Hi, Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for signing up for Financial Modeling and Data Analysis for Winter Term.

As I have begun putting the pieces together for the course, I’m realizing that the course will be a little different than the description that you read.  So, I am writing you now both to welcome you to the course, and to let you know about a few things that may not have come through in the description you read when signing up for the course:

  1. Finance vs. Data – The course will likely be more focused on Financial Modeling than on Data Analysis.   There will still be some data analysis, but it probably will not be a 50/50 split.   It will more likely be closer to 70/30.
  2. Investing – The course is mainly an excel course, but there will also be readings that have to do with business and investing.  Understand that financial modeling is a tool used in the investing process. As such, it’s good to have some background in investment decision making.  They may not fit nicely and neatly into the box of “Financial Modeling and Data Analysis”. However, I’ve selected them to be readings that I think are important.  However, “important” is not enough.  Plenty of “important” readings are boring.  I’ve tried to find readings that I hope you will find interesting, relevant, worth discussing …and not too long.
  3. Programming – The course will include some programming.  Financial Modeling is a type of programming.   And my approach differs from how someone else might teach the same material, because I was a programmer.  It’s uncommon to find people in finance who can write code, but it can be quite helpful.  Excel also offers a programming language in Visual Basic.  The intent here is to provide you with the familiarity with the programming interface that you will be able to customize Excel to your liking.  You will learn how write custom functions and create basic subroutines.  Prior programming experience is not required.  There will also be some discussion of SQL, which is the basic language that has been for getting information into and out of a database.

A few other points of clarification:

Stock picking – When I use the term “Financial” this does not mean “picking stocks” and it certainly does not mean “trading”.  The financial modeling that we will be doing will largely be related to projects rather than corporations.  A project is easier to understand because there are fewer moving parts, and because the impact of accounting concepts is smaller.  Corporate analysis requires disentangling a considerable amount of accounting, and that can make things much more complicated.  A project could be the economics of an apartment rental or a car lease or a power plant.  For more on the difference between project finance and corporate finance, read this, by a Wall Street expert, and one of the people I most admire in finance.

Blog – I’ve begun setting up a website for the course at https://fmda2015.wordpress.com/.  Over the next two months, there will be a bunch of material that will be published there.  Some posts are important – like homework assignments.  Others are just nice to know.  I will only post things that I think will be worth your time.  You’ll notice that there are a few posts already.  There are dozens more that are scheduled.  New posts will begin appearing every few days until the beginning of the course.  During the course, expect there to be several posts per day.  Each of you will be receiving a login and password, with which you will be able to post comments on what I’ve shared, as well as links, articles, etc. under the section labeled “Forum”.

Difficulty Level – I was a Middlebury student too.  The winter term courses that I took were very intense and very difficult, while my friends took courses that, by comparison, seemed to be much easier.  Although I’m not out for revenge, this course will cover a lot of ground.  There will be homework assignments and readings due each day.  The course will meet for 2 hours each day, and the homework ought to require 3-5 hours a day.   My intent is not create an enormously difficult course.  But, if you’re looking for an easy course that will permit lots of free time for skiing, and all the other fun things there are to do on campus in January, you may want to consider a different course.  I will, however, do my best to make the course interesting and useful.

Books – There will be a few books to buy.  One is on Financial Modeling.  Another is a set of readings on investing.  And a third is a book that inspired a generation of investors.  There is not a book specifically on excel, visual basic, SQL, or data analysis.  For excel and visual basic, there are plenty of online resources, and plenty of books, even old books, that are fine to use.

Lynda –  Lynda.com is a subscription website dedicated to training people how to use various different kinds of software.  I’ve been a paying subscriber for a long time.  Fortunately, Middlebury has a site license, so it’s free to all students.   It would be a very good idea to make sure that you can log in to Lynda.com with your Middlebury ID.  Here’s a link to some info that I found regarding how to do this.

Lynda – http://www.middlebury.edu/offices/technology/help/learn/lynda

Here’s an “Essential Training” course on Lynda that might be good to watch, depending on your skill level. http://www.lynda.com/Excel-tutorials/Excel-2013-Essential-Training/116478-2.html

Computer – I have heard that most Middlebury students use Macs.  It’s ok to use a Mac for this course.  However, if you have access to a PC with Excel, please use that.  You can do the course either way, but Excel just works better on a PC, and there are some things that you can do on a PC that you can’t do on a Mac.  Also, if there is anyone that does not have a laptop that they can bring to class, please let me know.

Survey – I’ve prepared a survey that I would like each of you to respond to.  This data is only for me, and will not be shared with other students.  I will be sending a link to the survey in the next few days.  It should probably take five or ten minutes of your time.


If you have questions, concerns, or any other issues that you would like to discuss, feel free to reach out to me and I will do my best to address them.

Thank you and welcome,



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