In this interview, top SAS Programmer Marje Fecht shares some of the best tips, strategies, and techniques for becoming a top SAS programmer. There are three areas of focus she recommend potential programmers pay attention to. First, is to work on building a solid foundation of SAS knowledge – particularly formal education, including ongoing knowledge and active use of what you learn. The second tip discussed in the interview is that of networking – globally and in your community both from a technical perspective and a business knowledge perspective. Her third piece of advice is to expand your knowledge via sharing your knowledge with others. In addition to these points, Marje Fecht also talks about his favorite procedure: PROC COMPARE. PROC COMPARE makes it very easy for you to handle what is the same versus what should be different. He discusses how PROC COMPARE allows for dataset options like “rename equal”, “keep equal” and “were equal” and he highly recommends its use.
I got my Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and when I started working on my master’s degree that’s when I really got into statistics as well as getting into software packages like SAS and SPSS and BMDP. And during that time, SAS 1979 version had come out and the book was all about 1 inch thick. So I read the book cover to cover that summer and really mastered the SAS software. And that kind of was a turning point in my career at the university because I also began teaching both statistics and computers, mostly computer packages, to the graduate students so they could use SAS and SPSS and BMDP for their research that they were working on. So after I finished my university work I was lucky enough to secure a job teaching contract for SAS Institute. And I traveled around the U.S. teaching a lot of their courses for about two years. And after that point in time, SAS bought me on full time and I began working for them as an instructor and also a training center manager.
One of the things I want to highlight about that opportunity is by going into different customer sites and teaching SAS software, not only did I learn how they were using SAS but I also learned a lot about their business. And so being able to teach SAS software in so many different environments really helped me understand the financial world; that helped me understand the pharmaceuticals; that helped me understand academia, retail, and the many different industries that SAS is used in.
So I kept doing that for 16 years full time for SAS and then in 2000 I joined Prework consulting and I’ve been doing consulting work in a lot of the largest banks in Canada and also worked in the U.S. as well over the last 17 years. And that work has been in reporting and analytics. I use SAS very heavily as well as some other software and some other tools. And along the way I also started teaching again which is a real love of mine, it’s so much fun to be in the classroom and share knowledge and learn from the students. So for the last many years I’ve been both consulting and teaching for large corporations and also teaching in academic settings as well.
Can you propose 3 valuable tips or strategies that are necessary to become a top SAS Programmer?
And the first and most important as they’re getting started is really to get a solid foundation on their SAS knowledge. So that would mean some type of formal education. And there’s so much available both in the classroom as well as through some of the free e-learning that SAS offers. The reason that formal education is so important is that you need to have the foundation of how SAS thinks. What the SAS does behind the scenes. What happens in the data step or in DS2? And so that formal education really grounds them and helps them know what’s going on within SAS. And then education becomes just ongoing. For the rest of your career what I recommend is continuing to gather knowledge. But what’s most important is when you gather knowledge; make sure that you also use it. I firmly believe that as people sit through training classes if they don’t have some immediate way in which they can use what they’ve learned the are probably going to forget it or they’re going to forget the intricacies of it. So point number one is education, ongoing knowledge, and really use what you have learnt.
Number two is networking. And when I talk about networking I don’t just mean networking with those in your company. What I recommend is that you network not only with the people that you work with but also with other people in your local community both from a technical perspective and a business knowledge perspective and as well networked globally. And now it’s so easy to have a global network of SAS experts or business knowledge experts that you can draw on when you run into problems. And that network really helps open up your eyes about what else you can do with the software and what else you can do when you’re trying to figure out the right slant from a business perspective.
Number three on my list would be then sharing the knowledge. And the reason I recommend that people share their knowledge through either presentations or in the classroom or a one-on-one mentoring with their business associates; the reason is that when you’re sharing knowledge you actually learn a whole lot. By talking somebody through a problem you start to listen to their perspective and you realize that there’s actually other ways that you can solve that same problem. So by sharing knowledge you actually end up expanding your knowledge as well. So it becomes a continuum.
So with those three: with education and ongoing knowledge with networking and with sharing your knowledge I think those are the three keys to becoming a top SAS programmer.
Which SAS procedure do you find the most useful (do you use most often)?
Absolutely I have a favorite SAS PROC and one that I cannot live without and it’s called PROC COMPARE. Unfortunately not all people know all about it or use PROC COMPARE. But the reason it is my favorite is I am continually updating my programs with enhancements or trying to improve their performance or adding new fields, new formulas etc. and because I work pretty much in a production environment it is important to me to make sure that the original results and the results that I get from the enhanced program are exactly the same where they should be. So I need to make sure that my variables have the same types and lengths. I need to make sure that the data values are the same and PROC COMPARE does that for you easily. And some people say well the two data sets shouldn’t be exactly alike, maybe 18 out of the 20 variables should be the same, and 2 should be different because I changed them. But PROC COMPARE makes it very easy for you to handle what is the same versus what should be different.
So just like I can do in the data step or I can do any other procedure, I can use dataset options like “rename equal”, “keep equal” and “were equal”. And those options allow me to isolate the portions of the data that should be the same, so I can compare and get the wonderful message – all values are equal, and also isolate those fields that I’m expecting to be different and then confirm what the differences are.
Any closing words?
I appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk with you today and be part of your SAS GURU series. It’s a wonderful series for getting information out to the SAS community.
One final suggestion I have for people who are trying to advance in their careers both from the SAS perspective and from an analytics perspective is attend conferences. Conferences are a great place where you can enjoy all three of my suggestions.
Number one being education and ongoing enhancement of your knowledge. Number two being networking and number three sharing your knowledge. So whether you participate in a local user group, a regional user group, or you attend a SAS local forum, make sure you get out there and enjoy the conferences and all that they have to offer. Thank you both for letting me participate today.