As a fourth-grader, Cheryl LeSaint was the one everyone was trying to beat.
The teacher called her to the chalkboard to solve math problems and then challenged the rest of the class to race against her.
“I always loved math,” said LeSaint. “I have a very vivid memory. Mathematics came natural to me and everything just clicked.”
She excelled in math at her all-girls high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. “I liked that there was a right and a wrong answer in math,” she said. “It frustrated me to be in an English course where it could be subjective and a matter of opinion.”
While she took some statistics courses as a mathematics major at the University of Cincinnati, it was a course in SAS programming that helped her land a part-time job working alongside statisticians on a double-blind study to test whether a new formulation of a particular skin lotion lived up to its claim as a wrinkle-reducer.
“They needed the statistics behind it to prove that the new formulation and the old were not significantly different from each other,” said LeSaint, noting that the project ultimately went back to the drawing board.
“That experience gave me respect for what statistics can do for us,” she said. “Experiments and analyzing the data are very useful and allow us to back up claims that advertisers and marketers make about a product.”
She attended Ohio State University, where she got her master’s in statistics and worked on research involving Bayesian analysis of psychology data. While there in 2006, she learned of summer fellowships being offered at SAS, applied and was accepted.
“I originally came to SAS to be involved in the Bayesian software development work taking place and working on PROC MCMC,” she said.
At the end of the internship, Senior R&D Director Bob Rodriguez approached her and said she would be a good fit for a position as a PROC MCMC tester.
“It’s a really neat experience to be a tester,” LeSaint said. “You really get to play with software a lot while it is still in the development stage where you can have a lot of impact on what the software looks like,” she said.
“Every bug I was finding was something that the customers weren’t going to find,” said LeSaint, who found it fulfilling to have her voice heard when things she brought to the table were considered and implemented. “The ability to make decisions that impact the product and be involved with the direction of where things go is huge for me.”
In her current position, LeSaint manages a team of 11 people responsible for testing the SAS/STAT® product.
“I wanted more interactions with people,” said LeSaint. “The teacher comes out in me. I enjoy talking through testing strategies and mentoring from a testing perspective.”
As a tester, LeSaint said she saw a “narrow window” of SAS. “As a manager, I see a much broader view of the company,” she said. “I’m very thankful for the path I’ve gone down.”
Learn more about LeSaint in the following Q&A, and read about other statisticians in the SAS loves stats series. Also, be sure to check out our International Year of Statistics page to read how we're celebrating.
What should readers know about the field of statistics?
- It helps us make informed decisions.
- Statistics is everywhere. To be an educated person in society you need a basic level of understanding of statistical concepts.
- We have to be able to think critically and question who is presenting information to us in our daily lives. We need to know how to properly consume what we are bombarded with.
- Data is so much more prevalent today. It is through statistics that we can make sense of that and make better decisions.
What advice do you have for students?
- If you are math or quantitatively inclined, explore statistics as a field.
- Statistics is a very broad field. Apply statistics to your area of interest.
- The world’s need for statisticians is going to become stronger. Experts in statistics are needed across industries.
- It’s not just a boring numbers job. I find fun in statistics just for statistics sake.
- There are plenty of jobs out there. I am competing against other companies to get new staff.
- It is a very forward-thinking field to be involved in.
What is your favorite statistics blog or journal?
- Rick Wicklin’s blog, The DO Loop.
Who is your favorite statistician?
What are your interests outside of work?
- I enjoy playing piano, volleyball and swimming.
- I love spending time with my daughters, ages 4 and 1.
- I like to read. Right now, I’m reading The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes and The Art of Racing in the Rain (even though I don’t like racing or dogs).