Here is an interview with John Sall, inventor of SAS and JMP and co-founder and co-owner of SAS Institute, the largest independent business intelligence and analytics software firm. In a free wheeling and exclusive interview, John talks of the long journey within SAS and his experiences in helping make JMP the data visualization software of choice.
JMP is perfect for anyone who wants to do exploratory data analysis and modeling in a visual and interactive way – John Sall
Ajay- Describe your early science career. How would you encourage today’s generation to take up science and math careers?
John- I was a history major in college, but I graduated into a weak job market. So I went to graduate school and discovered statistics and computer science to be very captivating. Of course, I grew up in the moon-race science generation and was always a science enthusiast.
Ajay- Archimedes leapt out the bath shouting “Eureka” when he discovered his principle. Could you describe a “Eureka” moment while creating the SAS language when you and Jim Goodnight were working on it?
John- I think that the moments of discovery were more like “Oh, we were idiots” as we kept having to rewrite much of the product to handle emerging environments, like CMS, minicomputers, bitmap workstations, personal computers, Windows, client-server, and now the cloud. Several of the rewrites were even changing the language we implemented it in. But making the commitment to evolve led to an amazing sequence of growth that is still going on after 35 years.
Ajay- Describe the origins of JMP. What specific market segments does the latest release of JMP target?
John- JMP emerged from a recognition of two things: size and GUI. SAS’ enterprise footprint was too big a commitment for some potential users, and we needed a product to really take advantage of graphical interactivity. It was a little later that JMP started being dedicated more to the needs of engineering and science users, who are most of our current customers.
Ajay- What other non-SAS Institute software do you admire or have you worked with? Which areas is JMP best suited for? For which areas would you recommend software other than JMP to customers?
John- My favorite software was the Metrowerks CodeWarrior development environment. Sadly, it was abandoned among various Macintosh transitions, and now we are stuck with the open-source GCC and Xcode. It’s free, but it’s not as good.
JMP is perfect for anyone who wants to do exploratory data analysis and modeling in a visual and interactive way. This is something organizations of all kinds want to do. For analytics beyond what JMP can do, I recommend SAS, which has unparalleled breadth, depth and power in its analytic methods.
Ajay- I have yet to hear of a big academic push for JMP distribution in Asia. Are there any plans to distribute JMP for free or at very discounted prices in academic institutions in countries like India, China or even the rest of the USA?
John- We are increasing our investment in supporting academic institutions, but it has not been an area of strength for us. Professors seem to want the package they learned long ago, the language that is free or the spreadsheet program their business students already have. JMP’s customers do tell us that they wish the universities would train their prospective future employees in JMP, but the universities haven’t been hearing them. Fortunately, JMP is easy enough to pick up after you enter the work world. JMP does substantially discount prices for academic users.
Ajay- What are your views on tech offshoring, given the recession in the United States?
John- As you know, our products are mostly made in the USA, but we do have growing R&D operations in Pune and Beijing that have been performing very well. Even when the software is authored in the US, considerable work happens in each country to localize, customize and support our local users, and this will only increase as we become more service-oriented. In this recession, JMP has still been growing steadily.
Ajay- What advice would you give to young graduates in this recession? How does learning JMP enhance their prospect of getting a job?
John- Quantitative fields have been fairly resistant to the recession. North Carolina State University, near the SAS campus, even has a Master of Science in Analytics < http://analytics.ncsu.edu/ > to get people job-ready. JMP experience certainly helps get jobs at our major customers.
Ajay- What does John Sall do in his free time, when not creating world-class companies or groovy statistical discovery software?
John- I lead the JMP division, which has been a fairly small part of a large software company (SAS), but JMP is becoming bigger than the whole company was when JMP was started. In my spare time, I go to meetings and travel with the Nature Conservancy <http://www.nature.org/ >, North Carolina State University <http:// http://ncsu.edu/ >, WWF <http://wwf.org/ >, CARE <http://www.care.org/ > and several other nonprofit organizations that my wife or I work with.
John Sall is a co-founder and Executive Vice President of SAS, the world’s largest privately held software company. He also leads the JMP business division, which creates interactive and highly visual data analysis software for the desktop.
Sall joined Jim Goodnight and two others in 1976 to establish SAS. He designed, developed and documented many of the earliest analytical procedures for Base SAS® software and was the initial author of SAS/ETS® software and SAS/IML®. He also led the R&D effort that produced SAS/OR®, SAS/QC® and Version 6 of Base SAS.
Sall was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1998 and has held several positions in the association’s Statistical Computing section. He serves on the board of The Nature Conservancy, reflecting his strong interest in international conservation and environmental issues. He also is a member of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Board of Trustees. In 1997, Sall and his wife, Ginger, contributed to the founding of Cary Academy, an independent college preparatory day school for students in grades 6 through 12.
Sall received a bachelor’s degree in history from Beloit College in Beloit, WI, and a master’s degree in economics from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. He studied graduate-level statistics at NCSU, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2003.
Originally nicknamed as John’s Macintosh Program, JMP is a leading software program in data visualization for statistical software. Researchers and engineers – whose jobs didn’t revolve solely around statistical analysis – needed an easy-to-use and affordable stats program. A new software product, today known as JMP®, was launched in 1989 to dynamically link statistical analysis with the graphical capabilities of Macintosh computers. Now running on all platforms, JMP continues to play an important role in modeling processes across industries as a desktop data visualization tool. It also provides a visual interface to SAS in an expanding line of solutions that includes SAS Visual BI and SAS Visual Data Discovery. Sall remains the lead architect for JMP.
Ajay- I am thankful to John and his marketing communication specialist Arati for this interview.With an increasing focus on data to drive more rational decision making, SAS remains an interesting company to watch for in the era of mega- vendors and any SAS Institute deal and alliance will be making potential investment bankers as well as newer customers drool. For previous interviews and coverage of SAS please use www.decisionstats.com/tag/sas