Thursday, October 25, 2012

La Belle Province: Québec User Groups Provide Laughs and Learning

I’m trying to pull my thoughts together after a lightning quick tour through the province of Québec.  It truly was an epic voyage… but I’m fortunate I had a fantastic travelling companion with me for the duration: a man who needs no introduction (except occasionally to himself), Mr. Andrew T. Kuligowski of Florida.

Andy has been a stalwart supporter of the Canadian SAS user groups for many years.  In fact, we realized that there are only a few groups which Andy has not attended! Ottawa, you folks are next… and the last on Andy’s list.  From Vancouver to Halifax, from Edmonton to Hamilton and everywhere in between, last year’s SAS Global Forum Chair has brought his easy, comedy-filled, jaw-droppingly knowledgeable presentations to user groups across the country.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be his faithful travelling companion – and straight man, at times.  I have many fond memories of sharing beers and groans over live hockey (when there was such a thing), discussing the intricacies of SAS Global Forum and mapping out the best aquariums to visit at our various stops.  In short, it’s always a blast to travel with him… and I know our Canadian SAS users appreciate it as well.

First up for both of us: a stop in Montréal, the first time Andy had returned since SAS Global Forum was held there in 2004 and my first stop-in this fall.  I absolutely LOVE Montréal.  One of my closest friends at SAS Canada lives there and it’s always a hoot when I’m able to get together with Sylvain Tremblay – another user group road warrior like Andy and myself.  The Executive Committee is best defined as small but mighty. In fact, they don’t really get smaller!  Mathieu Gaouette and Eric Lacombe have held down co-leadership positions for many years now and have more than competently facilitated a steady stream of gifted local speakers and special guests from many a distant town.  In fact, Andy’s presence in Québec was entirely due to Eric’s dogged pursuit of lining him up for the agenda! In pursuit of this goal we changed dates, we moved venues, we did everything we could to get Andy in front of the Montréal audience.  Mission accomplished, Eric.

In Montréal, Andy truly was ‘the show’.  This was remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, Andy is a pure Anglophone… and the good folks in Montréal and Québec tend to prefer French speakers for obvious reasons. Andy’s content was deemed more than solid enough for the audience: in this case, Andy’s technical prowess more than made up for any perceived linguistic shortcomings.  Plus, as he would later demonstrate in Québec, Andy was MORE than willing to attempt a few French phrases to good effect!  Secondly, Eric and Mathieu were prepared to devote a significant amount of time on the agenda to Andy for the purpose of describing his involvement in SAS user groups, SAS Global Forum and the importance and benefit of volunteering.  This was new territory for any group to cover! 

I think it’s fair to say that Andy more than handily acquitted himself in both respects.  His humour, grace and willingness to engage the audience around their experiences – SAS and otherwise – instantly endeared himself to all.  His presentation schedule was ambitious to say the least. Andy attacked a few of his ‘greatest hits’:  Set, Merge & Update as well as Looking Beneath the Surface of the SASLOG.  We had hoped to fit in his Beneath the Surface of Sorting talk as well but we simply lacked the time.  Have no fear, MONSUG attendees: all of these presentations will be posted shortly in the MONSUG group in the SAS Canada Community as well as the MONSUG SAS Canadawebsite.  We left Montréal having received a very warm reception from the SAS community, which is ultimately the goal of the user groups regardless of language, culture, or any other point of difference. In fact, the user groups thrive the most in areas where differences in community can united through the binding thread of SAS usage.  In this respect, MONSUG was an overwhelming success.

After the extremely warm reception in Montréal – which I think may have calmed Andy’s nerves just a bit – we were off to historic Québec City.  I don’t know if I could have sold the virtues of this amazing city any more to Andy… as regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve previously sung the praises of Québec loudly and consistently. 

Of course no trip to la belle province is complete without food. In Montréal we introduced Andy to the MONSUG-burger.  I could tell you what it is, but I’d prefer you just found out for yourself. Give a brief SAS talk in Montréal and I’ll show you! ;) In Québec City I took Andy to one of my favourite restaurants, ‘Le Café du Monde’. Here we had a great time discussing all things SAS and dining on some of Québec’s finest potages, saumon, macarons et surtout du vin.  These are some of my favourite moments on the road with guest speakers; finding some quiet time to really sit, talk and pick each other’s brains.

After retiring at the Auberge Saint-Antoine – truly one of God’s gifts for travelers such as ourselves – we met up the following day for lunch with the Executive Committee and the user group meeting itself. Here, again, the SASuser community is blessed with a strong, vibrant and dedicated executive committee.  Louis-René Rheault and his team consistently pull together an outstanding agenda which represents both local SAS experts and guest speakers such as Andy.  The meeting itself was a very good one as well. Over 70 people attended to hear Patrice Bourdages give the most unique ‘SAS Global Forum Wrap-Up’ talk I’ve ever seen and our own Sylvain Tremblay delivering a talk around SAS programming techniques.  Of course, Andy was there to reprise his Set, Merge, Update talk once again.

Too soon, I found it was time to leave la ville de Québec.  A quick dinner at possibly the best steakhouse I’ve ever had the pleasure of patronizing and one very full, satisfied and happy Matt was en route to the airport.  Given the smiles, laughter and positive feedback on the evaluation forms, I can confidently say that I believe the SAS community in Québec City felt the same way.

I’m not being facetious when I say that this particular road trip brought together some of my favourite elements of the user group program.  I had the opportunity to work, converse, laugh and relax with two amazing executive committees.  I was also able to observe just how strong the SAS communities are in both of these cities and to take some notes for how to strengthen other groups across the country. Finally, it’s always a pleasure to see Sylvain Tremblay and of course Andy Kuligowski.  As ‘travel buddies’, you tend to become quite close with your fellow SAS presenters… to have 2 of them in one spot at once was truly a great experience. I was in guest speaker overload!

At the end of the day, Montréal and Québec are blessed to have such strong, committed and attentive executive committees working on their behalf and their efforts are truly appreciated.  Not just by me, of course: but by the community at large. There aren’t enough words in either English or French to thank them for their hard work!  I look forward to seeing them all again soon.

À la prochaine, Québec… et merci.

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