I spent last week in the UK for the SAS Professionals Convention. It was my first time visiting the UK. If my experience is any indication, then the area (just outside of London) is constantly warm and very bright. However, I did visit very near the summer solstice and I'm told that the week-long beautiful weather isn't necessarily typical.
The event was terrific. The SAS staff in Marlow served as gracious hosts, both to me and especially to the hundreds of SAS users who attended. The grounds, adapted from the Wittington estate, are beautiful.
Here are a few highlights of the week from me:
On the first day, nearly 100 SAS customers sat for a certification exam (most for Base, some for Advanced). Thanks to a vibrant community of study group participants on SASProfessionals.net, the pass rate was well above average. Even those who didn't pass this time were proud of their work and felt better off for what they learned.
The morning of the second day (attended by over 200 people) featured two keynote speakers. The first was Professor James Taylor (no, not that James Taylor) who delivered an animated talk about forecasting methods. Even though he used terms like moving averages, cubic spline interpolation, and univariate forecasting approaches, I felt like I really (almost) understood his talk. There were many smart people in the audience who also appreciated and shared Professor Taylor's enthusiasm for math (British people call it "maths").
The second keynote speaker was Yours Truly. I'm always humbled when I meet SAS users. These people are using SAS to solve important problems such as forecasting power consumption or researching cures for diseases. When I sit down to use SAS, my burning data analysis issues involve my Netflix queue or my Facebook friends. Even though the Brits don't have Netflix yet (they have LOVEFiLM), I think they could relate to my quest.
In the afternoon, we broke out into technical streams. I presented in the SAS Enterprise Guide stream, where I briefed the audience on the coming features in SAS Enterprise Guide 4.3, due out this summer. I went into considerable detail about the new programming enhancements, which include a program editor with syntax suggestions and autocompletion, a SAS code analyzer, and a SAS code formatter to tidy up hard-to-read programs. I took full advantage of the facilities in the Innovation Hub, using one smart board to show my presentation slides, and another smart board to demonstrate the new SAS software.
We also heard from Tim Walker, from Department for Work and Pensions, as he described how SAS and SAS Enterprise Guide serve an instrumental role within his organization. Dozens of analysts, most of them non-programmers, are able to use SAS methods to analyze various sources of claims data and ensure that it meets established standards and policies.
The final day kicked off with a talk from Tim Harford, a.k.a. The Undercover Economist. I've read his latest book (which I had him sign for me), and found it very entertaining, as well as insightful. If you like Freakonomics, you will enjoy Tim's work. For example, here he offers excellent advice for how to optimize your allegiances for the World Cup.
The day finished up with several industry-focused sessions presented by SAS customers and staff. This was a great networking opportunity for SAS professionals, facilitated by the knowledgeable and friendly SAS staff on hand.