Monday, March 10, 2014

TASS Starts the 2014 User Group Season in Style

Last Friday I had the pleasure of kicking off this year's user group season with the TASS group in Toronto. I'm always in awe when this particular meeting kicks into planning mode. The large executive committee is extremely engaged and always willing to step forward to present, volunteer colleagues and help out in any way possible. The strength of the meeting is entirely a testament to the work ethic and 'hands-on' nature of this team.

I must confess that I have a guilty (not-so-guilty) pleasure when it comes to this meeting. Periodically, we manage to finangle an A-list guest speaker out of the United States... often, this person works for SAS but just as often, the individual is a legend within the SAS user community. Classic TASS President Art Tabachneck is usually responsible for this as his vast network of contacts includes some of the best and brightest. I suppose we should expect no less from a SAS-L Hall of Famer! The pleasure I derive from this meeting is twofold: I get to hear from phenomenal guest speakers periodically and I also get to know them personally over dinner the night before the meeting.

This meeting, our feature presenter was Jan Squillace. Jan was a long-time manager in the Data Step/Macro divison of Tech Support - yes, THAT data step!!!  Picture discussing SAS coding practices with someone who had heard virtually every single issue, complaint, problem and roadblock which a customer could encounter... and you get a pretty good idea of our dinnertime conversation. It was great to get to know someone with such amazing depth of knowledge a little bit better.

The meeting itself was destined to be fantastic given the strength of the presenters. Jan delivered two great talks: one around SAS version 9.4 and some of the new features of the upgrade and a really interesting talk which clearly hearkened back to her tech support days and featured discussions on the types of notes and warnings you might see in your error log when writing data step or macro code. I think that absolutely EVERYONE in the room got something out of both of these talks: in fact, attendees were asking for a copy before the presentations were even concluded. Always a great sign of a job well done. Kudos, Jan!

We also had another 'first' for TASS. Tom Kari of Ottawa - infamous in the OASUS/OPUS user group circle and of course, the 2011 Customer Feedback Award winner - was slated to present on scraping the web with SAS in Toronto. His sudden recall back to Ottawa meant we had to scramble a bit to find a solution to his absence. With some great teamwork and rigorous testing, we were able to set up a WebEx presentation from the SAS office in Ottawa which more than adequately conveyed his talk. The only pity was that we didn't get to see Tom in person. His energy and passion is infectious... and I enjoy spending time with him. Ah well, I will certainly see him in Washington DC for SAS Global Forum and we will certainly make it up then.

Art was not off the hook either for this particular meeting. He reprised an earlier talk on Proc Export which he will now be delivering at SAS Global Forum and which was mind-blowing (to put it kindly)... although to be honest, I've come to expect nothing but the most dazzling, innovative and interesting talks from Art. He certainly didn't disappoint!

The afternoon session featured a talk from Carl Wang of Indigo which really got underneath the hood of the power of scripting. This dovetailed nicely with the SAS tips and tricks presentation which featured custom tasks in Enterprise Guide and more. All in all, a very successful day of meetings and talks.

I'm always proud when I get great feedback from my colleagues in the United States on the style and substance of our user group program here in Canada. It's gratifying to think that some of the best and brightest in the SAS world think so highly of how our groups come together. It really comes down once again to that magic word, 'community'. We all pull together for a common goal here in Canada: there is no ulterior motive or questionable mandate, simply a desire to support SAS users as well as possible. Our partnership - really, our friendship - with our user community allows this to happen easily and naturally.

As I write this I'm keeping an eye on the clock as I'll be flying off to Winnipeg and then the province of Saskatchewan later this week. It's going to be a fun trip, but a nerve-wracking one at the same time. I'll be giving a talk on statistics in Enterprise Guide... and I am certainly no statistician. Gulp. Wish me luck! I'll be sure to let you know how it goes over the coming week. In the meantime, you'll be able to pick up the TASS presentations on the TASS website.

Until then...

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