Interview Alison Bolen SAS.com

My biggest editing soapbox right now is to encourage brevity. We’re so used to writing white papers, brochures and magazine articles that the concept of throwing down 200 words on a topic from your day is a very foreign exercise. –

 

Alison Bolen  Editor-in-Chief sascom

Here is an interview with Alison Bolen the editor-in-chief of SAScom , online magazaine of the SAS Institute. Alison talks of the challenges in maintaining several of the topmost expertise blogs on SAS ,Business Analytics and Business Intelligence.

Ajay- Describe your career in the technology writing and publishing area. What advice would you give to young Web publishers and content producers just entering the job market in this recession? Describe your journey within SAS.

Alison- I started at SAS in 1999 as a summer student working as a contributing editor for SAS Communications magazine. Before the end of the year, I came on full time and soon transitioned to writing and editing for the Web. At that time, we were just developing the strategy for the customer support site and e-newsletters. As the first editor for the SAS Tech Report, I led marketing efforts that brought in 15,000 opt-in subscribers within six months. A year later, I switched to writing and editing customer success stories, which I enjoyed doing until I took on the role of Editor-in-Chief for sascom® magazine in 2006. We started our blogging program in 2007, and I’ve been actively involved in coaching SAS bloggers for the past two years.

Outside of SAS, I’ve written for Southwest Hydrology Magazine, the Arizona Daily Star and other regional papers. My bachelor’s degree is in magazine journalism and my master’s degree is in technical and business communications.

If you’re just beginning your career as a writer, start a blog and stick with it. There’s no better way to get daily writing practice, learn the basics of search engine optimization and start to understand what works online.

Ajay www.SAS.com/Blogs has many, many blogs by experts, RSS feeds and even covers the annual SAS conference with video content. In terms of social media adaptation, what prompts you to stay ahead of the competition in ensuring marketing and technical communications for brand awareness?

What do you think are the basics of setting up a social media presence for a company, regardless of size?

Alison- Social media excites me because you can cut through the clutter and be real. Our new business forecasting blog by Michael Gilliland is a good example. Teaching people how to forecast better is his top priority, not selling software. Our overarching goal for the blogging program is similar: to share and develop expertise.

We’re big advocates of aligning your social media presence with existing marketing goals. We have a few grass-roots teams interested in social media, and we have a director-level Marketing 2.0 Council that our Social Media Manager Dave Thomas leads to determine broad guidelines and strategies. But the overarching concept is to look at the goals of your individual marketing campaigns first, and then determine which social media channels might help you reach those goals.

Most of all, take off your marketing hat when you enter the blog, network or forum. Social media consists of individuals, for the most part, and not companies, so be sure to offer value as a colleague and build relationships.

Ajay- I noticed that SAS.com/ Blogs are almost ad free – even of SAS products – apart from a simple banner of the company. Was this a deliberate decision, and if so, why?

Alison- Yes, most of the SAS blogs were intentionally created to help establish the individual blogger’s expertise – not to promote SAS products or services. One positive side effect is that SAS – by extension – builds credibility as well. But we really do see the blogs as a place to discuss concepts and ideas more than products and tools.

Ajay- What distinguishes good writers on blogs from bad writers on blogs? How about some tips for technical blog writing and especially editing (since many writers need editors more than they realize)?

Alison- The best blog writers know how to simplify and explain even the most mundane, everyday processes. This is true of personal and technical blog writing. If you can look at your life or your work and see what piece of it others would find interesting or want to know more about – and then know how to describe that sliver of yourself clearly – you have what it takes to be a good blogger. Chris Hemedinger does this well on The SAS Dummy blog.

My biggest editing soapbox right now is to encourage brevity. We’re so used to writing white papers, brochures and magazine articles at SAS that the concept of throwing down 200 words on a random topic from your day is a very foreign exercise. You have to learn how to edit your day – not just your writing – to find those topics and distill those thoughts into quick snippets that keep readers interested. And don’t forget it’s okay to have fun!

Ajay- I balance one blog, small consulting assignments and being a stay-at-home dad for an 18-month old. How easy is it for you to balance being editor of sascom, given the huge content your sites create, and three kids? Does working for SAS and its employee-friendly reputation help you do so?

Alison- I couldn’t balance work and kids without a whole lot of help from friends and family, that’s for sure. And the employee-friendly benefits help too. The biggest benefit is the cultural mindset, though, not any individual policy. My boss and my boss’ boss are both working mothers, and they’re balancing the same types of schedules. There’s an understanding about finding a healthy work-life balance that permeates SAS from top to bottom.

