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Becoming a Statistician - which programming language should I master?

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Hi, I'm new to the forum!


I hold a M.S. in Pure Math and I have been working as a community college instructor for a few years.  I recently completed a graduate certificate in statistics (15 graduate credit hours - Mathematical Statistics I and II, Linear Statistical Model, Machine Learning I and II) and I'm interested in becoming a statistician.  Now, I have been using "R" for my entire statistic program, but as I am doing job search on USAJOBS and Indeed I found that a number of the positions require both SAS and SQL (especially on government jobs, I am a US Army Veteran and I'm hoping to work for the Feds as I can carry my service years into the job), so my question is:  Should I continue to learn more to master "R"?  Or should I go ahead and focus on learning SAS and SQL?


Any comments are appreicated, thank you in advance!

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From what I can tell, SAS is most popular with government or "blue chip" companies (ones that are large and have been around a long time). R is more popular with up and coming start-up types, and academia. So if your goal is definitely to work for the federal government, SAS would probably be worth learning. Even if it is ultimately eclipsed by R, the government will take a long time to catch up to market trends (for example, I have read that despite the abundance of alternative "modern" languages out there, many government web sites run on old versions of Coldfusion). Keep in mind it is very expensive to buy SAS on your own, so try to get a copy through your employer or some academic institution (or maybe they have discounts for veterans?). When I was trying to learn SAS, I found this book to be a good reference: Delwiche and Slaughter: The Little SAS Book.


As for SQL, I would put it in a totally different category from R or SAS. SQL is typically used upstream from the analysis stage of working with data. You might for example write SQL queries to generate a report containing the data you need by drawing it from various tables in a database. Then, you could export that report and process it using R or SAS. I think SQL is absolutely worth learning, since relational databases are everywhere and it's almost certain that your data will have problems requiring some knowledge of databases to solve. One place to start with learning SQL would be to get SQLite (https://sqlite.org/) on your local machine and play around with it on the command line, or try using this handy firefox extension: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/sqlite-manager/. Here is a useful SQL reference for learning: http://www.w3schools.com/SQl/default.asp


Good Luck!

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I use R, SAS, and SQL on a daily basis and on occasion even integrate R with C++.  R has certain advantages over SAS and vice-versa (e.g., graphics in R).  If you're going to start learning SAS, I would go ahead and start with the certification process and at least get the SAS Base Programming and SAS Advanced Programming Certifications under your belt; you're probably going to need these anyway if you're looking for jobs in government or industry.  SAS publishes fairly in depth prep manuals for both exams and "The Little SAS Book " that cyprusprior mentioned is also excellent as a reference.  If you are currently enrolled in school you can also use the SAS Web Editor online instead of handing over a ridiculous amount of money to have SAS installed on your own computer.  


Info about the SAS Web Editor can be found here:



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Thank you for the massive amount of information here!!!  I am starting to work on learning SQL and SAS now!

I guess here is my secondary question...  I'm currently making mid-50k in a southern, lower than average cost of living city (my mortgage is mid 800 a month, gas is mid to low 3 something dollars a gallon).  I don't work a lot...  Like about 30 hours a week with loads of holidays...  But there just isn't a lot of room for promotions and state jobs don't give too much raises to match inflation...

So changing career to become a statistician (for the Feds)...  Is it a promising move given where I am at?  I just feel that I have to make my decision quick so as to build my experience in a new profession.

Thanks again!

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Probably not where you're at.  Most of the statistics related jobs for the federal government are going to be in and around the Washington, D.C. area.  Browsing through the USAjobs.gov website under the keyword "statistics" will give you a good idea of the types of jobs available and where they're located.



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Since you already know R, it may help to learn SAS. For SQL, check out a couple of SQL-videos in this MOOC:


If you know programming you should be able to go from beginner-->intermediate SQL programmer in a week.


Any reason why you specifically want to work for the government (in which case SAS would be important)?

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Thank you, sir!  I have been watching the video and play with the SAS program for a bit...  You are right, it is pretty easy, it was difficult to gain access to the actual software through.


Umm...  I aim to work for the Feds since I am a US Army veteran and I have already serve a few years (those years will be carried over for a Federal Pension system); I enjoy the security of the job position; and I would like to work for fellow military service members in the future (DoD or VA).


That being said, I am absolutely open to a private sector position if they are hiring!


My main concern being the availability of career advancements, it is pretty hard to become administators in education to make the big bucks, is it the case in statistician path as well?

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