Thursday, October 11, 2012

Boldly Moving Forward in Edmonton

Yesterday marked the start of a brave new adventure for the Edmonton SAS User Group. Yes, eSUG was boldly going where (few) men had gone before... they were expanding their meeting to a full day session in the tradition of the Ottawa and Toronto user groups. The inspiration for this came from the inimitable Doug Dover, long-serving President of the eSUG Executive Committee and sprung out of our President's Meeting at SAS Global Forum in Orlando.  Doug was very keen to address a perceived gap in the support offered to the Edmonton SAS community.  While group attendance has been steadily climbing over the years, it was very difficult to offer presentations tailored to Enterprise Guide, Text Analytics, JMP and DataFlux users given the relatively short amount of time in a half-day meeting. Of course SAS programmers require a steady diet of code-based talks... but trying to satisfy all the needs of the SAS community in Edmonton was proving to be problematic. Hence, the idea of a full-day meeting was born.

The Toronto Area SAS Society focuses on programming topics in the morning and inteface-style SAS applications in the afternoon, a model used by the Edmonton group for guidance... with a fresh twist. The initial concept was to have small groups clustered around laptops for 'hands-on' sessions with EG and more. This idea morphed into concurrent interactive sessions led by Jared Prins and Wayne Levin who were giving interactive demos of Text Analytics and JMP respectively.  Given that we actually gained attendees in the afternoon session, I think this was for the best! It would have proved to be a real challenge to provide the experience we hoped for with such a large group.  Jared and Wayne each presented, demo'd and answered questions for over an hour each... truly some yeoman's work and much appreciated by all. I myself gave a talk as a lead-in to the afternoon session; as I explained to the attendees with a wry smile, I'm actually a SAS user myself (OK, Enterprise Guide and Enterprise Miner: most pure SAS programmers would say I'm a quasi-SAS user, a debate for a much longer blog post). Although I wasn't able to present the talk I wanted to give on analyzing Titanic passenger records, I think my talk around helping to set a strong line-up for my darts team in our uphill battle to retain our championship last year resonated with the group... at least, I hope it did!  It was certainly fun to deliver at any rate.

Of course, we can't discuss eSUG without a significant nod to the morning session. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new afternoon format, but the 'meat and potatoes' of the meeting remains SAS programming and more. I can't say enough about my travelling companion and feature speaker on this Alberta trip. Wayne Levin of Predictum Inc. is truly a joy to watch present. As arguably the leading authority on JMP in Canada, Wayne is unbelievably knowledgeable about the product and has a gracious, humerous way of presenting which instantly puts audiences at ease... and enthralls them, too!  In fact, I was forced to grab the metaphorical hook to drag him away for dinner at meeting's end due to the large group of attendees asking questions and seeking insights... and he had a response for all of them. Great job, Wayne!

We also had the pleasure of two local speakers in the morning; one a seasoned eSUG veteran and the other a fresh-faced presentation newcomer. It's fair to say that had the average attendee known this, they wouldn't have been able to tell who was presenting for the first time. Both speakers were absolutely phenomenal.  John Fleming of Alberta Health Services delivered a great talk around identifying unique endoscopy procedures using SAS.  I always appreciate presentations from a medical perspective; perhaps it's because there is little margin for error, or perhaps it's because I'm aware of the massive volume of data and level of expertise needed to make sense of it all. John's talk was eye-opening and interesting... even if I did stumble over pronunciation of the word 'endoscopy' in my introduction. I'm going to blame that on not enough coffee, that's all I have to fall back upon.

First-time presenter Iryna Nekhayevska of ATB Financial delivered her talk on reshaping data like a pro. Over lunch, I learned that Doug Dover had asked her three times to present and she finally relented on this, his third request. I'm sure the entire group is glad his persistence paid off! Iryna's talk was accessible and interesting, in no way reflective of her own concerns about the material. I joked with her that she had now been added to the infamous 'list' which means we'll certainly be asking her for a presentation again in the near future. I'm sure she'll do as well then as she did yesterday.

As always, it was a pleasure to break bread and share some laughs and good conversation with the presenters and the Executive Committee over lunch after the meeting. Whether discussing US politics, the challenges of big data or simply the intricacies of maintaining cordial relationships with Edmonton's law enforcement community (don't ask), we all had a ball.  I can't wait to be back again in the spring.  My thanks once again to Edmonton for such a great meeting and for being such gracious hosts.

Next up for me: the Calgary SAS user group meeting.  There's already snow on the ground in Calgary and a chill in the air, so my first task upon landing is going to be to go out a buy a new scarf and hat. I'll be sure to update you all on the meeting once it's concluded. 

Until then...

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