Happy 30th Anniversary Excel!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first release of Microsoft Excel. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I invited you to share your memories of getting started with Excel, and thank you for your contributions!

In 2005 there was a 20th anniversary celebration, and I wasn't invited to the party, but I was at Microsoft that day. There was a party that night at Seattle's Experience Music Project, and we formed a band – Excelerongs – for a special one-night appearance. That's Dick Kusleika at the left, and I'm 3rd from the right.

So take time to celebrate today, and form your own band to sing the praises of Excel.

Excelerongs at Microsoft Sept 30 2005

Excel Memories

Some people started using Excel when they were school-aged, and others started much later in life. The contributors have used Excel for all kinds of tasks, and from very basic spreadsheets, to sophisticated applications. It's a fascinating collection, and the stories are listed below, in alphabetical order of given name.

Which stories sound most similar to your early Excel memories? Was your story completely different? Let me know in the comments.

Alberto Almoguera

I started using Excel 2.2 in a Macintosh Plus with RAM 256 Kbs and an external HDD of 20 MB and the Black & White screen was 9 inches. Something heavy like a hundred iPads but only as powerful as 1/100 iPad. I was 12 years old and it was 27 years ago... (more or less). Now I spend 8 hours a day with the Excel 2013... more than with my wife... and... I knew it before knowing her... she should be a bit jealous.

Annika Eriksson

Late 80's -- Installing Excel with 6 floppy disks. After 20 minutes and changing all the disks the program asks what screen I have. EGA? CGA? VGA? Even more alternatives. I pick one. The installation program says "Wrong" and ends. I have to start all over again. And again. It took two hours to be able to start Excel.

Then choose correct printer with the possibility to get country specific characters so Excel could print. There was a short list of printers that worked. Or we could write our own printer driver, wasn't that difficult for a programmer.

By then I had a computer with a 20 MB drive, it was oceans of space.

Dan Carpenter

I started using Excel about 15 yrs ago. When I began, as a hairstylist, I started out with a client listing. I chose it over a word processor because of the ease of columns and the ability to sort in various ways. As I became more familiar, I started using it for other things like budgets, mortgage calculators and various projects. In 2004, I created a sophisticated spreadsheet for the firm I worked with by creating a listing of all the manufacturing parts and their costs. At the time, steel prices were escalating and it was necessary to estimate the increases in costs vs selling price.

We were in the business of manufacturing farm gates of all sizes as well as many other accessory parts. The system was designed to input variable steel, energy and labour costs and have it reflect all the products. It was so effective that the company actually purchased its own steel tube mill to manufacture the steel tubing for the gates and it paid for itself in less than a year with the bonus of keeping the product selling price at a very modest increase versus what costs would have been at market price. Additionally, we began selling tubing to other customers at a better price than market.

David Unger

My first encounter with a spreadsheet program period was circa 1981, with Tandy’s TRS-80 Model III, running VisiCalc. Seemed impressive at the time, but only found limited uses for it. Had to wait for MS Office 97 to come out, then you could really start doing something useful. I built a number of applications for the office using Excel 97, they were in use for a number of years. Since then, I’ve learned to employ VBA as well, this can make Excel do almost anything.

Henri-Pierre Chavaz

My first contact with a spreadsheet was with Visicalc on an APPLE ][ in 1979/1980. In the early 80’s, we were Multiplan users on MSDOS computers. And, in 1985 we bought two Macs essentially to run MacProject. Excel came in a sort of a bundle with the Macs.

Working for a state administration, I lost the link with Microsoft Software for a time. But when a few year later the first usable Windows (3.1) came it seemed that everyone switched to Excel.

John Michaloudis

Do you remember when you started using Excel? I first laid my eyes on Excel back at university in 1998

Was it your first spreadsheet? Yes it was my first spreadsheet, I did not have the privilege to have a taste of Lotus or VisiCalc.

Did you dive right in? I was very reluctant.  I saw a blank page with lots of cells and did not know what to do.  I entered a few numbers. Some text and lots of crazy colors!

What projects were you working on? It was a university project for Financial Accounting…how boring!

What else do you remember? I remember switching it off and not using it for some months down the track.  I was lost in Excel!  Thanks to the introduction of the Ribbon menu my love for Excel began…

Kevin Lehrbass

When I was teaching English in Mexico I remember stopping by a friend's desk and seeing an Excel spreadsheet. It seemed so interesting.

I eventually took a very basic course. The first big leap was when I bought the Excel Bible by John W. and read it cover to cover. I remember the chapter intro to array formulas. The next chapter was called something like "Doing Magic with Array Formulas". I was hooked for life!

