Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Early Spring in Winnipeg

Today’s meeting of the Winnipeg SAS User Group really got me thinking. Part of the reason for this was certainly that one of my presentations demanded as much. This year, for all of the user groups across the country, I will be offering a ’10 for 10’ presentation. This talk will focus on the 10 years which that particular group has been in existence and offer some highlights, comments and observations from this period. For example, I’ll highlight popular guest speakers, topics and presentations of the past… my own personal thoughts/memories and much more.

As I dove back through the records to build my talk last night, it was a real thrill to see the patterns developing. Names from the past and friends new and old swam up through the data and really tied a fine thread through the history of the Winnipeg user group. It got me thinking about how far we’ve come and where we would still like to go.

Thankfully, today’s meeting was a very strong blend of past, present and future. We had a fantastic talk offered by Yao Nie of the University of Manitoba. Yao’s talk focused around using SAS/IML to talk with the Rprogramming language. R is so prevalent these days in so many academic circles and it’s great to see that SAS is taking steps to ‘play nice’ with the freeware. Yao was a very polished speaker and I really learned a lot about the R language which I hadn’t known before. A point was raised about how it would be nice to be able to call R routines from the data step: SAS developers, if you’re reading this, any plans to do so?

Our second local speaker was Charles Burchill, also of the U of M. With his talk, Charles moved up into sole possession of second place on the ‘all time presentations’ list given by local speakers in Winnipeg with 4. User group President Craig Kasper is the only one sitting ahead of him with 5. Competitive instincts put aside, you can’t really go wrong with either of these gentlemen offering talks. They consistently deliver value and knowledge, regardless of topic. Today, Charles shared his learnings moving to a server environment, specifically, the SPD server. I’m always interested in the technical/IT administrative side of the SAS world as it doesn’t get enough exposure at our meetings. Charles has a great way of communicating concepts and techniques which are unfamiliar in a way that makes sense to all. I really enjoyed his talk a lot.

The other 3 presentations were delivered by SAS Canada. First up, SAS Education’s Charu Shankar. Charu is a prolific author (see her blog ‘The SASTraining Post’ on SAS Blogs and her own personal food blog), a yoga instructor, a world traveler… in short, a very interesting person. Like Charles, Charu has a great ability to convey complex concepts with relative ease. This is a part of the reason she’s such a great instructor! Although I think of her as an Enterprise Guide guru (I often ask her questions about usage), she’s also a very strong programmer. She shared some of her tips and tricks for programming optimization in a great talk which really served as an one-stop shop for optimization. As she put herself, ‘some of you may know this, but you may have forgotten – or ignored – these details as well’. I’ll take a refresher in SAS from one of our best instructors any day!

Charu also delivered a great talk around new features of SAS 9.4. This talk was one I was looking forward to hearing more so than any other on the day, chiefly because we’re starting to see more and more 9.4 installations across the country and I’m often in a position where I’d like to speak with some competence to our customers about upgrading. The talk was well-suited for this, offering a 3-pronged approach to the new features. Charu touched on the Data Step 2 (DS2) language, Enterprise Guide 6.1 and some of the high-performance features which were now available. In short, all the good stuff (at least in my humble view). She also presented her top 10 coding efficiencies which certainly resonated with everyone in the room.

Finally, I brought up the rear with a talk around statistics in EnterpriseGuide (for the Non-Statistician). I don’t mind sharing that I was very nervous. Not because I had to deliver a talk – I’ve given many Enterprise Guide talks over the years and I’m very comfortable with the product. Rather, I was going to be talking statistics. With statisticians. Which I am not. GULP. I think I managed to get through the presentation just fine… and I hope that people were able to take away how easy it is to perform some exploratory statistics – and some more complex ones as well – within the Enterprise Guide environment. I did receive some good feedback about some improvements I could make and I certainly appreciated it!

I mentioned at the beginning of the blog that I became a little wistful when building my ’10 for 10’ talk. There are a couple of traditions I have in Winnipeg which were left unfulfilled this time. I traditionally get my first sunburn of the year sitting on a patio and enjoying a post-user group meal. Well, it was a balmy -19 with the windchill today, so that didn’t happen. I also always break into a smile when I see what is my absolute favourite store on the user group circuit: the infamous 'Chicken Car Wash'. I'll upload a picture when I can connect over reliable internet.
This time, I didn’t get to see the Chicken Car Wash with my own eyes. Having said that, this trip was far, FAR from a disappointment. I’m reminded of my early days at SAS every time I’m in Winnipeg and all that has transpired since that first user group trip 8 years ago. I noted the strength and consistency of the SAS community: the willingness to share, to support each other and to network beyond the confines of the twice-yearly meeting – yet inspired by it. And of course, I was able to share some laughs, some stories and a great dinner with customers who have become friends over the years. And I suppose that that is the greatest reward of all.
Tomorrow I’ll be presenting with Charu at the Saskatoon user group and I’m very much looking forward to another trip down memory lane as I build the ’10 for 10’ talk and enjoy a great dinner tonight. At the end of the day, it’s the SAS community which brings me out on these grand trips and it’s the community that motivates, inspires and moves me. I couldn’t be more grateful.

You’ll be able to find all the Winnipeg talks – both today’s and from the past – on their website. Next stop, Saskatchewan, where I’ll be renting a car and driving around. Let’s hope the snow isn’t too bad… ;)

Until then…

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