Excel VBA Freetards

I get quite a few requests for help, in fact during the Excel User Conference last year I got a phone call from someone wanting free help to fix their Excel VBA app.

I have a somewhat inconsistent response, if its an interesting issue, either crashing Excel, xlls, COM or similar, and I’m not in a crunch, then there is a fair chance I’ll take a look. Likewise if its a two minute job I may take a look. What I have found though in general is a significant proportion of people can’t even be bothered to reply with a ‘thanks, that worked’ email.

The latest approach got blown out because the tone was very demanding and they included an attachment. I pointed them to the Excel newsgroups, and they replied saying my knowledge was a gift from God and wouldn’t I like to share it!

Excuse me! my knowledge wasn’t a ‘gift’ from anywhere, I got it by working hard and making sacrifices (last year I spent 5K GBP of my own money on training).

I would rather struggle for days with a problem than ask on a newsgroup. Not because I can’t admit I don’t know something, just because I like the satisfaction of working it out for myself. And the harder the lesson the deeper the learning.

I actually suspect it could have been an attempted hack/scam trying to lure me into opening their malware infested file.

What do others do with these requests for help?



12 Responses to “Excel VBA Freetards”

  1. Ross Says:

    If people ask me for help, I give them my sincerest sympathies! :)


    I tell them my rates. I’ve only once had a scenario exactly like the one you mentioned (the manager said “They laid off my analyst and I need to do this report but I have no money for your work. You got to do it for me.” – I’d never met the guy. I laughed at him and told him sorry – I don’t work for nothing and I asume he doesn’t either. End of discussion.

    A major client of mine just recently got bought out and the new management has a policy that all projects are fixed price, that they determine what that price is and that work on Excel and Access is worth a fraction of REAL development using Business Objects (??). I think this is going to be a trend that is simply going to drive people out of the business – so the clients will end spending a lot more money for less results done by less skilled people or by people who are being abused frankly.

    Mark my words.

  3. jonpeltier Says:

    It depends. If the question is interesting and their approach is personable, I may take a look. Or if they’ve tried a totorial on my web site and did’t quite get it, I’ll figure out why, and maybe adjust the tutorial. But I have been known to send them to the various forums.

  4. Bob Phillips Says:

    I got one recently where a guy was on my site and ostensibly sent a comment on part of the site, but it turned out that he wanted me to build him an Acces app. I am afraid that I just ignore these, I don’t even bother to quote my rates.

    The ones that really annoy me is where I answer a question on a web forum, and they send me a follow-up question via PM. What is wrong with continuing the thread, what makes them think they have a right to invade my personal space?

    I give enough via the forums and work I do for charities at (substantially) discounted rates, I don’t need direct pleas from people to lazy to think for themselves, or too cheap to pay for it.

  5. Rob Bruce Says:

    I once got a long-term support contract on an above-market-rate retainer by answering a question on Excel-L and quoting what I thought was a stupidly high rate to the private follow-up question.

  6. Charles Says:

    It depends.
    I get a few interesting emails about Excel calculation quirks which I will usually follow up, and I will quote rates for anyone who wants their workbook speeding up, but most requests for free assistance either get ignored or referred back to the forums.

  7. Maarten van Stam Says:

    I’m with you.

    Depending on the request, who requested it – what is it about – do I have time to do it – was it a nice friendly request, I decide on a per request base to skip it, point it to the forums or handle it personally.

    You simply can’t imagine (well -you- probably can.. ) how many requests are done in the utter most rude selection of words. These are the ones I get redirected right into the bin, no matter how interesting the subject was.

    Not going to the forums is a matter of believing that if someone in the forums can solve the issue you can too. I only tend to go to forums to either answer questions, or get an answer if I need a solution real quick without spending a lot of time on my own on the subject.


    -= Maarten =-

  8. Doug Glancy Says:

    I generally ask on the newsgroups after plenty of googling and reading, and often to confirm that the approach I’ve arrived at is the best, or impossible. If Google Groups worked half as well as it used to I’d ask less.

    I too like the satisfaction of figuring things out, but not to the point of banging my head for days if the answer could be got through one of the kindly wizards patrolling the newsgroups. The opportunity for deep learning is also great when I work with somebody more experienced.

    I answer questions on the newsgroups usually after I’ve asked one, usually if it’s a question that nobody else is answering and on something that have to work to figure out. I use them as learning opportunities, which make it less annoying when I get no acknowledgment back from the OP.

  9. Alex J Says:

    I’m happy to help out when someone’s request is “how do I do this?”, as opposed to “can you do this for me?”.

    The first is a request for information/knowledge (as I might make myself); the second one is a request for free consulting services. There are too many outfits like the one BIGGUS referred to – I can’t afford to invest in their prosperity.

    @Bob Phillips: I may be one of the inconsiderate b——ds who sent you PM. I only do that when I think that a topic is too detailed for the forum/blog, or when there might be an opportunity to create/debate which needs more direct contact. If I’m one of those, then please accept my sincere apologies.

    Do others feel the same as Bob?

  10. Bob Phillips Says:

    Alex J,

    I don’t think I used the term ‘inconsiderate b——ds’…

    I don’t mind PMs, if it is asking me to look at a thread or such, that is no problem, in fact it could be considered a compliment. What I object to is posting the question or some follow-upquestion directly to me in a PM. That has three things that I think are inappropriate, directing it to me is (trying to) pressuring me, and it also means that others don’t get the chance to respond, and the thread is curtailed.

  11. Roger Says:

    Well I am not a developer just a some one that uses Excel day in and day out. I have learned a vast amount of knowledge by reading blogs like this one and others. The forums are fantastic. If not for the forums I would be lost trying to create macros. I’ve never thought about asking for personal help out of the clear blue. I peruse the forums looking for an existing solutions or start a new thread. I tip my hat to you guys and others and all of the free help that you give out. Shame on those that try and take advantage of your generosity.

    have a good day.

  12. Other Chris Says:

    I used to get tons of these, despite having red text on my web site saying not to contact me. In the end I took my email address off my web site, so there wasn’t any way to contact me at all. I probably missed a pile of marriage proposals…

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