Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Full House in the City That Gretzky Helped Build

Perhaps you’ve realized through my blog postings that I’m a little hockey-obsessed. I usually have a reference around this most Canadian of pastimes somewhere in my ramblings. In Edmonton, however, I had a true partner in crime: SAS Global Forum 2012 Chair Andrew Kuligowski, possibly the greatest admirer of the frozen game south of the 49th parallel. Such is our passion that we had attempted a month in advance of our trip to secure tickets to the Oilers/Canucks game fortuitously taking place during our brief time in Edmonton. How stupid of us. The ticket costs were through the roof: as a lifetime Leafs fan, the prices were much more in line with a typical game at the Air Canada Centre in my home city than what I had expected to pay in northern Alberta. I suppose it’s because the Oilers were playing their greatest rivals after the cross-province Calgary Flames in the boys from mainland BC. Nevertheless, Andy and I enjoyed watching the match and chatting over dinner as well as a beer or two. Edmonton’s looking good: their young guns are firing and it surely won’t be long before the city celebrates a dynasty the likes of Gretzky and Co. in the 1980s.

But on to matters of greater interest to those reading this blog; the eSUG SAS users group meeting. Edmonton has quickly established itself as a large, vocal and ever-growing community of SAS users. There is a well-rounded roster of attendees for our meetings in this northern city. Financial institutions, government – especially ministries and agencies with a health focus – as well as consultants and academia form a mélange of types of SAS usage and degrees of expertise. Under the leadership of Doug Dover, the executive committee is extremely engaged and well-respected within the community. Always willing to step up and offer a talk if necessary as individuals, the team is notable for how well they work together as a group as well. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to an important element that they bring to the table: fun. Laughs are plentiful and conversations are punctuated by puns, self-deprecating jabs and humour.

As a SAS employee, I also found this to be a remarkable meeting. The western groups are always well-attended by SAS staff from a variety of departments, but this one was particularly impressive. Teammates of mine from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg were all there. Including myself, we managed to cover 4 time zones worth of SAS offices! I’m always grateful for the support they offer, and the eSUG meeting was no exception. It was nice to see users connecting with people I work with daily and get to see only rarely in person.

In terms of the meeting itself, again, Edmonton distinguished itself as a class above in many respects. As Doug Dover mentioned as meeting’s end, we actually had to turn away a local presenter for the fall meeting! This is a wonderful problem to have and it demonstrates the willingness of the community to support each other through sharing their SAS knowledge with each other. I’m hoping this collaborative nature will carry on until the next meeting, perhaps through the SAS Canada Community.

The meeting agenda was extremely varied as well. Talks around parsing unusual formats, scraping information from the internet using SAS, logistic regression and arrays were all offered for the eSUG attendees consumption. I haven’t had a chance to go through the evaluation forms yet, but judging from the buzz in the room, they were certainly appreciated. I think the variety of topics suited the audience quite well: each presenter had questions asked of them either publicly or offline which is always a good sign that an agenda has been thought-provoking. You can judge for yourself by having a look at the presentations which were offered within the presentation archive on the eSUG website; they'll be posted there shortly. At the end of the day, these meetings are designed to support SAS users and help them to grow in their knowledge; I would say this meeting achieved that goal with ease. I hope that the 70+ attendees feel the same way.

A personal highlight was that almost every single guest speaker and executive member joined us for lunch afterwards. The conversation at the table was certainly stimulating: I learned about acupuncture and that some meats were considered ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ and should be eaten when the opposite temperature was predominant. I chatted about the merits of vacationing in Corsica, the prevalence of live crabs on flights around China, and further cemented the bonds of friendship and collaboration which make this group so special. It was a real pleasure to enjoy the hospitality of Edmonton once again. I'm wistfully aware that I won’t be winging my way westwards for another year: I suppose the anticipation of my next visit will have to hold me over until the spring. I’m glad I was able to renew acquaintances with many people I haven’t seen in a while as well as chat face-to-face with folks I’ve only been able to recently liaise with in an online capacity. This was the final road trip which necessitated changing my watch for the fall/winter user group season, so it’s with bittersweet feelings that I sign off on this particular blog. It's always nice to be home, but I do enjoy connecting with SAS users and experiencing other parts of the country and seeing how SAS is used by friends and strangers alike.

