How to Move From IT to Business Analysis

You are a good software engineer, database manager, or software quality assurance professional who recently discovered that business analysis is the role you enjoy the most. How do you go from a technical role to a business analysis role?

This is a problem faced by many aspiring business analysts, and even by people who already spend time doing business analysis work in technical positions. What should you do to prove to potential employers that you have the necessary skills to take a formal BA role? How to avoid being constantly “dragged back” to an IT role when the volume of development work grows or the size of the IT staff is reduced?

Having solid technical skills can be a great starting point for someone looking to develop a career in business analysis. In Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs? Laura lists a good reason why many BA jobs ask for technical skills: BAs with technical knowledge are more likely to ask the right questions about technical implementation.

The assumption becomes if you can write code now or could write code in the past, you are less likely to be trampled by the developers.

I remember at least one situation in which my technical background (electrical engineering, with time spent programming in C and Java) came to the rescue of a system enhancement project in danger of not fulfilling the business need. The developer (who had inherited the code from someone else), was adamant that one of the business requests could not be implemented without a major code rewrite, which would require time and budget the project didn’t have. I asked him to explain to me the basis for his opinion. After some investigation, I discovered that the initial implementation had a flaw that could be easily corrected. By simply changing a primary key in the database (to the one that actually made more sense from a system and business perspective), it would be possible to implement the feature the business requested. The developer wasn’t exactly convinced by my arguments, but I scheduled a meeting with him and the head of development (a manager with excellent technical background), and the manager immediately saw that my analysis was correct. The featured ended up being implemented without the major code overhaul proposed by the developer.

Situations like the one described are not uncommon when business analysts with a technical background work together with business subject matter experts and the IT team to find the optimal solution for a business problem. A business- and technology-savvy analyst can be instrumental in helping determine the business need and define the optimal solution to meet this need.

The biggest obstacle for IT professionals interested in developing a BA career is the lack of well-developed business skills. One might argue that “soft skills” (the ability to communicate with clarity, precision and eloquence, work well with other people building effective contacts and relationships across and outside the organization, and so on) are more important for a BA than being business-savvy. However, in my experience, software engineers who are passioned about business analysis already value and develop their transferable soft skills, so it’s typically not the main competence gap they face when they try to switch to a BA position.

Understanding things like revenue streams and profit centers, on the other hand, may require a mode of thinking that is relatively unfamiliar to many technical people. Often, IT professionals are more skilled at writing elegant code, and producing software rich and features and functions, than at helping stakeholders determine the right set of project requirements capable of balancing the needs of the company, the market, and the users.

If you have a background in IT, and want to become a business analyst, here are some steps that will help you reach your goal:

  1. Read Bridging the Gap regularly. Here you will be able to interact with BAs who successfully made the the transition from a technical role, and read articles like What jobs will lead to a BA role?, which will give you good insight on how to highlight your BA experience in your resume, and how to use other roles as stepping stones to get a BA job. Signing up for the free email newsletter will help you stay updated with the latest posts.
  2. Periodically reassess your competence gap and make sure you have a plan to address them.
  3. Learn to “talk the talk” of business analysts. The site Modern Analyst offers a useful list of potential interview questions that can help you formulate your thoughts and become better prepared to answer screening and interview questions.
  4. If you haven’t started yet, read business books, and blogs such as the ones from Harvard Business, as well as resources that can help you build your business analysis skills, like the ones I recommend here.

Finally, if you are truly invested in developing a business analysis career, buy the eBook How to Start a Business Analyst Career: A guidebook to help you explore the business analyst profession and find entry-level business analyst jobs (affiliate link that generates a commission for this social project at no additional cost to you). This comprehensive and well-thought handbook by Laura Brandenburg will help you get a better perspective about the different types of BA roles available and add some shape to your target position, as well as teach you everything you need to do to put yourself on the right path to landing a BA job.

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Banzon says:

    Adriana, this is a valuable post and offers great advice for those looking to make the transition. I have made this transition myself. To your list I would add – Join IIBA. Even a prospective BA can take advantage of the benefits membership offers. The immediate value would come from attending webinars and using the online library and the BABOK Guide to learn more about the role and to better understand the work involved. The next steps to follow would be to attend local chapter events and consider joining a chapter. Chapter membership offers invaluable networking benefits and additional valuable professional development experiences.

