[Ask IT Career Coach] is a Career Advice Newsletter for Information Technology (IT) professionals including business analysts, computer programmers, data analysts, database developers, technical writers, project managers and software testers.
If you, have a challenging question about your career, submit it here and we will answer yours just as we are answering this question submitted by a technical writer titled: What Software Do I Learn to Become A Business Analyst? …
How do I learn or get the software knowledge that would make me a business analyst?
What types of software programs will I have to use on the job; and how do I learn these programs in a visual manner without having to refer to textbooks?
You do not understand what a business analyst does and because of that you are mixing software jobs (like that of a computer programmer’s) with the business analyst’s job.
This mix-up is quite common because software oriented jobs are more common and better understood than business analyst jobs.
When you think of a computer programmer’s job, the picture that comes to mind is that of a highly skilled technology savvy professional who spends a lot of time building software programs, creating data entry forms and screens, designing websites or even installing desktop applications.
Unfortunately, when you think of business analysts, you also imagine that their duties or tasks are similar to those of computer programmers!
Because of this, you are wrongly associating the business analyst’s career with more software / technology careers like software testing, technical writing or computer programming.
So, in TODAY'S POST, I will contrast the role of a software tester, computer programmer, technical writer and business analyst to bring the point home.
What Does A Business Analyst Really Do?
The primary skills that business analysts use on the job are communication skills
(both written and verbal) unlike computer programmers, whose primary skills are tied to expertise in specific technologies like C#, Visual Basic, Java, PHP.
Business Analysts are highly-skilled or expert at communicating technology requirements with stakeholders, customer, power users or even technical teams (think software developers, software testers, web designers).
The primary communication tools used by business analysts while facilitating the requirements engineering process are Office productivity tools including Microsoft Word (for documenting requirements), Microsoft PowerPoint (for making presentations) and Microsoft Excel.
However, unlike computer programmer jobs, business analyst jobs are not required to be software or technology centered.
Don’t get me wrong!
Some job postings for business analysts require knowledge of software development languages like C# or Java or a software development background.
The business analysts that apply for these job postings are more accurately classified as Technical Business Analysts.
There are several domains or specializations available to business analysts (mortgage, financial, telecommunications / telco, automotive, healthcare, insurance) and technical business analysis is just one of these domains.
However, the requirements for domain business analysts are not the same as the requirement for becoming a business analyst.
You are a business analyst first before you become a technical / domain business analyst.
So, don’t apply the role, responsibilities and requirements for the technical business analysis domain to all business analyst domains.
Competence or mastery of Microsoft Office Productivity software (MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint) is a requirement for business analyst jobs even when it is not stated on the job posting.
A business analyst who uses Office Productivity software can document requirements with Microsoft Word, make PowerPoint presentations and run what-if analysis using Microsoft Excel.
Focusing on software skills beyond Microsoft Office software makes you more of a computer programmer than a business analyst.
For your information, here are some of the differences between computer programmer jobs and business analyst jobs.
Business Analysts Compared To Computer Programmers
Business Analysts gather requirements while computer programmers build to specifications.
Business Analysts document work flows and business processes while computer programmers model and build software programs that follow those workflows or business processes.
Business analyst are hired for their written and verbal communication skills while computer programmers are hired for their expertise or skills in specific programming languages or technology platforms.
A computer programmer's work is deeply invested in learning or using technology while a business analyst’s work is deeply invested in understanding, documenting and communicating business requirements.
A business analyst’s primary software tool is Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint while a computer programmer’s primary software skill is knowledge of Java or C# or Visual Basic or PHP or other programming languages.
Business Analysts document the requirements or features of software programs while computer programmers build software programs.
Both the business analyst and software developer are involved with the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) for different reasons. While the business analyst owns the analysis and documentation of software requirements, the computer programmers owns the building of software programs.
I am also going to contrast the role of business analysts with that of software testers and technical writers to bring this home.
Business Analysts Compared To Software Testers
- Software Testers are more hands-on with programming than business analysts.
Software Testers are more skilled in programming because they sometimes have to write automated tests using scripting programming languages.
A business analyst should not be required to write scripts or learn programming languages except in instances where they are applying for technical business analyst jobs.
So, you cannot project the hands-on software skills requirements for software testers onto the hands-on skill requirements for business analysts.
- Software Testers write manual or automated tests that verify that software programs developed by computer programmers were written according to the specifications or requirements documented by business analysts.
- Software Testers have to test or inspect the procedures or functions written by computer programmers.
For that reason, they may have to learn the basics of the programming language used in creating the software program.
There is almost no value in business analysts inspecting a programmer’s code or even messing with it because Business Analysts do not have those competencies!
- Read more about Software Tester Careers here:
Business Analysts Compared To Technical Writers
- The skills exercised by technical writers are similar to that of business analysts in some respects.
Both technical writers and business analysts exercise strong written communication skills.
- A technical writer’s primary role is the documenting of existing software features, business processes, etc.
Because of this, a technical writer may have to learn specific software programs (apart from MS Word or PowerPoint) to help them with create technical documentation like Help Files, Software Manuals, etc.
The technical writing industry is such that job postings require knowledge of specific software documentation tools.
However, this must not be confused with the software requirements for business analysts.
Business Analysts are not technical writers and the business analyst’s job does not require knowledge of specific software programs apart from the ubiquitous (Microsoft Office, MS Word, MS Excel or MS PowerPoint).
While the technical writing industry is componentized along the lines of software documentation tools (Adobe PageMaker, Adobe Frame Maker, Adobe Acrobat, Quark Xpress, Corel Ventura), the business analyst industry is segmented along the lines of domain specialization (financial, utilities, web / user interface (UI) business analysts, etc.).
- Read More about Technical Writer Careers:
What Does It Really Take To Become A Business Analyst?
The requirements for business analysts’ jobs are primarily documentation, requirements analysis and communication (both written and verbal).
While it is common for a business analyst to spend his / her time, preparing PowerPoint presentations, taking meeting notes using Microsoft Word or writing Use Cases in plain-old Microsoft Word, it is common for a computer programmer / software tester / technical writer to spend the same amount of time coding new program features / documenting bugs / documenting the features of a software program.
A business analyst must be 100% comfortable in his / her role as a communicator, presenter, leader, facilitator or analyzer without feeling the need to learn more software tools!
How To Get Hired For A Business Analyst Job – Case Study
Some time ago, I was hired to help an Information Technology (IT) director put together a software development team for a financial software project in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.
In that role, we posted a senior business analyst job opening and then started interviewing qualified business analysts.
The business analyst I interviewed and recommended got the job because she did something different from the other business analysts who applied for the same job.
She walked into the interview with a bound, spiral document that showcased the comprehensiveness, thoroughness and versatility of several business documents she had created for one automotive client in the Greater Saint Louis region.
She did not get hired because of what she said at the business analyst job interview or because of the software experience listed on her resume.
She got the business analyst job, by showcasing her hands-on business analysis skills.
What differentiated her was a compilation of various types of business analysis documents she had worked on for an automotive client in the Greater Saint Louis area.
The financial client hired her as an Information Technology (IT) business analyst for a financial software project because they connected with the hands-on, visual depiction of her business analysis skills exemplified by her Microsoft Word based portfolio.
My final advice?
Don’t approach the business analyst industry based on how the software testing, technical writing or computer programmer industries work.
Remove false associations between the business analyst’s role (primarily written and verbal analysis or communication of requirements) and the hands-on skill requirements for software testers, technical writers or computer programmers.