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As a .NET/web developer, my daily works mainly involve with Visual Studio, FireBug, SQL Server,..., and I'm quite fluent at them.

The problem is, my Office (Microsoft Office in particular, and office software in general) skills are bad. I can use them, of course, but at basic level. I can write documents, create presentations, but I can just type/edit/delete in Excel, but any advanced features.

My question is: is it tolerance for a programmer, like me, to be bad at office software?

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closed as not constructive by Yannis Rizos, Walter, Matthieu, ChrisF Jan 15 '12 at 13:23

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What are you using the Office for? I've never had a need to do anything with it, I always used latex for both documents and presentations. Never had any problems with being Office-ignorant. –  SK-logic Jan 6 '12 at 9:23
@SK-logic: Oh, how I envy you... –  Treb Jan 6 '12 at 9:43
Why would you ever want to use advanced features of an office product? What benefit would you get from that? How would it help you perform your job? –  S.Lott Jan 6 '12 at 10:47
Do you need to know? Would you pick it up quickly if you really had to? –  user1249 Jan 6 '12 at 12:06
I started my co-op term having never having used Excel. My first assignment was an Excel VBA application of several thousand lines. It wasn't a problem for me, and I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem for you either. –  user16764 Jan 6 '12 at 17:28

7 Answers 7

It is absolutely fine to learn Office tools on a need-to-know basis. After all you may not have to edit a full document up to publishing standards. But it doesn't hurt to learn, especially in free time. PowerPoint can be really useful for developers. Word may rank third. Developers with "soft skills" are more valuable to employees.

I volunteered to make a VBA based checklist in Excel, something I need not have. I had to spend some extra hours but in the end I learnt so many things about VBA scripts and formulas. And it became useful recently when I had to make a quick logfile to waveform converter for my project). Basically it looks for a particular line, reads the hex string in the file, separates it into parts and makes waveforms.

Take the trouble to learn PowerPoint (and the art of good presentations) if nothing else. You never know when your boss may ask you to put in a quick presentation overnight for a client. One day, maybe not in the near future but one day definitely you will be grateful to yourself. Would you like it if you lost a chance to work on a prestige project simply because you couldn't make a presentation and someone less deserving volunteered to do so.

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You need to know your programming skills best as that is what your main role is. But that should be no excuse for bad presentation skills. As any programmer worth his salt would say that documentation, tracking and presentations have their own place in SDLC. Once you grow in your role these skills become very desirable. So start early and make a habit to use office software (MS Office in particular as that is what most big shops use). You ignore the importance of this skill only till you don't know them. Once you know them, you become aware of all that you can achieve with them. After all they are not at all difficult or time consuming to learn, they just need a habit. :)

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Powerpoint is an afwul tool for presentations. The result always looks different with any other powerpoint installation. Latex + beamer + pdf is a much safer option (and much more programmer-friendly too). –  SK-logic Jan 6 '12 at 9:26
@SK-logic We are not discussing here the specific s/w but in general whether or not knowing Office tools help you at your work if you are a programmer. Lets not start a war on what tools to use here. :D –  Expressions Jan 6 '12 at 9:30
@SK-logic, it may be an awful tool, but it is de facto standard in, I guess, 99% of organizations. So IMHO one needs to know it at least on a basic level, simply to be "compatible" with coworkers. –  Péter Török Jan 6 '12 at 9:42
@PéterTörök is just right, you may be an elite Latex user, but it will be of no use if all your coworkers use Office. Also, often, the documents you write are not for IT users, and you'll certainly not convert them into LateX users... Which is why you have to work on your Office skills a bit. –  Jalayn Jan 6 '12 at 10:14
@Jalayn, you have to be compatible only if you're co-authoring documents with someone else. Otherwise PDF is more than enough, the end users shall not be able to edit the documents. I prefer to choose coworkers, well, selectively. –  SK-logic Jan 6 '12 at 11:45

It may be tolerable not to know how to use office tools effectively; the question is whether it is desirable.

I've had years of people thinking they know Word producing documents with loads of spaces instead of tabs, for example, Excel spreadsheets with manually entered sums.

I'd say learn a little more than the basics.

