Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
The Freediving, Meditating Data Translator, w/ Allison KennedyListen Now:
On today’s episode of Raw Data by P3 Adaptive, we welcome Allison Kennedy to the show. Allision is a Certified Microsoft trainer and MVP specializing in Excel but, according to her, that just means that she is a puzzle solver, number cruncher, and an Excel aficionado. Allision is one of the rare data gene types who loves teaching others to embrace their data for the good of humanity or for one-upping Australia. A true educator at heart, Allision’s data origin story involves transitioning from Mechanical Engineering into education, first with languages in Spain and then with all things data on the other side of the world in New Zealand proving that with the right data skills, you really can go places.
In addition, we hear about her other passion: meditative free diving. Recently certified as a Four Start Advanced Master freediver, Allison can reach depths of 32 meters on a single lung full of air (don’t try this at home). On the topic of freediving, Rob shares a Pop Collie anecdote, and we have a good laugh at the wiliness of the Collie family in pranking the younger generation. How? No spoilers here. You’ll have to listen to find out this and more on today’s episode.
Also on this episode:
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today's guest is Allison Kennedy. Have you ever noticed that members of the data platform community are disproportionately likely to have interesting hobbies? Now I, myself feel very much below average in the community in terms of my personal hobbies and interests. I mean, I'm not super boring. I play roller hockey, but even here on the P3 team, I would rank myself below average in terms of my personal interests and how interesting they are.
Rob Collie (00:00:26): Well, Allison Kennedy, yet another example of this certified master free diver who meditates more than a hundred feet below the surface. Let me say that again, in case you missed it, she meditates a hundred feet below the surface. Oh, and she's also a world traveling expat, grew up in Chicago lives in New Zealand, the usual. And at her core, this person is a teacher. And we talked about that explicitly on the podcast. But even when we're not talking about it directly, you'll still hear it. It just leaps out of the audio leaps out of her voice.
Rob Collie (00:00:59): And during the course of our conversation, I started to have this thought that we're always talking about translation and ambassadors on the show. The hybrids that sit between two worlds. And I think as a result of this conversation, I've started to not view that as a separate thing from teaching. Teaching is translation. It is standing on the border between two worlds and conveying information from one in a language that the other can understand. So we're calling up Webster and we're telling them teaching and translating are now synonyms.
Rob Collie (00:01:31): Circling back to that expat thing. Have you ever noticed that it seems like New Zealand and Australia are hotbeds for data platform MVPs? Well, after the recording, we did a little back of the envelope math and determined that on a per capita basis, New Zealand has 10 times as many data platform MVPs as the United States. We can't afford for our data platform MVPs in the United States to be moving to New Zealand. That sinister key we brain drain is going to bring us down. Completing the thought, Australia has three times the data platform MVPs on a per capita basis as the United States. So there's something going on down there, isn't there? I really enjoyed meeting Allison and speaking with her. I think you'll see that she truly is a wonderful person and we like that kind of people don't we? So let's get into it.
Automated (00:02:20): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?
Rob Collie (00:02:24): This is the raw data by P3 Adaptive podcast, with your host Rob Collie and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Raw data by P3 is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:02:49): Welcome to the show. Allison Kennedy. It's nighttime, yeah?
Allison Kennedy (00:02:53): No it's 6:43 in the morning.
Thomas LaRock (00:02:55): Oh my.
Rob Collie (00:02:56): Yeah. Thank you so much.
Thomas LaRock (00:02:58): Why would anyone get up early for this?
Rob Collie (00:03:01): Oh, come on. It's an opportunity to meet the great Tom LaRock.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:06): Sure.
Allison Kennedy (00:03:07): That's right.
Rob Collie (00:03:08): How else is that going to happen?
Allison Kennedy (00:03:09): I don't get to hear enough of you on the podcasts, Tom. I wanted to come and see the man in person.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:14): I know, I know.
Rob Collie (00:03:15): So 6:43 in the morning. Is that normal for you or did you have to set an alarm specifically for this?
Allison Kennedy (00:03:21): A little bit of both. I'm not a morning person. I tend to prefer the other side of the day usually. But because I decided to move to New Zealand, this has become a little bit normal for me whenever I want to talk to lovely people like yourselves who are in North America which is where I'm. So I do find myself getting up early a lot of mornings.
Rob Collie (00:03:42): I did not know that you were an expat until you mentioned it just before the show, you know backstage.
Allison Kennedy (00:03:47): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:03:48): Where did you move from and when?
Allison Kennedy (00:03:50): So I grew up just outside of Chicago in a suburb called St. Charles, Illinois. And I went to University of Illinois, graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, oddly enough.
Rob Collie (00:04:04): Closer to data than usual.
Allison Kennedy (00:04:07): It's one of those careers that they don't tell you about when you're filling in those forms and deciding who do you want to be when you grow up? So I went with what I knew my dad was an electrical engineer and I don't want to be like him. I'm going to do mechanical.
Rob Collie (00:04:18): Yeah, that's right. We're going to rebel a different flavor of engineering, that'll show him.
Allison Kennedy (00:04:24): Did a few study abroad. Always had a love for travel, met my partner and we moved to Spain for a couple of years. I taught English and then we were searching for the next great adventure. And he got a over here in New Zealand and we'd never been here, never been to this part of the world at all. And just thought, "You know what's the worst that can happen. Let's take the leap. We'll go for a year." Which is the typical story of expats over here. They're like, "Oh yeah, I came over on a working holiday," or "I just came for a year and nine years later, we're still here in New Zealand."
Rob Collie (00:05:00): You do have the Illinois accent anymore. Maybe over there it's different. But as far as I'm concerned, you could pass as a native New Zealander, New Zealandite.
Allison Kennedy (00:05:10): It definitely depends on the day and how long I've spent talking to family or people in North America. But I will say that I did get made fun of a lot as a kid for various reasons. I used to have glasses and they made fun of me for that. And I also got made fun of for talking funny. And apparently I say things like pillow and milk weird and I say them completely differently, I'm sure than I used to. But sometimes I can get through... So I'm a Microsoft certified trainer and I teach strangers. So you'll come to me for a day or a four day course maximum, I think is kind of the longest one that I teach. And so I think that's helped my accent a lot because I get a lot of people giving me funny looks and staring at me when I say things weird.
Allison Kennedy (00:06:02): And so over time, the way I talk has evolved based on that feedback. And so now I'll get to the end of a class and somebody will finally catch on. I must say something a little bit funny and they'll say, "Hang on. Where are you?" And then everybody else in the class wakes up and is shocked that I'm not a New Zealander. And then some days somebody will pick up on it right away in the morning and say, "Hey, are you?" And they never want to guess because there's that rivalry and that American Canadian thing. So they never quite want to be bold enough to guess that I'm American because I think guessing Canadian's probably the safer choice, isn't it?
Rob Collie (00:06:43): What rivalry are we talking about as Americans over here? We're unaware of any rivalry.
Allison Kennedy (00:06:47): Exactly. And I moved to New Zealand, right? So we've got the same thing going on over in New Zealand with Australia. I love it. I play off of it. We do an Olympics data set in my Power BI essentials course. Of course, Australia's got more people they're bigger and better and steal all of New Zealand's beautiful things like pavlova that we've invented. And we pull in population data to prove that New Zealanders are better at the Olympics than Australians. That only works if we're looking per capita. So I feel and fully appreciate the rivalry now that I've moved to the younger sibling country, if we will.
Rob Collie (00:07:25): If you just stay here in the big bully sibling right, "Rivalry? Oh, come on. That's cute. There's no such thing."
Allison Kennedy (00:07:34): Canada who's that?
Rob Collie (00:07:36): I don't need any fancy calculations to restore my sense of identity, vis-a-vi Canada. Anyway, we don't have a chip on our shoulder with regard to Canada. That's a fair statement.
Allison Kennedy (00:07:49): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:07:49): Nine years in New Zealand, you went to school for mechanical engineering, but next thing you know, you're teaching English in Spain.
Allison Kennedy (00:07:55): Well, I did have a brief three months stint of interning in Germany just before that. And that's probably the longest stint of mechanical engineering I've done.
Rob Collie (00:08:06): Pretty much we're getting out of hand here. How does Excel become the focus in this story? It's not obvious to me.
Allison Kennedy (00:08:13): I don't know that Excel became the focus. Teaching became the focus and that's not a surprise. I come from a long line of teachers. A lot of my family are teachers. I said that when you're growing up, data's not on the list of things to do, teaching is. I seriously considered studying education. And because teachers are so under respected and underappreciated, I got talked out of it. And that's a real shame because we need better teachers in all areas and aspects of life. And I really wanted to be a teacher and it shows because I ended up here. I taught English in Spain. I loved teaching. It's just such a high to see somebody get it and to see the lights click on. And there is no amount of money or compensation that a company can give you that will exceed what feedback I get from my students. I love it.
