How Small Events Can Make Sense Only in Hindsight
As I was modifying one of my Google Sheets templates I shortly halted to appreciate what I was working on. These templates aren’t the world’s greatest inventions. They have however helped me get my life a little bit more together.
Thinking like a coder
Years ago I thought I wanted to become a professional coder. I had a serious go at it, until I decided that it wasn’t for me.
In coding you tell a computer what you want it to do. You give it instructions in a language it understands. Querying is something you do often.
An example: in this list of twelve random numbers, find all uneven digits and add them to a new, empty list. Such exercises really train your brain to think logically, and I had to get used to that.
I dabbled with MongoDB, a popular database for apps. At that time I was pressuring myself too much to do well on the first go, forgetting no one turns up a genius. Talent is practiced. But I wasn’t acknowledging this.
My tutor used cats as examples for queries. That lightened up the atmosphere, but still I was too tense, too terrified to fail and plainly too anxious to let information sink in. It’s no surprise no real progress was made.
Years later, I realise my efforts have not been in vain.
The spreadsheet consultant lady
During an early internship, I was assigned the collection of short, informative texts that would be compiled into a print booklet. This booklet was to be handed out to all participants at a large, international event. I liked this project. The goal was very clear: get people to send over their stories, and do so in time for production. Although it might sound easy, it was quite a challenge to get it done in time.
The data collection was done in a spreadsheet, which I had to keep up to date. I was free in editing this spreadsheet to my liking.
Then one day a spreadsheet consultant came in. My department was summoned to attend a meeting. This lady then started mucking about with my template. She moved data around and completely changed the layout, hereby erasing my hard work, all while telling us how we should improve it.
Keep in mind I was in my early twenties, still maturing, and I nearly felt personally attacked. Keeping a straight face was hard. At first I was mad that they apparently didn’t trust me enough to handle this task without outside help. I soon came to my senses and agreed that the new setup actually was an improvement compared to the old one.
Regarding spreadsheets, the most important thing I learnt that day is:
One value per cell, whether this is a number, a string, a formula. Just like on input forms.
This all has to do with more easily filing or modifying the information afterwards.
To this day, I remember this principle and am thankful for this lady’s efforts because this principle currently helps me keep my templates clean and organised.
Learning Google Sheets & Scripts
The majority of my Google Sheets skills were acquired at a former job.
I used work hours as a pass and excuse to practice my Google Sheets skills and show myself from my best proactive side.
No one asked for a spreadsheet. But, there was a task screaming to be optimised. I took it upon me to build a spreadsheet that could be of use to the entire department.
Coding skills came in handy here. It helped me make sense of Google Scripts that you can use to further customise spreadsheets and make them do even fancier things. I made some tweaks and added buttons that saved users clicks and time.
Connecting the dots, later
This clicked today. These dots connected years after the moment I was pouting like a spoiled child who just got told to share her toy and didn’t want to.
Merely by sharing her knowledge and trying to be helpful, this spreadsheet consultant lady positively influenced my life, even though it’s years down the road before it bore bigger fruits. Her interference and meddling with my spreadsheet back then is at the core of how I build my templates today.
What may seem like a nuisance at the time can turn out to be the unfolding event onto a new path. But only when we look back can we see its effect.