Monday, September 19, 2011

A Great Start to the Fall User Group Season

The Toronto Area SAS Society (TASS) meeting last Friday was the perfect way to kick-off what promises to be a very busy Fall/Winter user group season. As I blogged about on the SAS Canada Community site, I was really looking forward to a tightly-themed meeting. The focus of the event was on SAS macros, stored processes and efficiencies in the Enterprise Guide environment... and given the huge turn-out, it was definitely the right theme to attack!

All in all there were nearly 250 people who attended the day-long meeting. There were a few highlights which I'd like to pick out: some from a SAS perspective, others from a personal perspective. I think they'll highlight why I continue to feel privileged and overjoyed to support the great community of SAS users here in Toronto and across the country.

We were very fortunate to have two SAS Global Forum papers of note on the morning agenda. Mahmoud Azimaee reprised his 2010 'honourable mention' SGF talk on Integrating SAS & Google API to map health care data in his adopted province of Manitoba. This talk provided a level of visual stimulation not often seen at user group meetings. Using SAS and Google Earth, Mahmoud was able to map health-related data of interest on national, provincial and metropolitan levels. The GUI functionality of the program proved to be a real hit with the audience; appreciative murmurs of admiration were heard throughout the crowd as Mahmoud manipulated the maps and data with ease and skill. Truly an amazing talk!

This presentation was immediately followed by an invited paper for the 2012 SAS Global Forum taking place at the end of April in Orlando, Florida. Co-authored and delivered by TASS President Art Tabachneck, this paper highlighted the collaborative nature of SAS users on a across the world. Featuring contributors from the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom, it truly was a talk of global proportions! I was struck by the fact that a good chunk of the collaboration was inspired and conducted through the vehicle of SAS-L, the long-standing SAS online community. I think that many in the room were impressed and perhaps surprised by the benefit of connecting through online communities, a point reinforced by Art during his talk. The sheer scale and complexity of the work itself was inspiring; it was a monumental task and one which continues to scale up larger and larger. I'm anxious to see where Art and his colleagues are able to take it in later interations.

This theme of online collaboration continued with the afternoon session. SAS Canada's own Chris Sammut and Pauline Lee not only presented a macro which they had developed internally here at SAS, they posted it to the SAS Canada Community for everyone to use at will. In addition, they also provided a supplemental paper on how to deploy a similar macro as a stored process in Enterprise Guide. Fantastic stuff, and even more remarkable considering that they were first time presenters at TASS!

Rupinder Dhillon's talk on the built-in macros which exist in Enterprise Guide was her usual stand-up work and led perfectly into the final award-winning talk of the day. Harsha Kotian delivered her SAS Global Forum 2011 'best submitted paper' on SAS Enterprise Guide options, which was charming, witty and best of all well-received by the almost 90-strong attendees who remained late in the day.

I remarked at the meeting how a good portion of the agendas were driven through social media. Whether it was finding presenters through LinkedIn, building a crowd-sourced invited paper or connecting with others through the SAS Canada Community, this meeting featured many stories of social media showing its worth.... and for someone as engaged (read:obsessed) with this space as I am, that's a very good thing.

I'd also like to acknowledge some of the other elements around TASS which impressed, elated and humbled. I have to make special note of Rahman Sarker who took time out of his busy schedule to come in to SAS Canada a few days in advance of TASS in order to test out his talk... and then modified it happily and cheerfully. I think it paid off as his was one of the most discussed presentations of the day. I'd also like to thank Rupinder Dhillon who ran one of the break-out sessions before running back to work and Noemi Toiber Temin and Hiten Patel for their help at the registration desk. It's this sense of true, genuine collaboration which helps make the TASS meetings so successful and enjoyable. I hope those of you who weren't able to attend will be able to make it out for the December 9th meeting and experience the cameraderie yourselves in person. In the meantime, you'll certainly be able to access all the presentations here.

I reserve a special note for Mr. Carl Clutton. As the longest-serving member of TASS, it meant an awful lot that he presented me with a card and a gift in celebration of my recent engagement. It's this exact type of relationship that keeps me energized to support the SAS community. In many ways, my colleagues in the SAS user group world have transcended the customer-level: I consider them friends as well. A truly touching and well-received gesture: thanks again for your generosity and thoughfulness, Carl!