Ajay- As a social media consultant it is a weekly struggle for me to convince companies to discontinue registration for normal content (but keep it for special events), use a lot more video tutorials and share content freely across the Web. Above all, convincing busy senior managers to start writing a blog or an article is an exercise in diplomacy itself. How do you convince senior managers to devote time to content creation?

Alison- In a lot of areas, the content is already being created for analyst presentations, press interviews and consulting briefs. It’s really a matter of understanding how to take those existing materials and re-present them in a more personal voice. Not everyone can – or should – do it. You have to decide if you have the voice for it and whether or not it will bring you value beyond what you’re getting through your existing channels.

Ajay- Any plans to visit India and have a SAS India blogathon?

Alison- Alas, not this year.

Maybe I will visit Cary,NC then 🙂


Bio:
Alison Bolen is the Editor of sascom magazine and the sascom voices blog, where SAS experts publish their thoughts on popular and emerging business and technology trends worldwide. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs.

Alison holds a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.

1) Describe your career in the technology writing and publishing area. What advice would you give to young Web publishers and content producers just entering the job market in this recession? Describe your journey within SAS.

I started at SAS in 1999 as a summer student working as a contributing editor for SAS Communications magazine. Before the end of the year, I came on full time and soon transitioned to writing and editing for the Web. At that time, we were just developing the strategy for the customer support site and e-newsletters. As the first editor for the SAS Tech Report, I led marketing efforts that brought in 15,000 opt-in subscribers within six months. A year later, I switched to writing and editing customer success stories, which I enjoyed doing until I took on the role of Editor-in-Chief for sascom® magazine in 2006. We started our blogging program in 2007, and I’ve been actively involved in coaching SAS bloggers for the past two years.

Outside of SAS, I’ve written for Southwest Hydrology Magazine, the Arizona Daily Star and other regional papers. My bachelor’s degree is in magazine journalism and my master’s degree is in technical and business communications.

If you’re just beginning your career as a writer, start a blog and stick with it. There’s no better way to get daily writing practice, learn the basics of search engine optimization and start to understand what works online.
2) SAS.com/Blogs has many, many blogs by experts, RSS feeds and even covers the annual SAS conference with video content. In terms of social media adaptation, what prompts you to stay ahead of the competition in ensuring marketing and technical communications for brand awareness?

What do you think are the basics of setting up a social media presence for a company, regardless of size?

Social media excites me because you can cut through the clutter and be real. Our new business forecasting blog by Michael Gilliland is a good example. Teaching people how to forecast better is his top priority, not selling software. Our overarching goal for the blogging program is similar: to share and develop expertise.

We’re big advocates of aligning your social media presence with existing marketing goals. We have a few grass-roots teams interested in social media, and we have a director-level Marketing 2.0 Council that our Social Media Manager Dave Thomas leads to determine broad guidelines and strategies. But the overarching concept is to look at the goals of your individual marketing campaigns first, and then determine which social media channels might help you reach those goals.

Most of all, take off your marketing hat when you enter the blog, network or forum. Social media consists of individuals, for the most part, and not companies, so be sure to offer value as a colleague and build relationships.


3) I noticed that SAS.com/ Blogs are almost ad free – even of SAS products – apart from a simple banner of the company. Was this a deliberate decision, and if so, why?

Yes, most of the SAS blogs were intentionally created to help establish the individual blogger’s expertise – not to promote SAS products or services. One positive side effect is that SAS – by extension – builds credibility as well. But we really do see the blogs as a place to discuss concepts and ideas more than products and tools.
4) What distinguishes good writers on blogs from bad writers on blogs? How about some tips for technical blog writing and especially editing (since many writers need editors more than they realize)?

The best blog writers know how to simplify and explain even the most mundane, everyday processes. This is true of personal and technical blog writing. If you can look at your life or your work and see what piece of it others would find interesting or want to know more about – and then know how to describe that sliver of yourself clearly – you have what it takes to be a good blogger. Chris Hemedinger does this well on The SAS Dummy blog.

My biggest editing soapbox right now is to encourage brevity. We’re so used to writing white papers, brochures and magazine articles at SAS that the concept of throwing down 200 words on a random topic from your day is a very foreign exercise. You have to learn how to edit your day – not just your writing – to find those topics and distill those thoughts into quick snippets that keep readers interested. And don’t forget it’s okay to have fun!
5) I balance one blog, small consulting assignments and being a stay-at-home dad for an 18-month old. How easy is it for you to balance being editor of sascom, given the huge content your sites create, and three kids? Does working for SAS and its employee-friendly reputation help you do so?

