Grace: My Business Analyst Career Journey

Grace: My Business Analyst Career Journey

Today, we're bringing you an interview with Grace - she currently works at an inventory management and accounting software business.

Hi Grace! I'm super pumped to feature you on - Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hi!  I'm Grace, and I write checklists for a living. :)  That's how I like to introduce myself to non-tech people, but it's also semi-accurate.  My checklists are informed by what the business needs, what problem is being solved by the work we are doing.  They tell the developers what the goal of their code should be.  They define "done" so that both QA and development know whether we hit our mark when a project is tested.  

Please share with us your current Business Analyst role and for what company you work for:  

I am in my third role as a business analyst working in software development.  My company is primarily an inventory management and accounting software business. 

Can you share with us how you entered the Business Analyst industry, and about your first business analyst role? 

I started working as a business analyst at Penn State when a project manager took me under her wing. Together, we worked on a project that introduced SMS messaging to admissions, for reaching out to prospective students.  Before us, Penn State had never texted potential students, and adding that tool to our CRM allowed us to reach young people to remind them about events, application deadlines, and more information that could help them succeed at Penn State.  Texting was a big change because frankly, most teenagers do not check email which was previously the primary way to reach them. 

Business Analyst role can look very different from company to company, and you've mentioned you're currently in your 3rd role. Could you please share if/how those roles were different, and what did your usual day/project look like? How has your role changed from 2016, to how it looks today? 

With Penn State, being a BA was only part of my role.  I also trained new employees, worked with devs on change management (processes oriented) for improvements to our CRM, wrote SQL to define populations for email marketing, and some things I don't remember anymore.  The great thing about this is that I was able to learn gradually and without anyone really needing things from me urgently.  I could pace myself while I read the BABOK over a long period.  My next position was more directly working with the developers and BA-focused, while still providing some IT support.  My current role is pure business analysis, and I have been in this role for 3 years now.  So while with Penn State, I was spending each day doing different things depending on that day's needs, today I am able to focus exclusively on tickets.  I work with another BA on my team and the two of us write all of the tickets that our team of eight developers implements and two QA people test. We meet with stakeholders frequently, with each of us typically working on separate projects and with a different section of our developers so that each "sub-team" can operate independently for project work while coming together to work through bugs.  The other BA and I hold a weekly meeting with our developers to look at the bugs that have been escalated as reproducible software issues rather than user error.  Those bugs, the tickets we create for projects, and tickets for concerns the developers have for infrastructure become our "backlog" which is just what it sounds like - a list of work to be done, but not yet planned.  Every three weeks, I meet with our project manager and dev leads, and I plan out the next three weeks of work called a sprint.  

What is it that you're personally finding most exciting about being a business analyst? 

Solving tricky problems.  The whole purpose of a BA is to identify potential options for solving business problems, and some are more complex than others.  Digging through API documentation, sending calls over Postman (a dev API tool) to troubleshoot, piecing together a full picture from disparate pieces of information - this is when I have the most stress and the most fun at the same time. 

How did you start improving your skillset as a business analyst? With the pace at which the technology and tools around us change, what are you currently doing to keep up with the ever changing nature of a business analyst role? 

You pick things up as you go.  You learn things as you need to know them. I learned how to query in SQL because we needed to do that at Penn State, and it's proven useful for pulling user information at later roles as well.  I work with poorly documented APIs now, so I needed to learn Postman earlier this year and have picked up how to make the calls I need to find how the API actually operates.  I also go to conferences each year (paid for by work) in order to meet others in my field and to keep up with new trends in business analysis, but to be honest - I have found the tried and true things work best when it comes to eliciting requirements from stakeholders, and do not change very much since they are based in psychology.  For example, the 5 Whys are universally a good approach to making sure you understand a problem, whether you are in finance or education or tech. 

Can you share what factors are most important to you in a career and why? Do you have a vision of what you'd like your career growth to look like? 

A career should be satisfying, it should leave you feeling accomplished at the end of the week. In terms of growth, I like where I am but could also see pursuing project management.  

Something that a lot of people are wondering and asking about - What recommendations would you give to someone who is looking for their first full-time business analyst position, how could they stand out?  

Solve problems at your current job. Maybe they will let you learn there. In the meantime, read the BABOK, study psychology and how people think, and ideally pick up some SQL because that is a great skill to have for self-service.  Otherwise you're going to have to wait for devs to get back to you any time you wonder something about users that isn't covered in your analytics softwares. For instance, "How many of our users store more than 1000 boxes in their warehouse at the same time?"  Hot Jar is not going to answer that, but the database should. Read about Agile, but stay away from Safe.  It's bull$hit. 

Grace, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story, anything you'd like to highlight, or add?

The business analyst exists as a bridge between the business and the code.  Their purpose is to ensure that the code reflects the business needs.  That means that the BA needs to balance understanding what the business needs and understanding what is possible in the software so that you can keep expectations realistic.  One of the most frustrating things you can do as a BA is give stakeholders unrealistic expectations the developers cannot meet. Egos are a big thing in software development, and the BA can never, ever let theirs get in the way because that way lies waste. Many people in software development have big personalities.  The best teams are the ones where everyone is aware that the team is pulling in the same direction. Blame is not the point of discussions after an issue is discovered - solutions are. This requires trust, which means being humble and being willing to sound stupid in front of other people (to avoid being stupid). Your most important job as a BA is to advocate for your team.  If the developers are overworked, shield them from PMs who want to pile more on. If there's a lot of items still in testing near the end of the sprint, organize developers to chip in. Be the person who understands what's going on the best and people will come to you because they know you will listen and will help.