While at SAS, I hope to get the opportunity to talk with all of the SAS icons. I’ve had the privilege to meet many. Before the SAS winter break, I had the privilege to talk with another: Michael Raithel.
At SAS® Global Forum 2010, Raithel will be presenting the Tuesday lunch feature presentation, “It’s not easy being a SAS programmer." So, I thought you might like to know a little more about who he is and what he does.
Who he is
Raithel is a SAS programmer, former NESUG conference chair, former SUGI section chair, three-time SAS author and a Senior Systems Analyst at Westat. Senior Systems Analyst … how many Senior Systems Analysts have you met? When I was at NESUG (my first regional), I met many. Raithel’s answer to my quip said it all, though. “If they called me ‘Senior Dog Catcher,’ it wouldn’t matter. I have a wonderful, fulfilling job here. This is an excellent place to work. There is relatively low turnover and very high job satisfaction; a very professional and serious, yet respectful, work environment.”
So far, he seems pretty much rank and file with the other SAS icons, doesn’t he? Raithel also has at least one other cool point: His first book, Tuning SAS Applications in the MVS Environment, is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History Information Technology Collection. Well now, that’s the stuff of legends. Wouldn’t you agree?
SAS crunchers and munchers
Westat is an employee-owned corporation that provides contract research services to businesses, foundations, US government agencies, and state and local governments. A typical example of work Westat does is to host, manage and clean data for a state cancer registry. “SAS is an integral part of the software we use to manage the data” said Raithel. “Most of the other hundreds of research projects conducted for clients each year by Westat use SAS products.”
“We’re basically a meat and potatoes kind of SAS shop,” said Raithel. “By that, I mean we have 18 SAS products that are the foundation of much of our work. We have deployed four SAS/ACCESS® interfaces, SAS/CONNECT®, SAS/GRAPH®, SAS/Genetics™, SAS/IML®, SAS/Intrnet, and SAS/STAT®, to name a few. We are also looking to expand our use of SAS to include SAS® Data Quality.”
Westat may consider itself a “meat and potatoes SAS shop,” but the company is proving that treating people well leads to success. Success is promoted and encouraged by a support infrastructure that includes an in-house technical support unit and Westat-written SAS resources.
“On our intranet, we have SAS Resources Web pages that give our users one-stop shopping to learn what SAS is all about at Westat, including links to contact information for the people in my group, Westat’s SAS technical support,” said Raithel. “The pages include instructions for loading SAS on a desktop, SAS resources and Westat conference papers, documentation for the SAS products we use, the methods we use for validating hot fixes and even the date and location of the next Westat SAS Users Group meeting.”
According to Raithel, Westat’s SAS technical support department, which he heads, helps to ensure that SAS Institute's Technical Support doesn’t receive a flood of calls each day from Westat. Raithel and his two staff members “answer everything from, ‘I can’t open SAS today,’ to ‘What is happening with SAS 9.2?’ and ‘This report looks kind of funny.’”
When Raithel and his staff have questions they can’t answer, they usher them through the official SAS Technical Support process. “When there is a satisfactory result, and we believe that question is going to affect more users, we post it to the in-house listserv – SAS Outlook Information Forum,” he said. “SAS users at Westat also post questions and answers on the listserv.”
Success isn’t guaranteed, it’s mastered
Each year, Westat purchases SAS training EPTO units. “We buy enough EPTO units per year to allow us to have custom-tailored classes taught in our facilities,” said Raithel. “SAS Education has been very cooperative during the past three years in listening to our training needs and modifying some of the existing SAS classes to suit those needs.”
Westat also relies on a cadre of in-house SAS experts to teach beginner and intermediate SAS classes. “Once a year we have a SAS Institute speaker present at our Westat SAS user group meeting, and we invite speakers from outside organizations, such as the Federal Reserve Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said Raithel.
The education that Westat SAS users receive is not all piped in. Many Westat SAS users are experts in their own right. One former SUGI conference chair, two NESUG and one SESUG conference chair came from Westat’s staff. At Westat, SAS conference participation is indispensable. “We send a lot of people to SAS user group meetings” said Raithel. “During the past 13 years, Westat staff has published 200 SAS conference papers.
“We feel that conference experience is invaluable,” he said. “When our staff attends a SAS conference, they pick up tips from the presentations and a lot of good information comes back to Westat.
“After every conference, those who attend are on the hook for a 5- to10-minute presentation of the best papers and new ideas. We know that when we send people they’re going to enrich themselves by gaining new SAS knowledge, and that knowledge is going to come back and be available to other Westat staff.”
You can find some of Michael Raithel’s books, interviews, tips and past presentations on support.sas.com. You can meet Raithel at SAS Global Forum 2010 at the authors’ reception in the SAS Publishing demo area on Monday evening from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
Add “It’s not easy being a SAS programmer” to your SAS Global Forum agenda. This SAS Global Forum Tuesday lunchtime presentation by Raithel will take a lighthearted look at some of the societal, workplace and industry issues that SAS programmers routinely face. *An extra fee event.