Allison Kennedy (00:09:11): I figured that out after doing it for two years in Spain. And we went back to the states for a bit, I was working on getting my teaching degree and I was going to become a high school math teacher. And we moved to New Zealand just before I finished that degree. I was kind of starting over and just looking for anything that I could do to keep myself busy and make a living in New Zealand, found a job doing road safety education in schools. So it was a little bit of engineering, a little bit of teaching, a little bit of program coordination. So I was kind of the translator between the engineers that go around and put in, we call them key crossings, or what do you call them in the states, zebra crossings.
Thomas LaRock (00:10:00): Crosswalks?
Allison Kennedy (00:10:01): Crosswalks, that's the one. We call them, zebra crossings is actually probably what they would call them over here. I still say zebra, sometimes I'm stubborn.
Thomas LaRock (00:10:11): And my favorite is in the UK, the humped zebra.
Allison Kennedy (00:10:14): The Humped Zebra. I guess camels don't have stripes. Do they? And there's different types of humps because if it's a bus route, it can't be one type of hump because it disrupts the bus passengers. And we can't have that because then people won't want to take the bus and then it makes it less safe because then you've got more people zooming around in their cars, around the schools. So there's lots of consider that the engineers have to think about that the principles of the schools don't realize. And so my job was to translate between the two and come to some sort of an agreement and also work with the kids to do road safety campaigns.
Allison Kennedy (00:10:50): There was a bit of Excel involved in that. There was a lot of SharePoint involved in that. We had had an internal training team. We were using dynamics. I'm not sure it was called dynamics at the time, but we were using that. And I was quickly nominated as the person in the road safety education team, who was sent along on all the internal trainings to talk to the people who spoke tech. The internal training, they were really clever, but they didn't have the understanding of how people cannot know what to do in tech. They're just like, "It's so easy. Click here. This is what happens." It makes sense to them. And it didn't make sense to the people in my team. And there was that disconnect.
Allison Kennedy (00:11:38): There's a difference between understanding how to do something and being able to teach somebody how to do something. So my team got really bored and frustrated in the internal trainings. And so they nominated me as the person to go learn the knowledge and come back and impart it to them as needed. And that's one of the things that I've discovered with adult education is that it needs to be that just in time learning that if you don't need the information and it's not relevant to you right now, you're not going to absorb it. It's going to go in one ear, out the other, if it even goes in one year. Kudos to kids because sitting in a classroom for a full day and learning and absorbing information is exhausting. Adults are not good at it. It's not what we're built for.
Rob Collie (00:12:25): In hindsight, I'm not really sure that kids are built for it either.
Allison Kennedy (00:12:27): No.
Rob Collie (00:12:28): It's just that kids don't have a choice, right?
Allison Kennedy (00:12:30): They don't, it's their full-time job.
Rob Collie (00:12:32): I just recently me relistened to an old favorite song of mine, Chalk Dust Torture by Phish. And it's funny, I was sort of a really good student from the outside in high school. I described myself as sort of like one of the A plus products of the American educational system. I was flawless in that regard. And at the same time I listened to song and I'm like, "Yeah, that sucks. All of that sucked." There's a really great line in it, "Can't this wait till I'm old. Can I live while I'm young?" So many things in here resonate with me. I too had dreams of being a high school math teacher growing up. It seemed like the sort of thing I would enjoy doing. I certainly enjoyed tutoring other students. I didn't really know why I hadn't tapped into or extracted the why I enjoyed it. But it's that same thing, right?
Allison Kennedy (00:13:26): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:13:27): Someone else becomes more capable and more confident in themselves as a result of interacting with you. How can that not be a little bit addicting? It's the coolest thing ever. And so I don't think I needed to be talked out of it. I think I was a little too money focused a little too, like go, go, go focused to really kind of head that direction. So it's just many years later that I find myself back to doing what I kind of expected I would be doing. I spent a number of years as a Power BI consult and a trainer primarily on Power Pivot. It's been a while since I've... I haven't taught too many classes recently, but it's like, "Oh, this is great. I get to teach. It's still kind of math-y." So something else that jumped out at me, there was how cool is it that you identified in yourself that teaching was something that really spoke to you at the same time, your first teaching gig wasn't just teaching. It was also explicitly translating. Here's one world, the Spanish world. And here's the other world, the English world. And all teaching is really a form of translating.
Allison Kennedy (00:14:30): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:14:31): Take something new and foreign and somehow make it digestible to the current you, the current student.
Allison Kennedy (00:14:38): And I think being an expat helps with that too, right. Because it's taking your lens... I did an adult education class and they talked a lot about the cultural lens. Culture means a lot of things and taking one you and transforming into a different you and pulling all of that together, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:14:58): So then the next sort of teaching role, you're translating again. You're translating tech to the non-tech and probably a little bit also of translating the non-tech back to the tech people. And that job, by the way, is what I did at Microsoft. Translator, like an ambassador between the real world and the engineering team.
Allison Kennedy (00:15:20): The real world. I talk a lot about the real world. I'm not sure I know what it looks like anymore.
Rob Collie (00:15:24): Well, I discovered that I didn't. As soon as I left Microsoft, I'm like, :Wow, it's weird outside the wire." Like outside the perimeter, it's so strange out here. It's nothing like we thought. You all wouldn't believe it what it's like out here." Inside Microsoft years ago, whenever we would add some sort of external data feature to Excel, we would always enforce our own prejudices along the lines of quality of data sources. The database options were always listed first. And then we would bury the comma separated values, text options at the very bottom. Because there's just sort of like ranked by solidness. And then you go on the real [inaudible 00:16:09], it's like, no one has a database. And if they do, they're not allowed to connect with. So it's all CSV all the time. Folks, we have it completely backwards. More modern versions of the Microsoft Stack understand these sorts of things better because they get to instrument the product. They get to see how many times each button's being clicked. We were really didn't have that back then. So we just constantly substituted our own opinions.
Thomas LaRock (00:16:34): That's the Microsoft, I remember.
Rob Collie (00:16:36): Yeah. That's the Microsoft I know. What's this new thing that...
Thomas LaRock (00:16:39): I know what people really want. I don't care what the data tells me. I'll just make it up.
Rob Collie (00:16:45): Yeah. We were learning. We were rounding the bend when I left. But if I went back today, I'd just be like, "Wow, this is crazy." So translating a little bit of Excel in here. I definitely read you loud and clear when you said that Excel didn't become the focus. But at some point it became front and center, your website is called Excel with Allison. Now I know that's a play on words and you could teach them anything. When did your relationship with Excel sort of a top three thing? I won't say it's the top thing, top three.
Allison Kennedy (00:17:17): Yeah, definitely top three. Excel was always there. It's a fantastic program. And I thought I knew it. I thought I understood Excel. And then I stumbled into my job that I am in now with ACE training. They found me and they were for Microsoft certified trainer. And I said, That's a thing? People actually have a full-time job teaching people how to use Microsoft products?" I just sat here and told you how the internal trainers didn't understand how people couldn't understand how to use simple products and Microsoft products and I didn't fully appreciate how much of a market there was for it until somebody offered me a job and said, "Hey, come and be a Microsoft trainer." And I said, "But I'm not an expert in Microsoft. I don't feel like I'm a trainer."
Allison Kennedy (00:18:09): Like I can teach people how to do these things. And I've actually had a few conversations with various people throughout the past week about this kind of imposter syndrome that we have right. And how you never feel like you're good enough.
Rob Collie (00:18:22): Yes.
Allison Kennedy (00:18:23): What I've realized over the years of teaching in general, but teaching in a tech field particularly, is that it's okay not to know everything. And when you're a kid and you look up to your teachers, you ask them the question and they almost always knew the answer. They somehow made up something and pretended that they did, right, at least that's how I remember it. Now, I don't know if I could even be a teacher nowadays because have everything at their fingertips, right. And they probably know more than their teachers do nowadays sometimes. And that's what I figured out is that you don't have to know everything. You have to know a little bit more than the people that you're teaching and you have to be okay with not knowing, take that as a learning experience and teach them how you learn and show them what resources you use and where to go to find help outside of yourself as the teacher. I don't know if that answered your question, but...
Rob Collie (00:19:18): It starts to, it's not a full yes or no. It's an intro. One of the antidotes to imposter syndrome. You need a handful of them, like a bag of tricks to help deaden or mitigate imposter syndrome. The thing that started to help me with my imposter syndrome was finally coming to terms with... This happened at Microsoft. Watching people at Microsoft who had all of the reputation that I lacked and watching them make egregious mistakes over and over and over again, watching them do things that I actually believed that in their shoes I wouldn't have done now, not to say that they... There would've been a different set, the inverse. And oftentimes the people with the strong reputations weren't questioned often enough and so they actually ended up, honestly, I think making more mistakes than I would as a more humble person in their role.