  2. Jennifer, I can always count on readers to add their valuable advice in the comments section!

    I definitely agree with you, joining IIBA is a great step for an IT professional interested in starting a business analyst career, for the reasons you mention. Thank you for sharing your tip with everyone here!

  3. I have transitioned from software development to a Business Analyst. I am finding new challenges and able to view a wider scope of the business operations. I believe my software background has really helped me become a better BA. Embrace BA skills and always endeavor to improve. I too feel strongly that joining the IIBA is a great move. Embrace your companies SDLC and use your BA skills to positively influence the delivered product!

  4. Thanks for this article. I was always under the impression that to be an effective BA, you need to be a software or technical professional at some level. I come from a healthcare background and work as a healthcare BA mainly on EMR projects. I love my job but I always come across situations where I feel I would have saved myself a lot of time if I had a technical background. I consider myself pretty good at writing clear plans and roadmaps. But as far as understanding the technical jargon, my skills are below average. At this stage in my career, I don’t think obtaining a diploma or degree in a technical field will be ideal. Any advice on how I can go about bridging this gap?

  5. Hi, Hydie,

    If you are good at writing clear plans and roadmaps, you are already adding a lot of value to a BA role. You say that sometimes it is difficult for you to understand the technical jargon. Ideally, the technical people should be able to communicate with you avoiding the use of too many technical terms, but unfortunately not all technical people are good at communication.

    I agree that getting a degree in a technical field wouldn’t be ideal. My suggestion would be for you to start reading a bit about the technical subjects that you find difficult to understand in project meetings. Many blogs and websites provide excellent overviews of technical matters that people with a non-technical background can understand. Below are examples of things that might be useful for you to start reading about (I wrote an article for Modern Analyst in which I explain why this knowledge would be good for business analysts to have, and I’ll post the link here when the article is published):

    – Relational database technology: The basics of RDBs, the challenges surrounding the technology, and when it is appropriate to use RDBs.

    – Object orientation: Basic understanding of the object paradigm and of concepts such as inheritance, polymorphism, and object persistence, as well as class normalization, the object oriented version of data normalization.

    – How object and relational technologies work together.

    Good luck! We all have areas where there is opportunity for improvement, and it’s great that you are interested in developing your technical skills to become more effective at the work you do.

  6. Akarsh MG says:

    @Adriana – Great Article; i believe in what you say “business analysts with a technical background work together with business subject matter experts and the IT team to find the optimal solution for a business problem”

    Also situation which you explained is a great one even i have gone through similar situation; it helps to have some amount of technical knowledge; also at the end of the day “technology is important but business is essential”

    Thanks for the Harvard link; even though i follow Harvard blogs once in a while i have never checked this site; just a look @ the site shows lot of information to read 🙂

    Regards,
    Akarsh

  7. Actually Adriana, I think that the need for “soft skills” is a common factor for both business analysts and programmers. Programming IMO is as much about expressing ideas with clarity and precision as it is about writing software. In my post I explain why programmers need “soft skills” as much if not more than awesome hacking skills. I suspect, this is a factor why a lot of business analysts were programmers 🙂

  8. Hi, ‘Technikhil’,

    Thank you for the link to your article. We are in agreement; of course “soft skills” are extremely useful for programmers (as for anyone else, both at work and at home!).

    However, it can’t be denied that some developers get to become extremely successful even without this important skill (I personally know several who are top performers, never out of work, and unfortunately have very little communication and interpersonal skills). The same wouldn’t hold true for a business analyst.

    As I mentioned in my article, it’s not that this type of skill isn’t crucial, just that in my experience, when a technical person truly wants to become a business analyst, she/he already enjoys working collaboratively, and is mindful of constantly developing communication skills. Therefore, it won’t typically be the biggest barrier for a technical person to become a BA. But for sure, the more proficient in “soft skills” a technical person is (regardless of their interest in changing roles), the easier to become a top performer.

  9. I mentioned I’d publish a link to the article in which I talk about valuable technical skills that BAs should aim to acquire, so to Hydie and anyone else interested, here it is:

    http://www.modernanalyst.com/Resources/Articles/tabid/115/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1531/How-Static-Modeling-Skills-Can-Improve-Your-Performance-as-a-Business-Analyst.aspx

  10. Thanks Adriana!

  11. Hi Adriana,

    I am Vishal from India. I have done Masters in Computer Application specialized in SAP ABAP and currently working on Project of Govt. of India. I have almost 5 years of experience.
    I major role & responsibility in the project is to solve technical issues of project while Implementation and resolve query on technology and policy matters.
    I want to know
    1. how good role of BA is for me at this stage?
    2. is it suggest able to become BA at this stage?
    3. if i go for BA shall i do Domian Specialization in BA?
    4. is there any kind of training or Course i need to do for BA?