Andy Kuligowski is soldiering on to Halifax for their user group meeting this Friday – Andy, when do you sleep? And I’m sure he’ll have a fabulous time. Next up for me: la belle province, as I visit Montreal and la ville de Quebec in mid-November. I’ll be sure to be back with updates and stories from what promise to be some great meetings.

Until then…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blue Skies in Calgary

Today was a wonderful day in Calgary for many reasons. The air was crisp, cool and clean... wait a minute, that sounds uncomfortably close to a 7Up ad from the 80s. Unlike the ad, my day was certainly full of caffeine: liquid adrenaline fuel for an early morning meeting and greeting SAS users in the first of two Alberta meetings. More on that in a minute.

I arrived Monday afternoon and was very happy to spend some time with Mr. Andrew Kuligowski, the Chair of SAS Global Forum 2012. It's always a pleasure to spend time with such a knowledgeable SAS user... and a hockey fan to boot! I think it's fair to say that perhaps the only thing Andy knows better than SAS is hockey. Coming from the depths of sunny Florida, this is truly impressive... as is the fact that he's a season-ticket holder for his beloved Tampa Bay Lightning. I wish my Leafs were as exciting a team as his boys, but hey: it's a long season, no? I suppose Andy comes by his love and passion honestly as he spent his formative years cheering on the Sabres in chilly Buffalo. Just don't mention Brett Hull or his infamous Twitter picture to him, whatever you do.

Beyond catching up, Andy and I did quite a bit of talking about the SGF conference taking place at the end of April in his home state of Florida. I can't let anything out of the bag, but I can tell you that he's revealing some exciting announcements at the user group meetings this week. He's already divulged the identity of one of the keynote speakers, with more to come. Andy has promised me that he'll be trying to capture all of the sentiments in a blog on the SAS Canada Community shortly, so stay tuned there for more.

Tuesday morning I awoke bright and early - OK, early, at any rate - for a 5:00am wake-up call to prep for CSUG. Personally, I find this to be a wonderful group of folks. I've remarked several times before that I have great relationships through social media channels with a few individuals. Interestingly enough, many of them are in western Canada and 3 of them in particular are in Calgary. It was great to connect face-to-face with some folks who I know through sporadic bursts of 140 characters. The rest of the group is engaged, inquisitive and thoughtful. It was great to see a whole new segment of users attend the meeting; perhaps drawn by the talks to be offered or perhaps the proximity of the meeting. Regardless, it was wonderful to see so many new and familiar faces.

After my own SAS 9.3 and support options talk, Andy Kuligowski was unleashed on the audience. I say unleashed as it's the only word which can adequately describe the massive amount of SAS knowledge which he tries to convey to an unsuspecting group on a regular basis... and this was no exception. I wager that Andy has forgotten more SAS techniques than I've ever learned, and over the years, I've picked up quite a few! The whole room vacillated between grins, guffaws and groans as he led us on a rollercoaster ride through parsing unusual data formats with the help of SAS. I gathered that his talk intrigued or inspired enough folks in the room to want to know more as he was surrounded at the break and peppered with questions from a few CSUG members.

Our second presentation was from CSUG President Malcolm Macrae. Malcolm is a great guy and a fascinating individual. He's a great leader for the Calgary group posessing equal parts dedication, inspiration and vision. Having just returned from a risk management event in Banff, he had plenty to offer in terms of insight and observations not only on the event itself but the SAS world in general. His talk on SVG from SAS prompted a few questions from the audience as well - always a sign that a talk has been well-received. It recalled to mind the talk given by Vicki Tagore in Saskatoon a few weeks ago on PROC GCHART. While the methodology was different, Malcolm's talk offered a practical, SAS code-based method for surfacing dynamic and visual results in an .html environment as a method of sharing insight with the statistically challenged (no need to name names, especially when that name is my own!). I think everyone walked away with a little more insight into how SAS could surface data visually in a way they had not thought of previously. Malcolm was also good enough to provide the code he used, and I'll be posting that Friday on the CSUG website.

