Preparing for Big Data Careers: Interview with Dean of Culverhouse College of Commerce

Numerous studies and statistics point to the fact that in just a few short years the need for people with analytics skills could significantly outpace supply.

With so much talk around the analytics skills gap and the growing market for analytic talent, we wanted to highlight a variety of avenues students and learners of all ages can explore to prepare for big data jobs. This blog series features interviews with professors, department leads and other educators who are seeding the market with analytical talent and directly impacting the talent management pipeline in this area.

Dr. J. Michael Hardin is Dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Professor of Statistics at The University of Alabama. First introduced to SAS as an undergraduate student, Hardin has used and taught with a wide range of SAS applications. For the past decade, he has focused on helping SAS develop corporate and academic training materials for SAS® Enterprise Miner™.

Why do you choose to teach with SAS?
My job is to equip students with skills to optimize their career options. According to Gartner Consulting Group’s annual survey, SAS Enterprise Miner has become the business analytics standard for corporate America. Although more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use SAS software, governmental agencies (including the FDA and U.S. Census Bureau) also employ Enterprise Miner. So to prepare students to add value as they work for the best employers in the world, we need to be equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need. In order to do that, we teach with SAS.

What does the analytics skills gap mean to you?
Analytics drives business today. Several years ago, Tom Davenport’s now-classic book, Competing on Analytics, outlined the competitive advantage business analytics skills could bring to every market, from health care to retail. About a year ago McKinsey and Company reported the current analytics talent gap, counting three jobs available for every person with data-driven skill sets. That gap is expected to expand, as ever-higher demand outpaces supply.

We anticipated those trends more than a decade ago. That’s why the Culverhouse College of Commerce at The University of Alabama established its business analytics program in 2002. That program has been a point of differentiation for our College for more than a decade. Our analytics emphasis has allowed us to recruit some of the best and brightest students in the nation. When they leave us, they are equipped to help fill those talent gaps, sometimes starting with Alabama companies, but often extending to the entire world.

What’s the most impactful thing your students have done using analytics?
One of my earliest examples is from a class I taught in 2002 or 2003. My students developed models to help the University identify which students were most likely to drop out after their freshman year. Since student retention affects college rankings and resources—and can have a devastating impact on individuals and families—that study proved so valuable that our provost implemented many of my students’ suggestions.

The next year, another group of students produced predictive models for Wise Alloys, a steel coil manufacturer in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Those students used SAS Enterprise Miner to predict which coils required post-production reworking to prevent what had become a costly pattern of customer returns. After independent testing of the students’ models proved their accuracy, Wise Alloys successfully implemented the students’ suggestions, resulting in significant savings for the firm.

What are you most excited about in the next year? In the next 5 years?
I believe the biggest impact of analytics at Culverhouse is yet to come, through our upcoming Business Analytics Lab. The creation of this lab is the next evolution in our analytics emphasis.

Lockheed Martin and Healthcare Business Solutions are among the firms so impressed with the results of our programs—our MBA Analytics concentration introduced in 2004, our popular annual Business Analytics Symposium, our STEM Path to the MBA, and the analytics integration across our entire instructional spectrum—they became sponsors of our lab.

Those companies are making significant investments so they can bring their big data problems to our student-hosted research center for “proof of concept” work. The work in this lab will fulfill our mission of not only engaging students in experiential learning and furthering faculty research, but providing new solutions to industry and the world it serves.

What advice would you give students or adult learners interested in pursuing an analytics career?
I would encourage them to explore the diversity of this field. I tell students that part of the fun of an analytics career is the opportunity to meet so many different people and learn about so many different things. I’ve watched as students brief distinguished executives, benefitting even as undergraduates from remarkable executive-level access.

Adult learners should understand that, thanks to SAS tools, they no longer need a strong math background to complete these studies. The true skills required for analytics careers center on critical thinking and the ability to ask data-driven questions. Our Executive MBA program with an analytics concentration provides excellent opportunities for managers at mid-career and beyond. That degree allows adult learners to use their acquired knowledge in new ways. They may choose to contribute next-generation expertise to their current field or use their new skills to gain access to entirely new areas of interest.

SAS provides a wealth of resources for teaching and learning SAS. Check out the links below to learn more:

We'd love to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences with SAS in the classroom. And check back soon for more upcoming interviews and videos on this topic.

