Is Excel a Programming Language?

Excel is a form of computer programming in that it allows you to create, calculate, and change data sets in a number of different ways. But is it considered programming in of itself? It depends who you ask.

Traditional programmers will probably tell you no because Excel has its limitations. After all, the actions are predefined by Excel’s platform.

An Excel whizz might say otherwise. Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) which first came out in 1993, allows users to go beyond regular Excel functions. It helps users analyze large amounts of data, and create and maintain complicated financial models.

In 2021, Excel came one step closer to being a programming language after introducing a new feature called LAMBDA.

“With LAMBDA, Excel has become Turing-complete (the litmus test of a full fledged programming language). You can now, in principle, write any computation in the Excel formula language,” a Microsoft blog proclaimed.

The Newstack explained more about LAMBDA in an in-depth article: “Now all those users can write actual programs without leaving the world of Excel formulas. More specifically, formulas written in Excel can now be “wrapped” inside a named LAMBDA function — and it can then be called from anywhere else in the spreadsheet. And yes, it supports recursive programming, so you can even call your named function from within your named function.”

While many people might not consider this to be full programming, it’s definitely one step closer.

But whether you’re in the “Excel will never be programming” camp or not, there are still many good reasons for heavy Excel users to know other types of programming. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

7 Reasons for Excel Users to Learn Programming

1) Automation

The most obvious one is automation. By learning programming, Excel users can automate repetitive tasks, such as data entry or formatting. Whether it be through Excel’s programming abilities or more standard programming, automating these tasks can save time and reduce risks of errors.

2) Customization

With programming, Excel users can customize their spreadsheets and add features that are not available in the standard Excel toolset. For example, they can create custom functions or macros that perform specific tasks or analyses.

3) Data Analysis

Excel is a powerful data analysis tool, but programming can take data analysis to the next level. With programming, users can create complex algorithms and models to analyze data and make predictions.

4)Easier to find errors

When you’ve made an error in Excel, figuring it out can be difficult, since you might have to scroll through thousands of data cells or manually go over your work. There have been some comical and costly mistakes because of this.

When you make an error in a coding language (like R), you’ll typically get an error or “false” message that explains what the computer thinks has gone wrong. In some cases you also have comments explaining each line of your code, which makes it easier to go back and re-check each step, instead of having to go over it all manually.

5) Collaboration

Excel users who learn programming can collaborate more effectively with programmers and developers. They can communicate better about data structures and program logic, leading to more efficient and effective solutions.

6) Easier to use outside tools and Excel add ons

While Excel is still the number one tool for finance professionals, more and more companies are making the move to FP&A software and different upgrades to Excel. Some FP&A software are Excel native, meaning that finance professionals can retain the familiarity of Excel. Having the ability to code allows for increased opportunities in using different integrations and functions with outside tools that can greatly improve your Excel work and finance functions.

7) Career Advancement

Excel users who learn programming can set themselves apart from their peers and open up new career opportunities. They can work in fields such as data analysis, business intelligence, or software development, where programming skills are highly valued.


Is Excel considered a programming language? That’s up to you to decide. But either way, understanding both Excel programming (VBA, LAMBDA) and traditional programming has a lot of benefits for your company and career.

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