IT skills or SAS skills--what's more important?

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As one of the external instructors for the SAS Platform Administrator Fast Track course in Australia, I have found that the students who attend the courses come from diverse backgrounds. My experience so far has been an approximate 50-50 split, with half being IT system administrators wanting to learn how to support their SAS platform users and the other half being SAS programmers wanting or needing to learn more about administration.  I find that both ends of the spectrum do equally well in the course. They also seem to benefit from the discussions and from the questions they have for each other (one of the reasons I believe so strongly in classroom training).

Personally, I believe that it doesn't matter so much which side of the spectrum aspiring SAS platform administrators come from.  Given time, they can readily learn the other side (or have access to others with the required skills). Rather than skills that can be easily acquired, I would personally place more emphasis on finding someone who is rigorous and methodical in their approach to tasks. I would place more weight on a strong aptitude for careful and considered impact analysis, risk assessment, change management, and planning of recovery options. A methodical approach to troubleshooting based on layered pre-validation of underlying assumptions should also be valued very highly.

Like Rex Pruitt and LeRoy Bessler, I think that an ideal SAS platform administrator would be someone who has both general system administration skills and experience and SAS software skills and experience (including programming). This combination would provide an understanding of what SAS platform users need along with a knowledge of how best to respond to those needs using the software and hardware infrastructure available.  Of course, the increasing depth and complexity of the SAS platform and associated solutions, combined with the wide array of system infrastructure options, make it very hard to find a single person with all of the necessary skills.

Prior to SAS 9, SAS administration was often a small part-time role.  These days, in recognition of the importance of the function, I feel it deserves to be a full-time role for an individual (or team) in most medium to large organizations.  When I speak to people who have been given administration in addition to their normal role, they usually say they only have time to do the bare minimum and cannot be proactive in their approach.

For large organizations, a team that spans the necessary skills is more likely to be viable.  It might also be a good reason to embed SAS administrators with SAS software skills within the IT function so that they can cross-pollinate.

I also believe the strong support for SAS administrators in terms of training, certification, and conference or user-group attendance to learn from one’s peers is a wise investment. Learning from one's own mistakes (with expensive and sometimes business-critical hardware and software platforms) can be a costly and risky exercise otherwise.

Editor’s note: Look for more insights from Paul Homes at platformadmin.com.

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About Author

Paul Homes

Specialist in SAS administration and metadata

Paul Homes has been working with SAS software since 1989 and is a specialist in SAS platform administration, metadata security and metadata exploitation. He is also a co-founder of Metacoda (www.metacoda.com), a SAS Alliance Silver Member that specialises in the development of software add-ons that integrate with SAS software.

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