Rob Collie (00:20:13): And so the average person represents themself as good at something isn't nearly as good as what you think they are. Or maybe even as good as what they think they are. Sometimes people believe their own PR there's that going on as well. If you're a person with integrity, you tend to look around and look up to people. You give them a lot of benefit of the doubt without realizing it. And then when you get to them, you discovered that, yeah, they do know things that you don't know, but also vice versa. And that helped me a lot.
Allison Kennedy (00:20:38): I think the world of social media has probably helped to expose some of this a little bit because you get a little bit more unfiltered content than this podcast where it's edited and curated. And you actually get to see some of the mistakes and the stupid things that people say and realize that they're just human like the rest of us.
Rob Collie (00:21:00): We should pause right here and say you won't believe all the dumb things that we said. This episode took us 12 hours to record. You're only going to hear an hour and change because most of it is just gibberish. Trust me. We leave in plenty to maintain the authenticity. We're not going to lose that. The other one you were also were, I think, touching on is that a lot of things in life are decathlon rather than a single event. So you might not be the best at Excel in the world. You might not be the best teacher of anything, just general purpose teacher in the world. You start to combine these two together and that puts you in a rarer group. If you're 90th percentile on a number of things, if you use them together, you can actually be 99th percentile at the combined thing. I completely get that. All right. So when did you sort of have your aha moment that you didn't know Excel, for example, as well as you might have thought? When did you discover that, oh, there's... Everyone eventually has this moment where they see the abyss. They see, oh my God, this product is way deeper than it looks. Do you have any memories of that?
Allison Kennedy (00:22:09): Day one, on my new job, I sat in on one of their more advanced Excel courses, which was Power Pivot. It was one of the Microsoft community. I can't remember the five, five course number written by, what's his name, he's Texan, I believe. And he's got some awesome videos with his Texan and accent and data with Chicago drug stats, which everyone gave me a hard time for being from the Chicago suburbs. And it's got the world's globe map in Excel with the little stack. They look like skyscrapers in Chicago of where all the arrests are. I didn't know that it existed, but it didn't shock me. That wasn't my aha moment. It was when I later that week, when I was going through the course where that I was going to need to teach. And I think the first class that they assigned me was Excel essential skills.
Allison Kennedy (00:22:58): So Excel essential skills. I hated that course for a while because it challenged me. I shouldn't say hate, hate is a strong word, but you would get beginners and people who'd been using Excel for 20 years in the same course and trying to bring those so distinct groups of people into the same space and keep them captivated for an entire six hours was a really good challenge. And so that has really evolved the way I've taught Excel essential skills. And now I love it. I make it so much fun and I teach people little tricks and funny things. And I always say, "We're going to unpack how Excel thinks." Every class is a little bit different and I'll tell you a little different tidbit about dates or something or formatting and crazy things that take us where the class leads. But reading the Excel essential skills manual was my aha moment that I knew nothing about Excel.
Rob Collie (00:23:51): Mine was when I was working on the Excel product. Like I was an engineer at Microsoft responsible for translating the real world data. Really, ideally, I would actually know the product. And instead I said this times on the show, but I was like a year and a half into that job before I finally stopped coming up with ideas. Wouldn't it be cool if Excel could do this and someone would take me aside and say, "Yeah, we already can. It's already in their [inaudible 00:24:16]." Like, "Oh, no."
Thomas LaRock (00:24:16): Love that.
Rob Collie (00:24:18): That was so embarrassing. Yeah. But eventually I did know Excel.
Allison Kennedy (00:24:26): I don't know. I'm still not sure that I do. I'm not sure I ever will.
Rob Collie (00:24:27): No one knows that well. That's for sure.
Allison Kennedy (00:24:29): It's constantly evolving now. It's hard to keep up with.
Rob Collie (00:24:32): It's making it harder to say that you know Excel. If people are using Excel for reporting and analysis which of course is not the only thing it's used for, but if they're using it for reporting and analysis, if you know VLOOKUP or equivalent and pivot tables, I call you advanced. Just scratching the surface and yet it's advanced.
Allison Kennedy (00:24:49): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:24:50): You're talking about knowing the depth of the product and you're trying to compare it to what you are also acknowledging is something advanced and that somebody can take data and conceptualize and say, "Oh, I need to make a pivot." And so these are actually two different things, right? Because there's plenty of people that work with pandas data frames and Python and don't do as much work in Excel when it comes to this type of manipulation.
Rob Collie (00:25:17): That's right.
Thomas LaRock (00:25:17): Yeah. So don't confuse or compare, it's not really the same. But yes, excel has a lot of functionality.
Allison Kennedy (00:25:24): Well, some people use it to paint picture.
Rob Collie (00:25:27): Yes. Yes they do. What you learn over time is that people who are, who actually know something about Excel will tend to hedge a little bit when you ask them how well they know Excel. They'll say, "Eh, I'm okay." Whereas the people who don't know Excel are the ones that tend to be over confident and go, "Yeah, I know it. Yeah. I'm good. It's Word with a grid. Plug those numbers. Man. I can even resize rows and columns."
Allison Kennedy (00:25:55): I was actually an expert witness in Excel once upon a time.
Rob Collie (00:25:59): Wow.
Allison Kennedy (00:25:59): Yeah. It was really scary because I actually had to stand up in front of a judge and say, "Yes, I'm an expert in Excel." And that felt so fake.
Thomas LaRock (00:26:08): Oh my God.
Rob Collie (00:26:11): You're going to jail for perjury.
Allison Kennedy (00:26:12): I know right.
Rob Collie (00:26:16): The judge turns around and says, "Oh, so array formulas bust me out some..."
Thomas LaRock (00:26:23): You're like at the border trying to get back in the country, "Oh, you know Excel, do you?"
Rob Collie (00:26:28): Throws some sum product around, you want to impress me?
Allison Kennedy (00:26:31): The trial was actually about the Fuzzy matching add-on in Excel. So that's a new one for a lot of people.
Rob Collie (00:26:39): Was it a lawsuit or was there some sort of like a murder trial that involved Excel?
Allison Kennedy (00:26:45): I'd love to know how a murder trial... I'm sure there's some way that Excel would fit in. Death by Excel. No, it was a lawsuit about pricing. So it was in my area of expertise about data analysis and looking up and comparing two data sets that don't have anything exactly in common. So I basically just had to teach the judge.
Thomas LaRock (00:27:07): How did the court find you?
Allison Kennedy (00:27:09): Not guilty.
Thomas LaRock (00:27:12): How did the court say, "We need an expert." And, "Oh yeah, Allison. Go grab Allison."
Allison Kennedy (00:27:17): They found my company which is a Microsoft training company. And they said, "Hey, on a long shot, we need an Excel expert." And my company said, "Allison, this sounds like it's right up your alley. You do all the weird and wonderful Excel things. Do you feel like being an Excel expert today?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" I was just speaking at the Power BI summit and leading table talk sessions in the lounge and talking to somebody who was really intimidated after one of the talks about what you need to know to be a consultant. I told her, "Well, you don't actually need to know all of those things right away. You just need to know enough about the specific topic." In my case that the Excel trial was about, I just needed to know more than the judge. I was just there to teach the judge. So I said, "Yeah, I can be an expert." The judge doesn't work in Excel all day. He just needed somebody that could give him enough background knowledge for him to be able to assess fairly was Excel a reliable tool for what it was being used for.
Rob Collie (00:28:25): Who was suing who?
Allison Kennedy (00:28:26): Two big companies in New Zealand. Well, actually the New Zealand commerce commission was suing one of the big companies in New Zealand about misleading advertising on their pricing and low price guarantees.
Rob Collie (00:28:38): Were you called in by the prosecution or the defense?
Allison Kennedy (00:28:42): By the commerce commission, the prosecution.
Rob Collie (00:28:44): All right. And they were still not guilty?
Allison Kennedy (00:28:46): The prosecution lost to this case actually. So the end result was that the big company was not guilty and they were allowed to continue as normal. I think it ended up having more to do with language than Excel. The Excel was only a small part of it. And there was a lot about what does low price guarantee mean and psychology and consumers and marketing and lots of fascinating stuff. I wish I took more psychology in uni, we call it, in college. I took one class.
Rob Collie (00:29:16): I took two psychology classes. I have twice as much-
Allison Kennedy (00:29:20): Oh man.
Rob Collie (00:29:21): ... Psychological education as you.
Allison Kennedy (00:29:21): One upping me over there.
Rob Collie (00:29:23): I only learned truly one thing in those two classes that was valuable. And you might have even gotten this one thing in your one class. So it might be that inefficiency.
Allison Kennedy (00:29:34): More isn't always better.
