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Skills My Students Value

In the last two weeks, several of my students have mentioned that employers expected them to know macro programming for Microsoft Office applications, including Word, Excel, and Access.

I've written many times that students should aim for at least intermediate knowledge of Word, including the concept of macros if not coding skills. However, the inclusion of Excel and Access was a little surprising. Maybe it shouldn't be, since what made Lotus 1-2-3 the "killer application" for PCs was its macro abilities. WordPerfect also had exceptional macros back in the DOS days, helping it become dominant for many years.

Note: I'm not sure I'd call the VBA code in Access "macro" coding, but it is Visual Basic and often the code used in workplaces exists in snippets. I won't post my gripes with most of what I've seen done in Access, but I have a long list of bad habits I've seen in workplaces. Still, employers use it for small projects and it isn't a bad system — more often a "badly used" system.

Student groups have asked if I might speak to their members about macros, since employers want these skills. That tells me that our schools should be teaching these skills, starting as early as possible.

Why don't we teach the real power behind Office? Because teachers (and most other users) have no idea what is possible with macros.

Over time more and more features once possible with macros have become integrated into applications. But, macros are still a great way to do more with applications.

I cannot imagine an engineer or draftsman not customizing AutoCAD with LISP scripts. Or a serious Web developer not automating pages with JavaScript. Learning macros opens the door to other forms of coding.


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