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…

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