SAS – Access to Software

If you’re learning to use SAS, whether at school or home, having access to the software on your own is a benefit. SAS has three different methods that you can use to access their Base software for free. This includes access to the SAS Base + SAS/STAT + SAS/IML for free. Some of the Time Series procedures are not available. I’m not sure why the Time Series procedures are in their own package and not part of SAS/STAT.

The three different methods to access SAS for free are:

SAS University Edition – via download
SAS University Edition – via AWS
SAS Academics on Demand

Regardless of which method you choose, you will be interacting with SAS via SAS Studio which is a web based method of interacting with SAS. The browser is used to send commands to a server which sends the results back to your computer. In the downloaded version, the server is set up ‘virtually’ on a virtual machine on your computer. In AWS and AoD, the server is either on Amazon’s server or SAS’s servers. AWS can incur a charge, and will after 1 year after your initial set up. This is an Amazon restriction, free useage of their micro tier for 1 year. The charge estimates for Canada were approximately $8.64 a month
if the server was kept running 24/7. If you remember to suspend the instance when not using the charge will be less.  Other charges can be incurred if you transfer large data sets to AWS. AoD and SAS UE on desktop have no charge.

SAS UE that runs on your desktop ensures your data stays locally. However, if you work on
a multitude of computers, ie work, home, school and want access to your programs and data anywhere a cloud solution is your best option.

You have more control over the SAS on your computer, as you can set the RAM and make sure your computer is not working on anything else, if required. Your files are always available as text files on your desktop.

SAS provides some basic support for all of these versions via support.sas.com and communities.sas.com

Disclosure: This post was not paid for and nor did I receive any benefits from SAS from posting.

What I’ve Learned From Being a Consultant

Things I’ve learned from being a consultant

Working from the government pays the bills, consulting on the side pays for toys :).

Organization

I’m the only working on this project, so you’d think you can organize it any way I’d want, right? No. At any time the client can ask for anything, including the full code and it is my belief if they’ve paid for it then they should get it. The code is mine, but was developed for them so they can have it. Maintaining code isn’t very much fun so I don’t worry too much about putting myself out of a job.

Time Management

Clients want things with a quick turnaround. Sometimes this means doing things at lunch time or spending time after work. When its my own time and means less tv or vacation time, it gets spent wisely. Also, see Organization. Being organized saves me and the client time. The time taken to organize things is probably equivalent to billing for time spend search for things.

Communication Skills

Rarely does a client ask for what they end up with the first time around, unless its repeat such and such for me.  This means working with clients to flesh out questions. If you get it wrong, then you waste time and that time gets billed to the client.  People generally don’t like paying for work that wasn’t what they requested. Especially, since I’m sure what they said was clear in their mind. Communication isn’t only listening to what a person says, its hearing what they want and sometimes that isn’t said.

Different Tool Sets

If a client uses SPSS, SAS, or R, then that’s what you’re working with on this project.  It’s good to know at least the basics in a few languages and how to look up things in those languages as well.

Design

If I can generate the results on time, on budget that’s great. If those results are copy and paste insert into the manuscript/PDF/powerpoint presentation that’s 10 times better.  I’ll admit some of the designs would never had occurred to me, but come from clients requests.  However, seeing something once I can learn and adapt that design to other uses.

Working in Government – Negatives

  1. Training – There simply isn’t the budget and will to allow staff to develop skills by attending conferences out of the province or country, training sessions and courses on a regular basis. Fortunately, there is now Google and an abundance of on-line courses so I can maintain my skills, but a good portion is at my own expense and time.  I can’t imagine how staff 20 years ago maintained their skill set. In fact, I can see that a lot of staff hasn’t. This is particularly short-sighted initiative from the government. You don’t know what you don’t know and the only way to learn things is to see what other people are doing, including in other provinces and countries. It’s one thing to sit around a room and discuss things, but the conversations that happen at conferences are probably where I’ve learned the most. I’ve also made some great connections, which means when I get stuck with something I can email someone I met in Las Vegas or Montreal and ask what they do in the same situation.  
  2. Speed – The rate of change in government is extremely slow. For someone like me, with not a huge amount of patience, waiting 6 months for the latest version of software or getting a new piece of software is extremely frustrating.
  3. Collaboration – There really is a lack of collaboration within government, with respect to people working together. I’m not sure why this is, or if it’s just the ‘culture’ where I’ve happened to work. I can definitely say the best places I’ve worked, have emphasized collaboration.  When collaborating, there’s always someone to say well-done and why did the hell did you do that. Those simple checks can go a long way in accomplishing projects.
  4. Lack of bonuses – The base pay within government is not bad, but there are no incentives to work harder. There isn’t any options to reward staff who’ve done well, even with a day off, an extra something in the pay check.  If you’re lucky you’ll get a beer and some wings.
  5. Mandatory union and pension contributions – The upsides of being in a union and pension are definitely weighed down by the expenses, specifically the pension contributions. I take home less than 60% of my actual pay check but live in the province with one of the lowest tax rates.  A large portion goes to the pension contribution. When I’m just starting out, I’d probably prefer more to put on my mortgage and get a new car, but I don’t get the choice.  In the long run, I’m not sure this is bad, but right now its a pain in the ass.

Make sure to also read my post on Working in Government – Positives

Working in Government – Positives

5 reasons that its nice to work in government:

  1. Job Stability: I belong to a union. The odds of being laid off are very slim, once I past probation and unless your a total idiot they generally work with you or find a position that fits your skill set.
  2. Contribute to Society: the things I work on have an effect on peoples lives. I can help make decisions that improve peoples lives and future well-being. Most of the time this effect is visible in the short term, though once in a while it will take years to see the effect.
  3. Work – Life Balance: Rarely do I have to work overtime, and if I do, I get the time back. Additionally, I work a very regular 8-4:30 schedule that leaves me time to schedule life. Also, I’m on a alternate work arrangement schedule that allows me to work a little extra every day and then take every third Friday off. That means at least one long weekend every month, in addition to the mandatory statutory holidays. It also means that second jobs are manageable.
  4. Defined-Benefit Pension: Retiree’s today from the governments defined benefit contribution plan have a very healthy payback. This means that you can save less in an RRSP. The contribution levels are high, about 11%, and it remains to be seen if the plan is in place when I’m ready to retire. Assuming I stay with government for that long.
  5. Low Expectations: Let’s face it, the best and brightest rarely go in to government. The salary and opportunities are lacking. There isn’t a lot of competition to be the best in your field or area. This could equally be nice or bad so I’m gonna call it a tie.
  6. Variability: Depending on what Ministry or area your workload shifts as things become popular. This means priorities can shift at a moments notice, but it also means you get to work on different and interesting things.
  7. Make sure to read my post on Working in Government – Negatives

A rose by any other name….

I have a Masters in Statistics. This means I spent at least 6 years studying statistics at some university (University of Alberta) and know a few things about stats.  All of this allows me to label myself a ‘statistician’.  However, in the past 9 years that I’ve been working I don’t believe my job title has ever been a statistician.  I have been a:

  • Risk Analyst
  • Resource Analyst
  • Biostatistician
  • Business Intelligence Analyst
  • Methodologist

Biostatistician is the closest title to statistician; all of the positions were very numbers oriented and all of them taught me very different things that have come in useful in my career.  I will say, that even though all of them were numbers oriented, one thing they all required was clear and concise communication skills. Something I’m still working on.