The SASonality series is about connecting you with SAS users that you may not have taken time to really get to know. Today, I’m going to introduce you to someone that you’ve seen at the SAS regional users group conferences. As you’ll see after reading his interview, he’s created a brand for himself so that he can meet other programmers. Read about Ron Fehd to see what you have in common, then say hello at SAS Global Forum in April. Ask him about his book and chat about your macro wins and failures.
- Every SAS user who has ever attended a SAS User Group event can probably recognize you from your characteristic propeller-topped beanie, but who is Ron Fehd, the SAS user, when events aren’t in session? What do you do?
For the first 17 years at my current employer I was a data manager and programmer for an HIV and multi-drug-resistant TB laboratory performance evaluation program. This is the period when I got my 10,000 hours of SAS programming experience. I was writing ad hoc programs that I eventually converted to macros. Today (January 2011), I attended a retirement luncheon and was congratulated on the fact that my macros, developed in SAS 9 version 6 and 8, are still working.
For the past six years, I’ve been a “sadistical/statistical” software administrator. I’m the SAS site representative and manage the license keys and installation depot for enterprise licensed statistical software. I maintain a Level 3 for SAS installation and configuration.
I am a software niche geek.
- On sasCommunity.org, your ID was intriguing. Could you tell the story behind the titles “Macro Maven and Module/Routine/Subroutine Maven?”
I began reading the international SAS listserv SAS-L in the early 90s. I was already active as a frequent poster on other listservs and knew from that experience that I needed a good and memorable screen name. I began posting to SAS-L in 1997 when I announced my first three papers on macros at SUGI. Two of the papers were about routines and the third paper was a common subroutine. A famous New York City commercial from the late 70s was about the Herring Maven. Maven is a term for someone who knows a lot about some common-place item. That’s the old Yiddish definition. … I see that public usage and Wikipedia have added quite a bit more about this term since the 1990s when usage was an inside ethnic joke.
- You said you are a “software niche geek.” Are you all geek and no play? How do you separate the work-a-day Ron and still have fun being a geek?
During the week, it’s 40 hours with my head down working. I also take time to laugh about bricolage - the tinkering, tricks, gotchas and mistakes - that make programming life … interesting. In my spare time, what better place to commiserate and brag but in a peer discussion?
- How long have you been using SAS?
I learned to use SAS in 1986 - in my first job out of college as a research assistant at Atlanta’s Georgia State University.
- With titles that include “Maven”, you must be someone’s mentor, too. Do you present, keynote, tutor, chair … ?
Mentor? Foster? Consult? Encourage is more like it. I have introduced one SAS-L Rookie of the Year, Toby Dunn, to the SAS community. He has a SAS user book under contract, now. Another person who I co-consult, Nate Derby, found me through the LaTeX (typesetting) community. The TeX typesetting system was developed by Donald Knuth. I use Leslie Lamport’s TeX macros (LaTeX) to write my papers. My CV includes more than 30 papers. I have presented 10-, 20- and 50-minute papers, hands-on workshops and half-day seminars. In all of those papers, I have just one co-author: Art Carpenter. See my review on the back of his book: Carpenter’s Complete Guide to the Macro Language, Second Edition. Frankly, I have been approached several times about being a section chair. Until I finish the first edition of my book, a work in progress since 2002, I prefer to write.
- Your LaTex paper sounds like the innovative use of SAS that I’ve been asking SAS users about. Can you tell me a little more about it?
I used SAS to write a program that would prepare an index of macro keywords in a project folder. One program wrote the index entries to a *.tex file which could be processed into a PDF. Then, I rewrote several of Donald Knuth’s Sorting and Searching algorithms in SAS.
- Who are you when you are not at SAS? (Do you have a hobby, favorite sport, charity, children, pets or grandchildren? Are you a cross-word junkie or ski diver? etc)
I am a dancer in the Contact Improv Community, and my main exercise and sport is walking. No pets, but I am a (lap) cat lover. I also attend kirtan concerts and attend the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. My co-parent and I have two daughters who are in their mid-30s. Our oldest had a daughter two years ago, so I am a grand-father now and have an excuse to travel to the California Bay Area to visit them.
- As I mentioned before, everyone can recognize you by your propeller-powered beanie. It seems to only come out at certain times during the conference. Can you tell me why you wear it? You also wear conference pins and such. Can you talk about their meaning?
Sure. Check the books on creating your own buzz. Y’know I may be six feet tall, but I don’t stand out in a crowd, except for the hats! It’s all marketing. Some conferences it’s the guy with the green bow tie, others The Big Purple Hat, and yes, lately the propeller beanie, which my youngest daughter gave me 10 years ago.
Do you know how hard it is to get geeks to laugh? Once I get ‘em smiling at the hat, then a laugh is not too far behind. Conference chatchkas?! They go in and come back out of the suitcase.
- Have you ever counted the number of SAS user conferences that you’ve attended? Do you think it’s important for SAS users to attend SAS conferences? If so, what do you gain from the experience?
For SUGI/SAS Global Forum, that number is above 15. I began attending in 1989 and publishing in 1997. I’ve attended more regionals in the past decade than I have SAS Global Forums.
The SAS community executive board is examining how to get people to attend more than one conference; newcomers account for only about 30 percent of attendees. Important? I wonder when people make the decision to have a career as a SAS programmer. I have a background in the blue collar world where union membership puts you through the craftsman’s learning curve of seven years each as an apprentice, then journeyman and finally master. I didn’t publish until I had been programming for ten years in SAS, i.e. when I became a journeyman. I had mastered a niche.
For me, conference attendance has put me in touch with my peers - fellow journey-men and –women, and masters, who have made the decision to become and stay programmers. That peer recognition is invaluable in your heads-down work of solving daily problems. It makes finding a solution twice as rewarding, when your colleagues at work, and online, give you kudos.
- If you could only do one thing at the next conference, what would it be?
Find out when v9.3 will come out!
- Which of your papers is the best you’ve ever written? Why?
The SmryEachVar Suite. Anything I can do with macros, I can do without macros as well. That suite is also the reason I have added the other screen name - module/routine/subroutine maven.
- Will you be attending SAS Global Forum 2011? If so, what will you present?
I have submitted my travel orders, but will not be presenting, this year.
“Ask me about my book.” I expect to have a draft copy, at least on a flash drive.
Did you find some things in common with Fehd? Are there other questions you’d like to ask? Write them in the comments section, and I’ll get an answer. Suggest other SAS users with SASonality and questions you’d like for me to discuss with them.