Finding a First BA Role as Senior Emerging Technology Specialist: Interview with Shannon McKenzie

I first heard from Shannon McKenzie via email. She was kind enough to send me a thank you email for writing How to Start a BA Career. After some BA training, a revamped resume, and a short job search, just a few months later we find Shannon in her first BA job as Senior Emerging Technology Specialist at NBC Universal.

I like a lot about Shannon’s story…that she’s obviously bright, self-aware, and self-motivated, that she made networking an active part of her career plan, and that she is finding fulfillment in her new work. But what I think I selfishly like best is that she is one of those top-notch professionals who could have made a lot of choices when it came to a new career and she chose business analysis. It’s people like Shannon that are showing us the stature of the profession is rising. Senior professionals with diverse backgrounds are choosing business analysis. And they have nowhere to go but up.

Laura: Why did you decide to pursue a business analyst career?

Shannon: I decided to pursue a business analyst career after some extensive soul searching and with the assistance of a career coach.  I had explored a wide variety of career paths, from professional athlete to architect to stock broker to television show host.  Career-wise, I seemed all over the place and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do.

As it turns out, I was trying to express some innate natural talents and skill sets, but had not found an integrated way in which to do so.  Understanding the core principles of business analysis helped me to identify my own strengths, but also gave me clarity on where there were gaps in my skills and in my approach to finding a position.  When I started to fill in those gaps, it became quite obvious what I wanted to do, and finding the right fit became a very straightforward process.

Laura: Tell us about your new BA opportunity. What is your role and what responsibilities do you have?

Shannon: Currently I am a Senior Emerging Technology Specialist at NBC Universal.  My role includes two major initiatives.  The first is within our Digital Products and Services Department, where I divide my time between researching bleeding edge technologies, devices and platforms to assess their viability and applicability across NBC Universal content and as SME for specific devices and platforms including OTT connected devices, tablets, mobile, mobile web, HTML5, etc.

The second initiative is essentially to serve as an internal consultant to the brands.  I work directly with all NBC News properties, including Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Today Show, all of MSNBC as well as CNBC.  In that role, I serve as a senior strategist, advising executives and producers on emerging technologies and how they can be optimized to leverage content and enhance viewer engagement.

To that end, I do everything from teaching a top exec how to play Angry Birds on their iPad, to taking a mobile App from concept though development, to educating talent to the benefits of a technology that could be used on air, to facilitating digital integration dialogues between our MSO Comcast and our NBCU brands.  I spend a great deal of my time researching and distilling highly complex technical concepts to their essence.  I often have a very brief window of time to educate a stakeholder as to the functionality of the technologies, so work extremely hard to put details into a context that relates specifically to the brand.

Laura: How did this BA opportunity come to be?

Shannon: It feels like the opportunity was serendipitous, but truthfully, it was good old fashioned hard work.   I started out going back to get a certificate in Business Analysis.  I took some executive education courses, which really helped me to understand the vocabulary required to be a BA.  From there, I just set goals.  The first was to educate myself about the BA role by reading about it.  I ordered your How to Start a Business Analyst Career eBook and Barbara Corkenord’s Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis, and both were very helpful.  I also started reading books on UML and HTML5 to get up to speed as I came from a less technical background.

The second effort I made was to find like-minded people, and connect through trade organizations, webinars, newsletters, whatever I could find.  I joined the IIBA, and read everything I could get my hands on.

The third thing I did was I identified the culture in which I wanted to work.  I had no legacy BA experience.  I was not a coder, but had designed websites, so understood the User Experience.  That and my background in TV became a natural fit in that I realized I needed to be at a visually creative organization.

I made a giant list of every media company and began considering the options.  From there, I went onto LinkedIn and crafted a profile based on a vision for my future.  I leveraged my work history, but also really created my own personal brand for what I wanted to become.  I set a goal to acquire 100 LinkedIn contacts within the media community as it related to technology and business analysis.

While I was working on that goal, a position was posted at NBCU.  It was exactly what I was looking for, but it seemed so early in the process, I had not really started looking at specific jobs yet (I only had 89 LinkedIn contacts at that time).  But when you do all the preparatory work, opportunities are much easier to spot.  I applied, received a call the next day, and began the interview process.  It was a perfect fit.  I really couldn’t believe it.

Laura: Looking back, what were some of the keys to your success?

