This blog post is the ninth in our series and I can promise you that you will still be amazed by what you learn about this SAS user and friend. Today, I’ve had the privilege to interview Toby Dunn. I met him for the first time in Savannah, Georgia, in 2010 during the SESUG conference. He is a charming young man who knows a great deal about using SAS, and he is happy to share his knowledge with other users. Once again, my interview has turned up some surprising info. I hope you will take the time to meet Toby in person so that you will get the full benefit.
- Will you be attending SAS Global Forum this year?
I do plan on attending SGF this year; however, since I work for the US Government I am somewhat worried about whether they will fund the trip or not, given the current budget talks in Congress.
I’ll be presenting a paper in the Beyond the Basics section entitled "Grouping, Atomic Groups, and Conditions: Creating If-Then statements in Perl RegEx." My paper will take the reader through all of the uses of parentheses and what are called extended regex sequences (which use parens). I end with a few examples of If-Then-Else style RegEx patterns.
- What is the high of going to SAS Global Forum?
My first SAS Global Forum was SUGI 30 in Philadelphia. Since then I have attended three others. The best part of the conference for me is getting to meet with and talk to not only the SAS folks but all of the great SAS users, many of whom have been long-time friends who I only get to see at the once-yearly conference.
- How long have you been using SAS? What tool or solution do you use?
I have been using SAS since 2000. I used it to perform regression analysis for my Master’s Degree. Given that I had no training and only user manuals that were two versions prior to the version of SAS that I was using, I'd say it was more like hacking in the dark - blind. On any given day, I mainly use Base SAS, SAS/STAT, and SAS/IntrNet.
- How do you use SAS at your organization?
My current title is Statistician/SAS Programmer/Data Governor. I recently was asked to maintain and clean all of the data coming in and out of our group. In addition to that, I am also doing side work that usually is in the realm of data manipulation, some minor stats work and reporting.
- Who was your first mentor in SAS?
I have been fortunate to have many SAS mentors over the years. The very first were Ron Fehd and Dianne Rhodes. They made sure that while at my very first SUGI I was at the right place at the right times to meet some of the best SAS employees and users. I also would be negligent if I didn't mention that people such as Ian Whitlock, Paul Dorfman, Richard Devenezia, and all the great people on SAS-L have been more than gracious with their time and knowledge to help me over the years. I often tell people that most of what I know about SAS came from the great people on SAS-L.
- Do you think mentorship is important? Do you mentor upcoming SAS users?
Obviously, I am a strong supporter of the Master/Apprentice relationship and method of learning. I try to help everyone I can with their SAS questions and learning. Paul St. Louis, who edits all of my SUG (SAS User Group) papers and is working with me on my Regular Expression book is an example of someone I have been mentoring for the last few years.
- How do you form those relationships?
The best I know how to form these types of relationships is to seek out those whose work you really like. Talk to them. Most of us are more than willing to share the knowledge we have with anyone who’s willing to lend an ear. Then just be persistent, and put in the hard work to learn. Over time, more often than not you will gain a great deal of knowledge, and more importantly, you will gain some great friends in the process.
- How do you network? Conversely, what does networking mean to you?
Networking, at least to me, means to go out and make new friends. A great book is Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." It is a classic business book and one worth everyone’s time to read. I believe that more than anything else be open and friendly, and try to make as many friends as you can. Then, just keep nurturing those relationships whenever you can and networking will naturally take care of itself.
- What makes you so uniquely Toby?
Well, hmmmm ... this is a tough one. Just ask my mother or girlfriend, Shanna, and I am sure they would more than agree: I am ornery, hard-headed, and never short for words. Other than that, I guess that most people would admit that I missed my calling and should have been a chef. Shanna and I are currently working through our own version of Julie and Julia, except we are using Thomas Kellers’, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and French Laundry cookbooks.
I love fishing when I get the chance to head either to my family’s lake cabin or to the coast. Last year I went on a Texas country music binge with Shanna, I believe we managed something like seven or nine different concerts in something like 5 months.
Saving the best for last! I have one son, Andy, who lives with his mother in Indiana. I see him as much as time and money allow. I am definitely hoping to be able to bring him to Texas soon so he and I can fish, swim, make homemade pizzas together and have as much fun as possible. In short as my email tag line states 'I am 100% Texan, till I die' and there ain't no changing that.
- What is the most interesting SAS project that you have ever worked on?
I am currently employed with the US Army, so as you can imagine most of the work that I do I am not at liberty to discuss. Not that they aren't interesting I'm just not allowed to without going through the Department of Defense's security gauntlet.
However, I do remember my SUG paper editor, Paul St.Louis, asking me one day to help him with an interesting problem. He needed to get some information from several Web pages into SAS and create some reports. To make it more difficult this had to be code that would be in a recurring production job. I remember some of his colleagues saying it couldn't be done in SAS.
Although I had heard about scraping Web pages before, I had never really had a need to do such a thing in all of the SAS jobs I have had. I’m not one to turn down a good challenge, and I don’t believe there’s anything SAS can’t do, so I decided to take it on. So, I searched the SUG papers, found a few that covered doing this, and that evening worked up some code to send to him. Over the next few days we worked on and off together - tweeking it until - voila we had the production code working.
- I understand you are working with SAS to write a book – is that something you can talk about here?
Now how did you find out about my triple secret special black ops project? Just joking; it’s really not a secret. The book is titled "Learning to Express Yourself with Perl Style Regular Expressions." It’s my firm belief that as new features to any language come out it takes time to fully integrate into the main user’s tool kit. There is a tipping point when enough time has elapsed for enough people to start really using it in their everyday code. That is precisely the point where I think Perl Style Regular Expressions are with SAS. Although an entire book on one small family of SAS functions (PRX family of functions) may seem like overkill, one look at the RegEx syntax and you'll know why even seasoned programmers want a bottle of aspirin and a book about them.
Now you see the reason that so many SAS users and SAS professionals asked me to interview Toby Dunn. I’ve spoken to Toby only a couple of times, and I would have guessed the country music binge and fishing. You? How many of you guessed he was ornery and never short of words? That one was a little harder for me to believe, too. But did anyone guess that he is working his way through a personal Julie and Julia experience? Truth is stranger than fiction.
Get to know the SAS side of Toby a little better by reading some of his SAS papers. I wrote a blog post about the presentation that Toby and Sarah Woodruff gave at SESUG in Savannah in 2010. My takeaways from the presentation are that he is a great presenter. His presentation was on time and organized. He and Sarah had great tips for the audience and left time for questions. So, if you want to learn a bit about Perl, plan to attend Toby’s presentation and keep a look out for his book.
If you’re interested in writing your own SAS Press book, or have topic suggestions for authors like Toby, contact Shelley Sessoms with your ideas. You can also leave your comments or suggestions in the comments section below.