As SAS Chief Technology Officer, Bryan Harris has plenty of day-to-day issues that create a hotbed of worries: keeping pace with innovation, finding and retaining top talent, technical debt, delivering on time and making sure SAS technology is ready to meet the needs of an ever-changing business landscape.

So, the last thing he needs to take on is something else to make him sweat.

But that’s exactly what he did at SAS Innovate in Las Vegas when he sat down for a one-on-one interview with Hot Ones Host Sean Evans.

If you’ve seen any of the 23 seasons of the show, which began in 2018, you know that Evans’ interviews are conducted over a platter of increasingly spicy chicken wings. “The show with hot questions, and even hotter wings” followed suit as Harris took the hot seat alongside Evans, opening with a Hot Ones Buffalo Hot Sauce with 1,800 Scoville Heat Units.

‘Committed to the process’

“No milk!” Harris said from the get-go. “I am committed to this process.” Beer was his tableside cooling agent of choice, and Evans matched the decision. Although Harris is a fan of hot sauces, he said he hadn’t done anything to prepare for the segment. “I have to have this experience in the moment.”

And an experience it was.

The on-stage duo practically doubled the heat with the second challenge, a custom SAS original Viya Fiya sauce with a 3,000-3,500 Scoville rating. “That is a sharp detour,” Harris said on first taste. “Mayday, mayday, mayday!” Event attendees will get to decide if they feel the same fire as everyone in the audience received a bottle to take home.

Evans used the introduction of the Viya Fiya sauce label to ask Harris about his favorite SAS solution. “Well, the corporate response would be the one that makes the most money,” he said. “But fraud, anti-money-laundering, identifying terrorists and finding the bad guys is why I went to work in this space.”

With a Pisqueya Spicy Sweet Passion Fruit and 16,000 Scoville rating for the third challenge, the conversation turned to Harris’ own passions, one of which is pizza without pineapple. Another is music.

“I would go to the mall and play synthesizers,” Harris said. He was intrigued by the digital sounds that were created and controlled by keyboards and various knobs and buttons. “That led me into software,” he said. “What I discovered in software was creativity… You can create whatever you want. … We can solve just about any problem in the world at SAS.”

After claiming he thought there was “like a chicken ankle in his face,” Harris tackled the Hot Ones Los Calientes Barbacoa Hot Sauce and Djablo Sauce Power Jab Hot Sauce – bringing the Scoville Heat Units up to 55,000 as they peered over to what Evans called “the backside” of the challenge.

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a toe…toes

Somewhat sauce-zombied, Harris started spilling a few stories. Like details about the time he broke both toes at the same time without dropping anything on them. How can this be? Turns out, it was a break-dancing incident. The Worm. At age 48. At a murder mystery party. “It’s the only time I’ve ever had an ER doctor ask: Are you ok with me sharing this with my family and friends?” he said. The audience fell out. “I’ve dabbled in improv and comedy in my life and had a lot of fun.”

(Evans also convinced him to share a signature joke from his improv and stand-up comedy days. But you’ll have to watch the video for that one; we could never do it justice.)

With apple cider vinegar, date syrup and Uncle Nearest 1856 whiskey in the mix, the sixth challenge didn’t sound like too much of a struggle … until the mention of the smoked ghost chili peppers that bring Marshall’s Haute Whisky Smoke Ghost sauce to the 71,000 Scoville mark. Before tasting Harris said, “I like ghost peppers.” After tasting, however, he said he felt like he was being pressed into hot charcoal.

“Hang on, I’ve got to pause,” he said. “I’ve got to go to dinner after this and I’m concerned Dr. Goodnight is going to present me with another plate of wings.”

Now who’s having AI hallucinations?

After surviving No. 7, Ginger Goat Tropic Star Hot Sauce (110,000 rating) – a sauce Harris described as looking “like caulk, like honey mustard that’s going to kill you” and tasting like “Froot Loops that have knives” — and No. 8, Da Bomb Evolution Hot Sauce (135,000 rating), which Harris claimed was bound to trigger a “pressure testing of the plumbing at the ARIA,” the duo made a quantum leap to 620,000 Scoville Heat Units with Dawson’s Zuzu’s 7-Pot Sauce.

By this time, both were visibly struggling to finish sentences, keep their eyes from watering, and catch their breath. But Evans managed to eke out a question about what people might be missing around AI.

“If you do it right, it’s a huge competitive advantage,” Harris said. “With models, we can give that benefit to everyone, and they can apply it quickly. David can equal up with Goliath. That’s awesome!” Lofty vision aside, he also mentioned the hope that mankind can one day finally get “that stupid-ass shopping cart to go right instead of having to drive it like a fighter pilot that’s just lost an engine.”

At that point, only one remaining saucy wing stood between him and bragging rights at the SAS Innovate Wing Fling Happy Hour that followed. But it was a doozey: Hot Ones The Last Dab Xperience with 2,693,000 Scoville Heat Units. Harris looked apprehensive.

Before digging in, Evans asked Harris to predict what will be different on the SAS Innovate stage one year from now. After joking that he would be 15 pounds lighter, he said this about AI: “We will have gotten through the hype and to the place where customers can get a true return in their business.”

Harris took on the last quest with gusto, adding extra sauce and “going all the way to the bone” in the manner he had demonstrated all evening. Even Evans appeared impressed with his tolerance.

With one last question, Evans asked if he could explain the importance of data and AI in one sentence. Harris chose to answer in the form of a question: “How can we study the past to make a better future?”

The audience was quick to their feet to cheer on the SAS CTO and newest Hot Ones champ. Harris waved and quickly made his way off stage to dinner and perhaps a plate of wings with a certain CEO.

Sign up now for the SAS Innovate live stream to re-watch this spicy interview.


About Author

Becky Graebe

Director, Communications

In addition to traditional employee communication efforts at SAS, Becky Graebe oversees an award-winning global intranet and a variety of enterprise social media channels. Her goal is to create a working environment where SAS employees around the world feel connected and inspired to share fresh ideas, solutions and expertise with colleagues and customers. Having studied at Southern Methodist University and earned her degree from Stetson University, she now serves on the Employee Communications Section board for the National Public Relations Society of America, is an active member of Triangle Women in Communications, and volunteers with Citizen Schools and the Wake County Support Circle Program.

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