Khushnood Viccaji

My earliest brush with Excel was back in 1994. Around mid-1993, I had completed an exciting transition from Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS to Quattro Pro 4.0 / 5.0 for DOS. I had even mastered the QPro programming language from an 800 page book 🙂

Then in early 1994, a colleague (who had started using Windows + Excel) saw me exploiting QPro's features effectively. He dragged me to his workstation and showed me Excel and its power -- multiple sheets, GUI, VBA, etc... Then he showed me the pièce de résistance ... PIVOT TABLES. AND I WAS HOOKED! I bought one of the earliest books Excel for Dummies, and read it cover-to-cover. By the time I left that job, I was getting used to Excel and had a reasonably good grip on it.

Within a year or so, I had started writing VBA code, after buying yet another ...for Dummies book -- Excel Programming for Dummies by John Walkenbach -- whom I consider my second guru in Excel, after my ex-colleague!

One of my other memories of Excel (and Office) learning, was a website that used to deliver one tip every day by email. Over a period of a few months, I learnt many helpful nuggets of information which together contributed a great deal during my Excel learning days! Of course you and other Excel gurus are also very helpful and useful people in my continuous learning process 🙂

Larry Anderson

I started using Excel when it first came out for a bowling spreadsheet to keep my bowling statistics. After playing around with Excel from the beginning to this very day today I find that Excel still has the same flaw.

Prior to using Excel I was using Lotus 1-2-3 and had no problems using Lotus. Here is the problem that I have with Excel and I am sure that there are many other Accountants out in the market that have this problem.

In Lotus if you enter the following of 1+2 into any cell, Lotus treats it as a formula immediately and gives you 3 as the result in that cell, whereas Excel treats it as text and returns 1+2 in that cell. This is just plain WRONG!

If I wanted text I would use Word, or use single quote, double quote, space, carat, etc. to have text placed in the cell. Excel is a spreadsheet and NOT a text writing program, it should have and still to this day should treat entering 1+2 as a formula immediately and NOT as text. The problem as an accountant is that if you have a large spreadsheet, in this case I was working for SW Bell at the time and had a spreadsheet with 60+ columns and over 4,000 rows of information. This is over a quarter million cells where you would have to enter the = (or @ sign at that time) sign. This is a huge waste of time to enter this key stroke to calculate a formula, whereas in Lotus it would have been a lot easier to enter the information and be 250,000 keystrokes less. I wrote to Microsoft about this, BUT apparently they just do not care about wasting time and getting it right like Lotus did originally. Sure wish that they would still fix this issue

Lee Townsend

I have used Excel for almost my entire career.  I started my first technical job in 1976 before Excel existed.  First, I was a laser physicist in industry (1976 to 1996) where I was involved in design, simulation, and analysis of large industrial lasers.  After switching to academia, I developed Excel programs as a service to my University of Hartford colleagues (1997 to present).  I was no longer doing optics and laser work except that which went along with my sixth patent (a spherical laser) several years ago.  My mind does not idle well.

When I moved to West Hartford CT in 2006 an Excel 1.04a floppy disk surfaced as I was unpacking.  According to Wikipedia, "Microsoft released the first version of Excel for the Macintosh on September 30, 1985, and the first Windows version was 2.05 (to synchronize with the Macintosh version 2.2) in November 1987.”  Hence, it looks like I started using Excel in 1985-1986.

Here are some of the highlights of how I have used Excel. 

1)  In the pre-advanced calculator days, I used it to perform numerical double integrations.  It was so easy to do in Excel.

2)  I designed a spreadsheet to simulate a laser resonator and beam propagation using geometric optics, including optical  misalignments.  I later figured out how to connect a real laser beam size with the embedded Gaussian beam size and centerline, both found algebraically.  I included that feature.  It was validated experimentally.  The spreadsheet is based on ABCD matrix analysis.  It was so easy to look for the effects of misalignments by moving a lens to see the overall effect on the system at a glance.  No macro programming was involved.  I have attached it so you can see what it looks like.

3) I created an Excel model of a photolytic iodine laser (PIL) that my small company designed.  The contracting company actually built the laser.  The spreadsheet included the analysis of the liquid and gas phases of the laser – condenser, scrubber, and evaporator to eliminate byproducts of lasing.  Is also allowed me to investigate using more complex molecules of the same general type: C3F7I, C4F9I, C5F8I, etc.  The design resulted in two US patents (#5,889,807 and #5,802,093).  It was so much easier to use the Excel model than to program and use some fancy and complicated numerical optimization program.  I would set the properties of the evaporator (the system constraint) while watching what was happening in the laser generation part of the system.

