From Liberal Arts Degree to Business Analysis: Hyun Woo

I’m so grateful to Hyun Woo (called “Woo”) for sharing with us today his two-year journey into business analysis. He’s living proof that there is always opportunity to build new business analysis experiences, and that you can snowball one experience into another to build up a solid business analyst resume.

Also, I find it inspiring that his job offer came as a direct result of him taking a big chance and stepping into the spotlight. We never know exactly when or how our yes will come. What we can do is put ourselves out there, do our best, and follow up.

If you’d like to connect with Woo, find him here on LinkedIn.

Without further ado, let’s here from Woo!

Laura: Can you tell us about yourself?

Woo: I’m a year into my first official BA role. Prior to this, I spent two years working on stretch assignments to build my knowledge and to develop a portfolio of work. During these two years, I also spent several evenings reading after work, going to numerous trainings on weekends, and running an independent study group. It all paid off. Today, I’m part of a pioneering Agile team at Lockheed Martin, where I’m extremely blessed to be working with some incredibly talented people.

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

Woo: We are uniquely positioned to touch so many parts of an organization. While our jobs may be to understand the goals, discover the rules, and engage the players, what I find most interesting is that each project is different, each stakeholder unique, and each solution its own adventure. For someone who gets bored of routine and likes new challenges, it is the ideal role.

Laura: What was your job search process like?  What challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?

Woo: My biggest challenge was my professional background. I do not have the background of most BAs, who come from tech roles, consulting, or expertise in a domain. Ironically, I do not even have a tech or business degree.

In fact, I believe that my liberal arts backgrounds and non-traditional path has actually helped me as an Analyst. My first career was in film production, which meant working on short term projects with new people each time, towards a common goal. It required planning together and being on the same page when it came to the process. Later in life, while working in human services, I learned how to read people, elicit information, write proposals, and to recommend actions. Sound familiar?

When it comes to careering, I’m a big believer in building on who we already are. My strengths are leading teams towards decisions, building road maps, and devising creative ways to solve problems. I did not know how to leverage these skills into a sustainable path, until three years ago. While exploring Project Management, I also came across business analysis and had that “aha” moment that many of us BAs do upon discovering the trade. It was like discovering fire.

At that point, I faced a major challenge — my company did not have BA roles and most did not even know what a BA was. I knew that I had to step out of the box and reinvent myself.

To gain some initial experience, I joined an organization called the BDPA, which sponsored “Learn By Doing” projects aimed at college students and aspiring technology professionals. These projects provided an opportunity to play the BA role on actual web applications. After six months of eliciting and grappling with requirements, building my first artifacts, and getting strong feedback, I was hooked! To this day, I am extremely thankful to Jacqueline Sanders and David Blackman, my mentors at the time, who opened my eyes to a whole new world.

The following year, I took it a step further by creating “stretch” projects in my workplace. The key was to create win-win projects that helped my supervisor with creating new services and improving processes, while allowing me to hone my project leadership and business analysis skills. The team was extremely supportive, and I can still hear them saying, “Oh boy, here comes another diagram…”

During this time, I also began reading books and attending online trainings on everything BA-related. One of the first books I read was How to Start a Business Analyst Career (surprise!) which helped me to see that there were many types of BAs as well as several paths towards becoming one. I also read Barbara Carkenord’s Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis, and believe it or not, the BABOK Guide, from cover to cover. The last one was a bit of an exercise in masochism, but hey, I was motivated!

Aside from the projects and the reading, the most critical thing I did was to become active in the local BA community. After joining the IIBA chapter in Atlanta, I actively volunteered at their events, took part in every training, and applied for their first BA Mentorship Program. I was extremely fortunate to be paired with my next mentor, Yelena Rubinchik, who provided priceless feedback about the projects at my workplace.

Towards the end of that year, I started to go on my first BA job interviews through contacts made at the IIBA. For the most part, the interviews went well, but there was one that I bombed quite badly. To this day, it is the hardest interview I’ve ever been on, but one that I am grateful for. I learned through the failure, and it helped me to step up my game for the ones that followed.

There came a brief moment when I openly began to wonder when the first opportunity would arrive. I had experienced a few near misses after getting to the final rounds of interviews. What kept me going was the amount of time I had invested, and all the wonderful people who believed in me and had invested their time in me as well. Mentally, I kept reminding myself that it was a matter of “when” and not “if” I would get my first opportunity. A year ago, the sun finally broke through.

