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This blog post in FT Alphaville caused me to reminisce about my early days as a “spreadsheet jockey” (our term for a developer of spreadsheet macros and functionality – more derogatory than complimentary) at a large investment bank.  While I had begun as a UNIX developer I, along with many of my colleagues, ended up spending a lot of time first converting Lotus 123 spreadsheets into Excel and then supporting them for the traders (Lotus was to early Excel as was a calculator to a random number generator).  Sometimes this included developing risk servers for the spreadsheets to call but very often we were just making sure the spreadsheets performed correctly.  Often we were called in to explain some discrepancy or other that had nothing to do with our code but as we were the only ones (other than the traders [at least most of them]) who understood how the spreadsheets worked we became the goto guys to explain why P&L or risk suddenly jumped one day to the next.  As I left the bank major projects were started to move off spreadsheets to servers for auditing reasons – but traders would not move unless the servers calculated as fast as the spreadsheets and as their desktops were constantly being upgraded this was an arms race we often lost.  I know that the “spreadsheet replacement projects” were ongoing for a number of years after I left and I would not be too surprised if they are still ongoing.


By the way my first exposure to spreadsheets was to VisiCalc – officially the first “Killer App” on my apple II (my parents used it too) which can still be downloaded and run (at least on XP.  I could not immediately find a 64 bit version).  I like spreadsheets and I still find myself hammering spreadsheets into all sorts of nails.  The problem is that they are VERY error prone and they are VERY easy to maliciously misuse and they are VERY easy to use to help hide issues.  Now excuse me while I copy this text from a cell and paste into a blog post.  Maybe I can just set up a macro …

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