Rob Collie (00:29:34): It might be the only useful thing I learned in college at all, to be perfectly honest. My computer science education ended up not being worth much at all. The number one thing I learned in college was in the psychology department. And I believe it's called attribution bias, which is when we look at someone from the outside and we see them, in particular, when we see them behaving badly poorly, or we see them behaving and performing well, it's not just a negative thing. It is both directions, positive and negative of behavior. In both cases, we tend to overwhelmingly attribute their good or bad behavior to their character. We make it about them. It's about the person. They're a good person. They're a bad person or a strong person or a weak person. We completely neglect the impact of the situation that they find themselves in.
Rob Collie (00:30:22): It's actually much more of a mix. What my old jokes is, which is more responsible for the area of a rectangle, the length or the width? We really think about it. It's like even if the width is shorter than the length, right, the width is just as important. So it's more like that. It's more like a rectangle. But we tend to, as human beings, simplify. And it's all about the person. There's no such thing as luck in our quick judgements. And that has actually helped me a lot in evaluating my own situation and evaluating others. Because you even do it to yourself.
Allison Kennedy (00:30:53): You're not a bad person. You're a good person who's made a bad decision.
Rob Collie (00:30:59): And oftentimes the bad decision, if you think about it, wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been pressured in certain ways that were actually beyond your control. And so there you go. If you learned that in your psychology class, in college, in uni, then you learned as much as I did. And even if you didn't now I've told you, there's two classes worth.
Allison Kennedy (00:31:17): Yeah. I've got my second class.
Rob Collie (00:31:19): Yeah, that's right. That's it. That's all you need to know. I never made it to the third class. So who knows might have been one more thing I could have taken away from my four years.
Allison Kennedy (00:31:27): We've got humankind sorted out, psychology tick.
Rob Collie (00:31:30): There you go. All done. At what point did you start to dabble in Power BI?
Allison Kennedy (00:31:36): I get asked that all the time and I should really have a better answer for it, shouldn't I? I've been dabbling with Power BI or the Excel power tools nearly since the beginning. And it's been kind of fun growing up with them. And I'm such a nerd. I have to stop myself from telling people in class how exciting it is that you can customize the theme inside of Power BI. And you don't have to know how to go and write a Json file to do it. And people just look at me like, "Yeah, you can do that in any Microsoft product, duh."
Rob Collie (00:32:12): Not back in our day.
Allison Kennedy (00:32:13): Yeah, I know. Back in my day, you had to walk uphill both ways in the snow. No, it's so bizarre. I spend every day now doing something in Power BI. I mean, heck I went and did an advanced master free diving course a couple of months ago and completely shut off from all of technology and the very first thing I wanted to do when I got back was take all of that knowledge, because there's a lot of equations in math and I was just so baffled having to do it in my head. I don't have to do anything in my head anymore, right. So the first thing I did when I came back was plot it all in Power BI. And I can't remember a time that it's not been there. I don't know what I did without it. It's just so cool. And now there's so many things you can learn, and learning [inaudible 00:32:58], and taking a little picture of lungs and seeing how they compress as you dive deeper and all these cool things.
Rob Collie (00:33:06): Free diving, a master free diving.
Allison Kennedy (00:33:09): A new free diving master. I'm a four star free diver.
Rob Collie (00:33:14): How many stars can you have? Is four the top?
Allison Kennedy (00:33:16): Four is the top. The next level's instructor. So I could become a free diving instructor, if I can add another eight meters onto my depth.
Rob Collie (00:33:24): What is your max safe, free diving depth. Now this free diving means no tanks, right? You're holding your breath, is that right?
Allison Kennedy (00:33:33): Correct. One breath. So you take a full set of lungs and then you dive down as deep as you can until my limit at the moment is equalizing. It's not my breath hold. So my breath hold is five minutes and five seconds. And my depth is 32 meters. You're going to have to translate that for, it's more than a hundred feet. I think 30 meters is about a hundred feet, a little bit more than a hundred.
Rob Collie (00:33:55): That is amazing. Truly, truly amazing. What's the world record for that?
Allison Kennedy (00:33:59): I don't have them up off the top of my head. Over 200 meters, it's how deep people have gone on one breath with no limits free diving, which means you strap yourself to a lead sled and you just barrel down, which is amazing that they can equalize that quickly. And then you have a tank at the bottom that shoots you back up. So you're not breathing from the tank, but you use it to propel your myself back to the surface. The person who taught me in the course was the first person to break the 100 meter depth record. And his specialty is diving without fins. So he doesn't have a lead sled. He doesn't have bins to propel him. He just goes down with his own hands and feet swimming and back up. He can get over a hundred meters which when you know the science behind it and you know how small your lungs are, is remarkable.
Rob Collie (00:34:51): Is this a necessary skill in New Zealand? At the border they test you for Excel skills and free diving?
Allison Kennedy (00:34:56): And free diving. No, and I picked it up in New Zealand were a skinny country. So we've got a lot of coastline. So free diving is definitely a beneficial skill and there's a lot of spear fishes in New Zealand, right. So you can go out and catch your dinner and being able to be relaxed and calm in the water is definitely a helpful skill for that. But I've been free diving my whole and just didn't know it. I was always the kid at the 4th of July pool competition that could rack up the most coins on the bottom of the pool and get all the cool prizes because I could stay down there and look for the special coin that had the tape wrapped around it. That was going to get you the French fries, the ice cream from the concession stand. And I knew that was more efficient than going up on the surface and, trying to dive back down a bunch of times. I just relaxed and chilled out on the bottom while everyone else was flopping around at the top.
Rob Collie (00:35:53): I thought you were going to tell us like, "Oh yeah, I grew up free diving and great lakes in February."
Thomas LaRock (00:35:58): Yeah, right?
Allison Kennedy (00:36:00): No, the great lakes in July are freezing.
Rob Collie (00:36:03): My grandfather, who I interviewed for an episode of this show last year. So he was in the Navy and growing up, he always lived on the lake and so we were always out swimming around the lake with him. He could really hold his breath. I mean, big time. You said five minutes, I think he could hold his breath for five minutes as well. And he would make this big show of like, and then go under, he just sort of sinks slowly under the surface and he'd be gone for a long time. And eventually you'd forget that he was gone. And then all of a sudden five minutes later, he'd like pull on your foot from underneath and scare the hell out of you. He was famous for this. He did this all the time. And we used to all brag about how our grandfather could hold his breath just like for a ridiculous amount of time. He recently told me that, no, he can't hold his breath that long. He would go under and go hide somewhere. He would go over and get behind a boat and come up really slowly and breathe and just kind of chill out and hang out. And then he'd go back under and sneak up on us and he held that joke for decades.
Thomas LaRock (00:37:07): That's awesome.
Rob Collie (00:37:08): He's like, "Oh, come on. I can't do that."
Allison Kennedy (00:37:12): I can't believe he confessed.
Thomas LaRock (00:37:14): That's expert level dad, granddad [crosstalk 00:37:17]-
Rob Collie (00:37:16): I know. I know.
Thomas LaRock (00:37:18): ... That is.
Rob Collie (00:37:19): If you could hold it that long, hold onto the joke and not confess for that many years. I would do it three times. I couldn't resist anymore. I'd have to tell everybody. Like, "Yeah, yeah. I was kidding."
Allison Kennedy (00:37:29): So proud of myself for coming up with such a clever thing that I'd want to tell everybody what I did, right.
Rob Collie (00:37:34): That's right. But I'm not getting credit for the real thing.
Allison Kennedy (00:37:36): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:37:37): So to hold your breath for five, for real, without cheating, my hero of breath holding growing up, my whole illusion was shattered as an adult. I'm more impressed by your achievement now that I've been told that he was faking.
Allison Kennedy (00:37:51): He's probably still got a decent breath hold. He was relaxed enough to go find the hiding spot. And it's easier than a lot of people think. The key is it's all in your head. I'm actually not that great because I need free diving to be able to get that level of relaxation and it's my meditation for me. So I haven't mastered the art of meditating outside of the water. But as soon as I get into that water, there's just this sense of peacefulness and calm that overtakes me and a five minute breath hold is actually really easy. The first minute and a half are easy getting to minute three, three and a half is a bit miserable. And then after that, it goes really quick, which is probably concerning.
Rob Collie (00:38:42): Yeah. Once your system start to halfway shut down. Your body just capitulates like, "Okay, fine. We're not going to get any oxygen."
Allison Kennedy (00:38:49): It does.
Rob Collie (00:38:49): "Let's stop looking for it. Start shutting down."
Allison Kennedy (00:38:52): Goes into survival mode. Puts all the oxygen where it needs to go. Focuses on the core.
Rob Collie (00:38:59): That's right.
Allison Kennedy (00:38:59): Which is what makes the five minute breath hold a lot easier than diving down because I don't need to actually use my limbs. So the fact that there's no oxygen in them is okay.
