Who I am, what I am doing, and why I am doing it.
During my fifteen years in supply chain business operations with an extremely large multi-national consumer goods company, I have created some really amazing tools, dashboards, databases and spreadsheets. Not because I was particularly awesome at it (as you will eventually come to find out), but it was bred out of a need.
The need crept up over time and flourished when the ‘sink or swim’ attitude I carry with me at work showed up and I decided to swim.
I actually swam quite a bit.
More than I ever thought I could, that’s for sure.
Today, I lead the ‘Data, Analytics and Digitization’ team for the same company I have been at for more than a decade. I’m in a procurement group that has about one-hundred and sixty people. It’s a global organization, but my responsibilities are just for North America. I do, however, get the opportunity to work with people all over the world.
I design solutions through technology using Windows/Microsoft Applications and often, Visual Basic and/or VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).
Solutions range from RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tools, to automated dashboards, and even a department wide datalake that takes care of the work that used to be done by five people. I script in SAP, query files in Microsoft OneDrive, design brilliant Microsoft Share Point sites and create Microsoft Access Applications as if they were paid for by developers (who usually charge your first born child).
What’s cool about what I do is everything I create either runs completely on it’s own (usually overnight), or has a GUI (Graphic User Interface) that makes the user’s life much simpler.
But as awesome as the things above sound, I had to start somewhere. I didn’t go to some boot camp to learn any of this. In fact, when I started out, tech boot camps didn’t exist, which is an important part to my story: I didn’t have a formal education in any technology or computer science related field (at least when I was starting). I had the domain experience of Supply Chain Operations, and the drive to learn what I needed to get the job done.
I learned what I could as I was building things and researching the best ways to accomplish certain tasks. I like to tell people that ‘I’m a blue collar person in a white collar world’. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, learn something new, try, fail, try again, fail again, and then finally get it almost right before tweaking it to perfection (or as close to it as I can achieve).
Are there better ways to do things than how I’ve done some of them? Probably.
Does that matter to me? Not one single bit, and here’s why.
Things are changing. Businesses today need two things from the people they hire. Even though they often only ask for the first one.
First, and this will always hold true no matter what, you need the domain experience/education for your role. For me, it was the knowledge of supply chain, planning, procurement and logistics operations. I know these topics like that back of my hand, and I could talk about them all day long because I have a very deep passion for the subjects. Seriously, feel free to email me about anything related to MRP (Material Requirements Planning), purchase-to-pay, or the end-to-end operations of a supply chain.
Second, people need to have the technological know-how to accomplish tasks efficiently, effectively, accurately and be able to show how they did something, the way they did it, and why they chose to do it this way.
The first skill set will always exist. It will never be difficult to find extremely educated men and women who are looking for jobs. As for-profit colleges operate at the level they have been, these factory lines churning out graduate after graduate will never cause a shortage of candidates who are educationally acceptable.
Granted, educations from one institution or another are not created equal, there’s still an extremely high probability that if you make your way to Broadway in New York City and stand on a busy sidewalk, within ten feet in any direction of you there will be at least five graduates from extremely respectable schools with master’s degrees who work as baristas at one coffee shop or another.
The education, as important as it is, will never be a difficult thing to find. The experience on the other hand? Well. That can be harder.
Today’s college graduates need to not only be able to effectively manage their role’s responsibilities, but will be required to do it in an efficient way that will require them to have some basic understanding of how to utilize business tools such as an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system like SAP or Oracle, or productivity software like Microsoft Excel, or Access.
Companies that once had fifty people in a certain department ten years ago, now have twenty-five. The amount of productivity hasn’t reduced any, as it shouldn’t have. What has changed is how quickly and efficiently people work. Ten years from now, that department with twenty-five people, may be reduced to ten.
With technology on the brink of “consumer level” A.I. (artificial intelligence), operations roles and beyond will forever be changed. Machine Learning (ML) will be the biggest asset data driven companies have in the next five years.
There will be a learning curve.
It won’t be pretty.
But it wasn’t always like this.
There was a time when domain experience was enough to get by.
In fact, there was a time in my career (2010, I remember the year because it was the longest year of my life, but that’s a whole other topic for discussion) when I had to explain to a direct-report that adding numbers in an excel spreadsheet using the calculator app (yeah, you know, windows calculator) wasn’t the most efficient way of performing the task.
Yes, you read that correctly. Adding numbers from excel, on a calculator.
It doesn’t matter that the calculator was also on the computer, in fact, that makes it a little worse in my eyes.
Granted, the person had been working through an evolution of technology that started with typewriters, moved to word processors, then to desktop computers, and then finally landed on laptops. This person wasn’t old, and that’s not the point I’m attempting to land here. My point is, habits die hard. Habits of technology, unfortunately, seem to die harder.
This person was a victim of circumstance, and I always helped when I could because of that fact. There have been more advancements with personal computing in the last fifty years than the two-hundred years previous to that. When things progress that quickly, it’s not easy to keep up. Especially when your career spans more than three decades. That’s like changing the game as you play it.
However, telling me “Oh, but I’m not really good at pivot tables” should be an indicator to you that there’s a gap in your knowledge. If you’re using something everyday and you tell people “I’m not good at this”, you either don’t care to learn, or cannot learn. I’m not sure which is worse.
It is a necessity and reality for most: if you want to keep your job, you need to keep current with your skills.
There’s a huge digital revolution taking place right now where data is turning into money, like magic.
Companies, large and small, are doing everything they can to integrate data into their digital plans. Nobody wants to be left behind, and bragging rights on being the first company to implement what most leaders agree as being some bottom-line changing technology (*cough* blockchain *cough*) has become a digital space race of sorts where the first one who lands will claim supreme and stab their flag into the ground.
The above point I just made is why I’m writing this.
The value in technology has been noticed.
It was always there, but within the last ten years, it has presented itself like the beautiful Corpse Flower (a flower that only blooms once every ten years, google it).
All of a sudden, companies can’t get enough technology integrated into their operations.
This is where the trouble for most people in the workforce today starts.
Domain experience is not enough. Not anymore.
The days of getting a college education and then working for the next forty years of your life riding on those few pieces of paper are over.
Don’t worry, this does not just apply to you, but for me too.
I’m not immune to this. In fact, I never was.
I am nowhere near a highly educated individual. In fact, my education is in audio and electronic engineering. I am just as replaceable as the next person.
But what sets me apart from the rest is my attitude towards learning new things and not being afraid to implement them.
This is what I hope to accomplish with you. I want to share with everyone what it is I do, and how I do it. From each system design, server function, and even just the formulas.
I’ll share the code that’s made people from around the world in my organization instant message me and ask “How did you do that?”
Basic excel skills all the way up to shell functions that edit your machine’s registry. It will all be here.
This won’t just be about Excel or Access.
It will be about surviving the digital revolution, and coming out as a leader on your team who will be the go-to person for anything.