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Excel Developer Conference Presenter – Bob Phillips

January 11, 2012


I am Bob Phillips, currently an independent solutions provider. In previous lives, I worked for large financial corporations building credit risk management systems.

My principal area of interest is presenting data as information, which to me covers the whole range from capturing (the right) data, extracting it from wherever it has been ferreted away, and presenting it in the most appropriate visual manner (that is, no pie charts!). To my mind, this naturally leads to what is now called Business Intelligence.

I first became involved in this area in 1996. As I said, I used to build credit risk systems, and I was building a system for one of our major investment banks and we needed to supply reporting capability. We could have opted to build a suite of custom reports, or used one of the market leaders at that time (Cognos, Business Objects, …), but both of these choices left us less than enthusiastic. Instead, we decided to build a data warehouse, plug Brio into this warehouse, output the reports as Excel files, and publish these to our intranet. That was my first exposure to warehouse development, and I chose Excel as it was a tool I had used for my own use, just like my users, and I knew how good it was. I have never been the same since.

My Session

Since I started in this field, things in the warehousing and BI world have just got better and better, even SQL Server is a decent product now (it wasn’t in the late 90s, early 2000s).

Of course, the big problem with these BI solutions is where they are supported, the dreaded IT department. So a solution that allows the user to produce their own reports; to do their own analysis; to incorporate data not in the enterprise systems; this has become the BI Nirvana. Many companies have produced products claiming to do this, and now Microsoft have come up with their own offering, PowerPivot. In this session, we will look at PowerPivot, data modelling and DAX formulae, consider whether this really is a user tool or still for the developer community. The great thing about PowerPivot is that it is integrated with Excel, it is an Excel addin, but has the goal of self-service BI been achieved?

My Interests

I think that Excel is the best computer application ever. It may not be perfect; it may not be the best architected; it may be lacking a ton of necessary, even critical, functionality; but it does so many basic things well, and it is so easy to build upon an Excel application that its spread and influence are enormous. Unfortunately, I think Microsoft are trying their hardest to destroy it in their misguided corporate vision, but I am not sure they are good enough to achieve it.

With my infatuation with Excel, I spend far too much time on various Excel and SQL based websites and forums, trying to convince others about my view of these products by helping them to resolve problems. When I do manage to drag myself away, I like to spend my time cycling or walking the cliffs in Dorset. I have been known to have a drink or two, and I do like eating, so I am looking forward to the apres-Excel session on the day.


Excel Dev Conf presenter – Simon Murphy

January 9, 2012


Simon Murphy


Work Dodger.

No really…

Excel interoperability nerd. I connect Excel to other corporate resources, either data (eg in Oracle or SQL Server or Access or Essbase or SSAS etc), or logic (eg C# or F# logic functions, or C++ user defined functions)

I use whatever technology fits the bill, so sometimes VBA, Sometimes C#, C++, Dos scripting, javascript, ADO, XML, full on buzzword bingo in fact.

I do consultancy and training, and also contracting, where I may work at the same client for 3 or 6 months.

I will work pretty much anywhere, but have recently set up the family base in Switzerland.

I work through Codematic Ltd an Excel development specialist company.

What topics?

The Excel window – This session is  about all the possible ways there is to get that useful corporate info and /or logic into Excel and the pros and cons of each.

Managing Excel developments – Here I talk about how Excel development projects go and what works and what does not work in trying to manage that effort. This is experience based, not book based. It’s also customer based not project management based.

Life summary:

Happy childhood, went to college, hated it, dropped out a few times, then went skiing for a few years. Came back, went into accounting, big mistake, realised technology was my best exit strategy. Did 36 period end closes, by which time I had automated all the boring stuff away, never sat my finals – studied for them loads of times. Went and did a MSc in Software Development part time whilst gradually shifting focus from finance to IT. Always struck by how powerful Excel is as a client and how much traditional IT hate it and waste years reproducing a fraction of the features in a browser based app that everyone hates. Currently treading the fine line between what users need to do their roles and what IT is prepared to deliver, or allow others to deliver.

Other work type stuff

I blog at smurfonspreadsheets where I try and cover spreadsheet risks and quality issues as well as hard core development stuff. Interspersed with occasional rants about a range of topics, including crap McManagement and poor electronic devices. I have spoken at a few development conferences, as well as Eusprig (where my focus is more on wasted time due to poor spreadsheet use rather than ‘errors’).


Kids mainly. I still ski and snowboard although not at the level I used too, I get regularly reminded of this by large wipeouts.

I used to do a bit of woodwork, but I am generally too far from my workshop at the moment. I do a bit of photography, although now the kids are sick of me saying ‘do that jump again I missed it’ my opportunities for action shots are decreasing. I try to capture any nice sunsets, I heard a rumour there are often nice sunrises, but I rarely stay up that late these days.


Beer: Jenlain. Biscuits: Fresh crunch creams (i used to work on the cc line at Foxes, these are delicious as they come out of the oven, hot.). Biking: Downhill. Super hero: Monkey 😉

Other positions

International self declared life president of the Worldwide Extreme Spreadsheeting club:

Unless you have a more extreme spreadsheeting shot?

