I must offer apologies to J.R.R. Tolkein for appropriating the title of the book authored by his character Bilbo Baggins as my own. However, I think it's appropriate for a few reasons. This has indeed been a whirlwind trip to Québec City for the last time in 2010 for the Club d'Utilisateurs SAS de Québec: it truly has been a 'there and back again' experience... a little surreal and a little disappointing from my perspective. A 7:00am flight out, a lunch/meeting/dinner and an 8:20pm flight home again: whew! This is made even more painful because I absolutely LOVE Québec City. As I told several of the attendees, I first fell in love with la belle ville de Québec at the tender age of 12. Yes, it was actually a girl moreso than the city itself, I must admit: ah, young love... for those who have been to QC, you know exactly what I'm talking about! It truly is the Paris of North America and it's hard to not give in to one's romantic inclinations especially in my advancing years (I'm not telling) when appreciating the architecture, the culture and the people in this amazing city.
The title 'There and Back Again' could also refer to the amazing consistency of this group. Once again, Louis-René Rheault and the executive team have led the way to a phenomenal meeting. 108 people attended today's gathering at the Université de Laval, a meeting which is an example of collaboration in its purest form. Each member of the committee has an agreed-upon role which is executed to perfection given the strengths of the individual in question. Our invitation was sent out to SAS users known to myself, to the Québec City executive committee, and through the SAS offices in Montréal and QC. The agenda itself was pulled together by local support and featured first-time presenter Ishmael Coulibaly who presented on data mining fundamentals in an Enterprise Miner context. Great job, Ishmael: the audience sure didn't comment upon your relative 'newness'. I hope we'll see many more presentations coming forward from you! There are many moving parts here, and all work flawlessly with each other. This is in many ways a model for others to be sure.
Speaking personally, 'There and Back Again' refers to my determination to improve my French language skills. La langue du Molière est tellement belle et je suis determiner à retrouver mon grammaire et mon vocabulaire. I studied intensive French for 11 years in school including half-days spent in immersion... and every time I return to QC, it pains me that I'm not communicating as effectively with everyone as I could. Everyone is so incredibly patient with me as I fumble through conjugations, verb tenses and meanings in my head... and I have yet to hear someone cast aspersions on my efforts. Thank you, QC, for your patience!!! I make you this promise. Within 2 years, I will give a 45 minute technical presentation on Enterprise Guide, completement en francais.
Québec in general is a special place: a community unto itself in many ways. Fiercely - and rightly! - protective of the beautiful culture and language which continues to be celebrated here, there is still an openness and willingness to entertain a poor guy from English Canada which I find heartening. In some ways, this acknowledgement of our differences actually results in a celebration of our similarities. We are all SAS users or supporters, and despite the occasional communication barrier with words, we can always make our SAS-based thoughts and questions ring with clarity through a simple code node or process flow. In many ways, the executive committee and their willingness to collaborate and enter into dialogue is a model for what I hope to continue to grow between SAS users across the country. I hope QC can be an example of the great results which can be achieved when superficial differences are put aside and we all revel in speaking the common language of SAS.
I'd also like to single out M. Jean Hardy and M. Sylvain Tremblay for their outstanding contributions to this meeting. Sylvain is a close friend and SAS Education stalwart. He's a road warrior like myself and one of my first choices for travelling companions - and not just by me, I should add! Sylvain's students are constantly asking after him and he never leaves a meeting without making new, great connections and helping out a SAS user with an issue they might be having, no matter how small. Jean Hardy is a legend in Québec City: teaching SAS and supporting the user community since before SAS existed as an entity in the province, Jean will also be presenting on the topic of moving results into and out of Excel at next week's MONSUG meeting in Montréal on November 8th. Jean also presented in the midst of some difficult circumstances for himself personally and I want to take a moment to both thank him and offer him the support of not only myself but the SAS user community in general.
All in all, I'm flying home to Toronto sad to be leaving QC and my friends on the executive committee so rapidly, but thrilled with the growth and strength of the community I leave behind. With dates already planned for 2011, I already have the next meeting of the Club d'utilisateurs SAS de Québec circled on my calendar. Beyond that, I've already made plans to travel here in the summer with my girlfriend to spend some time off-work with some of the executive members.... and what more can a Community Manager ask for than to be welcomed so fully into this wonderful culture and group?
Looking forward to continuing my adventures in this beautiful province next week and as they say here in Québec City: à la prochaine!