Is SAS Enterprise Guide making you stupid?

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Have you ever visited a city for the first time and, instead of relying maps to plan your journey, you simply plug your destinations into a GPS device and mindlessly follow the navigation directions? You've just cheated yourself out of a learning opportunity, because planning the journey and using your brain to navigate (and perhaps even getting lost) can serve an important role in growing your local knowledge.

In "How good software makes us stupid", the author cites the example of the London Cab. Will "sat-nav" (satellite navigation devices) kill the local knowledge that distinguishes a London cabbie from any shmoe who can operate a right-hand-drive automobile?

I was a passenger for the first time in a London Cab last June, and I saw wanna-be drivers on motorbikes who were boning up on The Knowledge. The Knowledge is a rigorous training program that all taxi drivers in London must endure and pass, proving that they can traverse from any Point A to any Point B within the city and provide the best possible service for their fares.

Ever since SAS Enterprise Guide has been introduced, there has been a tension between "point-and-click" SAS users and the master SAS programmers. Using SAS Enterprise Guide, you can drive a lot of SAS queries, reporting, and analytics without writing a lick of SAS code. You arrive at your destination safe and sound (you have your results), but what have you learned along the way?

I've talked to teachers who teach SAS programming in high school (yes, high school!). They haven't allowed their students to use SAS Enterprise Guide in class. Why? Because it would make it too easy to complete their homework assignments. (On the other hand, I've taught programming classes in the past, and I know this: a good teacher knows when a student has had help coming up with the solution.)

I once had a conversation with a SAS user who asserted that SAS was trying to "kill the SAS programmer" by promoting "codeless" paths through user interfaces such as SAS Enterprise Guide and SAS Add-In for Microsoft Office. Of course, that's an absurd notion. SAS programmers use their advanced skills to create wonderful content and to solve difficult business problems. The more that organizations rely on that content and on those solutions, the better it is for SAS, right?

It's easy to see that we love SAS programmers when you look at the new features in SAS Enterprise Guide 4.3. I believe that this will provide the biggest boost for programmers since we released the syntax-coloring "enhanced editor" a decade ago. The 4.3 release offers syntax suggestions and autocompletion, integrated syntax reference help, function disambiguation (what's the difference between SUBSTR and SUBSTR?), the program tidy feature, SAS program analysis, and more.

We've taken a big step on our journey towards the premier SAS programming environment. But we have not yet arrived at our destination, so we've already got new programmer-friendly features under development for the next release. We use your suggestions to help us to navigate, so please, keep them coming.

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About Author

Chris Hemedinger

Senior Manager, SAS Online Communities

+Chris Hemedinger is the manager of SAS Online Communities. Since 1993, Chris has worked for SAS as an author, a software developer, an R&D manager and a consultant. Inexplicably, Chris is still coasting on the limited fame he earned as an author of SAS For Dummies.  He also hosts the SAS Tech Talk webcasts each year from SAS Global Forum, connecting viewers with smart people from SAS R&D and the impressive work that they do.

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6 Comments

  1. Chris,
    I really think that the way someone uses SAS EG has a lot more to do with the specific environment and learning process that someone goes through than anything else. Even though I've always used SAS through EG, I would never consider using the point and click features (other than exporting data sets to Excel). To me, the best part about EG is how it makes programming and viewing results so much easier and more convenient than Base SAS...

  2. While using Enterprise Guide might assist in the problem we have of "use it or lose it" programming-wise, many of us still need to know the important things - what the real question is to answer, what statistical procedure to use, or how to display the analysis for a particular audience. Not remembering which option to use in a statement isn't dumb, just inconvenient!

  3. Michael Tuchman on

    I've seen a lot of resistance to EG for just this reason. People fear losing their individuality if the let EG do too much work for them.

    Yes, perhaps it's true that we have to let some knowledge go, but it doesn't make us stupider (or send us to Jupiter according to my kid's rhyme) if we make up for this by operating closer to the big picture level our clients or senior managers expect fromus.

    If we cling too tightly to our coding expertise, I fear management will just view us as trying to protect a cottage industry rather than adding value to the company through good insights.

    True, there are times when directly using a PROC (particularly PROC EXPAND in ETS) offers us more than what the equivalent EG dialog offers us. I do fear that people will confuse the limits of EG with the limits of SAS.

    My comments are based on EG 4.2.

  4. Pingback: Get Smart! - The SAS Dummy

  5. I'm working for a client that is actively promoting EG as the way to develop code! They are also actively removing PC SAS, so suddenly my colleagues are realizing that EG is the way to go, and, as a long-time EG user, I'm in demand. :-)

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