Sunday, October 31, 2010

Of Cold Temperatures and Warm Hearts in Edmonton

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the two Alberta meetings were truly inspiring. The Edmonton SAS Users Group (eSUG) has quickly grown in size and in engagement over the past few years and given the handshakes and smiling faces I saw at last week's meeting, the sense of fellowship and familiarity amongst the SAS users is growing just as quickly.

I must admit that upon arriving, my joints did start to creak like the Tin Man in 'The Wizard of Oz'. No, I wasn't trying to get an early start on Hallowe'en... although I will neither affirm nor refute any rumours of the lengths I will go to in order to satisfy my sweet tooth. Rather, it was the -12C temperature and snow which was falling through the air that caused my body to seize. My first taste of winter since... oh, last winter. I must admit, I wasn't prepared. However after a brief adjustment period it actually became quite refreshing: pleasant, really. I have a good feeling there's much more where that came from in the near future like it or not.

Earlier I alluded to the sense of familiarity between attendees at the user group meeting. I had a good feeling upon arriving at the meeting that this would be the case. A few members of the SAS community joined the eSUG LinkedIn group which had been fairly quiet up until that point and the eSUG Facebook group - as it was rightly pointed out to me by one of the contributors - actually had several commenters besides myself: a nice positive in these early days! I hope we'll see more activity in both places as we begin to offer more and more valuable content for Edmonton users. I was further buoyed by the knowledge that at the time, almost 80 people had taken in the video interview I conducted with guest speaker Marje Fecht. Given her reception in Calgary the day before, I was quite sure the Edmonton audience would be just as enthusiastic. All the signs pointed to a fantastic meeting, and I wasn't let down.

If one individual can personify the temperment of this group, it would have to be Doug Dover. The President of the group, Doug is hardworking, personable, dedicated, approachable and considerate. He demonstrated why he's been instrumental along with the other executive committee members in helping to grow and bring together the SAS user community in Edmonton. Doug arrived at the meeting with an enormous box full of agendas, evaluation forms and the other staple of a meeting: 100 notepads and pens. The box also held the prizes traditionally awarded at random by way of conclusion as well as speaker gifts for the 2 guest speakers. Sadly, the box didn't contain a few of the most important elements of the meeting. Longtime eSUG supporter and executive committee member Rick Watts was missing his first meeting in 5 years as he was under the weather, and his wife Liz was staying close at hand. Neither did the box contain the voice of Doug Dover, callously stolen by illness a few weeks earlier and mysteriously missing since.

Doug asked to introduce the meeting regardless of his vocal challenges, with one specific request. He held up two cards he had bought and asked everyone to come up at the break to sign them. They were get well cards for Rick Watts from the eSUG community. The break did see a steady stream of attendees coming to the table to sign the card, a real testament to the strength of the sense of togetherness of the group. Here's to you, Rick.

I also couldn't help but remark that the eSUG group had (almost) reached the 100 attendee level! Large groups of friends and strangers clustered together around circular tables and exchanged pleasantries and contact information. This is in no small way thanks to the work of a fantastic executive committee. Taking a little time out of their schedules to help me co-ordinate local presenters, reach out to their colleagues about the meeting and to address other details is of immense assistance. Frankly, it would be difficult to pull off meetings successfully without them! Thanks a million, guys.

My final thoughts on the meeting:
- the presentations were of course tremendous. Marje Fecht once again fostered robust discussion through her talks, and local SAS guru John Kirtz of Snowy Owl software almost had too much to share with his demo and presentation on ODS statistical graphics and the graphics template language new in version 9.2. For those of you unable to attend, have no fear: the presentations will be made available here imminently.
- it was great to see SAS users of all different levels at the meeting. I myself chatted with someone who was a re-energized lapsed SAS user, a woman just starting out with Enterprise Guide, two potential presenters for SAS Global Forum, a discussion around social media resources from a SAS perspective, and a few technical discussions of a variety of types to boot! It's always great to converse with users on the ground, and I sure did get to do a lot of it.
- post-meeting, I think we may have experienced a first. Our traditional user group executive committee lunch was held at what has to be the most inland lighthouse in western Canada; a surreal experience on the outskirts of the Prairies!

I mention on the LinkedIn group page as well as in the Facebook group that I have a set of notes which were left behind at the meeting. I'm happy to scan and send them to you if they're yours: I'd hate to see all the work go to waste. Connect with me, and they're yours again.

Thanks again Edmonton for a great meeting. It was wonderful to meet and see so many of you and I'm very happy to see the group growing closer together even as it grows larger.

Next up for me: the return to Quebec City! Mais oui, I'm headed there and back in a single day for lunch, a user group meeting, dinner, and a flight home. What a whirlwind! I'll be sure to have more in the coming days.

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