Youthful ignorance can be horribly embarrassing, but I hope this confession will help others follow the righteous path. I plead guilt about having in a not so distant past grossly misused Microsoft Excel for writing monster spreadsheets that really begged to be databases. When you reach Excel’s row number limit on several tabs with several occurrences of vlookup on each row, please consider it as a sign that you should reconsider your choice of tool !

This lack of judgment is so common that there are now even Excel add-in tools that mimic joins for users who can’t leave the comfort of their spreadsheets. But a better solution would be to stop being afraid of the big scary database. SQL is not that hard, and if it comes to misusing Excel and not having a MySQL server at hand you even have a credible excuse for using Microsoft Access.

Once you’ll have performed joins in a proper way and seen your files deflate a hundred fold and your query time divided by a thousand, you’ll understand how spreadsheets and relational databases are answers to different use cases – the linked article is thirteen years old but no less true today.

And to help get the message through, I coined a meme that actually seems to have found some traction in the office : vlookup is the poor man’s join !