Rob Collie (00:39:08): Well that probably also explains why meditating is easier because it's shutting down all of these distracting systems, they're so noisy.
Allison Kennedy (00:39:16): Exactly. So I just need to figure out how to do that without them all being shut down and then I'll have found Zen.
Rob Collie (00:39:23): Let's go back to you saying it's been really great to kind of grow up with these tools.
Allison Kennedy (00:39:28): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:39:28): Because I completely agree. It's not just that we grew up with the tools, or at least for me, it's also that I got to sidestep all imposter syndrome by starting from the beginning. I've said it multiple times on this show that I would be very, very, very intimidated to start Power BI today based on the level of work and the level of expertise that's on display on social media and blogs and everywhere, full time. You're just sort of like being inundated with expert level content at all times and it's almost like an arms race of who can be most expert. I would find that to be a real turnoff. It would discourage me and I would probably would never have discovered I could be pretty good at these things.
Rob Collie (00:40:10): And the session that you mentioned, I didn't attend it. Here are the things you need to know to be a consultant in Power BI. I'm sure it's a helpful session and it's constructed to be helpful. And at the same time, if you're looking at it, instead of thinking about the things that would be helpful to note, you're thinking about inverting it and thinking about, well, look at those six things that I don't know. Sort of like an accidental gate keeping that happens as a result. And not just of sessions like that. I mean, just in general, all of this expertise, it's on display all the time has a bit of an accidental unconscious gate keeping to it that I think discourages people like me who learned very clumsily from the beginning without anything to measure myself against.
Allison Kennedy (00:40:51): That's something that I don't think I'm doing a very good job of. But something that I try to be conscious of and it's a gap that I'm trying to bridge. And I get a constant question, how long do I need to get to such and such level? Or how long is it going to take me to feel like I can create something in Power BI? I can't answer the question because I grew up with it. But we to bridge that gap because you're absolutely right. And there's so many challenges out there where you get given a data set and you get to showcase your work. Even the beginners, I know Enterprise DNA over in Australia do a challenge and they've got a beginner level. They give a prize to people who have never entered the challenge before, but that's the only way they can measure a beginner. And people don't enter until they feel like they're good enough. That's not what their intent was when they made that category and I don't know how we fixed that.
Rob Collie (00:41:54): Yeah. If I wanted to take up wrestling right, which I don't know anything about. And they allowed me to wrestle people half my weight. Oh, there's a beginner challenge and I've never entered any of their challenges before I'll go compete in the beginner challenge. And I'll lose because someone even more expert than I will also mislabel themselves as the beginner and everyone gets really, really demoralized.
Allison Kennedy (00:42:20): Yeah. You know the beginner's I love because it's like kids, right. So I grew up with Power BI and I know it's limitations and I know what it does and I know what it's done for me and so I kind of just use it. It's like you said about Excel. We use Excel for pivot tables and VLOOKUPs and data analysis. But you get beginners who've never used it before and they ask these inspiring questions. And that's what I love about the Power BI community forums is I get all these weird and curly wonderful things.
Allison Kennedy (00:42:50): One of my favorite, I got into a slightly heated discussion with somebody about Microsoft marketing thing that had a visualization with a picture for a background and the picture had see through bars. So they had taken away the space of the picture based on your data. Of course it wasn't done in Power BI and I'm still not sure that it can be done in Power BI or why you would want to do it in Power BI because it's so distracting to have everything else going on that you can't actually see the data and the picture at the same time. But this person was fixated on it. And the fact that somebody in the marketing team had mocked up this image, they thought that was really misleading, which is fair enough going back to our conversations about psychology. They thought that it should be a feature in Power BI, if you were going to be advertising it as such. I still don't think that needs to be a feature, but I do appreciate where they're coming from. And I'm trying really hard to see the benefit of that as a feature, because that's what I love about the beginners is that they think outside the box and they ask these wonderful things and stretch the product to its limits.
Rob Collie (00:44:04): Do you think you can still lay hands on this picture? I'd love to see it.
Allison Kennedy (00:44:07): I will try.
Rob Collie (00:44:08): If you can, if you find it, please email it to us.
Allison Kennedy (00:44:11): Okay.
Rob Collie (00:44:11): I want to see it. I'm having a hard time picturing it, but it sounds awesome. Exactly the thing that marketing would do, right? It's too much work to have our graphic designers learn how to use the actual tool. Just let them use Photoshop. Our graphic designer here at P3, she can use Power BI now. If we need something that's designed realistically, like we can use it, she'll do it in Power BI. And then later, if we need to modify it, change the numbers, something like that. Then she can just open that in Photoshop and modify it because now we know it's legal. It's constrained to legal. Finding a graphic designer who is willing to work in a tool as... From a graphic perspective, Power BI is a clumsy battleship. It's like the opposite of an Adobe tool. You really have to like apologize a thousand times as you get them to install it and everything. Not to mention the fact that it's Mac is the preferred platform of any self-respecting graphic designer, Power BI.... Anyway, we'll move on.
Rob Collie (00:45:14): I wrote down a couple other things that you said that really spoke to me, jumped out at me. You mentioned all in one breath. First of all, the fact that every class you teach ends up with a mix of skill level in it and how there's a challenge to keep it relevant to everyone, that broad skill range. And then you use the word very specifically, deliberately chose the word captivated. It is difficult to keep them captivated for six hours. Oh boy, do I understand this. The first job of a teacher, of anything like this in particular, is to maintain their engagement and human beings do not want to sit in the same place for six hours, eight hours and pay attention to the same thing. They are just not wired for it. That song by Phish, Chalk Dust Torture, it speaks to a truth.
Allison Kennedy (00:46:08): It's going to be the soundtrack of this Podcast.
Rob Collie (00:46:12): Now another line in it, "I sat in their chairs and my synapse is burned." I was like, "Yes, I get it." So I would start every class by telling everyone and sitting there like, "Listen, I have ultimate respect for what you're about to do. What I'm going to do is hard. But what you're about to do is harder to sit and listen to something for like two days, we're going to do this for two days. I don't want to be sitting in your seat."
Rob Collie (00:46:38): But then I would burn energy and I would be so exhausted at the end of each day. I would over consume caffeine during the day to maintain that up level. And then inevitably, I would then drink more alcohol than I would normally prefer to do that night to crash on the breaks and then wake up the next day and do it all over again. It took a physical toll on me and friends of mine, who I was visiting one time who were actors, they didn't understand like, "You're teaching, why is that so exhausting?" I'm like, "Imagine a one person play. It's eight hours long." And they're like, "Oh, okay." They got that.
Rob Collie (00:47:21): So do you find yourself... Even though it's enjoyable, I loved it. I'm not saying I hated it. At the same time, I would get to the end of the day and I would be spent as if I had been like climbing a mountain all day. Do you feel the same way or do you feel recharged and kind of chipper at the end of a long training session?
Allison Kennedy (00:47:40): Some days I feel like that. Some days I feel just exhausted and those are usually the days where it was a one person play. And I feel like I didn't do my job well after that which further compounds and adds to the feeling of exhaustion because I don't have that recharge and I don't have that positive feedback is what that meant. Most days I make you do all the talking. I make you work really hard. I ask a lot of questions. I pause a lot and wait and we think. Like I said, I sometimes have to stop myself from mentioning those little things that I love about Power BI because I know that the students don't really care. But sometimes I'll put them in on purpose just to make the students see how passionate and excited I am about what I teach and it's contagious.
Allison Kennedy (00:48:40): The more of that I reveal about myself, the more comfortable they are to reveal that about themselves. The more I fumble, the more comfortable they are to fumble. And so it's a give and take and a back and forth. It's been a real interesting learning journey. Since the world has moved to virtual about how to maintain that rapport in a virtual classroom. My company will give me a couple of webinars or say, "Hey, can you go and do this?" I personally do not learn well by sitting in front of YouTube and watching a video. I can read a book, I can do things, or I can talk to you. But if I'm just listening to somebody talk at me, I shut off. I personally do not teach well with that style either. I will at all costs fight to have the students be able to talk back to me.
Allison Kennedy (00:49:38): So whenever I do a webinar, it's not using the teams live event, for example, because I hate talking to circles or a computer screen and having people type their question, just doesn't give that feedback that I need. Sometimes Monday mornings in particular can be really challenging. You'll get a class that is just no expressions, no response. And those days are very difficult and very challenging. I'm learning and improving. But any tips that anybody has on how to make that better. But on those days, I am learning again to just pause and stop and take a step back and reset and say, "Well, why are we all here? If you guys are just sitting there, stone cold bored, not caring about what we're learning at the moment, then maybe we need to go and learn something else." Maybe every single person in the classroom is just not loving it, not getting it. Then we're all wasting our time. So we need to stop and reset and say, "Well, my company sent me here for essential skills and I don't give a shit. What do you want to learn?"