Laura: How did you end up in your first BA position? And what’s it been like so far?

Woo: I am extremely blessed to have met several wonderful mentors in my young career. One of them is Wanda Spain (the current President of the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the IIBA), who has developed some outstanding professional development programs for the local BA community — the Atlanta Chapter recently won the Professional Development Award in 2014 from the National IIBA. I owe Wanda for my first role. Here’s why:

During the time I first started to go on interviews, the local IIBA was sponsoring an event called “Business Analysis with the Stars.” It was based on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” Three BAs were paired with three locally respected BA leaders, and we were given 30 minutes to devise a BA approach towards a given scenario. Judging us would be three “celebrity” BAs which included a couple of authors in our field.

Wanda, being the awesome mentor she is, challenged me. She nudged me into being one of the three contestants. This meant getting my work dissected in front of over a hundred people live, and it was being podcasted live as well!

Truthfully speaking, I was terrified. On the other hand, I knew that I had nothing to lose.

Long story short, I did extremely well, and almost even won. A few months later, at a chapter meeting, a tall, bespectacled gentleman whom I’d never seen before, stood up and announced an opening on his Scrum team. When I approached him about the role, he remembered my performance from “Business Analysis with the Stars.” His name was Russell Miller, and today, he is my project leader. The moral of the story: nothing risked, nothing gained.

My first year as a BA has been both challenging and rewarding. The challenge comes in having to learn several domains, including aviation guidelines, engineering principles, software development, not to mention the application of agile principles. The reward is that I am constantly learning something new, while contributing towards the development of new products.

I had a really good rookie year, but now, more is being placed on my shoulders. I’m expected to initiate and anticipate more, and spend less time thinking and reacting. I had to unlearn waterfall habits in my first year on a Scrum team, but at the same time, I’m applying traditional BA techniques to situations that the “Scrum Guide” does not account for, such as in project initiation and more frequently, during customer engagements and facilitating team activities. At the end of the day, it is still up to us BAs to create a shared, common understanding, no matter what type of framework is being employed.

Laura: What do you consider as the keys to your success?

Woo: I’m still learning how to be a “success” in this field, but some personal principles I try to stick by:

  • Continue to learn. This means spending at least one night a week (if in the field) or at least two (if attempting to get in), to learn new skills or to brush up on existing ones. There is so much to learn.
  • Be You. Early in our careers, we try to emulate the success and techniques of other BAs. Just as no two projects are the same, neither are two BAs. Be open to learning new techniques, but also lean on what you are good at. The truth is, you don’t know everything, so in the meantime, trust what you already know.
  • Be Able to Answer This: “My Value Is…” We BAs are more than order-takers. Be able to explain what you personally bring to the equation.

Laura: What recommendations would you make to others looking to follow a path like yours?

Woo: For anyone who wants to be a BA, please remember this:  Those performing this role were no better or smarter than you when they first started out. They simply created an opportunity for themselves.

In terms of going after this career, be deliberate about what you want. This means going that extra mile to differentiate yourself. Rather than simply taking a course, create a project. Rather than just reading a blog, seek out a successful BA and meet them for lunch to learn from them.  Host CBAP study groups, get involved, volunteer your time towards projects (non-profits need you!).  Our actions speak louder than words, and if your actions are loud enough, people will give you opportunities.

Last, and definitely not least, be thankful! Whatever good fortune we have in life does not come through our own hands. It comes because someone believed in us, someone fought for us, someone took a chance on us. So many people touch us along the way. Without their encouragement, their mentorship, and the opportunities they provide, who knows where we would be?

At my first IIBA meeting, I met Barbara Carkenord, the author of Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis. I didn’t know who she was at the time or how revered the book was. I just remembered meeting a gentle spirit who was extremely smart and kind, and encouraging me to pursue this career. The next day, I went ahead and bought her book.

Reading that book changed my life, because for the first time since embarking on my journey, I saw that there was an actual science behind many of the traits that I was good at, and that this science had spawned into a burgeoning profession that impacted products, systems, and human experiences in so many countless ways. I wanted to be part of this movement, and I haven’t looked back since.

Laura: A heartfelt thank you, Woo, for sharing your story, the ups and the downs. I know many readers will benefit from your honest and detailed journey. I can’t wait to see where you go inside and beyond business analysis!

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