I couldn’t balance work and kids without a whole lot of help from friends and family, that’s for sure. And the employee-friendly benefits help too. The biggest benefit is the cultural mindset, though, not any individual policy. My boss and my boss’ boss are both working mothers, and they’re balancing the same types of schedules. There’s an understanding about finding a healthy work-life balance that permeates SAS from top to bottom.

6) As a social media consultant it is a weekly struggle for me to convince companies to discontinue registration for normal content (but keep it for special events), use a lot more video tutorials and share content freely across the Web. Above all, convincing busy senior managers to start writing a blog or an article is an exercise in diplomacy itself. How do you convince senior managers to devote time to content creation?

In a lot of areas, the content is already being created for analyst presentations, press interviews and consulting briefs. It’s really a matter of understanding how to take those existing materials and re-present them in a more personal voice. Not everyone can – or should – do it. You have to decide if you have the voice for it and whether or not it will bring you value beyond what you’re getting through your existing channels.

7) Any plans to visit India and have a SAS India blogathon?

Alas, not this year.

Interview David Smith REvolution Computing

Here is an Interview with REvolution Computing’s Director of Community David Smith.

Our development team spent more than six months making R work on 64-bit Windows (and optimizing it for speed), which we released as REvolution R Enterprise bundled with ParallelR.” David Smith

Ajay -Tell us about your journey in science. In particular tell us what attracted you to R and the open source movement.

David- I got my start in science in 1990 working with CSIRO (the government science organization in Australia) after I completed my degree in mathematics and computer science. Seeing the diversity of projects the statisticians there worked on really opened my eyes to statistics as the way of objectively answering questions about science.

That’s also when I was first introduced to the S language, the forerunner of R. I was hooked immediately; it was just so natural for doing the work I had to do. I also had the benefit of a wonderful mentor, Professor Bill Venables, who at the time was teaching S to CSIRO scientists at remote stations around Australia. He brought me along on his travels as an assistant. I learned a lot about the practice of statistical computing helping those scientists solve their problems (and got to visit some great parts of Australia, too).

Ajay- How do you think we should help bring more students to the fields of mathematics and science-

David- For me, statistics is the practical application of mathematics to the real world of messy data, complex problems and difficult conclusions. And in recent years, lots of statistical problems have broken out of geeky science applications to become truly mainstream, even sexy. In our new information society, graduating statisticians have a bright future ahead of them which I think will inevitably draw more students to the field.

Ajay- Your blog at REVolution Computing is one of the best technical corporate blogs. In particular the monthly round up of new packages, R events and product launches all written in a lucid style. Are there any plans for a REvolution computing community or network as well instead of just the blog.

David- Yes, definitely. We recently hired Danese Cooper as our Open Source Diva to help us in this area. Danese has a wealth of experience building open-source communities, such as for Java at Sun. We’ll be announcing some new community initiatives this summer. In the meantime, of course, we’ll continue with the Revolutions blog, which has proven to be a great vehicle for getting the word out about R to a community that hasn’t heard about it before. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, by the way — it’s been a lot of fun to write. It will be a continuing part of our community strategy, and I even plan to expand the roster of authors in the future, too. (If you’re an aspiring R blogger, please get in touch!)

Ajay- I kind of get confused between what exactly is 32 bit or 64 bit computing in terms of hardware and software. What is the deal there. How do Enterprise solutions from REvolution take care of the 64 bit computing. How exactly does Parallel computing and optimized math libraries in REvolution R help as compared to other flavors of R.

David– Fundamentally, 64-bit systems allow you to process larger data sets with R — as long as you have a version of R compiled to take advantage of the increased memory available. (I wrote about some of the technical details behind this recently on the blog.)  One of the really exciting trends I’ve noticed over the past 6 months is that R is being applied to larger and more complex problems in areas like predictive analytics and social networking data, so being able to process the largest data sets is key.

One common mis perception is that 64-bit systems are inherently faster than their 32-bit equivalents, but this isn’t generally the case. To speed up large problems, the best approach is to break the problem down into smaller components and run them in parallel on multiple machines. We created the ParallelR suite of packages to make it easy to break down such problems in R and run them on a multiprocessor workstation, a local cluster or grid, or even cloud computing systems like Amazon’s EC2 .

” While the core R team produces versions of R for 64-bit Linux systems, they don’t make one for Windows. Our development team spent more than six months making R work on 64-bit Windows (and optimizing it for speed), which we released as REvolution R Enterprise bundled with ParallelR. We’re excited by the scale of the applications our subscribers are already tackling with a combination of 64-bit and parallel computing”

Ajay-  Command line is oh so commanding. Please describe any plans to support or help any R GUI like rattle or R Commander. Do you think Revolution R can get more users if it does help a GUI.