Rob Collie (00:50:50): Hostages.
Allison Kennedy (00:50:51): Hostages. Yeah, exactly.
Rob Collie (00:50:52): We're talking about volunteers versus hostages. There's a mix of each and every class.
Allison Kennedy (00:50:56): There is. And in my profession, I get a lot of volunteers.
Rob Collie (00:51:00): The volunteers make the job easy. The hostages make the job very difficult. And you kind of have to, again, just varying skill levels. There's varying enthusiasm and motivation levels in the class. The hostages are the hardest people to teach. They drain the most energy. And at the same time, they're kind of the most important. If you can win over one or two of them, you've really done something. When I taught classes, the first 20 minutes of the class was a not so thinly veiled plea to the hostages to actually pay attention to this. This is actually going to be valuable. This is not like the usual class. This is not a high school class. This can change your life. I had some degree of success with that. Some hostages are more stubborn than others. The longest days of my entire life are the ones where I attempted the equivalent of an eight hour remote class.
Rob Collie (00:51:57): In high school, I guess I was already, even though I didn't realize, I was already figuring out how much I didn't like school. In high school, I had a joke, which was the longest hour of my life is the hour, every day spent in Spanish class. That clock doesn't move. And even when I would be out of Spanish class, I would be joking with people that I actually think that I'm still in Spanish class. My daydreaming has convinced me that I'm not. Like I'm like on some sort of like psychological parole from where I'm actually stuck for the rest of eternity which is that one hour Spanish class. That one hour Spanish class was the record holder for how long something could seem until I did some remote training.
Rob Collie (00:52:37): Unlike you, I would be exhausted at the end of a live training day, regardless of how well I thought I did. Certainly I could be exhausted and demoralized. If the class didn't go well, I would have that component of demoralization. But eventually I figured it out because I taught the same sort of thing over and over again. I would never feel demoralized, but I would still be exhausted. And then the remote training, our team has done a very good job of transitioning to remote training and not wearing down which is to me just like miraculous. I felt bad when we switched to that, I'm like, "Oh my God, we're going to inflict hell on our own people. The people we like." And it didn't turn out that way. I think they've learned a lot of tricks. One person who's who's worth looking at for sure is Lars, Lars Schreiber, who we've had on the show. He really has a setup. He even showed one of our directors, had a separate private meeting with him to sort of see all the gear that he uses and all the tips and tricks. Because he's really put a lot of conscientious effort into it and it's something else. So you don't use teams, what do you use?
Allison Kennedy (00:53:43): I use Zoom for my virtual trainings because I can draw on their screens and I can see all of their screens and flip through them. If I'm teaching two people, I've got two screens and I can see them both at the same time. But if I'm teaching eight people, I flip through the screens just like I would be walking around the virtual classroom. So I go and I spend a minute with one student and see how they're doing and then I'll move on to the next student. That's really important for my engagement because it keeps me engaged with what they're doing. And it also changes things up so that I don't get bored teaching the same thing over and over again. And it really works to my style of teaching because I will change what we're learning based how they're using the product and what I think would be beneficial or fascinating to them based on what they're doing. Being able to see all of their screens at the same time is crucial for my virtual teaching and having them actually do something is really important.
Rob Collie (00:54:43): Is that the default Zoom product?
Allison Kennedy (00:54:46): That is the default Zoom product that is just the basic $15, $20, whatever a month Zoom. I had to change one setting. I had to tick a box. And so now everybody in the meeting can share their screen at the same time. I do hybrid classes. So I'll have people in person and people virtual in the same class. I used to think, "No, that's impossible. That's crazy." Again, technology, it's amazing.
Allison Kennedy (00:55:11): So I taught a DAX course, right? So it's three days just DAX. And I had two students virtual who showed up to the course and did not have Power BI desktop installed on their machines. And I said, "Awesome. You're here for DAX, right?" And they said, "Yeah, we use Excel and we heard this thing DAX and we think we want to learn it." And I said, "Okay, great. Normally you want to know a little bit about DAX before you come to this course, but welcome." So I quickly fired up two machines in my classroom, joined those machines to the Zoom meeting, shared those screens in the Zoom meeting, shared my screen in the Zoom meeting and gave each student control of a different screen. And I was crossing my fingers and toes hoping that Zoom was going to let us do all of these things at once. And miraculously, it worked and was amazing. So basically you used Zoom to create a virtual machine for these students to be able to use, which was pretty awesome.
Rob Collie (00:56:14): Wow. In the back of your brain, you're probably at that moment when they tell you that you're going, "Oh, I could be free diving today." "Today would've been a good day to not be here." But wow, pulled it off. And at the same time, you're talking about mix of skills, but you got two people who haven't even installed the product. And then you probably got other people in the class who are like, "But let's talk about context and row transition." And you're like, "Oh, dios mio. how am I going to keep this?" So you start from absolute first principles. You're even having to tell the people who installed it like, "Okay, here's how you get a matrix on the screen. Here's how the field list works."
Allison Kennedy (00:56:54): Yeah. Because you're having to teach them how to use Power BI as well as DAX, right. Whereas everybody else in the room knows how to use Powe BI. And that's where I lean on my students a little bit. I actually have them do some of the teaching and the explaining and some of them get it right away. And some of them are a little intimidated or put off by it. But by the end of the course, they understand. And I get it really well because I teach for a living and I've discovered that not until I can actually explain it to somebody who doesn't understand, do I truly understand it myself. If you can't articulate it and explain it to somebody who knows nothing then you don't get it. And so when they come in with that prior knowledge, I can tease it out of them and they learn a lot more because of it.
Rob Collie (00:57:48): If you lean on jargon or sophisticated terminology and things like that, you're really not getting there. I believe it's attributed to Einstein. I'm not sure if it really is. The quote is if you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough.
Allison Kennedy (00:58:03): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:58:04): And my boss at Microsoft, David Gainer inflicted that regime on me. Because I was a jargon-er, I was a hand wave academic and he broke me. And I am so much better for it. I'm a completely different person on the other side of that experience and I'm super grateful to him. I try to practice this everywhere. I go dumbing down my vocabulary rather than smarting it up. I find it to be its own intellectual challenge, right. It's actually a smarter thing learning to dumb down. I appreciate it. I never would've, maybe never, I don't know but I certainly wasn't going to unlock that on my own. It needed an enforcer and I was lucky enough to have one.
Allison Kennedy (00:58:52): It's back to what you said, it's like translating, right. You're taking the jargon and you're translating it into English and simplifying it. So I think I was lucky enough that my career started with translating and I do have a passion for languages. I think I like to claim I'm fluent in Spanish. I can hold my own.
Rob Collie (00:59:12): I spent approximately 350 years in Spanish class in high school. You'd think that I would know Spanish better than I do because that's, that's where a big chunk of my life went, all of my life apparently. I am anywhere near fluent. If I only had had another thousand years of Spanish class, I would've really gotten there. I actually have nightmares about taking a Spanish exam in college. I never took a language in college, but that shows you how scarred I was. I'm going to a class I haven't been to and I'm supposed to know Spanish. I've got to answer the questions in Spanish and the questions are written in Spanish. I'm thinking to myself, how am I going to fake this?
Allison Kennedy (00:59:53): Okay. So let's unpack that because you're the hostage, right? So how do I bring you... I don't think another thousand years would help. I don't think it's time.
Rob Collie (01:00:06): I don't want to find out.
Allison Kennedy (01:00:06): I think it's the attitude and the mindset, right? So how do we convert you from a Spanish hostage, into a Spanish volunteer?
Rob Collie (01:00:14): I think you sort of hit on it earlier when you said if the knowledge isn't relevant to you right then who cares?
Allison Kennedy (01:00:21): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:00:21): I had no need. Even though I lived in Florida, really? I had no real, truly pressing need to know Spanish.
Thomas LaRock (01:00:30): But didn't you need it to graduate?
Rob Collie (01:00:33): Yeah. I needed the check mark, right.
Thomas LaRock (01:00:35): Right.
Rob Collie (01:00:36): And so I grounded out, I slogged it out to get the check mark.
Thomas LaRock (01:00:39): Right.
Rob Collie (01:00:39): Well, I needed to get the A. I was really into merit badges back then. Meaningless awards. I hoovered all of the meaningless awards.
Allison Kennedy (01:00:47): Top of the class.
Rob Collie (01:00:48): Yeah, that's right. That's right. I was really important to me because it was part of my identity. It was my identity which was later cruelly stolen from me when I went to Microsoft and found all these people who were smarter than I was. Like, "Oh no." Had all of the merit badges I had and then some, very demoralizing. Anyway, it's just about, are you motivated? And so little in high school or even really in college, if we're really honest about it. So little of it is something that you would sort of find some immediate motivation for. It's all basically at gunpoint, you're a hostage all the way through all of that, the majority of us, and it sucks. To volunteer to go back into a classroom as an adult who has been paroled from that system is something that I have a tremendous respect for. You're coming here to sit in this class. You're going to do this to yourself for two, three days and I'm going to make it as pleasant for you as I possibly can. And that involves me drinking way too much caffeine and then drinking way too much beer that night and repeat that's the price.