Finally, Marc Smith of SAS Canada wrapped up the presentations with a great overview of how an organization could move from data quality to a true master data management environment. Marc was a brave soul as well, actually demo-ing the DataFlux Management Console at the meeting... and flawlessly, I might add! I'm a big fan of clean data (OK, some might say I'm borderline obsessed) so I always enjoy seeing DataFlux-related material. Marc's expertise in this area truly shone through: it was clear to everyone that he was speaking from a perspective punctuated by experience. I for one really enjoyed the talk, and I think the group did as well.

In terms of community, I learned a few new things about the CSUG group and the executive in particular. 2 of the 3 members of the existing team mentioned how they currently or recently volunteered in the Calgary community, and shared some interesting stories around their experiences. I always like to hear about people getting involved to help others: perhaps it has to do with my own outlook, my upbringing... and in no small way, the role I play within SAS Canada. It was also gratifying to me that several of the attendees of the meeting went out of their way to share how they were working to support SAS within their environments and beyond: to me, Calgary boasts a few frontrunners for the SAS Customer Value Award! I heard stories around efforts being made to increase SAS' exposure in academic institutions and beyond, and it wasn't SAS Canada sales representatives doing the talking. It was CSUG members who loved and believed in the power of SAS, which honestly made me swell with happiness and pride.

I also came to appreciate how dedicated the group is to supporting each other outside the confines of a CSUG meeting. Emails were exchanged, LinkedIn contacts shared, and business cards were flying. In fact, some of the most genuine networking I've seen in quite some time took place within the meeting, and I'm thrilled that so many folks found value in connecting with each other. I hope the conversations will continue until the next meeting in the spring and beyond.

As I sit here in Edmonton preparing for tomorrow's user group meeting, I find my thoughts going back to the Executive Committee of CSUG and all the amazing work they've put in. Malcolm, Mussie, Chenchen: thank you all for your wonderful efforts. The real benefactors of your dedication and commitment to the SAS user community are your fellow Calgarians. I can't wait to see you all again and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of your city in the spring of 2012.

Until then...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Data Mining Meeting Sets the Bar High

We're in the midst of a cold streak here in Toronto, with the Fall season undeniably upon us in spades. Yesterday was a drizzly, wet affair... even more reason to be incredibly pleased with the 130-odd SAS users and data miners who braved the elements to attend the Toronto Data Mining Forum. This group has grown rapidly over the past few years. The increase in interest can be attributed both to the increasing importance of analytics and data management within the dynamic business environment and the tireless efforts of the executive committee to fill the needs of the regular attendees. A big thank-you has to go to Dina Duhon and her whole team for their consistent efforts to deliver high-value presentations for the group.

I can honestly say that yesterday's meeting delivered on this goal. We were fortunate to have incredibly strong presenters. In addition to my 'SAS 9.3 and SAS Support Options' overview, there were 3 compelling talks from some well-known members of the data mining community.

Leading off was long-time SAS supporter Daymond Ling of CIBC. Daymond has offered many talks at user groups and conventions. In fact, I learned over lunch that he has worked with our head office to test SAS products and releases while in development! He has a unique set of skills: as a Senior Manager in Marketing, Daymond offers a keen grasp of business processes and requirements. At the same time, he comes out of a risk management background with a strong technical skill-set at his disposal. In addition, he's a wonderful speaker: his words are well-considered and meaningful with a humerous and relaxed feel. In many ways, he's an ideal speaker! Daymond's talk around 'Segmentation Do's & Don'ts' was amazingly well-received. I myself certainly got a lot out of the talk and from conversations I had with attendees, all of whom found something relevant to their own business in the talk. Questions from the audience were so numerous that we had to hold them in order to ensure we were able to enjoy a networking break.

