Goutam Chakraborty is a busy man. In addition to serving as SAS professor of marketing analytics at Oklahoma State University, Dr. Chakraborty is the director and founder of the SAS and Oklahoma State University MS in Business Analytics and an award winning author and professor. He teaches courses in such areas as business analytics, marketing analytics, data mining, marketing research, and web strategy, and has been preparing students to enter the workforce with advanced skills in marketing and analytics for more than 20 years. Throw in the regular consulting engagements he has with some of the world's top companies and it makes you wonder if Dr. Chakraborty has time to add anything else to his already full plate. Well, this year at least, you can add SAS Global Forum 2018 Chair to the list - likely at the expense of a good night's sleep.
As the largest gathering of SAS users in the world, SAS Global Forum will attract more than 5,000 SAS professionals for several days of learning and networking. Recently, I sat down with Dr. Chakraborty to talk with him a bit about this year's conference, which takes place April 8-11, 2018 in Denver. I left excited about SAS Global Forum 2018 and, at the expense of losing credibility as a fair and balanced reporter, convinced that Dr. Chakraborty is one of the nicest individuals you'll ever meet.
Larry LaRusso: I know you've been preparing to chair SAS Global Forum 2018 for more than three years, but now that the event is only a few weeks away, how excited are you to kick this thing off?
Goutam Chakraborty: More excited than you know Larry. I've participated in many SAS Global Forums, but serving as chair gives you the ability to influence every aspect of the event, from speaker and content selection to charity-related events and networking opportunities. It's been a wonderful opportunity to give back to the SAS user community, one I'll never forget.
LL: What excites you most about this year's event?
GC: There are so many new things about this year's conference, all geared toward providing an enriching experience for all SAS users. I'll mention three that immediately come to mind.
One thing we've tried to do well this year is connect industry with academics. While we'll have a full program of events and talks specifically geared toward students and professors, this year we'll emphasize partnerships with industries in a new way. I might be most excited about Sunday's Talent Connection. This event brings students and SAS professionals together to network, discuss career opportunities and share knowledge, research and partnership opportunities that might exist with each other. I anticipate it being a great success for both students and industry looking to connect with young analytical talent.
Another strong focus for us is career development and learning for SAS users at all levels. We'll have a full menu of traditional training and certification opportunities for data scientists, business and data analysts and SAS programmers, but we're also providing opportunities to build on soft-skills development, such as networking, analytical story-telling and much more. We'll also have an on-site Learning Lab, available for several hours each day, where users can explore more than 25 e-learning courses for free.
Finally, I'll mention our volunteer opportunities. We'll have several ways for users to give back, but I'm particularly excited about our STEM-related charity event. During meals and evening networking receptions, both Monday and Tuesday, attendees will have the opportunity to work with RAFT Colorado (Resource Area For Teaching), and build STEM-inspired teaching kits for local teachers to use in their classrooms. Each kit will repurpose educational items RAFT has collected and make them available to teachers as creative tools for teaching STEM – inspiring the next generation of thinkers, innovators, problem-solvers and creators. It's an extraordinary opportunity to impact local area children.
LL: Speaking of extraordinary, this year's conference theme is "Inspire the Extraordinary." What does that theme mean to you?
GC: It means never accept "good enough." I always tell my students to push for something above and beyond what's expected of them, to be extra-ordinary. We expect the same for this year's SAS Global Forum. Knowing the event like I do, I feel confident we're going to deliver a SAS Global Forum that surprises and delights our users in a way they didn't expect.
LL: We all know that one of the best things about SAS Global Forum is its incredible content. What can you tell us about the content you’re putting together for this year’s event?
GC: Thanks to tons of hard work and research from a lot of SAS users, we've selected fantastic content from renowned speakers from across the world. Perhaps the best part of our content planning this year is the variety. Topics range from deep hard-core programming to high-level strategic thinking about data and analytics. From sessions that will help you to develop yourself personally as a better human-being to learning about optimizing Monday night NFL schedule for best viewership to thinking strategically about data as a currency – there is something of value for everyone.
LL: SAS Global Forum is likely to attract more than 5,000 data scientists, analytics professionals and business leaders. Every year it amazes me how many of those users are attending SAS Global Forum for the first time. What advice would you give first-timers?
GC: First piece of advice: Have a plan and build a personalized agenda so you don’t get overwhelmed by the large number of available sessions. Second, take every opportunity to engage and network with other attendees. One of the best things about this conference is how willing veteran SAS users (regulars at this conference) are to help and welcome newcomers. So, take advantage of it. If you are sitting down for breakfast or lunch, take the time to introduce yourself to people around you. You may be surprised where it could lead. I'd also encourage attendees to take time to visit the Quad. The Quad is a casual and interactive space where attendees can network with other SAS enthusiasts, view demos and visit with experts from SAS and our sponsors. And, last but not the least, have some fun! Attend the social events we have planned, especially the Kick Back Party at Mile High Stadium on Tuesday evening.
LL: As an academician, I know you’re passionate about learning? What additional learning opportunities, beyond the session talks, are available to attendees?
GC: There are so many learning opportunities at SAS Global Forum that it is mind-numbing. Of course, the 20 and 50 minute session talks are the main modes of content delivery, but there are also e-posters, table talks and super demos in the Quad. We'll also have dozens of pre-conference tutorials, post-conference training, and all the activity in the Learning Labs, including hands-on workshops and the ability to take individual e-learning courses.
LL: Given your personal interests, I know one of your goals for this year’s conference is to increase participation in the event for students and professors. Can you tell me a little more about the special events you have planned for this audience?
GC: For starters, SAS Global Forum is completely “free” for students! As long as you are a full-time enrolled student of an accredited, degree-granting academic institution you can attend free of charge. There are credit hour minimums that must be reached to be eligible, so I'd encourage students to visit the website for complete details.
Programmatically, we have the Sunday afternoon sessions entirely dedicated to academics. We have a fantastic academic keynote speaker, Temple Grandin from Colorado State University, and special training sessions for professors interested in teaching analytics at their universities. For students, we offer a number of opportunities to network and special courses, such as how to best use social media for networking while looking for a job, to help them make a successful transition from student to working professional. We also encourage students, and really anyone who has an interest, to attend the presentations students make as winners of the SAS Global Forum Student Symposium Student Symposium. Though closed now, the Symposium provides an opportunity for teams of two to four students and a faculty adviser to showcase their skills and compete with other teams in the application of SAS Analytics in solving a big data problem. This year, more than 60 teams entered; the top eight will present 20-minute talks during the event.
LL: Dr. Chakraborty, I've taken a lot of your time, but is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
GC: Actually, I'd like to thank the many volunteers who have helped put this conference together. From serving on our SAS Global Users Group Executive Board to helping evaluate and select talks, to serving in our Presenter Mentor Program, hundreds of users have invested their time to make this conference the best one yet. SAS Global Forum is truly a user's conference and we depend on the user community to plan, promote and execute so many tasks and activities related to the event. Though I can't call them out by name, I would be remiss if I didn't mention their contributions and take a minute to thank them.
LL: Well let's hope they're reading! Dr. Chakraborty, I want to thank you again for your time. I look forward to seeing you in Denver in April.