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…

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