Hiring a SAS administrator? 12 questions to ask

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I have been on both sides of the table during an interview to hire a SAS administrator. I’ve been hired as a SAS administrator, and I have hired SAS administrators. Today, I work with SAS customers to help them find the best software for their business needs. I get asked- a lot!- about how to find and to hire SAS administrators. How can you feel confident they know their stuff? Here is my personal list of interview questions.

Some of these questions can be answered from their resume, but if I’m doing a phone screen without the benefit of a resume, I’ll ask all of them. I have hired good SAS admins using this personal guidebook:

What SAS products and versions have you administered?
This question lets me know the breadth of their administration experience. Are they working with SAS metadata or not? The role of the SAS administrator became very important with SAS 9.

What operating system (OS) platforms have you used with SAS?
The more, the better! If I’m hiring for UNIX/LINUX and the candidate doesn’t have any experience outside of Windows, then I need to gauge how quickly they’ll pick it up. In this scenario, I’m going to usually prefer some that has UNIX/LINUX experience if they also have the SAS experience.

Which SAS products have you installed and configured?
I would also follow up this question with “Have you installed SAS Hot Fixes before”?

Do you have experience migrating content to new SAS versions?
Ask this question if necessary for your environment. If you are hiring to migrate from SAS Version 8 to SAS 9, ask if they have done that before.

How many SAS users have you supported? Business users? Power users?
This question gives me a general idea of how much work they had to do to support their users. If the company did not utilize metadata, what tasks did they perform in their administrator role? For business users, what is your role in pushing content out to them? For power users, how are you supporting your SAS developers?

Are you performing SAS product training for your SAS users?
If not, are they open to doing so? You have to decide if this is a requirement for your open position- not every administrator wants to be customer-facing or has the needed skills, even if the customers are internal. Some SAS administrators are more comfortable with server administration, while others prefer a more involved level of customer service to their users.

Are you doing any SAS development in you current role? Any experience with SAS development?
Have candidates designed any code, SAS Enterprise Guide projects, SAS Stored Processes or any other SAS content? From here, I recommend asking them to describe an example, such as "Walk me through the steps you took, from data management to analytics to reporting to sharing that information in the organization."

What level of support have you provided for your SAS users?
For example, did the candidate act as a first line of defense when users ran into problems? Do they work with their internal SAS user and SAS technical support where needed? Were they on call overnight, if that is a necessary part of the job requirements? How comfortable do they seem to be with troubleshooting a problem? Have candidates walk you through an example.

Describe the typical administrative tasks you perform each day.
The response to this question could be anything from kicking off jobs, restarting servers and backing up the environment to supporting users with coding questions. You should quickly get a sense for the type of daily tasks the candidate is used to performing.

Technically speaking….
I make sure I have candidates talk to me about the technical side of SAS administration, at least one story or explanation of how certain tasks are performed. Here are some questions to get them talking about their hands-on experience:

  • “Describe to me how I would register a new table in SAS metadata”
  • “Describe to me how I would add a new user and what permissions I can give that user”
  • “What would you recommend I do for backing up my SAS environment?”
  • “What does SAS do with authentication domains?”
  • “How do you create a BASE engine library?”
  • “Can you prevent a user from or ?”
  • “What is an object spawner?”

If you have a current project, ask them “Here’s my scenario. What do you think I should do?” This is a favorite of mine. I really want to know their opinion. If they are honest with me, even if it means they are clearly outlining, “Well, Wendy, you really have a lot of work to do, and here’s X-Y-Z that you need to do”- that is great. You have a clear vision of the hard work that person will help you accomplish.

Do you have any other relevant experience?
Maybe the candidate has worked as a DBA. Maybe were an administrator for another software product. Maybe they’ve been a SAS user in another capacity. Get a sense for their technical savvy and their desire to learn something new. When I was very first hired to be a SAS administrator, I had never done it before- I had been a SAS programmer for a long time (more than 10 years), but had never been on the IT side of the house before. If I can learn it on the fly, I know there are others out there that can learn, too!

Don't forget to assess soft skills . . .
As I’m talking with the interviewee, I’m getting a sense of their technical ability as well as their interpersonal ability. Do they have the communication skills to explain something technically complex to a business user? Again, that might not be necessary for your environment. Add in questions that are relevant to your long-term vision of SAS and the roadmap to grow SAS. Will this person be a champion for SAS and for advanced analytics? Will this person help you go to the CIO and the CEO and explain why you need to hire more SAS users? Also, the most important of all, does this person have a quest to learn new things? If they do, they will help you troubleshoot even the most difficult of problems!

