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Owner of 'magic spreadsheet' tried to stay in the Lotus position until forced to Excel

Sometimes legacy systems must be preserved to safeguard a vital function. This was not one of those times

who, me? Welcome once again dear reader, to the sanctuary of sympathy we call Who, Me? where tales of technical derring-do are shared alongside stories of derring-at-least-you-tried.

This week meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Randi" who worked in financial services. Among his colleagues was a product manager who jealously guarded his PC, and would not allow it to be upgraded – or indeed touched – by anyone but himself.

Since the product manager's performance for the company was deemed more than satisfactory – performance at least partly attributed to the magical spreadsheet he had on his PC – this behavior was tolerated. For a time.

Unfortunately, as often happens, time moved on. The point came when the firm could no longer accept an ancient, un-upgradeable PC on the network. The product manager was convinced, aggressively, that the PC must be replaced. Randi was called in.

His task was to determine what the miracle spreadsheet was, what it did, and rebuild it on a more modern system. Considerable time was allotted for this important task.

It turned out the spreadsheet had been built in Lotus 1-2-3 (young readers may have to look it up) and the reason the PM had been so reticent about upgrading was because any operating system released this century wouldn't run it at all.

What's more, its functionality was fairly basic. Its key function involved dividing one important figure (related to the PM's contribution to the firm's revenue) by another important figure (related to the share price). At one time both of these numbers had been provided automatically by data retrieval services to which the PC connected. However, neither service any longer supported 1-2-3 – so the PM had been entering the numbers manually for years.

Randi tells us it took him roughly 30 seconds to work this out. Then another five minutes to rebuild the functionality – with working data connections – in Microsoft Excel.

He then used his time to catch up on some other work, allowing the portfolio manager to continue giving the impression to the rest of the company that his miracle spreadsheet was somehow complex and amazing.

The secret was preserved – though Randi tells us the PM was let go some time later for underperformance.

Those "do not upgrade" PCs hiding in offices around the world can hide a multitude of secrets. Tell us yours in an email to Who, Me? and we'll make you (anonymously) famous.

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