Shannon: One of the big keys for me was not getting hung up on the past.  In past job searches I had revised and tweaked my resume to fit a job description. Even though my work history was accurate I always felt false when I did it.  As if somehow, I could retrofit my experience to suit some recruiter’s interpretation of a position? It didn’t seem right.

So I really had to let go of the idea that I was looking for a BA job, and come to the realization that my real desire was to express my innate talents, whether there was a job out there for me or not.  That was not an easy decision.  It shifted the burden of responsibility from a recruiter knowing what they wanted from me, to me knowing what I wanted from me.  But that decision freed up some emotional space and made me realize that even if the perfect job wasn’t out there, I knew what I wanted “in here.”

From there I was able to be much more self-directed. For me that included expressing my natural ability to see the big picture, a desire to think with both sides of my brain and to bridge the gap between details and contextual understanding, to express my natural inclination to see patterns and to create a strategic plan, to use my past coaching experiences to incubate ideas and ultimately to be creative. I did a vision board for myself, everything from what I wanted to wear at work, to what deliverables I wanted to create.  It helped me to explore the potential of what I wanted to become, and not get hung up on what I was.

Once I had a clear vision, the patterns emerged.  All of a sudden, everything I had ever done in my life made sense and it all came together.  That’s when my resume became a really powerful tool.  It was authentic and a natural expression of my path.  My work history was support documentation for my future, not a justification of my past. For me and my employer, the fit was obvious and the passion came through.  I am described as 25% digital anthropologist, 25% tech geek, 25% Scandinavian designer and 25% business rock star.  It sounds ridiculous to say it, but in BA speak it’s putting advanced technologies and a well designed User Experience into context for stakeholders to drive ROI.  And that is actually what I do.

Laura: Looking forward, where do you see your BA career taking you now?

Shannon: One thing I’ve learned about being in the BA role is that every conversation is exponential.  Because you are interfacing with such varied stakeholders on technical topics, the ability to be succinct is highly valued.  Your words, sometimes sound like a sound bite, and are often repeated by others in conversation.  Non-technical people have no other way to talk about something technical – they say exactly what you say.  I happen to be at an organization that also values giving credit to the originator of those words, which is certainly a boon to anyone’s career.  As my role evolves into a more senior level, I look forward to evangelizing technologies in ways that support User behaviors without controlling them.

Ultimately I’d like to merge my love of content creation with my enthusiasm for new technologies and become a chief digital officer for a major media company.  I have a great deal to learn, and more skills to acquire, but look forward to seeing how this path unfolds and what opportunities are presented to me in the future.  For now, I couldn’t be happier.  I love my job, I work with an amazing team on both coasts and globally, and every morning I’m excited to get up and go to work.

If I had one piece of advice for prospective Business Analysts I would say trust what is within you.  You’re naturally intrigued, enticed or attracted to this role for a number of reasons.  If you can determine what those reasons are, there will be a position that is a perfect fit.   Find yourself and the job will find you.

Laura: Shannon, thanks so much for sharing your story. I am sure our readers will be inspired by what you have to share. I know I am!

>>Read More Success Stories

Shannon’s story is one of many BA career transition success stories here at Bridging the Gap. We’re honored to have had many readers tell us more about how they leveraged their professional experience to get started in business analyst job roles.

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Comments

  1. Raju Dandu says

    “My work history was support documentation for my future, not a justification of my past”.

    It sort of stuck with me as an important personal insight to remember. Thanks, Shannon. You are wonderful.

    • Raju,
      That’s an absolutely great insight to hang onto. I hope it serves you well! I keep a notebook of these types of insights so I can refer back to them from time to time. Does anyone else do that?

  2. Hi Shannon,
    I am planning my career as BA. Your story is awesome and really helpful.
    Thanks.

  3. Michelle Swoboda says

    Shannon, what a cool story! I want to work with you 🙂

    • Shannon McKenzie says

      Hi Michelle, Thanks for your comment! Certainly BA paths cross – and in our digital age, those connections can be made very easily without the benefit of geography. Please find me on LinkedIn and keep in touch!
      Shannon

  4. Curtis Michelson says

    Wonderful story, very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    “Find yourself and the job will find you”. Quote of the week!

    • Shannon McKenzie says

      My pleasure. I’m delighted to be in the industry, and willing to do whatever I can to help others find a path that inspires them. Thanks for reading!

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