LearnLearn the Basics of Spreadsheets for Data Analysis with Treehouse

Michael Watson
writes on July 11, 2017

When I sat down to start scripting Spreadsheet Basics I was super excited to have the opportunity to teach a Treehouse course. I’ve learned so much from Treehouse teachers over the years that even though I’m a leader at Treehouse, I felt honored to have an opportunity to join the teaching ranks. Moreover, I would be teaching a topic that I have a lot of experience with and believe is a tremendously valuable and broadly applicable skill today. The sense of excitement and pressure was distinct. Indeed, there were a few challenges in front of me.

First, spreadsheet software has a fairly mundane reputation. They’re similar to what economics is for liberal arts, the dismal software (see dismal science), which is unfortunate. In reality, knowing how to work with spreadsheets can be a truly valuable skill in a wide range of situations. The second challenge was that since I was creating a course for absolute beginners I had to try and distance myself from everything I’ve learned about spreadsheets over the past 20 years. It wasn’t easy, but when I thought about all the people who would benefit from having an approachable and effective basic spreadsheet course, I got pumped!

Knowing how to work with spreadsheets can be a truly valuable skill in a wide range of situations.

Over the years I’ve been at Treehouse, lots of people have asked if we teach courses on spreadsheets. Many had never had any exposure to spreadsheets in school and university, or were never trained on how to use them in their jobs. But then all of sudden, they’d gotten a promotion or a new set of responsibilities and were expected to know how to use them. They then struggled through not understanding what their colleagues were talking about. They couldn’t change the colors on a chart. It took forever to add things up in a spreadsheet. Getting data into the spreadsheet took even longer. They were intimidated by the software and were afraid to even start learning because they imagined they would ultimately fail. I remember a friend of mine who was a server in a restaurant and had an opportunity to take on more responsibilities around closing, but because she didn’t know how to work with a spreadsheet wasn’t able to take the additional work on.

Does any of the above sound familiar? Well then now is the time to push yourself out of your comfort zone and start learning the basics.

The structure of our Spreadsheet Basics course is aimed to welcome people who have never even opened up a spreadsheet before. We cover the fundamental vocabulary and features in detail. However, for people who have some spreadsheet exposure, the course is also valuable as it covers best practices when working with spreadsheets. For example, I was thrilled to receive an email from a student who completed the course that said “I’ve used spreadsheets for years, but I still learned a lot”. Some people who work with spreadsheets are self taught, and didn’t really learn from a mentor or program that taught them sound fundamentals. So the course can benefit absolute newbies and people who use spreadsheets every day. Indeed, if I had a course like this to take when I started with spreadsheets, I would definitely have saved a lot of time over my career.

If I had a course like this to take when I started with spreadsheets, I would definitely have saved a lot of time over my career.

As spreadsheets can be a bit boring for people, we also aimed to use interesting examples to make the subject matter more engaging. Also, don’t overlook the value of having the skillset to work with spreadsheets. Here are a few examples of how a spreadsheet can be useful:

  • Keeping track of your business or personal budget
  • Preparing your fantasy football draft strategy
  • Keeping contact information for vendors or service providers
  • Creating checklists
  • Analyzing data to guide decision making
  • Creating charts for presentations

Spreadsheet Basics is just our first course on spreadsheets. In July we’ll be releasing Data Visualization in Excel. Keep an eye out for more courses to follow on spreadsheets specifically, but also more broadly data analysis.

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