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A Day in the Life of a 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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

In the 1970s, systems analysts worked on mainframes, which were very different from the Unix world. Mainframes were more structured, and codes had to be written a particular way because of the memory and hardware limitations. Mainframes were rigid in terms of what the system could do, the applications you could run, and the number of users you could have. Unix, however, is like the Wild West-it’s an open platform with a different mentality, giving systems analysts and programmers unlimited ability to create. The Web began as a commercial enterprise around 1994. In the pre-Internet era, the environment was only open to the techies. Before Web browsers were invented, going from one Web page to another was like pulling teeth. You had to generate a ridiculously long command chain just to get to another server, and the Internet was only available to a very closed community. This changed with the release of the first version of Netscapeª, the first commercial browser. “Today the field is open to the entire world and anything that’s Internet-based will provide good job opportunities,” says one systems analyst. “Right now the market is extremely hot and I think it will be this way for many years to come. You can basically name your job and name your price.”

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

When starting out, you will be allowed to make certain mistakes, and you won’t suffer the consequences since you are in a learning and growth position. As you become more experienced in the environment, your role in the big picture changes, and you will learn to break that big picture down into smaller details. A systems analyst with moderate experience can demand a hefty salary. “I have a position available for someone with two years’ experience. I can’t get anyone for less than $80,000 and the position is still open,” says one employer.

FIVE YEARS OUT

At this stage, you will be given more responsibility in tying a project together; whereas you might have been given one application to look at as a beginner, you will now manage an entire project that encompasses the application, the machinery, the network, and the user community. A systems analyst with a Unix background should understand the network aspect of Unix and be able to perform systems administration and Perl programming.

TEN YEARS OUT

After ten years in the field, a systems analyst is in a position to run a technology department as chief technical officer. These professionals earn salaries well into the six figures. At this level, you can also consult and earn $125 per hour or more.