Friday, April 20, 2012

IML IRL: Another Fantastic Rendez-vous au Club SAS de Québec

I’m composing this en route to Toronto from one of my favourite stops on the user group tour, the beautiful historic city of Québec. I always find myself grinning with anticipation before arrival and disappointed when I have to leave. It’s not just the phenomenal food, beautiful hotel (for those who get the chance: do yourself a favour and stay at l’Auberge Saint-Antoine, it’s phenomenal) or the promise of great presentations at a well-run user group meeting. Québec for me is all about the people. From the hard-working, diligent executive committee through to the habitual attendees who always find time to tease me on my facility with la belle langue, I relish each time I get the chance to catch up with friends and colleagues as they patiently smile through my attempts at French conversation. I consider myself very lucky that I find myself in their company at least 4 times a year.

I began my adventure this time with some close friends from the SAS Institute for dinner, drinks and discussion the night before the user group meeting. It’s always a pleasure to see Training Specialist Sylvain Tremblay and long-time SAS employee Rosie Foti. Discussing the following day’s meeting over a delicious meal which was conceived and inspired by seasonal wine direct from France is enough to get anyone’s creative juices flowing… no matter how ‘complex’ the ingredients might be. In fact, if I’m not stretching this too much, the meal itself in some ways mirrored the complexity – yet harmony – of the SAS community I am privileged to experience across Canada through the auspices of the user group meetings.  Some of the SAS users I meet are programmers, statisticians, others and data mining practitioners. Others are business analysts, database administrators, and beyond. They come from all kinds of backgrounds: academic, civil service, healthcare, financial, retail, communications. And yet – somehow – there is a harmony which is achieved when we all come together. In this case, the ‘wine’ which binds us is SAS. And like the meal I enjoyed with Sylvain and Rosie, many elements come together inspired by the wine to form a perfectly balanced experience. Now, I’m not sure where dessert fits into this metaphor, but I can only say this much: I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Perhaps a parallel with SAS Global Forum? Now I’m really stretching this far.

The meeting itself was prefaced by another wonderful meal – this time, with the user group executive committee. A total of 9 of us sat down in more casual environs to catch-up and discuss our thoughts around the planning process and our expectations for the upcoming meeting. Québec City is fairly unique in this regard. There is a consistent desire to constantly improve and adjust, even before a meeting has taken place! I have to single out Latifa for really leading the charge in terms of breaking new ground. She has taken the initiative to reach out to new potential attendees – the Statistical Society of Québec – and is a real driver. I’m very grateful for her participation!  Of course, that’s not to say the rest of the executive committee didn’t do their part as well. The team functions very well together with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

We arrived at the Université de Laval for the meeting proper to find attendees already waiting for us. One of the best things about Québec is the level of networking and discussion which takes place outside of the presentations. It’s a true joy to watch the group liaise and interact before the talks and during the break. The presentations themselves offered a wide variety of themes. I wasn’t able to hear the talk on segmentation by M. Bouhia from Banque Nationale de Canada nor Sylvain’s SAS/IML talk – there were a few latecomers I needed to catch up with and as I explained to Louis-René Rheault, the once-again-acclaimed President of the group, ‘someone needs to guard the coffee and sweets from the hungry eyes of the students!’ I did catch Mme. Diarra and her great talk on the Autoexec feature of Enterprise Guide and from what I heard in the room – and saw on the evaluations afterwards – it was quite well received. I’ve linked the talks above but for those interested, have a peek at the website du Club: you’ll find all the previous talks archived there as well.

I’m also pleased that the majority of the current executive was acclaimed to continue their work together. Again, this team just seems to function extremely well as a unit. Jean, Patrice, JF, LR, Latifa, Audrey, Hans, Ismael, Jerome: il faut que je vous remerciez fortement pour tous vos efforts! Merci, merci, merci.

As I begin to approach Toronto, I know I’ll have moments for the next day when I want to speak or respond in French – a wonderful legacy of each visit to Québec. I’m also glad that I’ll be seeing Patrice Brisebois in a few short days at SAS Global Forum in Orlando…. And you’ll be hearing from me there as well: that is, when I can tear myself away from the presentations long enough to find some time to write!

À la prochaine…

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