March 26th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

As the leader of a software company founded when 1970s IBM Mainframes offered the height of computer processing, SAS CEO Dr. Goodnight has seen computing power grow exponentially for over four decades. In fact, according to him, it’s gotten to the SAS CEO Dr. Goodnightpoint where Moore’s Law, which holds that memory capacity and processing speed will double every two years, is reaching its limit. Chips can’t get much smaller: Intel’s Ivy Bridge chips 22 nanometers. UV Light etches the chip, so chips can’t be smaller than a ray of light. “X-Rays start at around five nanometers, so we’re getting very close to the limit,” Goodnight says. Instead, the number of cores on each chip is growing exponentially, a hardware upgrade that fascinates Goodnight. SAS meanwhile, continues to grow, and is among the largest privately-held software companies around.

In a chat with Dr. Goodnight, who reported he was attending his thirty-ninth SAS conference, we discussed what he’s excited about, how far the industry has come, and his keys to success.

  1. Empower your people. “One of the accomplishments I’m really proud of is being named as a great place to work. Not just an average place to work, a great place to work, I like that,” he says. Benefits for SAS employees include on-site health care, day care, a fitness center, a farm, and a commitment to work-life balance. Goodnight’s leadership style is also about giving, not taking. “I like to give everyone that works for me lots of room to maneuver, I’m not a ‘do it my way or the highway’ kind of person, I’m very easygoing. I’ll let people make mistakes or not do a great job for a year or two. I like to empower the people who work for me to get the job done.
  2. Amazon and Google are on his cool company list. “I respect Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Larry and Sergey from Google,” he says, both of which are SAS customers. Google, which is also famous for its benefits, even took a lesson from SAS when it formalized its workplace culture. “Google modeled a lot of their human resources after us. Before they were public, their HR department visited us, and spent a day or so with us, just benchmarking what we did.”
  3. Hadoop is just beginning, but SAS is prepared. When it comes to another meaning of Big Data, the use of unstructured data like Hadoop (that SAS has made efforts to bring in to the analytical fold), he sees the promise as still emerging. It’s “at limited usefulness at current times,” while noting there has been progress in some other areas like sentiment analysis, which can do thinks like analyze tweets for positive or negative content.
  4. SAS has always been ‘Big Data.’ “We’ve always dealt with large amounts of data,” he chuckles. “When the term big data was coined, we said, ‘We can’t call it ‘a whole lot of data’ anymore, we have to call it ‘Big Data.’ He also clarifies that when it comes to the types of analytics SAS specializes in, it’s not just the amount of data that takes time to process, it’s the amount of equations carried out on the data. “New algorithms come on the scene all the time, and most of them are even more computationally intensive than before.”

For more coverage from this year’s SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, check out my posts on their product updates and the highlights from the keynote speeches.

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