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Youngest-known SAS® University Edition user sets sights on sports analytics career


Ryan Chase

A soccer enthusiast for most of his 11 years, Ryan Chase loves everything about the game – watching it, playing it, poring over players’ stats, applying his soccer prowess in fantasy leagues. It all started when he was much younger, watching TV games with his dad. Before long, he understood what was happening and was hooked.

“I just love looking out at the field,” said the Holly Springs Elementary fifth grader, a goalkeeper for his Wake Futbol Club team. “I can visualize the game so well.”

Using SAS University Edition to create a science fair project allowed Ryan to see his favorite sport in a whole new way – as a budding data scientist.

With encouragement from his mom, SAS Senior Marketing Director Jennifer Chase, Ryan began by gathering data online. He found World Cup and European Football League data on players, teams and game attendance.

Next, he merged, cleaned and prepped the data for analysis, finally loading it into SAS University Edition (with a little help from mom).

Video tutorials, like this one on creating bar charts in SAS Studio and this one on how to create bar-line charts, helped him display the results of his analyses. He found that the highest World Cup attendance was in 1994, when the US hosted.

But when he looked at which continent had the most attendance over time, Europe “crushed all other continents,” he said. North America was a distant second.

He also analyzed data on players’ home countries, including countries with the most high-scorers and countries with the most goals scored. The biggest surprise? “Colombia,” he said. “They have a lot of big scorers.”


Making math more interesting

Ryan’s mom enjoyed seeing how the project sparked his imagination and caused him to dig deeper into the data. “When he started looking at countries that win the most, he wondered what would happen if he viewed the data by continent,” she said. “He was able to append the data to add the continents."


“That’s what I loved about it. He kept asking, ‘What else can I ask of the data? What else can I learn? What if I looked at it this way?’ What was rewarding for me was to see his curiosity grow as he went along.”

She’s thrilled that the project reinforced his interest in math, his favorite school subject. “If we’re going to inspire kids to be more interested in math, we have got to make it interesting,” she said.

Ryan’s interest in math and computers is ingrained. He participated in his school’s Hour of Code event and still talks about it. Now he’s as excited about sports analytics as he was about soccer when the game first captured his attention.

Crunching data for SportsCenter sounds like his ideal job, he said. “I think I’d like to have a career in data analysis – making graphs, looking at standings, predicting what team might win the World Cup.”



Be like Ryan

Download SAS University Edition for free and lay a foundation for a recession-proof skill set! Free online tutorials make it easy to get up to speed, and helpful fellow users in the SAS Analytics U Community provide great installation and usage tips.


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Preparing for Big Data Careers: Interview with Statistics Professor Alan Elliott, Southern Methodist University

Numerous studies and statistics point to the fact that in just a few short years the need for people with analytics skills could significantly outpace supply.

With so much talk around the analytics skills gap and the growing market for analytic talent, we wanted to highlight a variety of avenues students and learners of all ages can explore to prepare for big data careers. This blog series features interviews with professors, department leads and other educators who are seeding the market with analytical talent and directly impacting the talent management pipeline in this area.

Alan Elliott is director of the Statistical Consulting Center in the Department of Statistical Science at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He was first introduced to SAS as a graduate student, and has taught courses using SAS for more than 20 years. Alan’s second edition book SAS Essentials: Mastering SAS for Data Analytics, Second Edition is scheduled for release later this year from John Wiley & Sons.

Why do you choose to teach with SAS?
In preparing practicing statisticians for the workplace, we find that knowledge of SAS and experience using it in real-world consulting projects is a real advantage in their job hunt, as well as in their career.

You’ve been teaching SAS in the classroom for more than 20 years. What changes have you seen during that time?
When I first started, I was at a medical school. Mostly I was teaching short-term, informal courses to researchers who wanted to use SAS. They were applied courses on how to do PROCS related to medical research. That went on for the first 10 years I taught. Then we began a master’s program in clinical science preparing MDs and PhDs in the medical field to do research and the courses started including more detailed programming topics centering mostly on the DATA step.

Now I’m at SMU teaching in the Applied Master’s in Statistics and Data Analytics program. I teach two three-hour courses in the master’s program. The first course covers SAS basics, preparing students for the Base SAS exam, which we encourage them to take after course. And I also teach an advanced course that prepares the students for the SAS® Certified Advanced Programmer test. Most of my current students are getting a master’s or PhD in our Statistical Science department, but we also have a number of students in economics, education, psychology and a lot of disciplines at the university beyond our department.