Our next presenter was Alex Salvas of National Bank. Alex's presence speaks to my earlier comment around how the executive committee was always on the lookout for speakers. Dina had heard a presentation by his group at a risk management conference and approached them to speak at our meeting here in Toronto. Fortunately for us, Alex was happy to represent his group and deliver a thorough and thought-provoking talk. Case studies are often compelling as they lend weight to theory. In sharing National Bank's approach to Practical Data Governance, Alex was able to speak with some authority on a complex and common business need. Confident and collected - meme s'il avait parler en anglais - his talk was also a hit with the group. As a self-confessed data nerd, I found the insight into pulling data from numerous sources in timely fashion for analysis and reporting to be absolutely fascinating. Merci, Alex!

Our final talk of the day was delivered by Derek de Montrichard of CIBC. Following the trend established by the two previous presenters, Derek's talk entitled 'The Curious Complications of Confounding Covariates' was humous and enlightening. It made statistics and the many ways of interpreting them accessible to a broad audience in a down-to-earth, practical way. Through examples and anecdotes Derek successfully demonstrated that data can be tricky to interpret. I think it raised enough questions to give pause to many in the room regarding their own data interpretation practices.

As always, I do like to focus on SAS users coming together within this blog. As I've watched the SAS Canada Community continue to grow, it's a real pleasure to observe how SAS users are supporting each other through the user groups and beyond. The data mining group in particular is one of the best at supporting each other outside the semi-annual meetings which bring everyone together. Alex Salvas' talk was particularly demonstrative of this fact. Not only did he reference a talk on KS previously given by Mark An at the 2010 spring data mining forum, but he in fact credited the talk with prompting internal discussion and change within his own organization. Even better: Mark was on hand to receive very public thanks for his talk! It's this kind of support and collaboration which makes the user groups particularly gratifying as both a SAS user and a program manager.

I can also offer up that the networking activities of this group have continued to result in amazing connections. I heard from many attendees that in addition to the great talks, the networking itself proved to be very valuable as former colleagues caught up and new connections were made. I would be remiss if I didn't indicate that we all had a lot of fun as well.

I'll be on the road next week for the Calgary and Edmonton user groups and I'm sure I'll have great stories to tell when I return.

Until then...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Drizzly Day in Downtown Hamilton

That was the scene for the Golden Horseshoe SAS user group meeting (GHSUG) ... or the start of a really poorly written crime novel, one or the other. At the risk of sounding contrived, the only crime taking place in Hamilton last Friday was that the meeting wasn't able to go on longer.

A small but dedicated group of SAS users from a wide variety of backgrounds assembled for a special treat. I've often commented that the Hamilton group has one of the strongest executive committees across the country. Knowledgeable, engaged and friendly, this team of individuals are truly greater than the sum of their parts. Collectively, the group boasts well over 100 years of SAS experience from a wide range of backgrounds: manufacturing, industrial, academic, health, and more. They're also one of the nicest groups of people you'd ever hope to meet: it's a real honest pleasure to spend time with them. Last Friday's meeting agenda was a first - at least in my experience - for the group. The executive committee were offering the bulk of the presentations (save mine). And what a line-up it was.

My own humble talk focused on SAS 9.3 upgrades as well as SAS support options, particularly in the area of community growth and development. Those who know me and have heard me speak can probably testify that I'm not shy speaking in front of a crowd. I actually enjoy it! I can honestly say that this time, I did feel more intimidated than I have in quite some time. While I'm extremely comfortable in the Enterprise Guide/Enterprise Miner world of SAS users (no snickering, programmers), I'm the first to admit that I'm not the 'go-to' for coding issues. Speaking on new developments in this area is both challenging and terrifying at the same time!

The real meat of the meeting was to be found with the executive talks. First up, Barry Hong regaled us with a great overview of the ODS Graphics Designer. In typical Barry fashion, his talk was tempered for easy digestion by all SAS users... and I got a lot out of it as well! It was really neat to see how much can be done with code around processes which my EG sessions happily run in the background.

