How Do I Become an IT BA If I Don’t Have an IT Background?

Do you find that most business analysis roles are related to IT in some way? Does this cause you to wonder if you can really become a BA without having detailed technical knowledge or possibly even a certification of some sort? Is someone without an technical background forever locked out of the IT industry?roadblock

In what follows, I’ll lay out some of the roadblocks non-IT professionals face in finding BA jobs, provide suggestions for overcoming them, and then speak to some of the strengths business professionals bring to the BA profession. (After all, the “B” in “BA” stands for “business.”)

The Roadblocks non-IT Professionals Face in Finding IT BA Jobs

As a business professional, it might seem like everywhere you look “BA” and “IT” occur in the same sentence. If you lack confidence in your IT knowledge, what do you really need to learn to become a BA?

First – Lack of Experience with Projects, Specifically IT Projects.

One of the challenges I see non-IT professionals face is experience working on a project end-to-end.  There’s a difference between doing work that is relatively consistent day in and day out, working in more of an operational role that sustains the organization, and doing work that has a very specific start and end point.  Being able to step outside of the day to day and consider the problem that needs to be addressed, the scope of the solution, and make a plan to achieve a specific goal is extremely important for a business analyst.

Many subject matter experts are very responsive in the short term and very consumed with getting a good quality job done.  But they need to work on developing a longer term view that makes them successful as business analysts.

The best way to overcome this challenge is to get involved in projects: something that’s temporary, something that has a start and an end, something where you get involved, you do some work, and then you step out and allow the day to day operations of the business to continue on without you involved.

Second – Lack of Technical Awareness

While an IT BA doesn’t need to know how to build technology, it is important that they know enough about technology to have productive conversations. In the 21st century, technology is becoming a strategic part of the business.  Even though as business analysts we are solving business problems, the possibilities that are enabled by technology are allowing us to address new business opportunities and solve new business problems.  Understanding enough of technology is no longer an area that’s relegated just to the developers; it’s something that savvy business professionals are beginning to embrace as well.

As a business analyst, you need to at least keep up if not exceed your business stakeholders in terms of your understanding of technology. You can start by talking to the most friendly developer you can find and asking them to walk you through the basics. You might also explore a resource such as CIO.com or Tech Republic or the Forbes CIO Network.

Third – Difficulty Communicating with Technical Professionals

Lack of technical awareness can lead to difficulty communicating with technical professionals. Sometimes we’ll see a business professional assuming that anything is possible and being somewhat unwilling to negotiate around technical complexities.  When you take this approach, you disenfranchise yourself from the solution.

You as a BA will not necessarily be creating code, running scripts, writing queries – those are the hard skills of an IT professional. But you will definitely be working with professionals who do these things.

The relevant questions are:

  • Can you communicate with technical professionals effectively?
  • If you don’t understand a technical term, do you have the confidence to ask what it means so that you can get the concept behind it?
  • Are you willing to engage in conversations that might be full of abstract technical language so that you can fully understand the technical problem and communicate that back to the business community?

Strengths Business Professionals Bring to IT BA Roles

You might not want to believe me, but I also receive questions from technical professionals asking if they can ever be a business analyst without a business background. (The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?) And that’s because your business background provides you with many assets you can draw from in a business analysis career.

Thinking of yourself as a “non-IT” professional is part of the problem. You are starting from a point of weakness. Instead, think of yourself as a business professional who can deliver excellence in your areas of strength. Here are some strengths we see business professionals leverage in their transition to business analysis.

Business Domain Knowledge

Business professionals have business knowledge. You might know a business domain. If you are from accounting, you know more than I do about finance, I’ll guarantee you that! The same holds true for marketing, operations, customer service, and sales professionals. You might also have relevant industry expertise to bring to the table or another leverage point that sets you apart from your “IT” competitors.

Knowing the business is a big part of being a BA. Leverage this asset to its fullest when exploring your options within BA by seeking positions implementing or enhancing IT systems within your domain area of expertise.

