Why Bother with MS Office?

The following article is written as a commentary with the hopes of creating a discussion about the practicality of learning MS Office.

Some may view this is as an interesting question, and depending on what side of the fence you are on will obviously dictate your answer.  Throughout this article I will present viewpoints to the question from three angles- that of a corporate trainer, the "typical end-user" and a programmer.

First, the corporate trainer.  I've been fortunate to have a long career as a trainer, over twelve years and counting; for this I am grateful.  The same cannot be said for some of my peers. When I first started as a trainer my mentors stressed the importance of learning MS Office. The rationale being the product is very stable, has deep market penetration, is not a "flash in the pan" and not going to die off anytime soon (this was fact in the mid 90's).  I took this advice to heart and have not regretted that decision. Throughout the years having knowledge of MS Office has allowed me to teach, consult and serve many people.  By contrast, other corporate trainers tend to "pooh-pooh", or look down on MS Office because it is not "sexy", "slick" and it lacks the glamour of high-end specialty/ proprietary applications.  Taking this into consideration a large number of trainers choose to spend their time learning specialty software after specialty software, all the while jumping from training project to training project due in part to the fact specialty software's tend to pay higher amounts of money.  This cycle continues for several years until they burnout, get tired of constantly searching for project work, or the software itself has becoming boring or obsolete.  Ironically when they look for other permanent jobs many of those positions require some degree of skill in MS Office which is something they never bothered to learn in the first place.  So in short it seems that learning MS Office pays off if you are willing to learn "un-sexy" yet highly used and relevant software.

Now for the second group of people- the end-user.  Ahh...the end user, so much can be said about this stimulating group of people.  No doubt many of you know they can be your best friend, or worst enemy.  One thing I have learned from the end user is a basic understanding of their mentality.  For example if the end user has a MS Office question they will "Google it" searching for some resolve; if this doesn't work they start to call the "computer guru's" (aka the IT staff, and/ or programmers) seeking an answer to their question.  If you, the programmer, can answer it you are the best, if not allow me to suggest that you may not be viewed in the best light.  This statement leads me to the main objective of this article; which, as mentioned, is to start a discussion on the relevance of programmers learning MS Office.  Please comment on if you agree with this following section. 

If you look at things from the end-user point of view programmers are perceived to be at the top of the food chain, end-all-be-all in the world of computers, or the pinnacle of computer knowledge.  Or put another way, since you are programmer it is automatically assumed you know everything about everything when it comes to computers.  If you don't know the answer to a question you run the risk of being viewed as incompetent.  Now for the record this is hardly fair, much less right.  We all know it is impossible to know everything about software applications; much less hardware- the problem is most end-users will not accept this notion.  Sadly programmers are often the victim of an end-user NOT being able to solve their own problems; hence you become the scapegoat through no fault of your own and may receive anger directed toward you.  Again, this is not right.

That said I like to hear your thoughts on a couple of items:

  • How comfortable do you feel with MS Office?
  • Do you agree that end-users anoint you as the MS Office guru, even though you have limited experience with the suite? Or put another way, do end-users elevate you to a high plateau simply because you are a programmer?
  • And last, do you think it is worth it to become familiar with MS Office?
    • A supplemental point to consider would be to consider the fact Microsoft is really pushing SharePoint in Office 2010.

I look forward to hearing your thought and experiences.  Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

Have a great day,