Technologies come and go, the purpose remains

As a Business Analyst, should I care what technology the IT department is using?

Over the years, Accounting systems, Human Resources systems, and other software applications of every variety have been written and rewritten again and again as technology has moved forward.

Data has moved from sequential tape drives to sequential disk drives to ISAM files to hierarchical CODASYL databases to relational database. Additionally, as this data was moving from place to place, it was also getting bigger, more complex, and easier to access.

Front end technologies also moved from technology to technology and from product to product. Over time, software programming languages included Assembler, FORTRAN, COBOL, Basic, PL1, C, C++, Visual Basic, PowerBuilder, .NET, Java and dozens of others.

Let’s also not forget that user interfaces have moved from text-based to graphical and the reduction in size of portable computer devices, from “shlepables”, like Osborn and PS2 to laptops of all varieties, to smartphones and tablets.

The reason I’m bringing you down technology’s memory lane is because, from a career perspective as a technical professional, this continual technological advancement forces you to make one of the following decisions regarding your career:

1. Find a technology you like that seems to have ongoing staying power, such as COBOL, and hope you can ride its wave into retirement. 2. Make the decision that, as a technologist, learning new technologies is a life-long endeavor and that your marketability will grow and shrink based on your ability to master new industry trends. 3. Sidestep technological advancement by moving into a Business Analyst, Project Management, or IT leadership position. You will certainly need to keep abreast of movements in technology, but you will not be required to develop a hands-on working knowledge of their intricacies. 4. Move out of IT into a business area you love. If you do, your technology background will serve you well because it provides you the ability to take better advantage of the technologies that are being used to support your new chosen profession.

All of these options can continually move you toward a high quality, high achievement, highly compensated profession.

Given the title of this column I would like to dig more deeply into option #3. Think of the power of the statement “Technologies come and go, the purpose remains” from a Business Analyst’s perspective. For you, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes, you must keep up with IT industry trends and trends in the business area you support, but the general purpose of the business systems you are designing and overseeing remains unchanged. Sure, there will be new features required (ex. adding social media connectivity to your CRM system), new interfaces to contend with (ex. getting your software to run on tablets and smartphones) and new industry specific regulatory requirements that must be retrofitted into your software and business processes. In all these cases, however, the purpose of the system remains the same. An accounting system still does accounting. A CRM system still keeps track of your company’s customers. A Help Desk Support system still helps coordinate the efforts of the technicians providing help desk support.

Because the business functions of these systems stay basically intact over time with ongoing expanding functionality, it favors Business Analysts, Project Managers, and IT Managers who have longstanding experience on these systems. The reason is that virtually everything you learn, from a functionality perspective, continues to be of value. In essence, your personal knowledge base continues to grow and evolve and very little prior knowledge becomes irrelevant. Yes, you must learn new versions of vendor software, new testing tools to assure new software is properly created and installed, but your core application knowledge simply expands, deepens and becomes more marketable as time goes on.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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