As Joan Davis shared from her story on transitioning from the HR Department to Business Analyst Intern:

Eventually I had a heart-to-heart with the IT Department Head, recapping my assets as someone who was capable of comparable work plus knowledgeable of the business side, someone that might soon be lost to a competitor given no other choice.

Strong Relationship-Building and Communication Skills

Professionals in sales, account management, and business development tend to have strong relationships within and outside of the organization. These are important soft skills for a business analyst who might work with dozens of stakeholders to negotiate requirements for a large project.

Consider the strength of your relationships and how you communicate with others. Is this a core qualification you can leverage in paving your path to business analysis?

Understanding and Solving Business Problems

If you are dealing with any sort of change, you are solving a problem.

  • If you are in sales, you understand the customer’s problem and then position what you have to offer to solve it.
  • If you are in customer service, you are solving lots of customer problems.
  • In operations you might address inefficiencies, redundant work, and incoherent processes.

Consider deeply the problems you’ve been involved in solving and how they were addressed. Detail out your role in defining the problem or finding the solution. This type of accomplishment is especially relevant and is an experience you’ll want to highlight in your conversations about BA roles.

An Alternative: Focus on a Business-BA role

If the above strengths don’t fit you and the roadblocks aren’t areas you wish to improve upon, you might reconsider whether becoming an IT BA is really a good decision for you. It might be that you would do best to focus on becoming a business process-focused BA, where your scope of problem-solving is limited to improving the business processes. These roles are available, though perhaps in less demand than an IT BA. These roles are also less likely to have the title of “business analyst” so you might need to do more digging to find them.

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Comments

  1. I was involved in Laura’s inaugural MyBACareer.com program and would highly recommend that you consider joining the program. I’m an ex commercial banker and learned more from her program about BA than I did in my graduate work in MIS and in classes taken at a local IIBA certified education provider. If you’re serious, you should utilize the program!

    Best of luck!

  2. One suggestion I would make is to check out a basic Programming Design and Logic course at a local community or Jr. college. I took that course and found that it was a great way to understand in generalities how programs were designed, and helped me brush up on flow charting and use case skills as well as thinking normal business processes through in and communicating them in an understandable manner.

    Another benefit from taking the course was it legitimized my “picked up” IT knowledge and showed potential employers that I was serious about the BA role and my willingness and interest in learning new things.

    • Great idea Gary! That seems like just the kind of overview a potential IT BA needs, without the overhead of an IT certification or other intensive program. Glad to hear it helped you make your case and kudos for finding a practical solution to building this knowledge!

  3. @Dave, Thanks for sharing and great to hear these ideas play out in your real-world situation too.

    @Bennett, Thanks and I couldn’t agree more with what you added! Cultivating relationships with IT professionals is hugely important for an IT BA. And, in general, treating everyone with respect and no one as an “underling” is a great way to go through life.

  4. Bennett says:

    Laura, as usual, writes an excellent article.
    If I may add to the 3rd point – difficulty communicating with tech professionals.

    Realize that IT techies are a tad terse and to-the-point, generally. That’s the nature of their work, communicating with computers. However, never treat them dismissively or as an after-thought. Develop a friendly relationship and they will willingly explain any IT concept you need to understand. I’ve seen respected BA’s amongst their business stakeholders being loathed by IT, since they somehow believe IT are their underlings. The really sophisticated BA’s know how to synergize with IT.

    • This is really good advice. I work in IT, and there is nothing more frustrating than being treated like what you’re saying doesn’t matter. IT professionals understand the contrainsts of the systems that they program. It’s like their baby. They may or may not have a clear understanding of the business. If there is a compromise, both sides have to be willing to explore it in a respectable manner.

  5. Dave Schrenk says:

    In several organizations that I am familiar with, the IT BAs are often promoted from the business areas. The strengths that Laura mentions above are highly valued in our IT BAs. As long as you are capabale of learning the project lifecycle and various project methodologies along with gaining technical knowledge as mentioned above, you can be a successful IT BA.