4)  I used cluster analysis with graphs to determine the complex eigenvalues using results of numerical integration of successive iterations from a laser propagation code in Fortran.  There was a lot of noise in the data but spikes in the graph showed me true eigenvalues.

After my industrial career in both a large corporation and a four-person company, I switched to academia.  As an Associate Dean, I created the college schedule.  I immediately taught myself VBA in Access to create the code to help me look at room and faculty schedules graphically by week.  Before me, the college scheduler shuffled around pieces of paper on a huge conference table and scribbled on them.  I can’t read my handwriting nor do I have the patience to shuffle pieces of paper so I had to switch to using a computer. 

Later I switched to Excel, since Access is not available on the Mac, to create the products described below that are used by my colleagues, chairs, and deans.  I no longer have any titles (I am not management material as I flunk politics) but I know what the questions are.  All the codes I develop are cross-platform as I develop on my Mac then check in Excel 2010.  Here are the main projects I have worked on as a service to my university (and me).

1) A flow chart program to trace what routine is called by what routine/button press.  It does not include classes created by the user as I don’t use them.

2) A prerequisite report.  The code takes input from Registrar reports, parses them, then creates individualized roster workbooks for each of ~100 faculty members.  The reports are emailed programmatically out of Excel so all I have to do is press a button that tells Excel to do it then wait half an hour until it’s done.  I also create PDFs automatically to combine them with Acrobat then send the file to the department chairs.  The report includes student grades in all prerequisite and co-requisite courses.  The report takes care of about 90% of the work of checking prerequisites.  Transfer credits do not show up so faculty have to check a few transcripts instead of looking up the transcripts of all the students.

3) A scheduler (my first Excel VBA program).  The code takes input from a listing of all UH courses then creates multiple ways to look at the data graphically.  Conflicts are easy to spot as they show up as green boxes.  Non-conflicting classes boxes are blue.  In addition, I get Registrar reports that give me the schedule of all students taking courses in my college.  Having the student schedule information allows me print out their schedules graphically so we can print the schedules of all students in a class with just a couple of button clicks.  I also print an overlap graph of all the student schedules in a course of interest so we can see available time slots for moving or splitting a course into two sections.  I built in the curriculum sheets for easy identification of required courses. The list can be graphed for ease of use in advising students.  The boxes on the graph are just rectangles so can be moved off the graph to find non-conflicting courses. 

4) UH enrollment histories.   I have seven years of data of the entire UH class offerings (from use in the scheduler) and ten years of data with student information.  I have that data as I chair the committee that establishes probation, dean’s list etc. and participated in the creation of an Excel spreadsheet to analyze the data for us to generate suggested action for ~1000 students.  The determination of academic status used to be done with piles of paper reports.  Now it takes about four hours to complete the task using Excel and no paper is used.

I built a pivot table that allows me to show the history of enrollments or number of sections in individual courses.  In the future, I will make the pivot table more general (change the row field).  The column field is the semester name.  I will also create a second pivot table that analyzes the current semester for help in scheduling from the data summary point of view.  Since this is my first pivot table project, I have a lot to learn so it may take a while for these latter programs to be built.  I also need to teach the users how to manipulate pivot tables by hand.  I am the only one in my college that has used them.

5)  Timetabling. I will use Excel’s solver add-in to create the entire college schedule using integer linear programming with constraints. This project is in its early stages.

Finally, I truly love using Excel.  It is easy to use and has great features.  It also keeps me continually educating myself on how to use it effectively and get the most out of its many features.

Lisa Church

While it wasn’t excel, I started a similar spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 that I cut my teeth on. We were able to do “lookup” on it. I worked at an insurance agency and we used the spreadsheet to track the buildings that we insured to make sure we didn’t insure all the buildings on the block in case of a fire.

MF Wong

The first moment with Excel was when I studied in University.  In that time, Windows 3.1 was the operating system.   I don’t remember which version of Excel it was, but I believe It’s either Excel 95 or 97.  I learned Excel simply because all students were required to pass an “IT proficiency Test (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, email)” for graduation.