Allison Kennedy (01:01:58): I used to think that and I still think that we need to capitalize on the time that we have, because we have such a short time with these two, three days to cram in as much as we can. And when I first started teaching, I thought that meant just rush through the introductions and get to the content straight away. And I've now realized that actually it's the opposite and you need to spend a lot of time on those introductions because that motivation is the key. And if you don't know what your motivation is, that's the first barrier. You're a hostage, you're not a volunteer. And if I don't know what your motivation is then I can't help you get there. So we need to spend that time figuring out what each other's motivation is for being here so that we can all be on that journey together and accomplish the goal. And so spending that extra 15, 20 minutes, normally I'll take a good solid 20 minutes of just introductions. But if that takes 30 or 45 minutes, that's okay too, because it makes the rest of the day or days go so much smoother and be so much more relevant.
Rob Collie (01:03:06): Agreed. When I was teaching classes, usually about two hours in, during a break, someone would tell me we're moving kind of slow. They weren't complaining yet. They were just getting a little worried and I'd say to them, "We do. We start slow and we gain momentum." And those people would come back to me usually later that same day and say, "Okay, yeah, now we're good." We'd even, maybe go a little faster than what they were hoping at some point, but slow is better. Over the years I covered in an average two day class, I kept trimming the agenda. I would become less and less ambitious about all the things that I needed to cover so that they would get the other things well. Pick my first two day class compared to my final two day class, I probably covered half the ground at the end. And it was better. It was better for it. Do you also teach some Power Query or do you teach Power Query only as part of Power BI or what are your thoughts on Power Query?
Allison Kennedy (01:03:56): I love Power Query. I feel like Power Query is a good gateway drug into Power BI. And it's on my to-do list to write a Power Query class that's more intermediate level. I'm all about the no code. So finding ways to do things without having to actually write M. But I don't have a specific Power Query class yet. I just teach it as part of Power BI or part of Excel. It's so visual and straightforward and beneficial to people.
Rob Collie (01:04:33): It's such a powerful gateway drug that I would actually as part of my Power BI foundations class, I would keep them away from that particular cocaine until the end.
Allison Kennedy (01:04:46): It's the sugar at the end, the fun bit, right.
Rob Collie (01:04:49): That's right. We don't do dessert first. And the other thing is that what I found was that soon as someone saw Power Query, that's all they could think about. Data modeling and DAX would just sort of fade. People coming from Excel already had massive data cleaning problem. They can see how Power Query would help them immediately without adding any new capabilities or new routines or new workflows to their life. Power Query would reduce the suffering of what they're already doing. And so, because of that, it's just like all in, right?
Allison Kennedy (01:05:19): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:05:20): Whereas DAX and Data Modeling enable brand new stuff. It's not just about doing the things you're already doing and doing them faster. It's about being able to do brand new massive things. The way I would describe it to people is that DAX and Data Modeling allow you to achieve organization-wide impact far bigger than what one person normally could ever do.
Rob Collie (01:05:43): Whereas Power Query, quote-unquote, all it can do is save one person's worth of work. DAX and Data Modeling is a leverageable massive impact thing. It's very important to make sure that you learn them both and not just end up painting the world with Power Query. Now, Tom, this whole conversation is at least half of an excuse to check in on Tom. Because Tom, Tom has been dabbling in the Power Query arts and has come around to thinking that it's pretty cool. Where are we at in that journey, Tom? And if you had a class, if Allison we're going to design a class for you for Power Query, how would you want it to start? Let's help Allison write her class.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:22): You've asked a handful of things all at once there. So let me unpack a few.
Rob Collie (01:06:27): Please.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:27): Where I am at right now is I am bumping into let's just say the nooks and crannies limitations of Power Query. I'm bumping into to the limitations. I'm pushing it into places it doesn't want to go. For example, I was bringing in some data and then I found that I needed to rename multiple columns at the same time. I need to just trim a letter out. So this is something you can do as easily as Control H and sell and replace everything I need and I'm done. So naturally I click Control H and nope. And if you want to rename multiple columns, you want to strip that out, you're going to learn some M motherfucker. That's what you're going to do. And I'm like, "No, no. This is a simple P is a functionality that it already exists in all of Office for 20 plus years and yet."
Rob Collie (01:07:26): Now, but column headers are different, Tom. They're not the data. Yeah, they are. I get you.
Allison Kennedy (01:07:32): I can do it in five clicks.
Rob Collie (01:07:34): Five clicks.
Allison Kennedy (01:07:35): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:07:35): Oh wow. This is like name that tune.
Thomas LaRock (01:07:38): Control H, one letter replace all. And you think five clicks is better?
Rob Collie (01:07:44): All right. Hold on. Five clicks. Five clicks is a hell of a lot better than writing M.
Thomas LaRock (01:07:48): No, no. That's true. Allison is the expert and she knows that exists. And I'm somebody on a journey and I bump into this and I'm like, "Oh, it seems like that's a piece of functionality that really it should exist, but doesn't." Okay. So I'm bumping into little things like this along the way where I actually look at something, I go, "Oh, maybe I should just be doing this in Python."
Rob Collie (01:08:10): There is a frustrating lack of buttons for things that seem like they should be easier. I keep saying over and over and over again, Power Query is about three ribbon tabs short in its graphical interface.
Allison Kennedy (01:08:23): And yet if it had them it would be overwhelming. So it's a balance.
Thomas LaRock (01:08:28): Maybe.
Rob Collie (01:08:28): I disagree. I disagree.
Allison Kennedy (01:08:30): Do you want like an advanced tab? Like start here for beginners.
Rob Collie (01:08:33): It's all overwhelming, right? The number of buttons that are there are already...
Allison Kennedy (01:08:37): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:08:38): It's already like a lot.
Allison Kennedy (01:08:40): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:08:40): So for example, when I'm in Excel, I see seven ribbon tabs, right? I'm not going to be blown away by that. I think in fact, if they had more ribbon tabs, they'd be able to space things better. They've just called it quits on the number of ribbon tabs. I keep hearing that they're going to do more and they're interested in doing more, but then every time I launch the product, it looks exactly the same. It is stagnated for a good three, four years now. And there's so many things like this. Why not just go great guns. As a UI designer, a former UI designer and program manager at Microsoft. I think this is a solvable problem. It's not solve if they don't put the effort in. Now, Allison, I am impressed that you could sit there and sort of think in your head just for like three seconds and go, "Okay, five clicks."
Thomas LaRock (01:09:24): Yeah. Five clicks. Yeah, that was good.
Rob Collie (01:09:25): I can't. I do not know what those five clicks are. Are you comfortable telling us sort of just verbally what the five clicks are?
Allison Kennedy (01:09:31): So you would demote the headers, transpose, find and replace values, transpose back, and promote the headers.
Thomas LaRock (01:09:41): Okay.
Rob Collie (01:09:41): Geez.
Thomas LaRock (01:09:41): But that's in Power Query?
Allison Kennedy (01:09:44): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (01:09:44): Or that's in Power BI?
Allison Kennedy (01:09:46): That's in power query.
Thomas LaRock (01:09:47): So in Power Query, I would demote. Power Query, I would demote headers?
Rob Collie (01:09:50): Transpose.
Allison Kennedy (01:09:51): Yep.
Thomas LaRock (01:09:52): I'm going to look for this.
Allison Kennedy (01:09:53): The use poster headers. If you click the down arrow, there's a use headers as first row. I counted that as one click, but it's actually probably two clicks. Maybe we're at six. So use headers as first row, transpose.
Thomas LaRock (01:10:05): It's already harder than you thought.
Allison Kennedy (01:10:07): So now your headers are in your first column, then replace values on that first column, transpose back, and then promote the headers back up.
Thomas LaRock (01:10:16): Wow. That is slick actually.
Rob Collie (01:10:17): That's amazing.
Thomas LaRock (01:10:18): That is [crosstalk 01:10:20].
Rob Collie (01:10:19): It is slick. It is slick.
Allison Kennedy (01:10:20): That's the way my brain works and I love those little puzzles, right. I love just like a challenge and do it.
Rob Collie (01:10:28): I love that stuff too once I get close enough to it. I always have loved putting these products through unexpected paces things that no one ever thought about when they were designing them. Like that always felt really satisfying. I haven't gotten close enough to Power Query to gain that fun. I'm still in sort of like the place that Tom's at which is, "Oh, come on." I can't get past the, "Oh, come on." You've got buttons that do things I don't need. But you don't have a button that does this thing that seems like it's reasonably common. Find and replace in column headers seems like a reasonable button.