I was going to call it Extreme Excel which rolls off the tongue a little easier, but it’s Open Office Calc, innit? (on Linux)

(this was on a chairlift 5-10 meters up, in the snow at about-5C)



Excel Dev conf presenter Mathias Brandewinder

January 2, 2012

Let’s now turn to our second contestant for the evening. Can you tell us who you are?

My name is Mathias Brandewinder; I live in San Francisco, where I run Clear Lines Consulting, developing applications with a quantitative modeling bent.

Do I discern a hint of an accent?

Indeed you do – 10 years in San Francisco barely made a dent in my French accent.

What kind of developer are you?

I have dabbled with computers since forever, starting with an Amstrad CPC 6128. I began as a paid developer around 2000, writing VBA-heavy Excel models, modeling portfolio decisions for biotech companies, and began working with .NET in 2004. Since then, my languages of predilection have been C# at day, F# at night. I have done lots of projects developing .NET applications with an Excel front-end, and was recognized as a Microsoft MVP for VSTO 2 years ago. You can get a sense for what I do at my blog,

What is VSTO? Why should we care?

VSTO stands for Visual Studio Tools for Office. In a nutshell, it provides a bridge between Office and .NET, enabling the development of .NET applications with an Office front-end. With VSTO, Excel developers can leverage the full power of the .NET framework, in a modern development environment, and potentially deliver much richer solutions than what VBA allows. However, it also has pitfalls, and can be unpleasant. I will present a full add-in development with VSTO – the good and the bad – so that you can judge by yourself if it is right for you.

What do you do when you are not coding?

What do you mean, not coding? 🙂 I also enjoy Thai Boxing, detective stories, and a good time with friends, cigars and good food.

Do you have questions for the audience?

Please use the comments to let me know if you have any requests! I was also considering touching on OpenXML, which is a great way to work directly with Office files via .NET, if there are any takers… Also, I expect you guys will be Excel rock-stars, but indication on how comfortable you are with .NET and C# is highly welcome.

— Mathias Brandewinder

UK Excel Developer conference date and location

November 30, 2011

the date and location for this event is now sorted:

Wednesday 25th Jan, all day.

and the location is here:
Skills Matter

This is the same venue as the last event as they looked after us so well.
We will go to the local pub for dinner, which also worked well last time.

So get the date and location in your diaries.

I’ll put up a book/pay link over the weekend.
I’ve only booked a medium sized room, so once its full we’ll have to stop taking bookings. I.e. book early…

The plan is for another smallish informal event with around 30 or so people.

I hope to see you there.



UK Excel Developer Conference London January 2012

November 22, 2011

08:30 – 08:45
Tea, coffee, small talk and any nice biscuits anyone brings
08:45 – 09:15
The Excel Window
Excel is the window to most corporate data, and most corporate logic.
This session looks at trade offs you make by placing different elements at the various layers.

Simon Murphy
09:15 – 09:45
Keeping track of development with working papers.
Branched arguments and conclusions from an Excel Workbook – a
management concept in VBA

Stephen Allen
09:45 – 10:00
Questions and answers & Tea and Coffee
10:00 – 11:15
Will Self-Service BI Happen?
– Excel as the BI presentation layer
– PowerPivot as an end-user tool
– Bringing it all together.

Bob Phillips
11:15 – 12:15
VBA to ExcelDNA The trials and tribulations of migrating from VBA to and ExcelDNA.
– Writing VBA UDFs that convert to C# and C++
– Using ExcelDNA to create XLLs
– Running VB.NET without Visual Studio

Mike Staunton
12:15 – 13:30
Dinner/Lunch PUB
13:30 – 13:50
Managing the development process
Excel Development is RAD.
What does that mean?
how does it impact project management and planning?
The good and bad of RAD
And how to maximise one and minimise the other

Simon Murphy
13:50 – 15:05
The .NET hammer: VSTO for Excel
Compared to other Excel automation approaches, VSTO (Visual Studio Tools
for Office) is heavyweight. We’ll illustrate some of its benefits (full
access to all the power of .NET, modern IDE and development languages, team
development, testable code, automated deployment), and discuss when using
VSTO is and isn’t a good idea.

Mathias Brandewinder
15:05 – 15:30
Break Questions and answers over Tea and Coffee
15:30 – 16:30
VBA to C : Pratfalls and Perils
– Stories based on a c++ newby’s efforts to convert 10K lines of VBA UDFs to
C++ XLLs.
– Demonstrations and examples using Visual Studio 2010 and Planatech XLL+

Charles Williams
16:30 – 17:30
The FAST spreadsheet modelling standard
An industry proven, easily accessible, collaboratively developed, set of guidelines and recommendations to facilitate building robust spreadsheet models efficiently.

Morten Siersted
17:30 – 18:00
Questions and answers and general lurking and conf close
18:00 – late
    Drinking and arguing    

Excel User Conf London 7-8 Oct 09

September 29, 2009

The next UK Excel User Conference will take place next week at Microsoft London.

Its two days, Wednesday and Thursday.

Its a re-run of the April event for those that missed out that time

Fuller details including an agenda are here.