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This is close enough - you need to be at least adequately competent to get done what you need to get done and you should endeavour to do so properly which implies a bit more than "adequate" but not necessarily to the level or "power user". You definitely shouldn't be bad - but I would expect anyone sufficiently computer literate to be a developer should, almost by definition, be several steps above "bad" in use of most applications... –  Murph Jan 6 '12 at 12:54
You would be stunned. –  temptar Jan 6 '12 at 13:55
Sadly I wouldn't... but equally they wouldn't be working with me (-: Not for long anyway... –  Murph Jan 6 '12 at 14:29

Depends on your job, every job has diffrent requirements. You should know better than us, if not ask your manager.

In my job office skills are usefull for documentation, representing basic data and tasks like that. I need some skills but im by no means an expert.

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In a blinkered environment, or if you want to be a programmer only - sure you can get away without knowing Office skills. But you will really benefit from them. I agree with Expressions, until you have started using it, you won't realise the power you can get.

Excel is used for all sorts of things - want to do infrastructure sizing for a system, you'll need a calculator and some regression capabilities, or some Erlang spreadsheets? Want to plot some gathered system performance metrics to show trends and highlight issues, and be able to pick and filter the data to plot? Want to quickly work out the total hours of work you have committed over the next week and how much of your time is spent on admin? Nobody believes you that 80% of the time is spent in a method call and is bottling up the system? Nothing speaks like a picture, and Excel can be used for all of this.

If you want to be considered for promotions, as a team lead, or as a serious professional, you'll need to be able to use these tools. They are used across most business and government organisations, and your ability to use them to communicate effectively will make a difference. And you won't be promoted unless your manager thinks you can already handle the skills - people generally aren't hired for roles that they have no skill in. These are business standard tools. One book per app, is all it will take ...

If you're going to learn office tools, and you should, I recommend you learn your spreadsheet tool first (Excel).

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1) Your answer contradicts the Peter principle, 2) there are much more powerful and flexible tools than spreadsheets (I personally prefer Mathematica, but it is quite expensive) –  SK-logic Jan 6 '12 at 11:42
I'm just not convinced of this. I'm a very successful programmer and my word, excel and powerpoint skills remain at a beginner level, and this hasn't hindered me at all. I use excel maybe five minutes a year, write maybe a half dozen pages of a work doc a year, though I do create a few presentations every year. Never once has my office suite skills been questioned when being considered for a job or promotion. –  Bryan Oakley Jan 6 '12 at 11:53
@BryanOakley - You seem to be able to pick the skills the author is talking about fairly quickly. –  Ramhound Jan 6 '12 at 13:00
@SK-logic, it is fine to prefer other tools but in most work situations, you just CAN'T choose all your tools. If somebody sends you an excel spreadsheet and asks you do something with it, you can't tell them to send you a mathematica workbook instead because it is more "powerful". Excel is actually very good at what it does as long as the scope of the work is reasonable. Perhaps more importantly it is popular and a lot of folks are very competent with it. –  Angelo Jan 6 '12 at 15:54
@SK-logic, the real problem with excel is that non-programmers can quickly become very good at it and then start to use it for things that are not advisable (the golden hammer syndrome). When this happens you end up with monster spreadsheets that suddenly become critical "enterprise" apps and major problems ensue quickly. –  Angelo Jan 6 '12 at 16:11

Ask yourself two questions: 1) do you enjoy using office-software?, 2) does your job require it? If the answers are "no" and "no", just leave it be.

Re. excel: I wrote my thesis using latex and R. I cannot imagine using Excel for any serious data analysis (indeed, fellow students in the lab went crazy trying to coerce a spreadsheet into doing what they needed; though, to be fair, they used gnumeric or OOCalc). For data analysis, my go-to tool is R; also for charting (ggplot2 is a great package). For writing text, my go-to tool is latex.

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I won't -1, but I can't agree. Using just those criteria doesn't take into account what you may want for yourself in the future. For eg. If you are interested in working at Microsoft on day, then Office might be a good skill to have. –  Steve Evers Jan 6 '12 at 15:17

I've found that basically everything my co workers do in excel, I can do better, faster, cleaner, and with more control in python and ipython. VIM is far better at manipulating text than word, and if I have to, copying text to a word doc for printing is trivial. Outlook is a terrible email client, though the functionality therein should be learned. Finally, never ever even squint in the direction of access. You'll go blind. Literally.

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