When it comes to data analysis, business intelligence, and statistics, one name routinely pops up: SAS, or Statistical Analysis System. This software suite, released in 1976, receives iterative updates to its statistical procedures, components, and tooling, and is still used by a variety of statisticians, data scientists, and other technologists. For these professionals, SAS training courses are often key.
According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, jobs that hinge on SAS skills are projected to grow 4.4 percent over the next ten years. The median salary for SAS-related positions is $86,000; with enough experience (and at the right company), compensation can climb into the six-figure range. Top occupations that often request SAS as a skill include:
As you can see from the chart, data-intensive professions such as data scientist, social science researcher, and statistician leverage SAS quite a bit. We spoke with several experts to discover the best ways to get started with SAS and where to learn it.
Where do I start learning SAS?
“There are a variety of options for learning SAS both online or in person,” suggested Jennifer Hood, founder of The Career Force. “Many colleges with analytics programs offer training in at least some of SAS's many different tools. The best resource for learning SAS online is directly through SAS themselves. They offer a vast array of courses to help you build skills and knowledge in their applications.”
SAS has four unique career paths to choose from via its website: Machine learning, data science, Programming, and SAS Viya, an artificial intelligence-driven platform that returns operational insights for decision makers.
Beyond the official SAS channel, Rex Freiberger of Disrupt Interactive told Dice, there are several SAS training online platforms such as LinkedIn Learning. YouTube can likewise be a good resource for supplementing your learning process.
Gerard Blokdijk, founder at The Art of Service, reminds us that even accredited universities such as the University of California, San Diego offer courses in SAS. Udemy is another great resource for learning SAS, and has filters for those looking to dive into the software for a bespoke use-case.
Is SAS easy to learn?
As a large platform, SAS attempts to solve a wide array of analytics issues. This makes it popular, but also adds to its complexity. Banking, health care, manufacturing, retail, government—these are just some of the industries that utilize different features of SAS.
“SAS offers many different tools which vary in difficulty to learn,” Hood said. “The programming language SAS is built on is Base SAS. This language is similar to SQL, so if you already know SQL, you will find Base SAS easy to learn. Other tools such as Visual Analytics and Enterprise Guide are more visual, drag-and-drop, and much easier to pick up. Even the more intuitive tools benefit from advanced knowledge, though as you can greatly expand the capabilities of the tools with programming knowledge.”
Blokdijk added: “You will need experience with linear algebra and calculus, computer programming, software engineering, statistics and machine learning to be successful with SAS.”
We should note the official SAS learning channels are a bit difficult to navigate (and look dated, frankly). But don’t that dissuade you from plunging in.
Can I teach myself SAS?
“Technically, yes,” Freirberger said. “You'll still need to find quality sources of information.” Be mindful of what learning channels you choose to follow; evaluate whether they’ll meet your needs before you begin. Keep in mind that much of what’s available on the SAS website is free.
Hood reminds us SAS is not an open or free platform: “You can teach yourself SAS if you have access to the tools you are trying to learn. Most programs have introductory tutorials and there are many print and online resources for learning. The biggest challenge with teaching yourself SAS is getting access to the tool. Since it's not open-source, it's not available to everyone for free.”
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How long does SAS training last?
“Training duration ranges from several hours for very simple topics to several days for more advanced training,” Hood noted, while reiterating that SAS is wide-ranging: “Learning SAS to a point of competency usually takes several months of working in the tool in addition to more structured training. Training is designed to quickly get you up to speed on the fundamentals of the specific topic using examples that are more clearly defined than what most businesses experience.”
That extra time needed to become more proficient will help users tackle complex business challenges. Indeed, why you need or want to learn SAS almost always reflects the job you need to accomplish. Coupled with Blokdijk’s advice about math as a competency and Hood’s note about SQL being a strong foundational element, your path to learning SAS may start in another discipline altogether.
Even when you are competent or experienced with those other fundamentals, SAS is cumbersome, and the learning process is often ongoing.
Is SAS worth learning?
Hood said: “SAS is worth learning if you are interested in analytics. For medical and finance fields, it is the best tool to learn because it is so widely used in those industries. For other industries, it may be better as a secondary choice to learning Python or R which tend to be more popular.”
“If you have previous programming experience, adding SAS to your arsenal will be a relatively simple task that's definitely worth it,” Freiberger added. “If you're learning a brand new skill, consider the careers you want to pursue and whether or not those will involve managing data.”
Taking our experts’ advice, we suggest having a firm grasp on languages such as Python or SQL, which can help you succeed with SAS. While R is a statistical language, it’s losing ground to Python. Know which language suits you best before investing time in your learning journey.