Yes.  I passed the test.  I thought I was proficient in Excel until I attended an interview that tested my Excel skills.  I won’t forget that Excel test which was a total failure.  The test was about something really basic and simple – doing summation and percentage calculation, etc…  When I input the formula, the result did not show up as expected.  I was stuck.  I told the interviewer that there was a bug in the computer: “Excel did not calculate!”.  She simply ignored me.  Obviously I didn’t know manual calculation mode in Excel by that time. @[email protected]  Honestly, even though after so many years, I think that is not a good idea to test candidate Excel skills by setting Excel to manual calculation mode.  What’s the point?

I did not get the job of course. The job I landed afterward did not require Excel skills at all.  That’s the beginning of my Excel memories.

Excel was then something out of my mind until 2001 when I sat in a course called “Decision Making with Computer” in my MBA study.  The professor showed us some simple tricks of using Excel.  Every student in the class was amazed.  Then I decided to sit in the course throughout the whole semester.  I would say that was the turning point of my Excel life.

Afterward, I thought I know Excel well because I could make dynamic charts, deployed SUMPRODUCT and VLOOKUP.  This kind of “self-satisfaction” lasted for few years.  But the fact is I did not improve much.

In recent years, I browse Excel related topics and forums on Internet.  I stopped by Contextures, and some other popular Excel sites: Chandoo, Mr. Excel, Bacon Bits, MyonlineTrainingHub, just to name a few.  The more I learn from you geniuses, the more I realize that I know so little about Excel.  Meanwhile, the more I learn, the more I love Excel.

In September 2013, I started blogging in order to share my Excel knowledge.  Initially, I thought all the visits was coming from my friend (actually only a few of them), and myself. Two years later, I am glad that I have more visitors.  Nevertheless the true happiness is coming the compliments from readers.  I am glad that my blog may be helping someone somewhere in the world, like what I have gained by reading others' blogs.  

That’s my story.  I believe it will continue as there is still so much to learn.

Mike Benstead

In the 70s I opened a collection agency and decided from day one that everything would have to be computerised. I had three choices.

  1. I could pay $100,000 for industry-specific software
  2. I could employ someone to write a package for me, knowing full well that every other agency would end up with the package that I had paid for when the job was done or
  3. I could learn to code.

I chose the latter. I was give a copy of Q&A by Symantec v1.0 and found I could learn by myself simply by pressing for help. I became quite proficient and was my best friend. I eventually upgraded to Q&A v4.0 and I now had a printed manual. I bought some more books on Q&A and had a week long focussed read-fest on a beach with no computer. I went back to the office and started running everything by macro. I could do things that could not have been done economically such as sending four consecutive letters of demand instead of the usual two for a lesser cost.

These were so effective it caused unprecedented results leaving very few phone calls to be made saving even more money. Business was booming and I bought a second Debt Collection company. Everything was manual and I knew how to fix that. No more records on ledger cards, automated mail merge, automated looking up of data and reporting. I paid rent on two offices including a whole floor of office space in Sydney and I had a staff of 23 over the two offices. I was able to close the city office with no loss of income.

I found that as staff left of their own accord to get married, move house, etc. I never had to replace them. Ah, the mighty macro 🙂 If anything had to be done more than once in 366 days I write a macro to do it.

When Windows came out Symantec made a vain attempt at converting Q&A to Windows but the windows version failed to support Macros. Symantec had seen Access and Excel and there was no further development. They ceased supporting Q&A altogether. Symantec actually recommended that I look at Access and Excel. I resisted until Y2K rendered Q&A v4.0 for DOS completely unusable. I was devastated and my businesses were at threat of collapsing.

Reluctantly I turned to Excel.

Well blow me down... almost all of the code was identical. There were a few differences. In Q&A you told the program what cell to GOTO next after evaluating the activecell. Q&A had a handy POST() cell function which Excel does not have but it can now be achieved in VBA using sheet().cell() = ...

So my transition to Excel was pretty much seamless. While most use Excel for analysis I find its strength is in the automation of administrative and operational tasks.

If you have basic High School maths and a penchant for problem solving you have all you need to excel. There's not a lot that can't be done in Excel. I haven't yet looked into using Excel with robotics or interfacing VBA with Arduino to make my coffee yet but I'm sure someone will have...

Nanci Allen

Do you remember, was it Excel or Lotus 123 that typing a series of key strokes enabled something like a flight simulator or something crazy like that? If my feeble memory serves me at all it required typing that code in a specific cell.

Oz du Soleil

I used to process course completions and send out certificates. The source data came to me in all-caps and each month I would retype 60 names before doing the merge with Word and printing the certificates. Of course, there were typos that I'd catch after printing the certificates, and then recipients would call and complain about typos in their names that I didn't catch.

More than 1 year later I learned about the PROPER() function and reduced hours of tedious work down to minutes, and ended all the trouble around typos.

