Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring Thaw in Alberta

Last week I had the great pleasure of flying to Alberta for the Edmonton and Calgary user group meetings. Well, let me say that it mostly a great pleasure... my system was still in a bit of temperature shock having been sunning myself on a St. Lucian beach 24 hours before. For a little bit, my brain was back on that beach, I'm not afraid to say... but I quickly snapped back to reality and got down to brass tacks.

First up, the Edmonton user group. This group has continued to impress as the years have gone by. They leaped feet first into a full-day meeting format and the executive committee has worked dilligently to ensure the success of the afternoon session. For this particular meeting, we were focusing on Enteprise Guide and attempting a 'Coder's Corner' interactive session. This particular element is one which we were shamelessly borrowing/stealing from the Toronto Area SAS Society as well as SAS Global Forum. The concept was that individuals would bring their SAS problems for open discussion and collaborative problem solving. I'm not sure how it went, to be honest, as I was heads-down supporting SAS instructor Judy Orr Lawrence as she conducted the Enterprise Guide breakout. These sessions are only as strong as their participants make them - and if the Coder's Corner was anything like the EG breakout, it must have been great! Judy and I had great questions from the audience and amazing dialogue. Whether it was users asking questions or offering answers, the chatter was constant and pointed. I learned a lot!

Of course, there were other presentations of a more traditional nature throughout the day in Edmonton. I offered up a talk on 'Programming Gains in EG' for the group. I must admit, this was not my finest performance. Perhaps it was that vacation brain I alluded to earlier... or perhaps it was the rust of over a year I hadn't shaken off yet. Either way, I wasn't particularly happy with the delivery of the talk. Thankfully, Judy Orr Lawrence's EG talk on Conditional Processing more than made up for it. Judy is a naturally gifted speaker and instructor - having been in her classes many, many times, I can attest that she has an infinite amount of patience! Judy also delivered a great talk on the topic of SAS 9.4 - a talk which featured some of the more interesting new functionality of the latest version from a programmers perspective. She discussed the DS2 language, new features of EG 6.1, and some of the new reporting features. I will certainly be borrowing much of her talk for future discussions of my own.

No SAS user group meeting is complete without outstanding talks from the local SAS community. In fact, this is truly what MAKES the user group meetings a success. Long after we from SAS Canada have returned to our cities of origin, the connections, knowledge and network of local SAS experts remains. Presentations at user group meetings are a fantastic way of sustaining these important ties.

In Edmonton, the talks were anchored by Fareeza Khurshed of Alberta Health. I've known Fareeza for quite some time and she is truly a powerhouse SAS user. In fact, her name popped up more than once as one of the 'up and comers' in the SAS-L community... and that is nothing to sneeze at to be sure. Fareeza delivered a talk on Using SAS to Coordinate Complex Reports and certainly captured the interest - and admiration - of the attendees. Her ability to weave together a compelling narrative of both SAS and Excel was certainly appreciated by all. We also had a talk by Fareeza's colleague Nirosha Gunasekera who reprised a NESUG talk entitled Surviving Survival Analysis. I'm a big fan of leveraging the work of others and augmenting it for new purposes... while giving credit, of course! In fact, I did this with my own EG talk which I referenced earlier. I recommend this for any aspiring presenter who has a story to tell but perhaps lacks the whole tale. It's an easy way to fill in the blanks. Finally, Becky Leung of the University of Alberta gave a great intro talk to Proc Format. I always learn a lot with deep dives into a particular procedure, and this was not different.

Having had a great experience in Edmonton Judy and I flew to Calgary to reprise our talks (mine was MUCH better the second time around!) and to meet the great community and executive committee. I was very pleased to welcome Peter Hruby of LoyaltyOne to the team. Like Fareeza in Edmonton, I first got to know Peter as a member of the VanSUG executive committee in Vancouver. It has been a while since we caught up with each other and we certainly made up for lost time! It was great to see such a friendly, familiar face... and I know he'll be contributing great things to the group.

The two great local presentations we had were from one of our SAS Canada employees - Eugene Yankovsky on the topic of Bayesian MCMC Methods in the Oil Industry - and a tremendous talk from rookie presenter Jenny Chen from LoyaltyOne. It was hard to believe that Jenny was a first-time presenter - she was calm, collected and even asked for MORE time! Many seasoned speakers sweep through their talks with more speed than necessary. Great work, Jenny.

I left Alberta with a smile firmly etched on my face. I had a fantastic time with Judy and it was great to connect with SAS users and friends, new and old. Coupled with some Spring weather, life was grand!

Next up on my travel tour: the province of Quebec and the city of Halifax. I'll have more on my adventures there shortly.

Until then....

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