Another reason you should lean to code: Python for Excel

Written on:June 8, 2012
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Anyone who has used Microsoft Excel since 1993 has likely dabbled at least once with VBA, or Visual Basic for Applications, scripting: That’s the year Excel 5.0 arrived with VBA support. The feature allows users to create automated tasks and functions in the spreadsheet application, extending the software’s potential.

Now, a pair of MIT students have created an plug-in alternative to VBA called IronSpread, which uses the cross-platform Python scripting language.

As I watched the video demo of IronSpread, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the “Should you learn to code?” meme a few weeks back. IronSpread is a perfect example of why you should, if you have the desire.

You can see the benefits here immediately through the video demonstrations: Comparable Python scripts contain about one-quarter the code of a VBA script. Obviously you have to know what you’re doing in Python, but it seems to me as if you could save quite a bit of time with it and generate results faster. The folks behind IronSpread — Ben Lerner (’12) and Victor Jakubiuk (’13) give you a head start with a nice simple introduction on some relevant Python basics.

I’m glad I stumbled on to this project because regardless of what others think of who should — or shouldn’t –learn to code, I chose to do so on my own last year and I picked Python as the vehicle to learn. If you’re interested, you can take advantage of the free MIT course on Python at the MIT OpenCourseWare site. Or you can dive right in and download the Excel plug-in at IronSpread.

Ultimately, I understand that a true computer programmer — one that codes for a living — is likely far more talented that someone like myself, who will build small, relatively simple apps on the side. But as we move to the “Internet of Things”, where different physical and software objects are all connected and will need to speak to each other, I think it’s a good idea to learn even the most basic of coding or scripting skills. Even for Excel.

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