S'porean Excels in Microsoft contest

Mr Elliot Tan, 20, needed only 40 minutes out of the allotted 50 to solve the problem and double-check his work at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship.
Mr Elliot Tan, 20, needed only 40 minutes out of the allotted 50 to solve the problem and double-check his work at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Working on spreadsheets is a necessary evil to many, but few can claim to be an expert at it. Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate Elliot Tan, however, is among the world's best.

The 20-year-old came out tops in the Microsoft Excel 2013 category in this year's Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship in Dallas, Texas. He beat 24 other participants in the category to walk away with a trophy and grand prize of US$7,500 (S$10,600) earlier this month.

Contestants were given raw data and a printout of how the final product - in Mr Tan's case, a spreadsheet - should look like. The goal was to plug the given data into the Excel software and select the correct formula to work on it, in order to replicate the given spreadsheet.

The challenge tests knowledge of the software and analytical skills involving which data to use.

"Anyone who has experience with Excel can eventually do it," said Mr Tan. "But the challenge is to do it in the shortest time. It boils down to speed."

He was the first candidate to walk out of the testing hall, needing only 40 minutes out of the allotted 50 to solve the problem. He also found time to double-check his work before submitting it.

What he did in 40 minutes may take an average user several hours to figure out, Mr Tan said.

For him, the feat was the result of months of practice, scouring through thick tomes of Excel manuals and doing practice tests online.

This was his second time representing Singapore at the championship, after coming in eighth in a separate Microsoft Word category two years ago.

"I felt better than the last time I went there, because I was almost sure it was perfect. I told my lecturer, 'This year, if I don't do better, I'm going to flip a table'."

There were a total of six Singaporeans out of 145 student finalists across three categories - Word, Excel and Powerpoint - from 47 countries at the championships.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'S'porean Excels in Microsoft contest'. Print Edition | Subscribe