I saw some stuff about careers in Excel over at JWalks blog a while ago. (so long ago I can’t now find it!)
My honest advice? avoid it like the plague!
Well firstly let me say I think Excel VBA is a brilliant enabling technology and has massive value in supporting business/technical users (well non IT professionals) to express and then process their ideas. I think it is still as good, in absolute terms and relative to alternative technologies as when I moved over from Lotus 123 in the 90’s. And I know plenty of other people with similar views.
But… and it is a big (and bold) but, the love for Excel VBA from Microsoft has gone, interference by IT departments has increased, fear of spreadsheets has increased. Corporate governance advising against spreadsheets has increased. The tech hasn’t changed but attitudes have.
For me, for 2011 the golden triangle is Excel, VBA and business knowledge. But its in decline, significant decline.
The trouble is, there isn’t a drop in replacement, C# isn’t going to take over from VBA, VBA is a business user/developer language, C# is a software developer language. Most biz users won’t get access to Visual Studio any time soon, so unless a future version of Excel has an embedded C# dev environment (VSTA?) C# isn’t coming to the biz. If Office 15 has a VS-like IDE then VB.net or C#, (or Python/Ruby) might replace mainstream VBA around 2015-2017.
I’m not clear what the new world will be as I don’t see IT departments staffing up to replace all these mission critical spreadsheets they don’t like. I think there will be some seepage to other techs, hopefully better structured than your average spreadsheet jungle. But I just don’t see IT departments being able to keep up with the rate users create spreadsheets. Never mind get ahead.
There was some interesting discussion on the predictions post about how some of the newer techs from MS are more specialist, and that’s true. And it reinforces something people have said about Excel for a long time – its the second best tool for everything. Are we moving away from the general purpose, contort to fit approach, to a bunch of super short-term specialist, in and out roles?
I haven’t seen any roles for Excel Services specialists, or Power Pivot pros yet. And I think eventually in many orgs some random IT person will end up picking up a basic level in a few of them. This lack of specialisation will just create a bunch of suboptimal solutions in none Excel techs, and not really improve anything imo. I guess it might improve vendor lock-in. But it will be a maintenance hell, because no one definable skill set will be applicable. I don’t expect to see big consulting or contracting opportunities in these techs, ever, unless take up suddenly rockets, which I don’t expect either.
So what after 2011?
I reckon there will be two routes
- Business, with Excel/Business/VBA/Business specific tech (JDE/Essbase/SAP/OLAP etc, etc). These roles will decline for a while
- IT, with a bit of Excel/VBA and the usual .net/SQL/project management etc, business skills not so important in these roles which will increase for a while I think
- I think these might converge again in 5 yrs or so, probably around a different tech mix, dunno what, Google Apps?
I think much better career bets right now would be in Oracle, Web development, mobile, or any other server tech, Sharepoint might be a good option. The Excel bridge from biz to IT I think is disappearing, which is a shame, as both sides will lose out unless an alternative can be found to share knowledge.
If you exclude the City from your Jobserve results, there isnt much to go at. Yes it looks like the investment banks/trading companies are keeping the faith with Excel/Access/VBA. But many of them are also looking for C# and SQL skills with a view to migrating away.
I don’t know what the Office development world will look like in 2+ years, but I do expect it to be more barren (and more niche) than now. what do you think? what would you advise a 20 something wanting to get out of a business role?