How do you think students benefit from learning about analytics and SAS?
The prospect of good jobs in this area is a major influencer in terms of pursuing a data analytics degree. Our grad students go into banking, pharmaceutical, medical research, and a wide variety of careers. We also try to locate summer internships for our students. We’ve had students work for Fortune 500 companies in food technology research and development, insurance, business forecasting, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, banking and health, and medical research.

What advice would you give students or adult learners interested in pursuing an analytics career?
First, they need to understand the statistical reasoning behind data analytics, and then learn SAS to implement this knowledge. In the data analytics master’s program at SMU, students need to know not just how you run PROC LOGISTIC, but why you run it. We try to pay attention to assumptions underlying why you use certain procedures, and go behind the scenes to help students understand the background and theory about why these data analytics tools work.

SAS provides a wealth of resources for teaching and learning SAS. Check out the links below to learn more:

We'd love to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences with SAS in the classroom. And check back soon for more upcoming interviews and videos on this topic.

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Analytics careers are HOT, HOT, HOT

Now that that song is stuck in your head, let’s understand why analytics careers are so HOT. First, a few years ago you may recall the Harvard Business Review article by Thomas Davenport, Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. Then there was a recent McKinsey study that predicts by 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions. So, it no wonder that in LinkedIn’s recent article The 25 Hottest Skills That Got People Hired in 2014, statistical analysis and data mining was #1 on the list.

The Benefits of a Career in Analytics

The Benefits of an Analytics Career (click to enlarge)

So, it is a great time for statisticians and data scientists who have that deep analytical knowledge to analyze big data. As these skills are HOT, organizations that need analytical talent are paying to get that talent pool. Looking at Glassdoor, average salaries for statisticians are $75K and data scientists are $118K. Now the bigger question, how to find this analytical talent and in particular data scientists? A fellow SAS blogger, Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, shares 10 tips on doing just that in her blogs, Missing unicorns - 10 tips on finding data scientists.

Universities have started to fill the need by creating masters programs to fill the skills gap and SAS has helped. Let me tell you about a few. In 2002, University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce became one of the first business schools to offer an analytics specialization. Recently, they have set up a new Business Analytics Lab. In the Lab, they are tackling real-world business challenges and students are gaining highly marketable analytical skills using the latest SAS® data visualization technologies. In the fall of 2013, LSU graduated its first class in its new Master of Science in Analytics degree with nearly all of the 16 students receiving job offers before graduation and averaging two job offers per student. Another such program is North Carolina State University with their Master of Science in Analytics program. According to their infographic on the program, students have had 90 percent job placement by graduation for seven consecutive years since 2007.

As the leader in the advanced analytics market, at SAS we are also doing our part. Last year we announced SAS Analytics U, a comprehensive global program that offers professors, students, academic researchers and independent learners access to free SAS software; helpful resources to install, learn and use SAS; free online classes; and an interactive, online SAS Analytics U Community.

SAS hopes to equip students and learners of all ages with the analytic skills highly sought by today’s employers. By making SAS software and resources available for free globally, we hope to seed the market with analytical talent. We want to make SAS readily available to professors, instructors, students and researchers in an academic setting so students can attain the skills needed to graduate and have a career in an analytical field. We also want to help independent learners who are not in an academic setting but who want to learn SAS to attain skills for their current job or to find new employment. Lastly, we want to assist our own customers in defining their organization’s talent management strategy for finding and hiring analytical talent.

So, whether you are a student, professor, independent leaner, or organization there are lots of options and opportunities for getting involved in analytics. What pathway will you take?

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You + a SAS Internship = Summer of Fun, Meaningful Work

GeekGirlIt’s February and you’re up to your eyeballs in papers, projects and all the other detritus associated with earning a degree. But spring’s closer than you think, followed by summer. How will you spend it?

How about an internship that offers interesting, challenging work and insight into a great company? Sound appealing? The SAS Summer Intern Program might be for you.

Our internships are typically a 10- to 12-week, full-time, paid experience in which you work on real-world projects that help you get higher mileage from your classroom education. Along with work projects, you get to network with fellow students and experts in your field. You also get immersed in SAS’ award-winning culture.

Who should apply?

Most interns are in technical roles throughout research and development, information technology, or our JMP and SAS Solutions OnDemand business units. They’re students pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, analytics, statistics or mathematics.

We’re particularly interested in candidates who are familiar with statistics and analytics and can program in C, C++, Java and HTML.

Nontechnical internships will be available in marketing, sales and legal. Requirements and desired degrees vary from business to scenic arts. For all internships, we look for community involvement, leadership, extracurricular activity and academic excellence.