Thomas LaRock (01:11:07): Right. But when I'm in the data bottle view, I can add a new column, right? There's a button, new column. But when I'm in Power Query, I go looking, "I need to add new column where's that button?" I just want to click the button-
Allison Kennedy (01:11:20): It's a ribbon.
Thomas LaRock (01:11:20): ... To start the process-
Allison Kennedy (01:11:20): It's a whole ribbon.
Thomas LaRock (01:11:21): ...Add new column." Because you would think that would be a common function and it's not. But there is a lot of information on the ribbon already and I'm like, "Well, which one of these gets me started out? You know what? I'll just close and apply." And then just go into the model and do what I need to do there, but I'm sure I don't have to do that. But that's how I end up using it.
Rob Collie (01:11:40): I do that a lot. I'm very comfortable with the DAX expression language and I am not comfortable with the M expression language. It's a more efficient model if I did it in M and not carry around these extra columns. But I give up over and over again. It's weird. I was only built to understand a few expression languages.
Allison Kennedy (01:11:57): Tom, you've just hit on one of the first things that I have to explain about Power Query which is the names of the tabs in the ribbon and how much they actually matter. So I used to be that person that would just scroll through the Excel ribbon until I found the auto sum button and click it. It does not matter what tab you're in. When you click the auto sum button, it's going to do the same thing. But in Power Query, if you click the multiplication button in the transform tab, it's going to do something totally different than if you click the add column tab in the ribbon and then click the multiplication button. And most of us don't pay attention to what the column [inaudible 01:12:38] is actually called, unless you're a trainer and you have to tell people day in and day out, "Click on this tab, do this."
Allison Kennedy (01:12:44): I think I forget that sometimes that real humans, we have filters and tunnel vision when we're doing stuff and we just focus on what we need and what we know and we do literally do not read or see anything else around it. And that is the number one most difficult thing. Even for me, when I was learning Power Query, it took me over a year to break my habit of just clicking the first button in the first tab that I found. And that is one of the interesting things about that Power Query ribbon. There's not a new column button, there's a whole tab for it. And that's why, Rob, I was saying, I feel like it's already overwhelming because there's a whole tab of new columns that we can add. And it's funny going back to putting the databases first and the text files down at the bottom.
Allison Kennedy (01:13:34): One of the first buttons that people always go to in that ribbon is custom column. And I tell them, "You're making this far harder than it has to be." Conditional column is a much smaller button, but it's the most common thing that we need because we do if statements and it's dependent on things we all know. And if statement in Excel, conditional column is so much easier than if you try to write it manually with a custom column. I kid you not every class, at least two, if not half of my students will go straight to that custom column button first and try and start writing M code rather than going further across the ribbon to explore what else is there?
Rob Collie (01:14:14): I just decided right here, I'm going to take a six month sabbatical from P3 and I'm going to go back to Microsoft for six months. And my only mission is Power Query ribbon tabs. So what we're going to do is we're going to triple the number of tab.
Allison Kennedy (01:14:30): Okay.
Rob Collie (01:14:31): But only double the amount of functionality. Every tabs going to be a little bit roomier. We're going to have a little bit more real estate so that we're not jamming everything in. I think the existing tabs are dense.
Allison Kennedy (01:14:43): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:14:44): We are going to expand the number of buttons that are available, but we are not going to do that at the same density that we currently have. And then when that is done, I will leave again.
Thomas LaRock (01:14:57): You'll be there longer than six months.
Allison Kennedy (01:15:00): We need an advanced tab. We need to remove custom column from the first thing that you see when you're a newbie.
Rob Collie (01:15:06): Yeah. We will take the spicier things and move them further down in the order. Because the existing grouping of things, I had an old blog post about DAX with the spicy scale at a Thai restaurant, the number of chilies next to each function name. You look at DAX and you're like, "Summarize, that sounds like an easy function." No. No, it is not. Calculate, I don't know, that sounds primitive and scary at the same time. Sum X like what everything's named sort of like Greenland and Iceland. It's much easier to survive in one of those two places and it's not the one you think. This is it. We just decided the next six months of my life. Microsoft doesn't know this yet. Are they going to cooperate? Probably not.
Allison Kennedy (01:15:51): I fully support your mission.
Rob Collie (01:15:53): That's what I would do, if I had my druthers. And we would get removed dupes while controlling which dupe you keep. That would also be a new button without having to do, what is it, the buffer thing or being able to sort by and rank, which do you keep? I shouldn't have to go to the advanced editor for that.
Allison Kennedy (01:16:12): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:16:13): I feel like I'm running into these things all the time. I'd be writing them down, if I thought they were actually going to go someplace useful. That's why it would take six months. Otherwise, it really should be a short project. Most of that time would be spent cataloging as many of these things as possible. So we have find and replace in column headers. And it might not be ribbons as the right answer, right. It might be that you need to be able to just type in what you're trying to do. And that takes you essentially to the right button. It shouldn't be a help article on how to write the M. You can't even write the M unless you know how to splice that line of M in between two other lines of M. They generated the code for me, if they don't put it into my total query for me, I have to know more about M than I want to know. Even just to insert that line in the advanced editor.
Allison Kennedy (01:16:59): I'm sensing you and languages just don't get along very well.
Rob Collie (01:17:04): That's correct. I don't know why DAX was okay. But yeah, Power Query to me felt like Spanish from the get go. Even though I badly needed it.
Allison Kennedy (01:17:14): It's funny. Because to me, DAX is far more complex and less intuitive than Power Query.
Rob Collie (01:17:19): Yeah. I completely understand what you're saying. And I know that there are many people who feel this way and have this reaction and I respect that. I believe that it's true. And at the same time, I can't imagine it.
Allison Kennedy (01:17:32): And I love them both dearly. That's what I love about DAX is its complexities. Like you said, it takes you to that next level that people don't know what that next level looks like yet. So they don't know what they can do or what to be doing. And that's probably, you don't have the motivation for Power Query.
Rob Collie (01:17:50): Well, I do, I am so motivated for Power Query. It's just that I keep running into this, "Oh, come on." The, "Oh, come on," is really demoralizing and demotivating.
Allison Kennedy (01:17:59): And you don't have that in DAX?
Rob Collie (01:18:02): No, I don't. No, I don't have that in DAX at all.
Thomas LaRock (01:18:05): No, because he wrote the book on DAX. That's why.
Rob Collie (01:18:08): Well I learned that the hard way. We're talking about cause and effect and getting them confused. I wrote the book on daks back in the day because I understood it. I didn't understand it because I wrote it. You're never going to catch me writing a Power Query book, not in a million years. Lock me up in Spanish class for the rest of eternity, I'm not going to write a Power Query book. I was so used to summarizing data, the aggregation functions and pivot tables. They all just made so much sense to me. And I always wanted a better formula language to use in pivot tables that it just, I don't know. I mean, again, today's DAX on the internet, if that was what I was exposed to at the beginning, I would go, "Oh hell no." The DAX I write does not look like the DAX that you find on like the SQL BI website.
Rob Collie (01:18:56): The advanced sophisticated way to write DAX is to spend many lines like paragraphs of DAX generating tables and variables. Collapse it all in the very last line into the answer. I get that. I understand why it's done and everything. I want to go straight to the verb. I don't want to create a bunch of objects and then do the verb. I have a very verb focused DAX approach, right? And I think that was necessary in the beginning because we didn't have all these extra functions to do this. We didn't have variables. We didn't have all these. So the way that DAX is written today wasn't even really possible back then. It was a much more constrained language that actually was closer to the Excel soul than what it sort of evolved to in practice today. So Alice, when I tell you that DAX speaks to me, might be that, what I'm saying is that I speak a different dialect of DAX than what is commonly spoke on the internet today. It's the street version of DAX. It's not the sophisticated high society DAX.
Rob Collie (01:20:05): So listen, I have to get going. My afternoon became incredibly packed all at once. There's going to be cocktails and food and I'm going to follow that with hockey. Yeah, that's going to be awesome really?
Allison Kennedy (01:20:22): You'll play better after the cocktails.
Rob Collie (01:20:25): Oh, I bet I will. Or I won't notice when I fall, I'll be a little looser, less likely to get hurt, right?
Allison Kennedy (01:20:32): Yep.
Rob Collie (01:20:32): But Allison, thank you so much. I love using this show as an excuse to catch up with people from a long time ago. I also love using it as an excuse to meet people for the first time and I've really, really enjoyed this. I sincerely think you're awesome.
Allison Kennedy (01:20:47): Thank you.
Rob Collie (01:20:48): Yeah. Thanks for being here. Thanks for getting up early.
Allison Kennedy (01:20:51): Thanks for having me.
Rob Collie (01:20:52): Thanks for listening to the raw data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Have a data day.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.