Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs? We know that to be a business analyst, you don’t have to be an IT person. But this truth doesn’t resolve what many experience in the job market.
New and experienced business analysts alike will start researching jobs, only to discover that an overwhelming number of positions require specific technical skills. Or, they speak with a recruiter who has a myopic view of the role, and are told that if they can’t write code [or insert your favorite technical skill here], they’ll never make it as a BA.
In what follows, I’ll explain why we see BA jobs requiring technical skills, show you how to determine what those technical qualifications really mean, and give you a litmus test to see if you have the technical understanding required to be a successful BA.
Why We See BA Jobs Requiring Technical Skills
In the real-world job market, business analyst roles are messy. There are a specializations, unique qualifications, extensions, and partitions. The short answer to this question is you can find a BA role that does not require technical skills. But you have to be prepared to wade through and ignore those jobs with technical qualifications.
As soon as I find a job with an absolute requirement for SQL or a coding language, I stop reading and move on. If you don’t want to be doing those things, applying to jobs that require those skills is just a waste of time. So is fretting over their existence. Remind yourself that BA roles are messy and set them aside.
(And if you are interested in learning more about the BA job marketplace, be sure to sign up for our free BA career planning course.)
But before you throw out too many job roles, realize that the technical requirements you see in job postings can mean different things depending on the context. And that’s what we cover next.
Sorting Through the Technical Skills Requirements
You may notice that not all jobs with specific technical skills listed require the ability to use those skills. Sometimes these skills are preferred. Sometimes they are not mapped to any of the job responsibilities in the description. Sometimes you can ascertain a bit about the position by looking for the context around the qualification.
Consider the following two hypothetical examples:
- Write SQL reports. Requires SQL report writing experience with deep knowledge developing complex queries across multiple tables.
- Prior experience in SQL preferred. Understanding of database concepts and information models critical.
While the first requirement indicates day-to-day SQL responsibilities, the second does not. Vague or “preferred’ requirements often indicate a desire for a business analyst to think logically and understand big picture technical concepts. Other times, they have seen business analysts trampled by developers because they don’t ask the right questions. 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. (Just because this assumption can turn out to be wrong doesn’t stop well-meaning managers of business analysts from making it.)
When technical skills are couched in conceptual or communication-related contexts, the technical skill may be less important than system-thinking competencies. And as a business analyst, IT-focused or not, you must have good systems-thinking skills.
Technical Understanding vs. Technical Skills
While we are starting to see a growing number of jobs focusing specifically on business process and organizational changes, the reality is that most business analyst jobs involve working on IT projects. By an IT project, I mean that a larger part of the solution is implemented in software. To perform BA work on an IT project does not require a technical background or the ability to write code. I’ve spent most of my career working on IT projects and I hadn’t written a line of programming code since high school when I took a class on PASCAL.
As a business analyst on an IT project, it is important to have a general understanding of software systems. Basic knowledge of servers, databases, and client side technology, augmented with solid logical, systems-thinking will do. Combining both will lead to more effective communication with the implementation team.
Quick Test: Select a software application (client or web-based) that you use often. Select 2 or 3 activities you use it for. Can you identify the main sub-systems and interactions that are in place to enable these activities? If yes, you probably have enough software knowledge for a pure BA position on an IT project.
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