How do you apply?

Because we want top talent and the best fit for the job, it’s a competitive process. To ensure you get an equal opportunity to be considered, complete the mandatory application process.

Technical interns can apply at SAS Technical Summer Intern – Undergrad or SAS Technical Summer Intern – Master’s Degree.

Nontechnical internship positions are posted on the SAS Careers Page as they become available, which will be over the next several weeks.

When do you apply?

Now! We’ll interview and make offers until all openings are filled.

When do SAS internships start?

Interns will start on May 19 or June 2 and will work for 10-12 weeks based on their summer break duration.

Are there other opportunities to learn SAS®?

Yes! Check out SAS Analytics U, and get started with free access to basic analytics and statistics. Free video tutorials teach the basics of SAS programming and statistical analysis. And there’s even an interactive online community to find forums and software support.

Learn SAS for free and gain a recession-proof skill that makes you marketable no matter what!

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SAS Certification is ‘cool’ at Cary High


From left – Christian Henshaw, Lucas Molander, Tia Holmes, Erika Christiana, Kim Hoff

If the words from the 1986 hit song, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” are true, then these students should be rocking some super dark lenses.

This year, a group of students at Cary High School (a public school near SAS headquarters in North Carolina) are preparing to take the SAS Base Programming Certification exam after one of their classmates passed the exam last year.

That certification trailblazer is senior Lucas Molander, who was wearing a bright green shirt that read “Geek” when I met him at the school for the interview.

He discovered his passion for big data during a Programming 1 class during his junior year. When his teacher, Patrick Stone, mentioned going for a SAS Certification, Molander was the only student up for the challenge.

“I wanted to make Mr. Stone proud,” said Molander. “But it was also a goal I wanted for myself.”

He said the key to his success was reading the SAS Certification Prep Guide from start to finish. Now that he’s certified, he’s hoping it will land him an internship at SAS and, in the future, a high-paying job at a big company – after college, of course.

Getting SAS Certified has now become a challenge for students enrolled in SAS Programming 1 at Cary High. This year, four other SAS Programming 1 students, Erika Christiana, Kim Hoff, Tia Holmes and Christian Henshaw, all seniors, are studying for the certification exam.

Hoff and Henshaw both have parents that work at SAS, so you could say the programming bug is in their genes.

“I enjoy everything about computers,” said Henshaw. “I know learning these skills will open up a lot of opportunities for me after high school.”

The students didn’t seem to be intimidated by the idea of the comprehensive, two-hour exam -- or the fact that they also have SATs, ACTs, homework and prom on their plates. “I feel like nothing is hard if you put your mind to it,” said Hoff.

Stone isn’t surprised that his students are taking his class to the next level.

“The best students are always drawn to this Programming 1 class,” he said. “But I don’t sugar coat it for them. It’s a professional-level certification, and I make sure the kids know that.”

Stone said SAS makes it easy for him to teach the course, by providing the software, learning materials and even some SAS swag for the students at no cost to the school.

SAS Global Certification Manager Terry Barham said it’s somewhat rare to have high school students taking the exams, but he’s seen a few other students pass it. He attributes the new trend to schools like Cary High and the Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte, NC, for providing in-depth training to younger students.

“A few years ago, it was unheard of for a high school student to even attempt the SAS Base Programming exam,” said Barham. “What is so impressive is that they take the same exam as everyone else – there is no simplified version for high school students.”

The students at Cary High are planning to take the certification exam sometime in the spring. Whether or not they pass, it’s clear to see they all have a bright future ahead.

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Learn how to incorporate the Analytics Shootout into your classroom

analyticssshootoutLooking to learn more about the Analytics Shootout Competition? Join SAS and the Institute for Health and Business Insight on Dec. 10 for an information session on next year’s competition.

The Analytics Shootout is an annual competition where teams of students have an opportunity to solve a real-world advanced analytics problem. Teams are given a hypothetical, but common problem to solve and a collection of real datasets that can be used to solve the tasks presented.

Now in its eighth year, the Analytics Shootout is a great classroom tool that can be used to help students put their modeling skills to the test, gain valuable experience, and earn recognition for their work.

Next year’s problem will be released in early January. Make time to attend this short information session to learn more.

