Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A visit to software alley near Raleigh NC brings back career memories (like SAS programming)

Whenever I drive through North Carolina, around the major cities, the state looks more modern than a lot of Virginia.  Monday I passed through Cary and then Research Triangle Park.  In the later, I saw two entrances (along US 70) to IBM, both gated near the street so there no good place for a picture.  In Cary, the SAS Institute (wiki ) is right off I-40, on the south side, and appears to have a huge and mostly gated campus.
SAS stands for Statistical Analysis System, that comes with a “4th generation language” for retrieving and reporting data that became very popular in the late 1980’s on mainframe systems. A typical SAS “program” would comprise a series of statements (for mainframe SYSIN input) that have the components of a typical batch program, but easy to code.  There would be a DATA step that would describe the format of the input dataset (like a COBOL FD layout) and then build it as a “free form” SAS dataset where the elements could be referred to in subsequent processing steps as if they were names of elements in a table.  SAS Procedures could output reports or other files, and could easily sort and merge files by various keys,  Database formats (like IMS, etc) were available to DATA.  The language became so popular that some installations hired SAS gurus that did nothing else.
At Chilton, in Dallas in the 1980s, the monthly billing job had a SAS merge step before printing the final member statements from an old ALC program. 
At Lewin-ICF, where I worked in 1988-1989, SAS was used heavily to prepare reports for lobbying clients on health care (most of all Medicare operating margins for hospitals).  I remember one report for a podiatry association required data being grouped into “bundles” and that was done easily in SAS. Lewin also used SAS on the PC, because in the computing environment then (an IBM 4341 and 4381) it had to pay for mainframe use.

ING-ReliaStar-USLICO did not use SAS, but instead preferred DYL280 (whith followed the old DYL260 which looked like RPG).  Another popular 4GL was Easytrieve.  

Near the SAS Institute there appears to be a private high school with a most interesting softball field (and foul lines that measure exactly 200 feet), and a half mile away is a wooded state park, whose pine-tree lined trails reminds me of the bivouac at Fort Jackson, SC (160 miles farther south) in 1968, in Basic Combat Training, or perhaps Ft. Bragg (60 miles away).   

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