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In Which I Learn to Excel

February 2, 2010

I wrote about some of my trepidation going into my first Decision Modeling class, but after my third session of that class, I have to say my impressions are very positive.  It’s clear there’s a reason this professor is so well-renowned at my university.  Sometimes, a reputation like that is a set-up for a disappointment, but in this case that reputation is well-deserved.

No doubt the course has been challenging, so far.  There’s been a lot of material to read.  And there’s a lot of ground to cover.  But what’s been great, for me, is how much I feel like I’ve learned in just a few short weeks of class.

Going into this class, I was already something of an Excel expert.  I knew most of the tricks and the shortcuts, and I could really hammer out some impressive spreadsheet models, given enough time.  I once redesigned the game system of the 3rd Edition of D&D to make it better fit the story of the novel-in-progress (maybe that little side project was one reason progress on my novel slowed down?) and built a fully customizable spreadsheet model of a character sheet for my revised system that would automatically calculate every detail and crunch every number.  That’s not a unique feat, by any means, but it’s still a tough one.

And yet, by the third class, I’ve learned some impressive new tricks for Excel that I’m sure are really going to help me not only in my current job, but in jobs to come.  And the practice I’m gaining in thinking about problems and how to model them in order to better understand them is really going to improve my ability to perform well in any business capacity.  It’s making me rethink the way I think about problems.

In a funny side-story related to this, I found myself making some notes  on the background of my novel-in-progress, and I was trying to reason through a problem in the background in which something didn’t quite make sense.  I realized, as I was writing these notes, that I was approaching the problem in a very logical, systematic way that reminded me of the way we were learning to approach problems in the modeling class.

Which isn’t to say that I consider Decision Modeling to be an especially useful skill for writers, but I’m glad I’m able to take inspiration from such a peculiar source.  And I do feel confident these are skills that will help my career in general.  I look forward to further classes in this subject.

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