Rick: For our very first show we welcome Szilvia Juhase. You may know Szilvia from her postings and some of her videos she’s done recently on the Mr. Excel channel. In particular, Santa Baby for Excel users and how to use wingdings and webdings for dashboards. I watched that one three or four times. It’s pretty cool. I’m not going to tell you how many times I watched Santa Baby. Cool stuff. Very creative. Szilvia lives in the LA area and has been doing training for 15 or so years. Szilvia would you mind saying hello and telling us about yourself?
Szilvia: Hello everyone. Hello Excel lovers around the world. My name is Szilvia Juhase. Szilvia a.k.a. XSzil. See what I did there? Excel XSzil. Because Excel is my jam. I have been doing it as long as I can remember. I first cut my teeth on spreadsheets in Budapest Hungary working for Arthur Andersen. That is how old I am. It was love at first sight and I eventually realized I was pretty decent at it and it morphed into a consulting life. I do wear a lot of different hats in my Excel consulting career because as Oz will agree, and Jordan, Excel is universal. You can go back to Babylonian times with clay tablets with chisels. The tiles look a lot like Excel. For those who say, “What’s the next thing?” I say there is no next thing. Excel or some incarnation will be around as long as we exist as humans. I’m a little passionate about Excel. I hope that’s coming across. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Rick: Szilvia, since you started with clay tablets in Budapest, what brought you to LA? And what brought you to doing this full time? What did that transition look like for you and how did you get into the videos to begin with? How did that become a creative outlet for you?
Szilvia: To be honest, Rick, the whole cabaret thing was something I did to pay the bills while I pursued my dream of being an Excel wiz. Eventually that blossomed into my full-time career. I kid, of course. Who amongst us haven’t thought about Excel in song? I like to sing so I hooked up with some musicians and there you go. So that is where the video came from. They move to California was inspired by..
Rick: “Beverly hillbillies..you loaded up your stuff and moved to Beverly?”
Szilvia: Something like that! I’m originally from Ohio. Jordan is my people. I went to Budapest and eventually wound up in California. I randomly got a job offer in San Francisco. I thought San Francisco versus Cleveland. I will see what is on the west coast. I got laid off of my very last job in San Francisco and I moved to LA. I thought that would be a good place to start freelancing. And I’m glad I did because there is truly the demand. The demand for the service is formidable and there’s not enough people doing it. And here I am today.
Jordan: When you went to that band and said I want to perform a song about Excel, describe their face. What did they do? I want to sing about a spreadsheet.
Szilvia: Well that was an interesting part of the recording session because I was hoping that the jokes would be funny because none of them had any understanding of what I was talking about. With one exception, the bass player was a user of pivot tables like Oz. For the most part, they were good sports about it.
Jordan: How many movie stars’ spreadsheets have you done? I assume Leonardo DiCaprio?
Szilvia: Right. Leonardo’s on the Rolodex. I’m still holding out that Excel is the new black. Excel is the dark horse among popular nerd memes, but it still on the side the uncool side of that dividing line, which makes it edgy. Case in point, the Community episode with the Excel song.
Oz: Of course I wrote the blog post about Excel tools being the Dennis Rodman of PI tools. Dennis Rodman had to always be on the court. He didn’t get the glamour and he didn’t get posters dunking on somebody, but when you had to get a winner you needed somebody who could get it done and do the dirty work. And that’s been Excel.
Rick: Excel is the worm.
Szilvia: Unsung hero.
Rick: How did you go about going to freelance? What was the transition like for you? For people watching this right now and they are a hero in their office and they are considering consulting or tutoring; how did you get your first client?
Szilvia: Well this is going to sound noble, but I pretty much make things up as I go along. It just sort of happened. I wasn’t quite sure what my next move was so I signed up with a few temp agencies. I thought, I’ll get my foot in the door, pay my rent, and do some senior analyst type work after a career in finance and audit. I didn’t want to go back to full-time. I started going on these jobs and I broke through by showing the client what I was capable of doing. One thing led to another and I was able to get better and better gigs. It takes time and experience.
Jordan: Then you landed a huge gig on Excel TV.
Szilvia: That was the breakthrough moment for me. (laughing all around) Quite honestly, when I got that call from your producer, it was a big celebration. I’m really thrilled to be a part of it.
