In January, Nina Joseph of Cary got her first taste of Excel in a class at Green Hope High School.
Eight months later, shes answering complex questions about the spreadsheet software for her dad and other adults, and theres a reason theyre asking her: earlier this month she earned the bronze medal in the student division of the 2013 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship in Washington, D.C.
Through online certification tests that ask takers to perform tasks on given worksheets, Nina worked her way up to the national competition in June, where she was named one of just six finalists that would represent the U.S. in the world competition. Alex Bainbridge, a classmate of Ninas at Green Hope High, also was named a finalist and competed at the world level on Microsoft Word. He rose through last years contest on Excel, earning a third-place world ranking for 2012.
Nina said she had to take the certification tests, issued by competition sponsor Certiport, maybe like 100 to 200 times before she could get a perfect score and start chipping away at her time, both crucial components in the contests ranking system. But she didnt mind putting in all that time with Excel.
I love the math aspect of it, she said. Im kind of a math nerd. I like all the formulas and I like that you get a definite answer with all the problems.
At the competition
At the World Championship, she met students from more than 50 countries. They chatted about Microsoft programs a bit, but mostly the conversation was about normal topics for teens, said Nina, now a senior at Green Hope.
When the Excel competition began, Nina said she wasnt feeling quite at the top of her game.
I had one of the later testing times, and so I got really nervous waiting until 2 in the afternoon to take my exam, she said. At that time I was tired from the adrenaline wearing off and trying to get into the zone in the testing place and trying to figure out what I was doing. I did not think I did that well.
So a couple days later, when the winners were announced, she was surprised and definitely happy to see the results.
I had kind of gone in there thinking, I have a lot of competition, I think Im OK if I dont come out of here winning a place. Then, when I saw my name on the screen, it was really exciting!
In addition to the rewards from the contest, which included a $1,000 prize, learning Excel has helped Nina organize her life in many areas, she said.
I use it for all kinds of random stuff, she said. It kind of makes me feel better seeing all the numbers in a nice format. Its good to work things out rather than just multiplying things in my head.
She used Excel last school year to figure out what grades she needed to get on her final exams to get the overall grades she wanted in each class. She made a worksheet, plugged in the numbers she had, and used formulas to arrive at the numbers she wanted. It made me feel better, she said, because it made my goal realistic.
She already has her eye on next years Certiport competition, and she sees Excel figuring into her future even farther down the line, too.
Excel is kind of cathartic for me because I get to work things out, she said. So for a career, she hopes to continue that catharsis with something involving math, but beyond that I dont know.
There are some problems even Excel cant solve.
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