Next up: Bill Droogendyk offering his take on the Proc du Jour which was Proc Format. Using multiple examples, Bill stepped us through (pun FULLY intended) effective ways of formatting and grouping data. It was nice to see Bill up and talking in front of the group as he works so hard behind the scenes most of the time. Cheers, Bill!

Finally, Lesley Harschnitz delivered a tour-de-force around gathering requirements for projects. This was a most thorough talk which seemed to generate great buzz throughout the room. While it didn't feature a single shred of SAS code, it still had everyone's undivided attention. The framework Lesley provided was clearly something the assembly could gravitate towards. It was applicable to everyone's workplace no matter what industry. The massive number of requests for copies of the talk immediately after the meeting demonstrated the relevance of it for each and every person in the room.

As I said, one of the highlights of the team is how it really feels like a community and always has. The openness of the executive committee was felt through the open conversation flowing between the members in mid-presentation, the great networking event featuring vacation photos - where HAVEN'T you been, Barry?!?!? - of the team with prizes for identifying them correctly, and of course the traditional delicious lunch afterwards, this group always makes me feel welcome and at home. If I could only bottle that sense of goodwill and togetherness to share with the rest of the SAS Canada Community, I would. I'm already looking forward to the spring meeting. Thanks as always for being such great hosts, guys.

Coming up for me this week: the Toronto Data Mining Forum which is currently climbing over the 200 registration mark with no end in sight. Will I survive? Will the building? I'll let you all know later in the week!

Until then....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Winterpeg? I Think Not!

OK, I acknowledge that I was lucky in terms of the balmy breezes which blew through Winnipeg upon my arrival. Compared to the chilly Saskatoon, it was positively tropical! Nonetheless I think that I would have been warmed to the bone by the amazing sense of togetherness demonstrated at the user group meeting by users and executive committee alike. There’s lots to talk about, so hold on to your hats!

The voyage to Winnipeg started inauspiciously. Tara Holland of SAS Canada and I both sat in Saskatoon energized about the meeting we had just attended, and excited for a good meal, an evening of catching up on work and then a good night’s sleep. How little did we know our energy - while unflagging – would certainly be sorely tested.

Sometimes the world has a way of reminding you that the best laid plans are often foiled by elements outside of one’s control. In this case, Tara and I had managed to dodge the threat of an Air Canada flight attendant strike but were close to being laid low by mechanical issues on our plane. Our 7:00pm flight was pushed back further… and further…. and further. It’s a good think we had so much to talk about! In hindsight the delay was a blessing. It allowed Tara and I to chat about everything under the sun. We talked about SAS, how we could support each other’s goals, how we could better support users, how much I disliked football and she, autoracing (I know, I know: I’m the only one who doesn’t like football in the world. Sheesh.) It was a great chance to learn more about each other personally and professionally and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Tara has been especially supportive of my endeavours with the SAS Canada Community. Her team has been instrumental in providing some of the content that members are enjoying on a consistent basis. I gained a lot of insight into her vision of the site and was thrilled by her continued energy and dynamism around supporting SAS users across the nation. Coming from an influential and highly intelligent member of our SAS Canada family, it was both gratifying and exciting to have her vote of confidence and support. Thanks, Tara!

We finally managed to board our plane and headed to Winnipeg. With the time change and the late check-in, this meant that we were ready to eat our dinner at just after midnight. Wow. But hey, we were absolutely ravenous – I saw Tara looking a bit nervous as I eyed everything in sight that wasn’t nailed down with hunger in my eyes. Through a flurry of knives, forks and Italian food, we managed to satiate ourselves before we put ourselves down for the count…. And it really did feel like a slow 10 count. I think we both climbed off the mat of exhaustion at the sound of ‘8… 9…’ very early the next morning. Duty called and we weren’t about to let down the good folks of Winnipeg!

