Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sunrise In the Paris of the Prairies

Here I sit in my hotel room in Regina at 4:00am. I’ve showered and packed, ready to hit the road for my early flight back to Toronto. Yet I must admit, I’m more than a little wistful to leave this great city. The people and the weather have both been warm and delightful.

I’m pleased to say that some of that warmth is coming back with me, though. The great feeling of community which began for me with last Friday’s TASS meeting has carried on here in the prairies. We had great representation here from SAS Canada – I was representing the Toronto office, our keynote speaker (and good friend) Sylvain Tremblay from Montreal and Pre-Sales Specialist Jamie Peterson from the Calgary office. It’s a rare thing that so many offices are so strongly represented at a user group meeting – Regina, you’re certainly doing things right! The Executive Committee here in Regina also helps make that sense of community that much more real. Coming from a variety of backgrounds and industries, these volunteers give off the impression that they have known each other forever. Everyone works seamlessly together to ensure the highest quality speakers are available and that all the logistical details are taken care of without any hitches. It makes life that much easier when every question or request you could think of has already been answered or addressed.

One of the things I love most about this SAS community is how it has responded in great numbers to the establishment of the user group. Last May, we had two half-day meetings which each attracted around 30-40 people. This time, we had nearly 50 people show up… a sign that word of mouth is helping fire up the group! Two things stood out to me here. The first was that on the evaluation forms, several people indicated that they had NO SAS background at all – that they were in attendance to see what the meetings were all about and to support their teams. Now THAT is the spirit of community! The second thing which jumped out to me was that en route to lunch, Matt Spence of Farm Credit Canada – and the initial driver of the Executive Committee – mentioned to me that he had a goal of realizing a 100 attendee meeting. Outstanding. It’s great to see the group want to grow and excel, and goes that little bit further towards confirming why we elected to start this group up in the first place.

The meeting itself had an agenda designed to try and accommodate as wide a variety of SAS usage as possible – in terms of skill level as well as usage type. We began with some SAS programming basics: encryption and security settings courtesy of Sylvain. I’ve seen this talk a few times before, but I always come away with something new… this time, it was the ability to encrypt a SAS data set which really stood out for me. Great for ensuring that any FTP or email transfers wouldn’t be a vulnerability. Davendra Patel of eHealth Saskatchewan continued with the programming theme by scanning the log for notes and errors – a great habit for any SAS user to practice. The beauty of this talk was that Davendra actually modified code from a SUGI 31 paper and put it into production in his environment: once again, the SAS community shows its strength! Shaun Kauffmann of Farm Credit Canada closed off the programming elements of the meeting by taking the discussion to the advanced level with a thorough discussion of hash objects and hash tables. The strength here is certainly in optimization and time savings, and Shaun made that clear through his talk. Finally, I brought up the rear reprising an Enterprise Guide talk I have delivered over the years in a few cities around testing a hypothesis around the Titanic survival rates. You can check out all the talks here within the next few days.

I had the distinct pleasure of being ‘trapped’ in Regina for an extra 18 hours following the meeting – the flight schedule just worked out that way. The extra time allowed me to enjoy this city for what it is, a friendly, walkable oasis in the middle of the Canadian prairies. I’m hoping that I’ll be the one who returns for the Spring meeting. I have a feeling it will be even bigger – and better – than this one.

Although I’m flying home to Toronto today I won’t be there for long. Next week I’m headed to Quebec City for the Forum analytique d’affaires SAS with an all-star line-up of guest speakers. I’ll have more on that meeting once it’s done. But for now, it’s a big ‘thank you’ to Regina and ‘hello’ to my hometown.

Until then…

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