Wednesday, 26 July 2017 07:23

So, You Want to be a Business Analysis Professional?

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Recently I had a co-worker ask me "What was your progression or path to get where you are today?" At first, I was disoriented and didn't know how to respond.

He continued with "I want to be a BA. It is part of my 5-year plan. I have been with the company as a Quality Assurance Tester for four years now and haven't been able to make headway".

At that point, I realized where the original question came from. The hard part then was answering the question. I mentioned the common things such as working hard, get noticed, and other business phrases.

"To be honest," I said, "The answer is not simple, and paths are never the same from one person to the next."

Truthfully! The answer is different for everyone. This is pure speculation, but I would assume most people do not go to a 4-year college to become a Business Analyst. There is after school training such as certifications for business analytics, but typically certifications are obtained once you are in the field and know what you want to do in the field.

I proceeded to tell him my story.

I was born on a hot summer's day in August 1981. Too far back. Now skip forward 28 years, and I graduated from Central Michigan University with a B.S. in Social Sciences with aspirations of becoming a teacher in the private sector. Unknowingly to me at the time, so did every other person in the world. This created an overabundance of unemployed teachers and not enough positions available. I then started working at a furniture company store as a Supervisor for one of the independently owned franchises. I won't name the company, but let's say just say they are known for their recliners. This was my first exposure to business analytics in a general sense as I was generating financial reports, providing cost analysis, longevity analysis, and break-even analysis on furniture as well as light bulbs and cleaning supplies.

A few years go by and a transition period came up when the franchise owners decided to retire. A management company was hired to run the day to day activities until the company could find a new owner for a franchise. During this period, there were three stores running under the management company and the previous owners shut down the servers and network. It is difficult to operate three stores when inventory, schedules, and every other day-to-day operation cannot be communicated between the stores electronically. The management company left someone in charge that was doing the best they could without modern technology. I went to this person and expressed my concerns. She agreed operations were difficult but didn't know where to start when there was no budget and the transition period was to last only 3-6 months. I mentioned the previous model hardware was still in a tech closet in the back and if she gave me a week, I could see if I could get a new network established between the three stores with minimal cost to the company. She thought that was a fantastic idea and I proceeded. I accomplished the task in less than a week, and the business was humming on new fuel and a positive attitude once again.


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Shortly after, representatives from the parent company made a visit to assess the current state of the operation as a potential buyer for the franchise was found. They knew the previous owners and knew that when they retired that the majority of the technology was dismantled. They were astonished by the fact that we were running so smoothly albeit technology from the late 1990's. They were fascinated by how this came to be and the manager told them what I had done and what I had been doing before and after the transition period. How I went from a store supervisor and writing schedules, placing shipments, and customer orders to a warehouse manager, store supervisor, and resident IT Specialist. Apparently, this was a big deal. Honestly, I just didn't want to write by hand customer orders any longer. It took 15 minutes of my time and had to be in triplicate.

One of the representatives was the director overseeing the IT System Business Analysts in the IT Department at headquarters. He asked what seemed like a million questions about what I did, how I knew what I was doing and how to do it, and what my ambitions were. I answered all of his questions and gave them all a tour of each of the stores. He showed an interest in me and invited me down to the company headquarters to meet his team and take a tour of the facility as I have never been. He said, "Consider it a job interview."

Nervous as I was the next week I drove 2 hours away to a place I had never been, to interview for a job I had no idea what it was about. This was my first encounter to the actual role of a Business Analyst. After taking a tour, I sat down with the team for an interview. It was a standard interview with standard interview questions. However, when it came to technical questions regarding computer systems and networks I was nervous and kept reminding them that I didn't have a degree in Computer Science or a related field; that I was self-taught except for a few college courses and my background was in Social Sciences and Language Arts. After about the 5th time doing this, one of the team members said, "Why do you keep stating that you don't have a Computer Science degree? Don't feel self-conscious. None of us have Computer Science degrees; I was a Marketing major".

This has stuck with me over the years: In an area where Information Technology is rampant, no one had a degree in the field. There were Associates with history degrees, psychology degrees, marketing, telecommunications, and a couple of others I don't recall. This was the one takeaway for me that day, and it would change my future forever. The next day I received a phone call with my soon to be director telling me, "Welcome to the team." I would spend the next four years honing my skills as a Business Analyst with the company before moving onto other opportunities in the same field. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and my start in the analytical world.

The advice I left my co-worker was this:

It doesn't matter what path you take as long as you reach your goal with the exception that the path is a moral and ethical one. Every path is different. Some paths are shorter; some paths are longer. Some take every bit of will and determination to make it through and others much less. I was in the right place at the right time. Fate, it would seem, placed me on this path. If you want to be a BA start by doing. Analytics is everywhere. If you are a tester on an application, you use analytics to gauge how long it will take to create a test plan or execute the test plan as well as determine the effort involved. Building, execution, approvals, implementation, warranty work…all these phases of a project lifecycle involve analytics. What you need to do is show your work. Describe your techniques to your manager and show that you can handle more responsibility. Get noticed for your work. Ask for the tough tasks or obstacles. If you fail at least, you show that you aren't afraid to try something new and learn from your experiences. If you succeed, well, now you are a proven resource for future projects.

I hope he takes this advice to heart and continues on his path. If I'm lucky, I will have the opportunity to see him succeed.

So, you want to be a BA? Great! Do you an Associate's Degree in Drama? Wonderful! Can you ask the tough questions? Are you willing to learn and grow techniques in analytics? Can you handle the responsibility of success or failure? Can you deal with the stress of timelines and relationships? Can you work in an ever-changing team environment and learning something new every day? If you can perform these tasks or if you can learn to perform these tasks, welcome to the team!

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Tom McIntire

Tom is a Systems Business Analyst with Jackson National Life. He has over 10 years of experience working in the field of Business Analytics primarily in Waterfall Methodology and a hybrid of Waterfall/Agile. He contributes to the Business Analytics community through blogs, articles, and training opportunities.

He has as strong background in education and social sciences through Central Michigan University where he obtained his B.S. in Social Sciences. He also has received his MBA through Chadron State College.

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