Tara and I headed to the user group meeting at the University ready for a great gathering of SAS minds. Like Saskatoon the day before, I was well aware of the breadth of SAS knowledge this city contains. A pair of these bright lights of SAS were presenting in addition to Tara and myself. Charles Burchill of the University of Manitoba offered a great technical talk on BY group processing and new executive President Craig Kasper gave a short list of tips and tricks to help optimize the performance of your SAS sessions. Craig has really embraced the concept of community: he blogged a technical article which supported his live talk, and he’s posted it in the SAS Canada Community. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already! Of course, his talk and all of the other presentations will be available shortly on the Winnipeg user group site, so do take advantage and look them up once posted.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tara’s talk as well. As I mentioned, she was reprising a great lecture which she delivered the day before in Saskatoon all around SAS’ use in government. Given that Tara has worked in Ottawa for 18 years – 13 of those with SAS – she was more than well-equipped to speak to how government organizations of all levels and portfolios were leveraging SAS and also offer her observations on the trends of the future. The creation of analytical environments is the key: organic sandboxes which grow naturally to support statisticians, analysts, economists and others who need a place to experiment, play and collaborate to produce great results. I think the whole room was intrigued by the vision she painted… I know I was!

Finally, a word about the new executive committee. One word would suffice to describe their efforts: wow. A strong team of 6 individuals took over from outgoing President Randy Roller and his group… and as I mentioned at the meeting, the high level of dedication and support previously established by the Winnipeg SAS community was certainly met with ease by the new team. Absolutely fantastic work from all! Working together like a veteran group, all elements of the meeting were covered off with flying colors. From set-up to registration to MCing, this team did it all. A huge thanks to Stella, Kevin, Craig and Humaira who all contributed to what I considered an excellent meeting.

As always, I like to focus on some of the local elements of community which I find noteworthy. Winnipeg has so many, it’s hard to select just a few. Like the Saskatoon group, the networking and relationships forged through these meetings are starting to really take hold. One executive committee member remarked to me over lunch that not only were people starting to recognize each other from the user group meetings, they were re-connecting and carrying on conversations they’d left at the last gathering. My hope is that vehicles such as the SAS Canada Community allow them to continue to explore and develop these relationships not only with each other but also with fellow SAS users across the county. I was particularly gratified by tales of sub-user groups forming on a bi-weekly basis to discuss programming techniques and beyond as well as University-led workshops occuring on a consistent basis. In particular, it was great to have a few folks volunteer on the spot to give talks at an upcoming meeting: rest assured, we’ll take you up on your offers, with thanks!

I’m so glad I was able to attend the meeting and re-connect with many colleagues and friends in not-so-wintery Winnipeg. Although I didn’t get to a Jets game – congratulations on the return of your team, by the way! – the same sense of excitement, community and togetherness fostered by their beloved franchises’ long-overdue homecoming was more than mimicked by the members of the user group. Thanks for being such wonderful hosts: I'm look forward to my next trip already.

Next up for me: a really quick turnaround! I’m off in the morning to the GHSUG (Golden Horseshoe) SAS user group in Hamilton. Some true heavyweight of the SAS user world will be presenting and this group never disappoints in content, character and collaboration. I’ll have more on their meeting shortly.

Until then…

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Synergy in Saskatoon

It feels like a while since I last wrote on these pages… probably because I’ve spent quite a bit of time setting up the user group meetings on the SAS Canada Community. I’m enjoying the challenge – and freedom, to be honest – of blogging in two places simultaneously. In some ways, the Community affords more exposure. With close to 400 members (and growing daily), it’s satisfying to think that my confused ramblings are being absorbed by many more eyes. Absorbed, I said: I didn’t mention anything about them being appreciated! ;)

I’m writing this sitting at about 27,000 feet as I fly home to Toronto from Winnipeg – more on that city’s user group meeting in the next few days. I began this great journey on Tuesday evening, winging my way towards Saskatoon. My companion and partner in crime was Tara Holland, the Manger of the Public Sector Solution Specialists. While she and I have had many conversations over the years, this trip afforded us an opportunity to really get to know each other better as people and as colleagues. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-conspirator!
Tuesday evening in Saskatoon was a chance for me to say thank-you to the SUCCESS user group committee and guest speakers for all the hard work they put into organizing the meeting – and let me tell you, this executive is one of the hardest working teams in show (SAS) business. A total of 11 of us gathered at a Mexican restaurant for lively conversation, laughter and final planning around the next day’s meeting. This motley crew of SAS users was about as diverse as it gets. Presenters hailed from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, China, South Korea, and of course, good ol’ Canada as well. Community is always my focus no matter where I go or what I do across this amazing country and it was gratifying to see that the cultural mosaic that drives the beauty of our nation was alive and well in Saskatoon!

