A reader asks: My company is moving to the cloud and they said they will need fewer programmers and more Business Analysts. As a programmer, how do I become a Business Analyst?
First, thank you for your question. Before giving you an answer, I would like to ask you a question. Do you want to become a Business Analyst (BA) out of short term necessity or is it because you really want to be one?
If your answer is that you would rather stay a programmer but becoming a BA will save your job, use this advice as a short term way to stay employed, but be very careful to maintain your technical skills. When the opportunity knocks, at your current employer or another company, your skills will be up-to-date and your technical marketability will be at its peak.
If your answer is that you always wanted to be a BA and this is your chance, then these steps will help you make the professional transition you desire.
1. Understand the Business Analyst role At its core, the BA role classically has three basic job functions. First, it is the primary intermediary between the programmers building software and business users requesting it. Second, is the collection of business requirements from the business users and their conversion into a Business Requirements document that is used by the programmers as the basis for the software being developed.
A BA may also perform a number of other important tasks, based on the company and the circumstances of a particular project. These tasks include project management (on smaller projects), software testing, application selection and implementation of cloud-based products, and software training/rollout.
2. Understanding the needed Business Analysis skills BA skills are very different than programmer skills. The primary skill needed to be a programmer is the ability to write, implement, and maintain software. The primary skills needed to be a BA are communication with business and IT people, requirements gathering, and document writing. Based on the particular company, skills such as project management, giving presentations, product selection, software testing, and other related project-oriented functions may also be required.
3. Do a personal gap assessment Honestly and purposefully do a personal assessment, comparing your skills, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses against the particular tasks performed by the BAs at your company.
4. Show your interest in becoming a Business Analyst It may sound premature to begin expressing your interest now in becoming a BA, but expressing your interest sooner, rather than later, may cause you to opportunistically be selected to perform small BA type tasks, such as meeting with business users or defining the business requirements for a new report or small system upgrade.
5. Pick a business specialty By picking a business specialty, I mean selecting the specific business area to expand your knowledge. For example, if you have been programming systems in the Human Resources area, you may decide, as a BA, to specialize on Human Resource systems. This doesn’t mean that HR will be the only area you will ever work in, but it provides you with an initial area of business expertise. Remember, a BA is the primary collector of business requirements. The better you understand the business area you are working with, the easier it will be for you to define these requirements.
6. Build the needed skills Your next task is to build your knowledge and skills based on your personal assessment. This can be through a combination of company sponsored training, evening college classes, self-directed searches on Google and YouTube, participation in MOOC type classes, and other similar means.
7. Volunteer to perform Business Analyst related tasks As your knowledge and skills start to grow, begin volunteering to perform BA type tasks. Given that you have already expressed an interest in becoming a BA (#4 above), the new skills you are beginning to acquire (#6), and your strong technical background, you should be well positioned to be allowed to perform these types of tasks.
8. Assume the role Lastly, as time goes forward, begin talking and acting more like a BA. That is to say, ask to be included in the meeting with business users, talk about software benefits to the business rather than application features and technical details. In essence, what this last step is trying to do is get others to begin thinking of you as a BA with a strong technical background, rather than as a programmer moving toward business analysis.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.