA in her day to day work?

  • Stay with a version of Excel prior to 2007, for two reasons: There aren’t any good macro books about 2007, and the macro recorder doesn’t work for a lot of what you do in 2007.
  • Get a beginners book and start to experiment.
  • Use the macro recorder and look at the results.
  • Ask questions in newsgroups and forums.
  • Get to know the Object Browser. (In the VBE, choose View, Object Browser. Or merely press the F2 key.)

I am very thankful to Charley for agreeing for this interview and sharing his views on some of the day to day excel issues all of us face. Many thanks to commenters who suggested some of the questions. I hope you found this interview helpful. Let me know through comments or email what you think about this.

Also share your ideas on who else should be interviewed?


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13 Responses to “Interview with Charley Kyd on Everyday Excel”

  1. Adam says:

    This is very interesting, especially the comments on "don't upgrade"!

    Great! I have done just that...now planning on either installing just Excel 2003, or completely removing 2007 for the time being.

    Thanks for this!

  2. Dan N says:

    I understand INDEX and MATCH, and I use them also. What the heck do you use SUMPRODUCT for?

  3. Adilson Puro says:

    Well, I am a heavy excel user and Kid´s fan. It was a nice interview and shows that Excel superheros are human too.
    Nice work.

  4. fchaves says:

    Nice interview Chandoo! If you asked me the same questions, probably I would answer 80% of them the same way.... I also hate merged cells, and get lost on my VBA codes hehehe.

    Best regards from Rio

  5. mattyb says:

    Dan N,

    Sumproduct is used to sum the product of arrays. For instance, sumproduct(a1:a3,b1:b3) would be = a1*b1 + a2*b2 + a3*b3.

    I figured he would use array formulas with {sum(a1:a3*b1:b3)} instead of that.

    You can also use it as a makeshift sumif across multiple criteria

  6. Very good, didactic interview. Have you considered to do the same questions to others gurus? Perhaps J. Walkwenbach, Bob Umlas, Charles Wililams, Jon Peltier, Dick Kusleika...?


    • Chandoo says:

      @Leonel: Yes, I have been thinking of making this a monthly or bi-monthly feature here. I will probably mail J Walkenbach next ask if he is interested in the interview.

  7. Rozario says:

    Chandoo, Bill Jelen of MrExcel.com would be a fascinating person too, to be interviewed.

    • Chandoo says:

      Rozario: Thanks for the suggestion. I havent been able to contact anyone after this interview, but I will make sure we have a decent interview in Feb.

  8. [...] For a long time now, I been an advocate of Excel User’s dashboards. Charley is a pioneer when it comes to excel based dashboard reporting. He has popularized several techniques like using sumproduct formula, using camera tool etc. I have been such a fan boy of his work that I even interviewed him once on this blog [here]. [...]

  9. Sumit says:

    Thanks Chandoo.. this is helpful 🙂

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