I have to single out one particular individual who really made the dinner experience memorable. Chel Hee Lee – a University of Saskatchewan graduate student – had the table in stiches at all times. Whether it was tales of his dear, beloved and terrifying mother or weighing in with gravitas and measured certainty on a SAS issue, his mannerisms and tales had us all laughing. Cheers, Chel: I think I speak for everyone when I say that you made our night.
There was of course work to be done the following morning at the user group meeting. Tara and I arrived at around 8:00am at the Royal University Hospital on the U of S campus and I think we both had flashbacks to days of undergraduate lectures at our respective alma maters. Perhaps it was the terraced seating, the rows of desks, or maybe even the slide projector at the back (OK, we’re dating ourselves a little with that statement). Regardless of the reason, it was both familiar and terrifying.

The day’s presentations didn’t disappoint at all. Jacqueline Quail conducted her usual masterful job of keeping the crowd energized and entertained. Her last meeting as President of the group has to be considered an unqualified success (pun fully intended). She established a theme of Hallowe’en and fear which she returned to constantly throughout the day. Whether it was showing videos from a reality fear-based TV show, running Hallowe’en Jeopardy (I completely blew my question but managed to redeem myself later) or continuing to keep energy and spirits high, her ability to energize and engage the Saskatoon community was apparent. What an asset for the group! I’m glad she’ll be staying on in a supportive Past-President role. Thanks Jacqueline for all of your hard work, it’s truly paid off.

Indicative of her efforts was the fact that a record 17 individuals had stepped forward with offers to present at this meeting. Let me repeat that: 17 people offered to present! I can honestly say I’ve never seen the like in 4 years of working with user groups across the country. Many of these folks did step up to deliver their talks… some incredibly technical and some extremely entertaining. Most importantly, all of them were insightful! The presenters were too numerous to mention and topics too diverse to cover in this short piece. I encourage you to check out the SUCCESS website in the next few days as all the talks will be posted there for your enjoyment.

I also had the pleasure of seeing some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Saskatoon does hold a special place in my heart as it was the first user group I travelled to independent as a SAS employee. I smiled as I recalled that fresh-faced young lad (OK, not that young) who cut his teeth on the wind-swept prairies just yesterday (or so it feels). I love returning to what can be described with not an iota of irony as one of the friendliest cities I have the privilege of visiting. I’m always a little wistful to leave, especially as the SAS community truly makes me feel right at home. I’m not seen as a SAS employee, or an Ontarian, or a Torontonian: just a person with a smiling face who’s met with nothing but grins in return. I encourage you all to visit Saskatoon if you can, it’s well worth the trip.

In fact, you might be able to – and on SAS’ dime to boot! Within the SAS Canada Community you’ll find a contest currently underway. Entitled ‘What Has Your SAS Done for YOU Lately?’, you can win a trip to any Canadian user group of your choice! That’s right: any group, anywhere, in 2012. Of course, you have the disadvantage of having to travel with me… ;) but hey, some sacrifices must be made, right? I highly encourage you to check out the group and submit your ‘interesting use of SAS’ in 1,000 words or less. The winner will be announced in early 2012… and you could join me again in Saskatoon and see exactly what I’m talking about.

I left Saskatoon feeling very positive about the state of SAS within the community. There’s a clear and present support network which extends beyond the user groups, both through online initiatives like the SAS Canada Community and through the relationships forged at the meeting but carried forward through the year. I headed towards Winnipeg safe in the knowledge that a new, strong executive team had stepped forward to support SAS users in Saskatoon. I can’t wait to go back.

Next up: another new executive team experienced their first user group meeting in Winnipeg. More on that soon!
Until then…