David- Right now we’re focusing on making R easier to use for programmers by creating a new GUI for programming and debugging R code. We heard feedback from some clients who were concerned about training their programmers in R without a modern development environment available. So we’re addressing that by improving R to make the “standard” features programmers expect (like step debugging and variable inspection) work in R and integrating it with the standard environment for programmers on Windows, Visual Studio.

In my opinion R’s strength lies in its combination of high-quality of statistical algorithms with a language ideal for applying them, so “hiding” the language behind a general-purpose GUI negates that strength a bit, I think. On the other hand it would be nice to have an open-source “user-friendly” tool for desktop statistical analysis, so I’m glad others are working to extend R in that area.

Ajay- Companies like SAS are investing in SaaS and cloud computing. Zementis offers scored models on the cloud through PMML. Any views on just building the model or analytics on the cloud itself.

David- To me, cloud computing is a cost-effective way of dynamically scaling hardware to the problem at hand. Not everyone has access to a 20-machine cluster for high-performing computing — and even those that do can’t instantly convert it to a cluster of 100 or 1000 machines to satisfy a sudden spike in demand. REvolution R Enterprise with ParallelR is unique in that it provides a platform for creating sophisticated data analysis applications distributed in the cloud, quickly and easily.

Using clouds for building models is a no-brainer for parallel-computing problems: I recently wrote about how parallel backtesting for financial trading can easily be deployed on Amazon EC2, for example. PMML is a great way of deploying static models, but one of the big advantages of cloud computing is that it makes it possible to update your model much more frequently, to keep your predictions in tune with the latest source data.

Ajay- What are the major alliances that REvolution has in the industry.

David- We have a number of industry partners. Microsoft and Intel, in particular, provide financial and technical support allowing us to really strengthen and optimize R on Windows, a platform that has been somewhat underserved by the open-source community. With Sybase, we’ve been working on combing REvolution R and Sybase Rap to produce some exciting advances in financial risk analytics. Similarly, we’ve been doing work with Vhayu’s Velocity database to provide high-performance data extraction. On the life sciences front, Pfizer is not only a valued client but in many ways a partner who has helped us “road-test” commercial grade R deployment with great success.

Ajay- What are the major R packages that REvolution supports and optimizes and how exactly do they work/help?

David- REvolution R works with all the R packages: in fact, we provide a mirror of CRAN so our subscribers have access to the truly amazing breadth and depth of analytic and graphical methods available in third-party R packages. Those packages that perform intensive mathematical calculations automatically benefit from the optimized math libraries that we incorporate in REvolution R Enterprise. In the future, we plan to work with authors of some key packages provide further improvements — in particular, to make packages work with ParallelR to reduce computation times in multiprocessor or cloud computing environments.

Ajay- Are you planning to lay off people during the recession. does REvolution Computing offer internships to college graduates. What do people at REvolution Computing do to have fun?

David- On the contrary, we’ve been hiring recently. We don’t have an intern program in place just yet, though. For me, it’s been a really fun place to work. Working for an open-source company has a different vibe than the commercial software companies I’ve worked for before. The most fun for me has been meeting with R users around the country and sharing stories about how R is really making a difference in so many different venues — over a few beers of course!


David Smith
Director of Community

David has a long history with the statistical community.  After graduating with a degree in Statistics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, David spent four years researching statistical methodology at Lancaster University (United Kingdom), where he also developed a number of packages for the S-PLUS statistical modeling environment. David continued his association with S-PLUS at Insightful (now TIBCO Spotfire) where for more than eight years he oversaw the product management of S-PLUS and other statistical and data mining products. David is the co-author (with Bill Venables) of the tutorial manual, An Introduction to R , and one of the originating developers of ESS: Emacs Speaks Statistics. Prior to joining REvolution, David was Vice President, Product Management at Zynchros, Inc.

AjayTo know more about David Smith and REvolution Computing do visit http://www.revolution-computing.com and

http://www.blog.revolution-computing.com
Also see interview with Richard Schultz ,­CEO REvolution Computing here.

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/01/31/interviewrichard-schultz-ceo-revolution-computing/

R or SAS —– R and SAS ?

http://support.sas.com/rnd/app/studio/Rinterface2.html

R Interface Coming to SAS/IML Studio

While readers of the New York Times may have learned about R in recent weeks, it’s not news to many at SAS.

R is a leading language for developing new statistical methods, said Bob Rodriguez, Senior Director of Statistical Development at SAS. Our new PhD developers learned R in their graduate programs and are quite versed in it.

