Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HUG-ging It Out

Yes, this blog post is well overdue… a week and a half to be exact. And there are so many things I want to share! To be honest, I’ve been quite busy over the last fortnight with one of my other passions; helping out my alma mater, George Brown College.

I’m a firm believer in the maxim ‘each one, teach one’. Since I graduated four years ago from my post-graduate program I’ve made a point of coming back to help whenever I’ve been asked. Sometimes, that’s meant participating in a question/answer session for students’ sitting in seats I so recently occupied myself…. Sometimes, it’s a more structured session. I recently gave a talk to a very keen, highly-motivated class of marketers-to-be around the importance of online reputation management and development. I hope some of them are peeking in on this blog: guys, you’ll go far! Recently I was accepted as one of the participants in a mentorship program at the school. Alumni who have been out in the wild work world for a while have been paired with students who are excelling in their program and looking for some further guidance, inspiration and direction. I’m really looking forward to getting involved in giving back; I encourage each and every one of you reading this blog to consider doing the same… it feels great, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It really is like a big warm hug!

Hug… that reminds me of something. Oh yes, the HUG user group meeting! It’s truly easy to get distracted by something you’re passionate about. The Toronto Health User Group is another one of those passions of mine.

I’ve previously mentioned how near and dear this group is to my heart. As the first executive committee I worked with on a planning level, I’ll always remember the excitement – and nervousness as well, to be sure! – that accompanied my first ‘solo’ user group endeavour. Would I let down the team? My company? SAS users? As I approach my fourth anniversary with SAS, I smile to think back on those early, tentative days. It’s safe to say that with the help of Ruth Croxford and the rest of the executive committee, my nerves have never been in better shape and all my fears emphatically allayed.

Through evaluation forms, previous meetings had revealed that there was a keen desire to have more of a statistical focus as part of an upcoming meeting, and I think we managed to deliver in spades! The November 18th meeting boasted a bit of a dream-team for statisticians… at least as far as this non-statistician could tell. Good friends and former SAS colleagues Lorne Rothman and John Amrhein provided a potent one-two punch as they led out the meeting. As a SAS Training Specialist and Ph.D (in zoology, not statistics as I was reminded), Lorne is familiar to many SAS users. In fact, more than a few had attended a Bayesian analysis-themed course earlier in the week. Lorne is an incredibly knowledgeable, affable and comfortable speaker – no surprise, considering his profession. His talk centered around the latest and greatest features of SAS/STAT, a component of SAS familiar to many in the room. Not only was he able to speak at length about features that had the crowd ‘ooh’ing and ‘aah’ing, he was able to demonstrate how they ran, and why he saw them as a benefit. John followed with a tremendous talk of his own, dovetailing nicely off of Lorne’s to focus on Bayesian analysis… it’s almost as if they discussed this beforehand! Oh wait, they did. Nevermind.

John’s presentation was especially interesting for an amateur archaeologist such as I. I may have mentioned previously that I worked at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum for 6 years before I started my career at SAS. Those were some of the happiest, most blissful years of my life. It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded by one’s passion, and I had the good fortune to live my dream every day. I hinted earlier that statistics and I were not good friends. We have a healthy respect for each other, but know to stay out of each other’s way, for the most part. The same can be said for chemistry… hence my inability to pursue my dream career of archaeology. At any rate, John’s talk happily married my past and my present by presenting a case study around dental decay which hoped to prove – or disprove – whether the particular feature in question could be used as a reliable dating technique. I was absolutely hooked. Thanks for helping me relive (and to a degree, rekindle) the passion, John.

Next to last, we come to Chris Battiston, the ‘wunderkind’ of the SAS world this past year and my personal SAS hero. Chris has been working with SAS for less than a year, but has established himself as a true force in the SAS Canada Community – you may know him better as the Darth Vader-visaged, blogger extreme in that space – and as of the past meeting, a fledgling member of the Health user group executive committee. Did I mention he’s also a Section Chair for NESUG, the large regional SAS user group? Chris’ energy, enthusiasm and boundless excitement is infectious and inspiring. He was in fine form in delivering what was to be his first SAS Canada user group presentation, ‘Wake Up Your Data with SAS Graph’n Go’. I loved this talk. Simple, accessible and interesting… and delivered with the charm and polish of a veteran public speaker. Methinks we haven’t seen the last of Chris as a presenter (at least, I hope so!).

The final presentation was delivered by Paul Cascagnette of ICES. I’ve been aware of Paul for a while: formerly based in Saskatoon, I’d hoped to have him speak at a meeting there before his relocation to Toronto. Circumstance ensured that we missed each other a few times… I was beginning to think he was the real-life version of Polkaroo from Polka Dot Door. Wow, just dated myself. Suffice it to say, his talk was worth the wait! He offered a great discussion of how to appropriately use simulations in SAS. I joked at the meeting that I was a little nervous as he had close to 50 slides and only 20 minutes to present! He was able to get through just fine, though, and I think we all learned a lot about trial, error and complexity which we hadn’t considered previously. Great to finally meet you Paul!

Lunch afterwards was a relaxed and engaging affair as always. It was a bit of a blast from the past and a foreshadowing of the future as we were joined by Tim Trussell of SAS who helped found the group in his previous role as the User Group Program Manager as well as Issa Guindo also of SAS who will be certainly be contributing more in the near future. A great time was had by all!

My final observation: creativity is a funny thing. I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a while, but hadn’t found the time or the right words. Here I sit in an airplane 25,000 feet above northeastern Ontario en route to Quebec for the last time this year and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s come out. It must be something in the air (other than me). I’ll have more on the two meetings I’m attending – one in Quebec, one in Montreal – over the next few days (fingers crossed).

1 comment:

  1. Polka Dot Door reference? But no Mr. Dressup? Perhaps in a future blog post.