4 Questions for the Founder of Spreadsheet Day

October 17 is Spreadsheet Day. That might be news to you, but this admittedly niche holiday is catching on.

In 2014 the British tabloid the Mirror even wrote about it. They took a typically sensationalist (though amusing) angle: The five worst spreadsheet mistakes… Ever.

Spreadsheet Day is a new holiday. It was developed by Excel guru Debra Dalgleish back in 2010. She ran community polls to choose the date. October 17th was selected in honor of the release of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet program, back in 1979.

(Fun fact: even though we think of Apple computers as a tool of the creative class, it was actually spreadsheets that gave the company life. Steve Jobs said “VisiCalc ... propelled … the success [of Apple]… more than any other single event.”)

Spreadsheet Day was picked up by the influential Days of the Week site in 2014, the 35th anniversary of the VisiCalc release. And it’s only gone viral from there.  

The Tiller Money team is celebrating Spreadsheet Day from Asheville North Carolina, Burlington Vermont, and Seattle Washington. And what are we eating? What else - sheet cake.

We reached out to spreadsheet day founder Debra Dalgleish on the holiday’s 7th anniversary with some questions about spreadsheets, life, and the big day itself.

Tiller Money: Did you have any idea that Spreadsheet Day would catch on so fast?

Debra Dalgleish: At the beginning, I hoped that Spreadsheet Day would get some recognition in the Excel community, but didn’t have any idea that it would go beyond that. It’s encouraging to see all the mentions on the past couple of years, and hope it continues to grow.

Millions of people use spreadsheets every day - not because they want to, necessarily, but because they have to. What do you wish more people knew about spreadsheets?

Most people use spreadsheets at a basic level, to fill in the blanks in a file that someone else built. I wish they had the time and resources to learn how to build their own workbooks and make improvements to the files that they’re already using.

A lot of people who take pride in their spreadsheet skills and share a kind of tribal affiliation. Do you relate to this? And do you think it’s true that some of us are just “spreadsheet people?”

Like any other skill or passion, people take pride in the spreadsheets that they build. I spent thousands of hours participating in the old Excel newsgroups, as did many other “spreadsheet people”. That was a great place to learn new things, and “meet” a great group of people.

The newsgroups are gone now, and you can find a similar camaraderie in Excel forums. I wrote about that on my Contextures blog.

Tell us a little more about yourself. Beyond your website and blog, what do you enjoy doing?

My Contextures website and blog fill most of the week, and beyond that I like to spend time with family and friends, especially my two grandchildren. To keep active, I enjoy walking, gardening, and household projects. I share a personal photo in my Contextures newsletter each week, so people can see what I’m up to!