From Programmer to Business Analyst: How to Snap Back from a Layoff after 35 Years with One Company

John Jones began his career as a programmer.  Through consistent performance and time, he was given more responsibility to talk with the process owners and users to do the analysis before the design and coding work.  Although John worked through the entire development lifecycle, the company didn’t have a separate BA practice. Through the 35 ½ years with the organization, John moved from one business domain to another, always linking his previous work with the new assignment.

In December 2012, John was laid off from this one and only employer.  In starting a job search and reading job descriptions, he realized there was a whole world of business analysis he never knew existed.  During one phone screening, his years of experience meant nothing because he had never written a use case.  John realized he had a lot of catching up to do.

John started attending the local chapter of IIBA to make contacts and began to learn techniques and tools presented at the chapter meetings.  He read articles around the internet about context diagrams, a glossary, expressing business rules, and other deliverables from business analysis.  He took courses to learn how to write use cases and create wireframes.

In July 2013, John landed a new job as a Business Analyst.  His reading and training allowed him to speak intelligently about the elicitation technique and resulting documentation.

John was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us and share more about his story.

Why did you decide to pursue a business analysis career?

I never decided to pursue a business analyst career.  Even though I majored in Computer Science in college long ago, I knew that operating systems and compilers were not my goal.  I wanted these computers to do things for people.

My migration into analysis was a natural progression from doing well as a programmer/tester, then system designer.  Performing well at these tasks meant I was asked to talk directly with the business contacts about the systems changes to make.  Although business reasons were involved, the focus of the analysis was on how to alter the software to meet the business need.

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

After working for 35 ½ years with my one and only employer, I was laid off. It felt like walking into another world as I started reading job descriptions.  Long ago, I read Edward Yourdon and created data flow diagrams, but what were context diagrams, RUP, JAD, BPMN, and use cases?

To bring my knowledge up to the 21st century, I began attending the local chapter of IIBA (which I never knew existed), reading everything I could find on the internet and through LinkedIn groups, and took a couple of online webinars and courses, such as Use Cases and Wireframes.

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

I landed a new job in July 2013, which is a deliberate Business Analyst position.  I am starting on some simple projects to learn how the company operates and how they like to see the deliverables.  Ironically, my ultimate responsibility will be to manage the BA practice in the company.  I will help other Business Analysts in elicitation techniques and building the documentation according to standards, documents I didn’t know existed a year ago.

What do you consider as the keys to your success?

I believe I have two key skills that helped me to become productive and useful quickly.

  • One is that I seem to be able to learn business functions and software tools quickly.  On a simple scale, any word processor will have functions for indentation, copy/paste, bullets, and tables.  Billing function will have details for every company.  Yet somewhere, it’s still quantity times unit price = billed value.
  • The other ability is to build a rapport with team members or business experts.  “I know the basics of your business, but you are the expert for the details.  Would you teach me as we discuss this project?”  And I make sure I learn so I become a partner with them.

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

Pay attention to the world around you.  Particularly if you are employed, look beyond your company at how others perform business analysis and run development lifecycles.  My first and second employers are opposite in their strength of standards and lack of discipline.

If you are employed and seeking to move into a business analysis role, see what you can do within your company.  You have the advantage of people who know your reputation and the potential they see in you.  Use that to ask for opportunities to try an assignment with a mentor.

Thanks John for sharing your story!

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