R is a matrix-based programming language that allows you to program statistical methods reasonably quickly. It’s open source software, and many add-on packages for R have emerged, providing statisticians with convenient access to new research. Many new statistical methods are first programmed in R.

While SAS is committed to providing the new statistical methodologies that the marketplace demands and will deliver new work more quickly with a recent decoupling of the analytical product releases from Base SAS, a commercial software vendor can only put out new work so fast. And never as as fast as a professor and a grad student writing an academic implementation of brand-new methodology.

Both R and SAS are here to stay, and finding ways to make them work better with each other is in the best interests of our customers.

We know a lot of our users have both R and SAS in their tool kit, and we decided to make it easier for them to access R by making it available in the SAS environment, said Rodriguez. Our first interface to R will be in an upcoming version of SAS/IML Studio (currently known as SAS Stat Studio), scheduled for this summer.

The SAS/IML Studio interface allows you to integrate R functionality with IML or SAS programs. You can also exchange data between SAS and R as data sets or matrices.

This is just the first step, said Radhika Kulkarni, Vice President of Advanced Analytics. We are busy working on an R interface that can be surfaced in the SAS server or via other SAS clients. For example, users will be able to interface with R through the IML procedure, possibly as soon as the first part of 2010.

SAS/IML Studio is distributed with SAS/IML software. Stay tuned for details on availability.

 

This is not to be co related by recent announcement by Mr Gentleman who invented the R language that if needed they will enforce legal action if terms of creative common licensing are not enforced.

It is a sad day for science when Gentleman professors are issuing mild legal threats just to make sure some pseudo science people are satisfied in  their intellectual hubris even though they themselves innovated R from language S. Revolution Computing does not want to be like the commercial maker of S Plus so they are supporting this legal position. Sad day when lawyers have to enforce code share. Maybe the R Project should start updating their website which looks like wreck across the auto bahn. Maybe Jim should visit the R users conference so the R Core team can see his horns.

Newton sued Leibnitz, and in the last days of his life, was tasked with enforcing a paper currency which he did rigorously. Good for the worlds currency, bad for science.

Interview Alan Churchill Savian

An interview with Alan Churchill, SAS Consultant and Alumni of SAS Institute.

Ajay- What’s the latest trend you see in Computer Programming over the next year and next three to five years.

Alan- Silverlight and Flex will be huge and will really enable much more SaaS. The current web simply needs wholesale replacement to make it more usable for business applications. These new RIAs will allow us, as developers, to take it to a whole new level. Expect a massive influx of dollars into web redesign and redevelopment.

Ajay-  Tell us how you came in this field of work, and what factors made you succeed.

Alan- I got into computers in high school (this was very early computing). I loved the sense of challenge that computers offered: they were a big crossword puzzle. I succeeded because I never viewed a problem the way a typical computer person or scientist would view them. As a history guy, I took a more holistic approach to problems. Heck, if you don’t know about a particular theory, you won’t be constrained by it. If you do know it, sometimes ignore it to get the job done, even if it isn’t as pretty.

Ajay-  Most challenging and fun project you ever did (anonymous details)

Alan- I have had many, many rewarding projects. As a consultant, every job is different. However, the spare time project one I am currently working on (figuring out the layout of the sas dataset) is perhaps my favorite due to the complexity.

Ajay- Advice to people wanting to join computer programming as a career- Positive Things, Challenges, Skill Requirements.

Alan- First of all, programming is hard so be prepared to work to be good. Never ever stop evolving and looking for the next thing: you are only as good as your last 18 months of experience.

The career is very rewarding since you are continuously facing challenges that must be overcome. Computers have no patience for mistakes so they require a lot of patience for programmers.

Always, always, always think outside of the box. Approach problems differently. If you hit an obstacle, move around it rather than always trying to burrow through. At the end of the day, it is all about getting the job solved at the speed of business not finding a cool, nifty new algorithm: do that on your spare time.

Ajay- Would you like to visit India for work/travel.

Alan- I honestly don’t like to travel long distances. After a long corporate career flying over a million miles, travel is simply taxing to me and takes me away from what I love to do: programming. As a history major, I love various cultures and would enjoy the beauty and history that India provides but would dread the flight ;-]

Bio;

Alan Churchill has been coding in SAS for over 20 years and worked at SAS as a senior consultant for 5 1/2 years.At SAS, Alan worked on the Microsoft-SAS Alliance and helped SAS customers integrate with .NET. He is also responsible for coding the engine for SAS’s web analytics product. Currently, he is the owner of Savian which specializes in Microsoft-SAS solutions. He lives and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado.