Why a Computer Science Degree is Not Required to Be Successful as a Business Analyst

Tacked onto the end of many BA job descriptions is a misnomer of a requirement. It often looks something like this:

“Degree in computer science (or equivalent) preferred.”

While this requirement can be in place for many reasons, it falsely leads many BAs and those looking to get started as BAs to wonder if they will ever be able to get in or advance within the profession without a computer science degree.

The list of business analysts without technology backgrounds or computer science degrees is long indeed. Here are a few stories from our list of BA career transitions.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, you don’t even need a computer science degree to become a software developer. At least that’s what my husband (who has a degree in economics and currently consults in Salesforce.com development) has figured out.

But you are not here to become a developer. You are here to become a BA. I’m here to tell you that yes, your path is achievable and doable even if you don’t have a computer science degree.

Here’s why you can become a BA without a Computer Science degree

The vast majority of hiring managers are much more interested in your career experience than your degrees. Degrees are listed as simple ways to filter people out, but they don’t tend to hold up during the hiring process. In fact, it’s my contention that many business analyst job descriptions are created using the job description from the software developer or quality assurance engineer as a starting point. This requirement then gets left in by default, not by design.

Even so, preferred requirements for specific types of degrees are rarely show-stopper job requirements and “or equivalent” can means a lot of things. I’d consider a Computer Science degree to be equivalent to the following:

  • 4+ years working on IT projects or writing technical documentation.
  • A degree in a related field, even if it’s tangential, such as information science, management, business,  etc.
  • Course work in a related field, whether or not it’s part of a formal degree program. This could mean a few computer programming classes taken in college, a continuing ed course in IT concepts, or formal professional development training in business analysis, like the virtual courses we offer here.

For me, unless I see specific technical requirements in the job posting, I assume my Masters in Library and Information Science is equivalent. Despite the title, the most technical class I took in this program was an introductory HTML class. The second-most technical class was an introduction to Microsoft Office. Everything else dealt with the business side of running a library system and how to conceptually organize information, like the class on creating back-of-the-book indexes.

And let’s not forget this requirement is usually “preferred”

And even if you aren’t comfortable that you can pull together an “equivalent,” there’s the preferred part of most job requirements. Most often this requirement is listed as preferred not required. There’s a big difference between the two.

Yes, you will find a counter-example. I am sure there is a hiring manager out there who will not even interview a BA without a computer science degree and when you stumble into that situation, a recruiter is sure to tell you about it. This will justifiably test your confidence in your career plan.

The thing is, you can find hiring managers who have all sorts of false assumptions about what a good business analyst looks like. It’s important not to let a single hiring manager or feedback from one or two recruiters dictate your professional development path.

Let’s look at why a reasonable hiring manager wouldn’t care if you have a computer science degree

  • Do you need a computer science degree to learn how to communicate effectively with people?
  • Do you need a computer science degree to learn how to write a requirements document? (To be fair, you might learn how to do this in a computer science program, but it’s definitely not the only way to acquire this skill. I learned it on the job. Others are more comfortable taking a course like Business Process Analysis or Use Cases and Wireframes to hone this skill.)
  • Do you need a computer science degree to learn how to analyze information and draw conclusions? (Again, to be fair, this could be a take-away from a strong computer science program, but I happened to pick up a lot in this area in my philosophy classes, especially Introduction to Logic.)

These are the core skills of a business analyst. They are what you need to demonstrate competence in. And competence comes through experience.

Not degrees, certificates, or certifications.

Instead of back-tracking and pursuing a degree in computer science, your time and energy will be much better invested in positioning your skills and experience so you can show how you are qualified for business analyst job roles.

Because the rational, level-headed hiring managers out there – the kind you want to work for – are not going to want to talk about your degree, except maybe in a very superficial way. In a business analyst job interview they are going to want to hear in depth about your experience. Luckily, that’s something you can control and prepare for without investing tens of thousands of dollars and putting your career plans on hold for 4 years.

>>Start Your BA Career

Leverage a step-by-step process to start your business analyst career, regardless of your career background. How to Start a Business Analyst Career will walk you through the BA job role in detail, help you identify transferable business analyst skills, and hone your BA job search process. It’s available in print, PDF, Kindle, and Nook formats.

Click here to learn more about How to Start a Business Analyst Career

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