Do engineers use Excel? Engineers use a lot of data and equations. So, Excel makes the perfect tool to manage and crunch numbers.
I use Excel all the time myself. It has made my engineering work much easier.
I can do just about everything with Excel. I understand it’s not always the best solution.
But, it’s a program I can depend on. And it has yet to let me down.
So, let’s discuss why engineers love Excel.
#1 Familiarity with Excel’s user interface and commands
Everyone I know has a very deep familiarity with Excel. Microsoft released Excel back in 1985.
For this reason, most Engineers today grew up with Excel. In the 1990s before I was even a teen, I remember playing around with Excel.
I would create tables and graphs. Then do basic math in the program.
Engineers typically have very curious minds. So, Excel was a great outlet to express yourself. Especially as computers were becoming more and more popular.
So, I thought the program was very cool even at a very young age. I was able to do so much and without any lessons.
Plus, I found Excel on almost every computer I came across. And computers back then didn’t have many installed programs.
By default, I used Excel a lot. Excel became my favorite computer program, alongside the game ‘Oregon Trail’ of course.
For this reason, Excel became the main tool I used in my math and science classes in high school.
To top it off, Excel hasn’t changed much over the years. The base functionality is still there. And the interface is still intact for the most part.
#2 Easy to use
The interface is super simple and intuitive. Especially if you grew up using the program as I already touched on.
I find this critical in engineering. Because it’s one less thing you need to worry about as a busy engineer.
I find the simplicity comes from functions broken down into simple parts. Then, everything is clearly labeled. This makes doing work very easy.
Also, it’s very easy to learn new things in Excel. Give it a weekend or two, and you can become decent with any different Excel tasks.
Just open Excel, and go. And the learning curve for the more advanced tasks isn’t too difficult to learn either. For example, learning about:
- Advanced charts
- Finding data from lookup tables, by using such functions as VLOOKUP
- Creating user-defined functions
- Summarizing, sorting, and reorganizing data by using pivot tables
- Filtering and sorting data
In short, the more you use Excel the easier it gets. It’s not like some programs that it’s always a drag using it.
#3 Excel gives you a lot of flexibility to do what you like
You can do so much with Excel. That’s why I view most software companies as glorified Excel spreadsheets. Especially those that just process data.
This is especially the case when a visual interface isn’t needed. At the end of the day, most data-crunching apps are only a series of equations and algorithms.
For this reason, all types of engineers love Excel. In engineering, we just want to crunch our numbers. We don’t care if the output looks pretty or not.
On that note, here is the stuff I use Excel for in my work:
A lot of basic engineering calculations I’ve hacked together in Excel myself. It doesn’t look pretty in Excel but it gets the job done for me.
For example, I’ve set up formulas for electric loads calculations. Also, for automatically sizing breakers and wire sizes for low voltage panels.
For more complex calculations, I’ll use purchased software. This is always the case when there are too many interdependent variables at play.
Or even, I use the software we’ve written ourselves here at EngineerCalcs:
Important Note: never blindly rely on your Excel calculations. Or any software for that matter.
I always do a reality check over my outputs. I ask myself if my outputted figures make sense or not?
I’ll even crank out hand calculations on a random figure. This way, I can catch any errors. Maybe I accidentally changed a backend equation in my Excel formulas somehow. It happens.
Excel used as a basic database, works great from my experience.
The key is to use small data sets. Once your workbook gets too big, Excel starts to work too slow. Plus, the documenting process suffers.
So, I suggest using a more robust software at that point. It’ll make crunching your large volumes of data much easier.
That said, I store all types of equipment information organized to my liking in Excel. For example:
- Different types of electrical equipment and their ratings
- Personal notes on equipment limitations
- My own technical notes on different subjects
A lot of the time, the information I receive from vendors comes in Excel spreadsheets. Also, data from large utilities are also organized in spreadsheets.
So, becoming familiar with spreadsheets is very helpful. Especially when you’re dealing with more traditional engineering fields. More than likely they still use Excel for most things.
Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) editor
If you’re willing to learn VBA, you can do so much in Excel. VBA is a simple programming language of Excel.
It might seem insane to use it for some complex problems.
But, it surprisingly works great. There’s not much you can’t do with it.
This includes doing many different engineering calculations. And then you can present everything fairly nicely too.
For example, I’ve written code to check high voltage equipment test data. My program went through thousands of lines of data spotting different issues.
For this reason, I would’ve preferred colleges taught Excel and VBA instead of MATLAB. Or at the very least, taught both together.
I don’t know many who use MATLAB in the private industry. Maybe those who use it don’t broadcast it to the world.
But, this reaffirms how out of touch schools are with the real world. I believe an engineer with amazing Excel skills would be more valuable to an employer.
That said, if you can use MATLAB, you can probably easily teach yourself Excel and VBA. Regardless, don’t dismiss Excel. You’ll only benefit by learning how to properly use it.
And don’t just learn Excel. Learn how to use it right.
Excel also allows you to create amazing simulations.
In-circuit design, you’re given a list of formulas. These formulas will help you specify certain device values. For example, finding values for:
- Power ratings
To do your design, you can create a new worksheet with all your formulas and device values included. Then you can adjust variables to see how your device values change.
I find this works better than most paid software tools.
#4 Free large online community
Excel has probably one of the largest online communities as a programming tool. You can find just about everything you want to know online.
On Reddit and Youtube alone there’s endless content. Then, you can venture into the countless forums that are just dedicated to Excel.
So, it’s a no-brainer to use Excel. You have access to endless free content and very helpful people. Not once have I not found what I was searching for.
This is a great reason alone to try to make your own complex program using Excel and VBA. Even better, people freely share their created Excel sheets and code with you. A win-win!
I understand the limitations of Excel. I’ve heard the whispers that you’re not a great engineer if you use Excel for complex problems. I get it.
But also, every advanced software you buy isn’t created equal. I use a lot of advanced expensive software myself, for engineering work.
And I find all types of limitations in these programs. Plus, they even have errors in the computation.
Keep in mind, a lot of software is a string of equations and algorithms. So, why not recreate what you want when the existing programs aren’t good enough?
And, I do just that in Excel. This way I have complete control over the computation. This allows me to:
- Extend the scope of a calculation
- Add more variables to a calculation
- More deeply investigate calculated values as I have access to the code
To make matters worse, a lot of advanced software lacks online forums. And, the software developers aren’t any help. I need to pay $5,000 per year extra to receive any type of support.
#5 Common usage
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use Excel. Not one person.
Every large engineering organization I’ve worked with uses Excel. And they use it fairly extensively.
Even more, all non-engineers use Excel. So you can easily share your files with them as well.
Everyone’s familiarity with Excels eliminates learning curves. While reducing the overhead of explaining things over and over again.
This is a huge benefit when sharing Excel files. It makes work so much more simple.
Also, it creates a seamless collaboration environment for teamwork.
“Do Engineers Use Excel?” wrap up
Most engineers love Excel. Becoming familiar with it is a great way to automate a lot of your work.
And yes, I know it has limitations. It’s not the end all be all tool.
But, Excel was never meant to be able to do everything at a high level. Frankly, what program can?
If things become too complex, there are many other custom options. Like Python or MATLAB. So far though, I’ve been able to squeeze every last bit of juice out of Excel.
Frankly, Excel and VBA are hands down one of the most powerful tools. And overall, Excel is my favorite tool.
What’s your experience with Excel? How often do you use Excel?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.