Next up in the user group world: I'm making a long-overdue visit to Saskatoon and Winnipeg in early October with my colleague Tara Holland. I can't wait to meet up with my friends there as well, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it here! Of course, you can find me blogging about the meetings in advance on the SAS Canada Community site as well.

Until then...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Catching Up & Looking Ahead

It's been a long, long while since I've updated this blog. I'm the first to admit that I've been wracked with guilt about not posting in quite some time. It does seem that sometime life - and work too! - get in the way.

We've had an exciting and strange summer here in Toronto. It began with the infamous 'heat dome' settling over much of Ontario and the north east... I guess they called it a heat dome because it felt as if we were all passengers in Darth Vader's helmet as he went through extreme cardio training on the desert planet of Tatooine (wow, too much inner nerd coming out to play? Methinks so). We had almost a month of solid 40 degree celcius temperatures almost daily. For our friends in Cary, this might seem like a walk in the park: but for we of the frozen tundra it was a little much to bear.... especially those of us who lacked air conditioning!

Mother Nature threw us another curveball with a brief, mild 10 second earthquake. Originating far south in the state of Virginia, Toronto seems to have been the extreme edge of the tremor zone. We don't get earthquakes often (read, EVER) in Ontario so it was became quite the event around the office. I couldn't help but think that this would be a good lead-in to the VanSUG user group meeting taking place on November 2nd in Vancouver, featuring Jim Metcalf (Director of Analytics) discussing his geological work around measuring the impact of the earlier Japanese earthquake/tsunami on British Columbia. I myself have experienced the earth move once or twice in my visits to San Diego, so it didn't particularly perturb me... but it was a strange feeling on my home soil, to be sure.

Speaking of San Diego, the final massive seismic shift - at least in my life - was that I proposed to my longtime girlfriend... and she happily accepted! I suppose this has been one of the major reasons I haven't been as active blogging as I would like to be: the planning, the nervousness and finally, the release of emotion was truly an emotional rollercoaster. But I'm back in the saddle and highly motivated to share my expectations, my experiences and most of all, my adventures on the road as I continue to support SAS users from coast to coast through the user group program. You can find a full list of the dates of the upcoming meetings here, and I do hope to connect with you in person at one or more!

Another cause for my long-time disappearance from blogging has been the emergence of the SAS Canada Community. This is a great initiative to be involved in for me, as it marries two of my greater passions: the SAS user community and the online world of social media. Over a few years I've been slowly but steadily trying to build support engines for SAS users in as many online places as possible. There's a whole host of user groups on LinkedIn as well as Facebook, and I've had quite the active Twitter stream for quite some time. My feeling around engaging in these spaces is that while it certainly isn't for everyone, there's definitely something for everyone. Confusing? It sure is.

What I mean is that there's so much more than simply exposing your personal and private details to friends, strangers, employers and prospective business partners. If you know how (or are willing to learn) and have the patience and drive to do so, you can actually help create business, grow your own reputation and credibility, and create value for friends and customers alike. The SAS Canada Community certainly helps to address most of these issues. While a work in progress, it's already grown quicker than my expectations. We've had great success in needling, begging and cajoling domestic SAS staff and supporters to share their knowledge with the greater Canadian SAS community. There's a hunger for on-demand, Canadian-centric SAS knowledge out there... and we're quickly growing to support it.

While we still have a ways to go, early signs are that we're on to a good thing here. Social media guru Katie Paine - AKA The Queen of Measurement - recently mentioned to a group of SAS Canada employees that Canadians are almost MORE hungry than our American cousins for the knowledge and networking opportunities which exist through social media: we're just a lot more reluctant to stand up and shout about it online. We're more content to sit back, learn, absorb, and connect when the time is right. I firmly believe that the steady growth of the SAS Canada Community puts the proof to the pudding, so to speak... and I'm excited to see where it takes us next.

But enough rambling for now. I wanted to get back into the swing of blogging, and as these words have flown out of my fingertips I've realized how much I've missed it. Tomorrow, I'll be writing more about the upcoming TASS user group meeting: what to expect, what to anticipate... and a few of my own thoughts as well.

Thanks to those of you who have been patient during this sabbatical from writing... and thanks for obliging me as I've meandered my way through this return to the written page. Look forward to writing more soon.

Until then...