Punching in the data

Business analyst Mohammed Alfan feels that the world underestimates the potential of Microsoft Excel, and is seeking to unleash it through YouTube videos and his book

Mohammed Alfan’s preoccupation with Microsoft Excel (MS Excel) might seem a bit strange to most people; his friends have wondered why he spends all his spare time on it. For the past 14 years, Alfan has been learning, exploring and experimenting with Excel. He recently published a book titled Data Analytics for Beginners where he attempts to teach readers on the varied uses of Excel.

The Kozhikode-based business analyst even has a YouTube channel on Excel (in Malayalam), which has over 9,500 subscribers; he also conducts free workshops for Class XII students in Government schools across Kerala. “Excel is restricted to just a chapter in their syllabus, and its uses are still grossly underestimated,” Alfan says.

His obsession with the application started when he realised that he did not feel tired even after spending hours staring at the spreadsheet. “As an employee at a software company in Bengaluru, I didn’t think much of it except as just another spreadsheet for data analysis. I worked in a number of companies and saw that 95% of their work was dependent on the application. Then it struck me. I knew Excel was the future, at least I knew it was mine,” he says.

Juggling with data came easily to him and he decided to pursue his love for the application seriously. “One can do almost anything with it,” he says. From drawing basic sketches to playing puzzles, building games and even automation, the possibilities are endless. “You can even build software using it. For small businesses that cannot afford expensive software, knowledge of Excel can come in handy,” he adds.

The Kozhikode district administration sought Alfan’s help during lockdown to consolidate and analyse data on the migrant worker population in the district. He will soon be conducting workshops for administrative staff at the Collectorate. “They deal with data and a better knowledge of Excel would help them handle it more efficiently,” he adds. Alfan also helped a special unit of the Police department organise, create and sort data.

On Sundays, Alfan conducts free up-skilling sessions for professionals in West Asia, many of whom were rendered jobless due to the pandemic, and are now looking for better opportunities. These people make up the subscribers count on his YouTube channel; Alfan has already reached out to over 1,000 people from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Oman. “Knowledge of Excel is an added advantage, especially in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” he adds. He conducts classes over video-calling app. He had to take a break when he was working on his first book, but he plans to restart the classes soon. Alfan is constantly working towards helping people apply Excel in their day-to-day lives.

Alfan’s tips for beginners

  • Adopt the ‘trial and error’ approach.
  • Open Excel, go to File>Menu>Open and instead of opening a blank worksheet, open a template.
  • Play around with data, change the table style, add filters and try out all possible options on the Menu.
  • When you need help, Google or press F1.
  • Do not depend on the mouse. Learn keyboard short cuts as they work best.

“You don’t have to be a techie, an accountant or a corporate employee to use Excel. A homemaker can use it to make a grocery list or do daily budgeting,” he says, adding that when compared to other spreadsheet applications, MS Excel is more user-friendly.

He is currently working on his second book, which will be on the importance of ‘look up functions’. The first book deals with pivot tool, a “top tool for analysing data”.

Backed by the company he works for, Nucore Software Solutions, Alfan is planning a free employment enhancement programme for B.Tech students throughout Kerala. “The programme will consist of a series of workshops on various tools of Excel, which would increase their chances of finding employment.”

“My aim is to reach out to as many Government schools as possible to help students understand and use the application to their advantage,” he adds.

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