Topics included in the WebEx session include:

  • Overview of the competition
  • Components of the problem including the data and types of analysis required
  • How to incorporate the Analytics Shootout into the classroom
  • Competition rules and timeline

WebEx Details
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 10
Time: 2 p.m. EST

To Join the WebEx:
Click on this link
1-650-479-3208 Call-in toll number (US/Canada)
Meeting number: 734 445 646
Meeting password: info

Watch this short video to hear from a group of finalists from Oklahoma State University that competed in last year's Analytics Shootout.


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Win a free trip to Analytics 2014

Attention students! The Analytics 2014 Conference is now accepting abstracts for the conference poster session. If you have interesting research to share, consider submitting an abstract. You could even win a free trip to the conference in Las Vegas! The top 6 student poster submissions will be selected as winners of the Analytics 2014 Student Poster Contest and will receive an all-inclusive trip to the conference to present their research. The award includes airfare, hotel, meals and free conference registration. You must be a full-time student at an accredited university or college to be considered.

There are a few important dates to keep in mind. All abstracts must be received by Sept. 5. If your submission is accepted, you must submit your completed poster by Sept. 15. Posters will be judged by a committee and the winners will be notified by Sept. 22.

Good luck and I hope to see you in Las Vegas!


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New academic offerings announced at SAS Global Forum

Universities were the focus of several new announcements at SAS Global Forum on Sunday.

During the opening session, Dr. Jim Goodnight announced the launch of the SAS University Edition software offering.  University Edition will be a downloadable version of SAS, for no cost for teaching, learning and academic research.  The new University Edition contains SAS 9.4m1 Base, SAS/Stat, SAS/IML and Access to PC File Formats.  The new University Edition will run on Windows, MACs and Linux inside a downloaded virtual machine.   The interface will be the new SAS Web Editor.  Users will be able to download the University Edition directly from the web.

Even though the official announcement was made at opening session, several of the SAS Student Ambassador Winners, SAS Faculty Scholarship Winners and SAS Scholarship Winners took part in a University Edition test drive earlier in the day.

Good things come to those who wait.  SAS University Edition will be available for download in May.

As second university related announcement was made during the SAS Global Forum opening session.  Dr. Goodnight announced the introduction of the  SAS Analytics U Online Community .  The new community is a place for students and professors to can find whitepapers, tutorials, data sets, training materials and forums to trade ideas and ask questions.  Facebook users and check out the SAS Analytics U Facebook site.

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Stay curious my friend

Stay curious, my friend.  That is the best advice I can give to you; a student using SAS to benefit your field of study.  Your curiosity has already led you to SAS; the world’s foremost suite of programming and analysis tools.  Now that you are armed with the fundamental knowledge of how to access data sources, read them into SAS, perform complicated analysis, and create publishable result sets, you are ready to take on the real-world data analysis issues of your organization.  But, there is so much more to learn, and not all of it is about SAS.

Be curious about the data your organization handles.  Modern firms house dizzying quantities of transaction data, operational data, and data collected on behalf of clients for analysis.  The data are stored in databases, spreadsheets, flat files, SAS data sets, and a variety of proprietary formats.  Know what databases your data are stored in and which network directories house the files you will be working with.  Understand the security apparatus safeguarding your organization’s data, so you can get access to the data you need for your work.  Learn what the data represent: hospital visits, survey responses, customer orders, drug dosages, and so on.  Realize what constitutes a record, the types and formats of the variables, when missing values are acceptable, and whether special values denote specific events or occurrences.  Within records, learn which are key variables, nominal variables, ordinal variables, discrete variables, continuous variables, interval variables, and composite variables.  In short; know your data.

Be curious about what is happening in your field.  It will change over the years as more and more knowledge is accumulated and new techniques are created for exploring and understanding data.  The types of data you analyze and the types of analysis you perform will change over time.  To be successful, you need to read journals, trade magazines, blogs, papers, and other publications which provide the latest information on what is happening in your area of expertise.  You need to stay current, so you can use the latest techniques to analyze and interpret data.

Be curious about SAS.  SAS software has grown from four products run on mainframe computers 30 years ago to over eighty products and solutions running on mainframe, Windows, UNIX, and Linux operating systems, today.  There are SAS products for directly accessing various data sources, performing complex statistics, operations research, business intelligence, visual analytics, financial management, creating graphs, text mining, risk management and a host of others.  SAS is continually adding new features to existing products and creating new products to serve the needs of government, industry, and academia.  So, there will always be more to learn about how you can use SAS to solve your organization’s business problems.

With your current SAS studies completed, you have unlimited prospects for professional growth ahead of you.  But, you must never become complacent in your quest for additional knowledge.  Stay curious, my friend!


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