Author: Adriana Beal
You are a good software engineer, database manager, or software quality assurance professional who recently discovered that business analysis is the role you enjoy the most. How do you go from a technical role to a business analysis role?
This is a problem faced by many aspiring business analysts, and even by people who already spend time doing business analysis work in technical positions. What should you do to prove to potential employers that you have the necessary skills to take a formal BA role? How to avoid being constantly “dragged back” to an IT role when the volume of development work grows or the size of the IT staff is reduced?
Having solid technical skills can be a great starting point for someone looking to develop a career in business analysis. In Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs? Laura lists a good reason why many BA jobs ask for technical skills: BAs with technical knowledge are more likely to ask the right questions about technical implementation.
The assumption becomes if you can write code now or could write code in the past, you are less likely to be trampled by the developers.
I remember at least one situation in which my technical background (electrical engineering, with time spent programming in C and Java) came to the rescue of a system enhancement project in danger of not fulfilling the business need. The developer (who had inherited the code from someone else), was adamant that one of the business requests could not be implemented without a major code rewrite, which would require time and budget the project didn’t have. I asked him to explain to me the basis for his opinion. After some investigation, I discovered that the initial implementation had a flaw that could be easily corrected. By simply changing a primary key in the database (to the one that actually made more sense from a system and business perspective), it would be possible to implement the feature the business requested. The developer wasn’t exactly convinced by my arguments, but I scheduled a meeting with him and the head of development (a manager with excellent technical background), and the manager immediately saw that my analysis was correct. The featured ended up being implemented without the major code overhaul proposed by the developer.
Situations like the one described are not uncommon when business analysts with a technical background work together with business subject matter experts and the IT team to find the optimal solution for a business problem. A business- and technology-savvy analyst can be instrumental in helping determine the business need and define the optimal solution to meet this need.
The biggest obstacle for IT professionals interested in developing a BA career is the lack of well-developed business skills. One might argue that “soft skills” (the ability to communicate with clarity, precision and eloquence, work well with other people building effective contacts and relationships across and outside the organization, and so on) are more important for a BA than being business-savvy. However, in my experience, software engineers who are passioned about business analysis already value and develop their transferable soft skills, so it’s typically not the main competence gap they face when they try to switch to a BA position.
Understanding things like revenue streams and profit centers, on the other hand, may require a mode of thinking that is relatively unfamiliar to many technical people. Often, IT professionals are more skilled at writing elegant code, and producing software rich and features and functions, than at helping stakeholders determine the right set of project requirements capable of balancing the needs of the company, the market, and the users.
If you have a background in IT, and want to become a business analyst, here are some steps that will help you reach your goal:
- Read Bridging the Gap regularly. Here you will be able to interact with BAs who successfully made the the transition from a technical role, and read articles like What jobs will lead to a BA role?, which will give you good insight on how to highlight your BA experience in your resume, and how to use other roles as stepping stones to get a BA job. Signing up for the free email newsletter will help you stay updated with the latest posts.
- Periodically reassess your competence gap and make sure you have a plan to address them.
- Learn to “talk the talk” of business analysts. The site Modern Analyst offers a useful list of potential interview questions that can help you formulate your thoughts and become better prepared to answer screening and interview questions.
- If you haven’t started yet, read business books, and blogs such as the ones from Harvard Business, as well as resources that can help you build your business analysis skills, like the ones I recommend here.
Finally, if you are truly invested in developing a business analysis career, check out the book, How to Start a Business Analyst Career.