Rick: We were waiting with bated breath whether you would join us. Our producers were back-and-forth for quite a while, so thank you for taking our call.
Szilvia: You’re welcome. I thought we had a theme song deal, Oz.
Oz: We had to roll that back.
Szilvia: Key of B-flat. Let’s go.
Jordan: Do a duet. I want to hear you harmonize.
Rick: Google hang out history here.
Oz: I have a question. Jordan and I were talking about how do you feel, what emotion does Excel pull out of you when you work with it?
Szilvia: It’s one of my greatest pleasures in life to be able to share tips with people who live and breathe Excel. I like to tinker with spreadsheets and break them down and build them back up. I love the aesthetic design part. It is a whole bag of emotions, but what’s really awesome is that it’s right down the middle of the left brain and right brain. There is an art to designing stuff in that is as important as the science piece of it. I feel like it’s a way for me to make a living exploring all of my talents.
Oz: Kind of a mad scientist meets art wizard?
Szilvia: My mother is an artist and my dad is an engineer. I think I’m right down the middle. For a long time, I didn’t know what that meant in terms of a path in life, but I think when you let go of what things are supposed to mean, you can see where it takes you. Ever since I was able to do that, things really started happening. I’ve been busy and blessed with a lot of work so I can’t complain.
Rick: Now that you’ve shot to fame for being on the show and you are at the top of the heap of the Excel world, what do you plan to do from here? What’s next for you? You have videos. Is there something else planned?
Szilvia: It is a matter of national security. I can share that there will be more stuff unveiled. I can’t make a formal announcement now but you will see similar content shared with the world. I hope to be part of the movement to make Excel a popular meme. I hope to be a part of promoting the world of modern Excel which I am excited to talk to you about here shortly. I have more video content as well as some written content.
Rick: All hush-hush now and you have the band under nondisclosure.
Oz: Is there a typical kind of work that you do? When I got my experience with Excel it started with a lot of data cleaning. Like clients who have16 spreadsheets that need to be together and need a lot of purging and cleansing. And I’ve been doing a lot of dashboards lately. And more workshops private for people who have specific things they need to learn. With Excel being able to do so many things, what are you called on to do a lot?
Szilvia: That’s a funny question. I am often called for nothing related to what I produce. The reason for that is you have to see it to get what they want. And if clients don’t know what’s possible, they don’t know until showing it to you. My job is so much bigger than designing the Excel tools. It’s the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent is the design; creating the tool, designing the interface, writing the code. The other 80% is handholding, reducing chaos and educating people about what it means to have a flat table and getting finance and IT to hold hands and be nice to each other. Liaising. 80% communication.
Oz: I thought you were going to say something else which was that the design aspect and math and the formulas in the background. I find that a lot of times there’s a whole lot of design because the math is easy you have to make a front end that is intuitive.
Szilvia: Right the education is 80%; understanding what they need. The thing that I would add to that point about the math being intuitive I have learned is that never assume anything is intuitive for somebody else because we Excel people have special kinds of brains or brain damage, you could call it.
Laughing all around!
Szilvia: What is intuitive to someone like you or me may not be intuitive to your audience. And that has been the biggest challenge: communication. Be sensitive to who you’re dealing with and what is intuitive to them.
Oz: What are some common things that are intuitive like putting a bunch of things on month and year tab that is a reasonable way to think but when you try to do some Excel things become problems.
Szilvia: So they’ll let us not forget the biggest genius is in the simplicity. If it’s simple to the end-user there’s some complex stuff going on in the background to be sure. When a client says, “Let’s just make something simple,” I ask, simple for you? That’s always a challenge. Managing and communication.
Oz: One thing with Excel 2013 is being able to make data models. That’s a beautiful thing to do data models and it adds a lot of simplicity, but if a user doesn’t have Excel 2013 but they have things that would be better in data model, then you have to manage them or you’re running VBA code or a bunch of Sum if’s and different issues. Simplicity on the front and a whole lotta stuff on the back.
Rick: I have a lot of kids and whenever I need them to clean their room that means it’s all clean on the surface but don’t look under the bed. Or I call it doing the doggy paddle- on the surface it smooth but underwater you are kicking like hell
Jordan: Don’t look under the spreadsheet.
Rick: Szilvia, thank you so much for joining us and answering our questions.