    Vishal

  12. Hi Guys

    I need your help on travel domain insights for a re-engineering project for travel domain, up till now i am able to get into supplier, their services, amenities, rates and inventory management and further discovered products of list type but not clear with packages and tours/excursions. Really Need Your Help The GREAT BA Community. Can anyone share some knowledge with me?

  13. Abhinav says:

    Hi Guys,
    I have 1 yr experience in IT industry. But i want to switch into BA profile as i am not having intrest in programming anymore. I like to work on database and testing but dont want to work in programming anymore. So please suggest me will this BA profile will be fruitful to me? and also suggest me how to switch to BA profile from programmer profile. What are the experience and qualification must a BA possess as i m having MCA( Masters in Computer Application) degree.
    Waiting for your prompt responce.

    Thanks & Regards:
    Abhinav Vashishth

  14. Abhinav says:

    Hi Adriana,

    I have 1 yr experience in IT industry. But i want to switch into BA profile as i am not having intrest in programming anymore. I like to work on database and testing but dont want to work in programming anymore. So please suggest me will this BA profile will be fruitful to me? and also suggest me how to switch to BA profile from programmer profile. What are the experience and qualification must a BA possess as i m having MCA( Masters in Computer Application) degree.
    Waiting for your prompt responce please.

    Thanks & Regards:
    Abhinav Vashishth

  15. This site is dead… no reponse for most of the comments or queries…

  16. @Swpanil: I’ve answered some questions in the comments section, but it’s not fair to expect that authors here will drop everything to try to answer broad questions that would require pages to be properly addressed.

    Bridging the Gap has excellent resources for people trying to transition to a BA role (to Abhinav, I suggest starting here: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/becoming-a-business-analyst/). However, no website can replace doing your own homework to figure out what skills are being listed as important in job postings near your location, and researching specialized resources (many of which can be found for free in the Internet) when you are interested in a niche like business analysis for the tourism industry.

    Anyone who expects information to land on their laps as a result of posting a question in a blog will be in huge disadvantage compared to aspiring BAs who are doing their research to figure out what competencies they need to focus on in order to catch the attention of recruiters and hiring managers.

  17. Hi, thank you for such a wonderful article, it is right on target. I want to praise your integrity for having an affiliate link and identifying it as such. To me that speaks wonders about your credibility. Congratulations.

  18. Hi, Fabian — thanks for the compliments. I’m glad you found the article useful, and yes, I agree with you that full disclosure on affiliate links is important to ensure transparency, with positive impact in credibility.

    Thank you for reading, and I hope you continue to find valuable content here at Bridging the Gap.

  19. Transitioning from a developer to BA is very common and is relatively easy to do. I would suggest to ask a BA you are working with to explain the business reasons behind requirements, learn the BA talk and if you have am ooprtunity – discuss the requirements with business representatives.
    In some organisations it is common for a business to go directly to a developer to discuss their requirements. Then you can prepare a spec and get it approved by the business. Then you are doing a BA work already. I think the main difference between BA and software engineer is that BAs figure out Why and What to build and developers decide How. By keeping a broader perspective of the business you can enter the BA world.

  20. Umair Mohammad Khan says:

    Hi Adriana,
    This is Umair from India.when i read all the stuff which u have putted on the website i really appreciated it to learn what skills a BA should posses and how to chose his/her path to become a BA.As i am also from Technical Background(IT) ,learned java during my industrial Training but i am not as strong as a person should be in programming skills. Currently i am working as a Business Development Executive in an IT Company but now m really fed up with this profile.And when i come to know from one of my Friend who is working in US as BA i am really keen to switch in this profile .So please suggest me what exactly i will have to do to make my career as BA.

  21. Hi, Umair,

    What do to do make your career as a BA: besides continuing to read the resources here at Bridging the Gap, I recommend you join the “Building Better Software” space at my website, as well as subscribe to receive “Business Analysis and Product Management News” — both resources available at http://bealprojects.com/members-only/.

    These spaces will provide you with many opportunity to learn from seasoned BAS who also started from technical background. You will find recommended resources organized by topic and insights on what makes a great IT BA. Good luck!