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…

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