I hope these questions give you some good ideas of how to find a good SAS administrator. And if you’ve already found a good SAS administrator, go to them and say Thank You! They do so much for SAS and for your SAS users. For those of you that want to learn how to be a SAS administrator, hopefully this post gave you a good place to start. If you are looking to expand your knowledge of SAS administration, I recommend this training course: SAS Platform Administration: Fast Track.

I hope these questions give you some good ideas for finding a good SAS administrator. Please share some of your favorite interview questions!

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About Author

Wendy McHenry

Systems Engineer

Wendy McHenry is a Systems Engineer at SAS, and every day she gets to show her customers how SAS can help solve their problems. Her primary focus is on our SMB customers. Wendy has been a SAS user for over 17 years and joined SAS as an employee in the Fall of 2011. Her SAS focus areas include data management, business intelligence, and SAS Administration. In her spare time, she is a Girl Scout volunteer. Connect with Wendy on Twitter at: @wendymac98

13 Comments

  1. Hi Wendy,

    These are great questions and I can imagine they'll be seen in many more SAS admin interviews from now on.

    Another question I'd like to ask is "Describe any challenges you've experienced with the SAS Platform, the approach you took to investigate them, any solutions you came up with, and how you decided on a particular solution".

    I find problem solving is an invaluable skill for an administrator. I'd be looking for a methodical approach, an idea of the range of resources used to investigate/solve, and the decision process for choosing one solution over another, especially with respect to balancing complexity, robustness, skill requirements and maintainability.

    Cheers
    Paul

    • Thanks, Paul! That's a great point. I completely agree. Being able to problem solve- and especially on the fly and/or under a pressure situation- very valuable!
      Thank you for your feedback!
      Wendy

  2. Andrew Howell on

    Great list of questions.

    As part of migration, a good question would be not just about the TECHNICAL migration, but the migration of existing users' programming practices on to the new platform as well and any issues which arose. A common occurrence I've seen is the reluctance of PC-based programmers to let go of their local copy of SAS in favour of a centralised platform requiring them to use alternate SAS clients like Enterprise Guide (which in itself, is not so much an issue given it's programming capabilities, but then it raises the issue of migrating existing processes which might rely on local "X" commands, local libraries, etc).

    • Thank you, Andrew! You raise a valid concern, and one I have seen as well. Look for me to write a future blog post- or posts- on this topic. I agree that is an important hurdle to overcome.
      Thank you for your feedback!
      Wendy

  3. Pingback: SAS administrator roles and responsibilities: a recap - SAS Users Groups

  4. Hi Wendy,

    Great insight into what a SAS Admin can be.

    One of the things I have been working on of late, is defining what roles & responsibility the various SAS competent resources (real people) can occupy withing the context of an Enterprise Grid or Visual Analytic Environment. The tendency has been to silo roles & responsibilities as an organisation moves to more complex and performance oriented systems. This, in my view, truly limits the ability of people to operate at a high level. Customer focus and service delivery tends to get lost in all the process.

    Any insight or suggested readings would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers

    Charles

    • Christina Harvey
      Christina Harvey on

      Charles --

      Have you tried searching Lex Jansen's site for papers from SAS user conferences that relate how other organizations have defined roles and responsibilities?

      http://lexjansen.com

      I wonder if others are having the same experience. Please share your thoughts and opinions with Charles.
      Christina

  5. Great Post! Depending on the Site architecture, some exposure to GRID and lsf related basics should also be covered. More and more of the bigger clients are moving to grid architecture and experiences with lsf and how you enable grid enable various sas clients and /or experiences implementing would also be very helpful.
    Further, any version upgrades and data/metadata migration/promotion experiences are also some very good areas to check on.
    Cheers,
    Krish Putta

  6. Hi Wendy

    This post gave me lots of insights on what a SAS admin profile can be.

    Similar to your case, I have also got an opportunity to work as SAS admin. I have so far worked as SAS developer - for 6 years. I'm quite excited with the new opportunity and keen to learn SAS administration as well. I am just curious to know if the skill has good job market value as SAS.

    Thanks!

    • Thank you so much for your comment! If you look online, you will see reports that experience using SAS is a hot job market. I think SAS Administrators are always in demand because there just aren't that many out there. The combination of being a SAS user and knowing SAS Administration? I surely believe is a recipe for success 🙂
      Thanks!

  7. It's a good list of questions to start evaluating the SAS Platform Admin profiles. May be we need to dig deeper in the successive rounds of interviews as per the requirements.

  8. Avinash Ginjupalli on

    Great post and really good questions, as a experience SAS Administrator I found these questions are suitable to test the canidate knowlege on platform administration, along side we can add some more questions on architecture, performance tuning, grid, VA, LASR, LSF will make it more strong.
    Many sites are now moving to grid and some are hosting their environment in cloud and also some of them are having thier databases on cloud, so adding loud related questions will also help. And we should never forget hadoop 🙂 which is emerging very fast.

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