If you are going I look forward to seeing you there.



UK Excel User Conference 2009 content

September 26, 2008

Please leave a comment listing the topics you would like covered and what level.

Also note if you think it is more suitable for a one day event or more in depth coverage over a 2 day event.

If you would be interested in presenting then drop me a line.

If you would like to sponsor the event then let me know too.

Also if you have any ideas for improving previous conferences then leave a comment

and finally for the 1 day free event – London or Reading?



Conference Report Day 1

December 7, 2007

Thursday – Conference Intermediate, Add-ons – Advanced.

Overall the delegate feedback was very positive about the venue, the content, and presenters.

The first session was my Pivot table slot.

I went through from basic intro to pivots, through some of the features I have found useful on client assignments. And features I tend to avoid, and why, and what I do instead. That included a 10 minute intro to the most useful parts of Access. I did a very brief demo of using some simple macro recorder stuff to synchronise multiple pivot tables, and ran out of time before punishing everyone with some of my gruesome real world examples.

Next up was Patrick with auditing spreadsheets

He gave us some insight into the work of a spreadsheet auditor, in particular the things to look out for, or sniff out. Poor practice being likened to a bad smell. He gave a useful overview of some of the available tools, both free and those that cost. We had a good discussion about names and external links, and plenty of other ‘quality’ practices. Patrick was also generous enough to offer a copy of his excellent book Spreadsheet Check and Control as a draw prize. So thats one delegate going back to the office armed with the knowledge to improve theri corporate spreadsheet quality.

(fortunately Patrick had left to catch his flight before he saw my random name picker fail rather embarrassingly with a #REF! error – whoops)

We then went off for dinner/lunch, for some more spreadsheet chat, this time over a buffet. I defy anyone to suggest there wasn’t enough food!

Bob got the graveyard shift after the food to talk about Visual Impact.

Considering the tube map as an presentation example was inspired, especially when alternative inferior examples were compared. Bob had plenty of excellent advice for clarifying the message, I particularly liked the talk (and demos) of removing ‘ink’ from a diagram to leave only what is genuinely important. In another section Bob went through and highlighted some of the weak informational content in many of Excel’s inbuilt chart types.

Nick closed the formal session for the day with a look at what new in 2007.

There are some great new features in Excel 2007, and Nick did an excellent job of demoing a selection of the most useful. It was especially useful that Nick has moved his whole firm over to 2007 – he has the insight that only real world use can provide.

We then had a short informal questions from the floor session, and a prize draw for Patrick’s book and some wonderful wooden puzzles Keith had brought.

It was then I realised what it was about conferences that bothered me – the dead spot between the last session and food. I had sorted the food no bother but had nothing arranged for the hour or so beforehand. Obviously we were going to a pub, but which?

We found a pub (eventually), then had a great meal at Pizza Express and those that were up for it went off for more drinks. They suffered on Friday!

Although the social aspect is a hard sell to the budget holder, in many ways it is one of the most important activities. Many a useful snippet is picked up in the pub, and by getting to know people better you can be more at ease asking questions. Its often easier to approach someone in the pub with a question than infront of 20 other people who may be more keen to get off and get their dinner.

psst – wanna save a few quid??

November 12, 2007

Today and tomorrow are great days for booking your place at the Excel User and Developer conference.

On Wednesday the early bird discount ends and prices revert to the normal price which is about 10% more.

Get over to :

And book your place ASAP to beat the price rise.

Still not sure you want to invest a few hundred pounds in some of the best Excel training around?

Check out the schedule and contact one of the organisers if you have any questions. My contact details are here: (email will work best)



Excel VBA training

November 9, 2007

One of the great strengths of Excel compared to alternative spreadsheets is the power, simplicity and refinement of the integrated programming language VBA. Whilst the conference aims to cover as broad a range of Excel based content as possible, it would be remiss to ignore VBA. A little bit of VBA can go a long way in improving a spreadsheet, in a variety of ways.

There are several sessions at the Excel User conference focusing on VBA. The outlines for all the sessions are here.

On Thursday, Andy Pope is doing an advanced level add-on class covering Class modules.

Using classes and the associated object oriented design can often make a solution much more simple to code and maintain. This OO approach is also followed by most of the modern Visual Studio languages.

On Friday there are 2 advanced level VBA sessions in the conference, which reflects how useful VBA can be.

In the morning I’m doing a session on good design in VBA, this will touch on classes, but focus more on general areas that apply whatever design is used.

In the afternoon Charles Williams is doing a session of writing efficient user defined functions in VBA. Its common to be able to swap fairly ugly worksheet formulas for simple elegant VBA functions. Charles will be showing how to do that without affecting performance.

Also on Friday afternoon Bob Phillips is running an intermediate add-on class covering some of the VBA tips and tricks he has picked up over the years. This is an excellent opportunity if you are just finding your feet in VBA to really boost your knowledge, and learn some tried and tested ways to to get things done.

There is also plenty to learn at the conference if you have no interest in VBA of course.



[And if you are staying for the Excel Developer conference on the Saturday we will be looking at what the future might hold for the VBA language and our solutions based on it. Well worth attending.]