Monday, September 16, 2013

Community the Star on (lucky) Friday the 13th

I frequently and loudly preach the mantra of ‘community, community, community’ through the user group meetings and social media. To me, the real strength of SAS – and the reason for our success as an organization – is because of our dedication to the SAS user community and our longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership. In this the 10th year of SAS Canada sponsoring the user group program it seems more appropriate than ever to give a nod to this strength. It would come to bear as we launched the Fall/Winter 2013 user group season with the TASS user group meeting last Friday in Toronto.

TASS is the ‘grand old dame’ of the Canadian user groups. It precedes not only the formal user group program of SAS Canada, but also SAS Canada the organization. TASS is now in its 26th year of existence and it’s fair to say, doing just fine, thank you! The quarterly meeting has remained the largest and most consistent of the Canadian groups with attendance over the full day usually hovering around 250 people. The success of this group is in no small part thanks to the outstanding Executive Committee. It’s of this rare group of dedicated, selfless individuals I’d like to speak for most of this post.

To set the scene for my story, it’s important to understand that none other than Rick Wicklin – SAS statistician of no small repute and author of famous blog ‘The Do Loop’ – was to be our guest speaker at TASS. Rick was flying up to join 13 of the executive committee and myself for dinner on Thursday night, and then he would be keynoting the statistics-themed meetings. I can tell you that the entire user community in Toronto was buzzing about this, in particular, the statisticians. It’s a rare occasion when a true legend comes to visit, and we were as ready as could be.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature was in an ill-mood and contrived to ground Rick halfway to his destination in New York City. Having spoken to a very dejected Rick, it was clear that he had tried his best and that circumstance and nature were going to ultimately win the day. His closing words to me were spoken while waiting in a ‘3 city-block long line for cabs’. What a horrible experience! Outside of Rick’s safety and comfort we suddenly had another problem to worry about: two significant holes in the agenda.

Here’s where the strength, resiliency and resolve of the SAS community comes in to play. Quickly, two volunteers stepped forward at the dinner table and offered to reprise talks which had been given in the past and also to deliver brand new ones which had never been seen before. A suggestion was made to call up SAS guru Marje Fecht who was planning on attending. With an all-caps ‘EMERGENCY’ subject line, I fired her off a quick note explaining the situation. To my everlasting gratitude, Marje not only called back and indicated she was more than happy to help, but by the time we were having our main courses served, her talk was nearly complete. Unbelievable.

The meeting itself passed by in a blur for me. It was delicate dance of balancing existing content with new and trying to keep the timing correct as best as possible. I can tell you that Tim Gravelle of PriceMetrix and Art Tabachneck of myQNA Inc. both delivered excellent, compelling talks, including picking up some of the slack from the missing talk of Rick’s in the morning. I may also have been in a bit of a daze as my old professor Richard Boire of the Boire Filler Group did lead off the morning with a talk on building successful analytic processes: a real flashback to my post-graduate days.

The afternoon featured Marje’s outstanding talk on SAS Enterprise Guide 5.1 tips and tricks which built nicely on Chris Jiang’s talk on the Data Explorer of the same tool. We offered the Posed Problem Solutions and a strong, strong talk on model tuning in SAS Enterprise Miner by Lorne Rothman of SAS Canada and before I could take a breath (or so it seemed), it was all over. Again, unbelievable.

The strength of community is what made this meeting succeed. In no small way, it’s indicative of the trust, friendship and sense of collaboration which has been finely crafted over 10 years of the user group program. It’s why we all stay involved – whether as a volunteer on an executive committee or as a driver from the SAS Canada side. It’s what keeps this career of mine so much fun, and so rewarding. And it’s why I’ll keep doing it until someone tells me not to – or that I can’t.

I’d like to take a moment to issue a huge ‘thank you’ to the entire TASS executive committee. Their quick thinking, willingness to discuss and explore options and focus on the best rather than dwell on the worst is what made this meeting a huge success. In particular I’d like to thank Art Tabachneck, Tim Gravelle and Marje Fecht for their last minute contributions. Rather than being ‘filler’, their talks all added true value to the meeting.

I’m off to Regina for their user group next: here’s hoping we meet with even a sliver of the same success we had in Toronto! Given the huge turnout and tremendous wave of enthusiasm I experienced last time I was in Regina, I have no reason to think otherwise. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Until then…

1 comment:

  1. A great turn around with a wonderful supporting community. Thanks for sharing.