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Excel Heroes – Ken Puls

With all Excel MVPs, if you go back far enough in their life history, you’ll discover a time when they didn’t know what a macro was. 

In the early 2000s, Ken Puls was working as an accounting supervisor—and already fancied himself a skilled Excel user. One day, after the company upgraded its computer system, the Excel macros his staff had been using suddenly stopped working.

“I sent the file to head office and said, look, our macros are broken,” Puls recalls. “They emailed back and said, how did you call this macro? At that point, I sent them the instructions—which turned out to be a set of Lotus keyboard shortcut commands that our staff had memorized in order to do things. So, head office was like, okay, look, that’s not actually a macro,” Puls laughs.

Head office assigned a hot-shot intern to build Puls and his staff an actual, real-live macro. “That macro was amazing. After that, we just had to click a button and everything was done.”

Of course, interns being interns, the hot-shot eventually left the company. And, down the line, something else broke in the macro. “So, who fixed it?” asks Puls. “I did, right? Because I was the only person that had any idea. And that was when I discovered this language, Visual Basic for Applications.”

VBA opened a whole new world for Puls. “I was comfortable in Excel, but that was the first time I looked at it and went, oh wow, I can make Excel work for me rather than the other way around.”

After fixing the macro, Puls went on and started recording his own. When he found himself hitting the occasional snag, he turned to an online help forum. There, he discovered a whole community of people ready and eager to help fill the gaps in his knowledge. “I remember somebody taught me this line of code, which I’ll never forget. It was ‘application.ScreenUpdating = false.’ I asked, how did you record that? And they said, well, you can’t record it. You have to write it.”

The simple revelation hit Puls like a thunderbolt. “I’m like, oh my God, you can write stuff in here too!” Puls laughs. “From that point, I spent about a year and a half inside the covers of Excel, learning how to program, learning how to record things, tweak things, write my own code from scratch.

“I found some forums with folks that had great insights. I was constantly asking questions, taking information out, giving back, and helping other people. And in the process, I just got better and better and better. I learned I really have a passion for Excel. I like being able to make it work—but more importantly, I like to help other people make it work as well. That changed my entire life and the trajectory of my career.”

Around 2016, Puls quit his job and began teaching Excel full-time. “I’m primarily a trainer now. I joke that I fly around the world teaching people how to build business intelligence models properly in Excel.” He has also published dozens of online articles and a couple of books, most notably Master Your Data.

Occasionally, when Puls is stumped by an Excel problem, he turns to Google—only to find a link to an article he wrote (and completely forgot about). “It’s a funny world to be in, when you end up Googling your own work to remember how to do something,” he chuckles.

These days, Puls also keeps busy with Self Service BI Academy (his online training course) and Monkey Tools, an Excel add-in he built. The two often overlap. “Today, I was recording videos of how to use Monkey Tools to help my BI Academy students do things faster. They can take a 45-minute job and condense it down into two minutes based on the recipes that we have.”

His biggest joy, however, comes from face to face interaction. “I love going to a conference, speaking to people, and seeing the expression on their face when you give them something new. When they go, wow, that’s going to change my life.”

Like many of his colleagues, Puls discovered his tribe at Excel events. “The people that truly get me are the ones that are at these conferences, whether they’re on stage or in the audience. Those are the people who understand how Ken works, how Ken ticks. I have friends scattered all over the world.

“Excel has carried me from Bulgaria to the Netherlands, to Buenos Aires, to New Zealand. And in the past few years, I’ve been able to bring my wife and daughter with me. We’ve made it an important part of our life, to travel together when I’m going to a country that we haven’t been to before. I go to the event and speak ‘geek’ while they’re touring around figuring out what I should see after the conference is over. Otherwise, I’d just see the inside of hotels.”

Decades after that first encounter with a real macro, Puls can’t imagine a day when Excel will fail to intrigue him and spark his imagination. “Just the fact that this program keeps on getting bigger and bigger and better every single month is just amazing,” he marvels.

“There’s just nothing better than the Swiss army knife that is Excel.”

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