Phil Waddington (PhilUK)

My first memories of using Excel go back to Excel 95. In 1996,at the age of 40, I was working for a National Authority in West Yorkshire, UK as a lowly Accounts Payable clerk. I had little or no interface with nor any apparent need for the spreadsheets used at the time (probably Lotus 123), similarly with the document package (WordPerfect). The decision had been taken to upgrade to a Windows based package and Office 95 was integrated. Luckily my department manager recognised that I was bored & unfulfilled with the work I was doing and in the first week I was tasked with ‘making better use’ of the ‘new’ spreadsheet – Excel.

As will most new users, I fascinated myself playing with the formatting, producing probably useless but definitely very pretty and colourful spreadsheets which contained very little by way of functions with the exception of SUM(), using data which was laboriously typed into each cell. Meanwhile the number crunchers in the Management Accounts team had stolen a march on me – they had the advantage of previous experience with Lotus and the ability to download swathes of data from the ledgers – both of which I lacked.

My time in the role was short-lived, I had the chance to move into a financial role which better suited my previous experience and gave me much more freedom to use and experience Excel.

Excel was now my fascination: over the years I have worked assignments in a number of roles and trades, with colleagues who used different aspects of Excel in different ways, developing my skills which now also include VBA at a basic / intermediate level. I dissected spreadsheets developed by others, re-developing and improving as I went along. I trawled the internet for techniques, digesting knowledge generously shared by the Excel MVPs and experts, and integrating the improvements which came along with each new release.

My Excel experience takes a high precedence on my CV (resume); I work with the knowledge that, if I am unsure how to produce a formula or code I need then I can turn to the internet and find the answer to my problem on a blog or forum.

I try to share my Excel experience with colleagues, offering help with functions and techniques where appropriate, hopefully helping them to appreciate and develop their own Excel experience.

Roger Govier

I started with VisiCalc in 1981 / 82, then progressed on to Supercalc around 1984. I had not liked Lotus 123 for some reason, and persisted with Supercalc through until an excursion into Quattro in 1992. Supercalc was still my greatest love, and used more than Quattro, until 1995 when I first used Excel.

At first, I didn’t like Excel – I guess because I was so used to the Supercalc slash “/” commands, which had become totally intuitive. I was new to Windows and a mouse, and getting used to those and Excel took a little time.

Gradually, I became very adept with Excel 95 and loved it, and every incarnation since has enhanced the “love affair”. Now, to be without Excel, would be like working with one hand tied behind my back.

The first Excel projects were involved with producing Cash Flow projections for my company, and for clients of the software company I was then working for, operating mainly within the Agricultural sector.

Earlier models created on Supercalc were re-built within Excel, and these included Ration formulation for feeding livestock, and projecting future sales of Pigs from data about Service dates, projected Farrowing and Weaning dates and utilising various estimated levels of daily live weight gain of the progeny,  to predict when and how much pig meat would be sold.

Then, it was used for managing our Sales leads and pipeline projection  through to our Sales Analysis and projections. By the end of 1996, we had sold off the software company of which I was the Commercial Director, and I started working for myself. I then decided I was going to concentrate entirely upon Excel, and use it to assist all sorts of companies with their planning and analysis.

Gradually, I began to experiment with VBA to enhance all the work that I did using most of the Excel functions, and then I decided that there was nothing in the world, that could not be done with Excel.


I started using Excel back in 1997 in high school. I had just arrived to the UK from Moldova on an exchange program and had taken IT as one of the subjects. Excel was introduced in one of the first lessons, and I had no idea what to do with it 🙂 I was mostly overwhelmed by the multitude of little buttons on the toolbar (it was version 95 still, not 97).

One of the first things our teacher showed us was using the Autorun (or Autoexec, don't remember exactly now) macro that would fire automatically when Excel would start, which was cool (not much security back then). We eventually had to do coursework in Excel and document it all in Word. Crazy times! I've been using Excel in my finance-related work on a daily basis since 2001.

More Excel Memories

I shared some of my earliest Excel memories on this blog, about 5 years ago – Back in Time with Microsoft Excel.

There are a few more stories of getting started in Excel, in the comments in this "How Long Have You Been Using Excel" article, on my Debra D's blog.

And I hope you checked out GeekWire's interview with 4 original members of Microsoft's Excel team -- Mike Koss, Jabe Blumenthal, Doug Klunder and Jon DeVaan. You'll learn what they almost called Excel, and why Excel's motto is "Recalc or Die". Read the comments too!



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