Career: Systems Analyst
Someone on your left speaks French and someone on your right speaks English; both individuals need to speak to each other. The systems analyst is the middleman, assessing the needs of the end-user and translating them into programming or turning over the programming responsibility to the development department. What are the business requirements? Who will comprise the user community? How large is the application going to be? Will it be internal or external? These are all questions facing the systems analyst, who spends much of the day in front of the computer poring over these issues. With a new product, other elements come into play, such as network location, user community, type of machine, and portability. If the analyst is reviewing an established product, the user community will dictate its changes and enhancements. “One of the biggest surprises in my 25 years of technology work is that people who have a creative background as opposed to a degree in computer science tend to make better systems analysts,” says one seasoned professional. “The best analysts I’ve come across came from backgrounds in theater, art, and filmmaking. But they were all able to see and grasp big-picture concepts very quickly, and break them down into subcomponents. People who have a computer science or math background tend to be very technical, and sometimes that can be a hindrance.” Systems analysts need to be independent thinkers-people who can “think out of the box” by grasping concepts quickly and seeing the big picture as opposed to the small details. “I also look for someone who is self-motivated. Here . . . take the ball and run with it and come back if you have any issues,” says one employer who heads up a technology group.
Few companies are willing to spend money on someone who doesn’t have some kind of programming background. There is not much difference between an analyst and a programmer, though the programmer needs to be versed in a programming language. As far as dealing with the functional requirements, these are the same position. There are junior-level analyst positions, which is almost like being a junior programmer. Any of the Java applets and the basic visual C++ programs are very applicable to today’s market, while Cobol and the older programs such as Assembler are considered dinosaurs. Without experience, a support role at the help desk with internal training is a good way to start out.
Financial companies and most of the Fortune 100 companies have systems analysts who may also have programming responsibilities. But today, many young analysts are flocking to Web companies where there’s money to be made. A small starting salary combined with options could make you a multimillionaire within a short period of time, or your company could go bust within the year. Internet ventures attract risk-takers, so it all depends on how much of a gambler you are. Many systems analysts come from creative backgrounds; some return to those fields, while others combine their artistic passions with Internet opportunities. “If I left my position and was able to do anything, I would go back to photography or painting or apply those talents to Web design,” says one systems analyst.