You’re probably already familiar with Leonid Batkhan from his popular blog right here on The Learning Post. In fact, he’s one of our most engaging authors, with thousands of views and hundreds of comments. Leonid is a true SAS Sensei. He has been at SAS for nearly 25 years and a SAS user for even longer, so obviously he has a wealth of knowledge to share. But did you know he’s also a big fan (and supporter) of SAS Press books? He provides technical feedback on our authors’ drafts to make sure their books are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
Leonid recently reviewed one of our forthcoming books, and he was so helpful that I decided to ask him if he would be willing to do even more work! He graciously agreed to answer a few questions about why he loves SAS and SAS Press books.
Q: Leonid, thanks for talking with me. You’ve been a SAS user for over two decades! I’m sure you have lots of stories to tell. What is the coolest project you’ve worked on or the project you’re most proud to have participated in?
To me that question is like asking a parent “which child of yours is your favorite?” I have 3 children, by the way. I love them all, I love them all differently, and I proud of each of them. I have worked on more than a hundred projects during my time at SAS. Some of them lasted just a few days, some a few months, some more than a year, and one – a whopping six years.
When I start working on a project it becomes part of my life, I get emotionally attached to it. In a sense it becomes my new child. While I can’t choose a favorite project, I talked about one at length in this blog post: Are you solving the wrong problem? For me, that project was about the importance of asking good questions. In that case, I was able to give the customer a 100% improvement vs. their expected 20-30%, not to mention the solution was achieved in 2 hours vs. the expected 5 days. The customers were stunned and happy; I was just happy.
Q: There are lots of ways to learn SAS now: in a classroom, using a book, or through trial and error. What was your path to learning SAS? What advice would you give to someone who is new to SAS or wants to learn?
I first heard about SAS in 1991 on my first job in the USA where I emigrated from USSR earlier that year. At the time I was employed as a PL/I computer programmer by DynCorp. About a month into my job, I was ordered to attend a 3-day SAS course held onsite by a SAS instructor. After the course, my boss announced to me that from now on I was a SAS programmer. And so, I was.
At that point, SAS was yet another programming language because I had several others already under my belt: FORTRAN, PL/I, Pascal, and even Assembly language. But SAS was quite different from the other languages I knew: it was so much more powerful, yet I struggled with its implicit data step loops and code-generating SAS macro language. At that same time, I was struggling adjusting from Russian to English as a language of communication, and I can’t say with certainty which struggle was more difficult. By 1995, I was comfortable enough with SAS (and English) to join SAS Institute’s Consulting Department.
For me, a SAS classroom course was the best way to start off. Then you can move on to self-training (read books, articles, and blogs; compete on Sasensei; attend SAS conferences; study and take SAS Certification exams). SAS OnDemand for Academics is free and available to everybody, not just university students and professors. You still need to read, sift it through your head, test your understanding, practice, experiment, and find alternative solutions. I do that every day, after more than 25 years.
I suggest starting your SAS journey in the field of your prior training or wherever you feel most comfortable and passionate. This will just boost your motivation and learning productivity. Many SAS professionals I know have come to the SAS fold their own way, with backgrounds not in computer science or statistics. I believe that because of their backgrounds in different subject matters, they have a much better understanding of the data they deal with.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
In my professional life, the best piece of advice I’ve heard came from Albert Einstein who once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” For me that translates into: don’t jump into action before you understand what problem you are going to solve. Ask questions to understand the purpose of solving your problem. It saves me and my customers a lot of time otherwise spent on solving the wrong problems.
Q: What SAS Press books do you have on your bookshelf? Which ones do you recommend?
I have 4 bookshelves in my office filled with SAS books and other SAS-related materials. If I start listing all SAS Press books I have on my bookshelf, we will be here all day. I am a bookworm. If you asked me which books I use most often, here is an abbreviated list of SAS books I personally like:
- The Little SAS® Book by Lora D. Delwiche and Susan J. Slaughter.
- The Little SAS® Enterprise Guide® Book by Susan J. Slaughter and Lora D. Delwiche
- Carpenter's Complete Guide to the SAS® Macro Language by Art Carpenter
- How to Become a Top SAS® Programmer by Michael Raithel
- Practical and Efficient SAS® Programming: The Insider’s Guide by Martha Messineo
- PROC SQL: Beyond the Basics Using SAS® by Kirk Paul Lafler [Ed note: New edition coming soon thanks to Leonid’s technical feedback!]
- An Introduction to SAS® Visual Analytics by Tricia Aanderud, Rob Collum, and Ryan Kumpfmiller
Q: What SAS book or resource do you wish existed that doesn’t yet?
I have been fascinated with encyclopedias since my childhood. I still have a 12-volume Children’s Encyclopedia in my native Russian language. Sometimes I pull a volume and read it randomly. I would like to see some sort of SAS Encyclopedia. I realize that for the fast-changing modern world, a paper version of it wouldn’t be practical.
I am thinking about a modern encyclopedia, some kind of WikiSAS (or SASWiki), not just an electronic version, but an interactive online version (i-WikiSAS) that is being updated in near real time. It could bundle together all various SAS resources: SAS-related websites, SAS documentation, SAS books, SAS blogs, SAS communities and social networks… And that is where we can put to real work a ubiquitous AI (Artificial Intelligence) to facilitate searches.
Imagine, a user asks a question “How to do something in SAS” and that question gets processed on the back end employing AI, and searching all available resources, maybe even does some code testing, validation and benchmarking to produce the best answer or solution. If you get an irrelevant or unsatisfactory answer it is probably because your question was not good enough. You just modify your question and ask again. This brings us back to honing your questioning skills. The ability to ask the right questions becomes a super skill.
Thanks so much, Leonid! I hope one day we’ll have an AI-powered SAS Encyclopedia that can answer all our questions. In the meantime, people can check out the SAS Press bookstore and Leonid’s blog posts to build their knowledge.
How did you learn SAS: book, class, or trial and error? Let us know in the comments.