Job profile: Become a computer systems analyst
What is a computer systems analyst? This seems like a simple question, yet it is actually quite complex. You see, what a person’s title is doesn’t usually reflect what they do. A roofer, a plumber — you can tell me what they do. An “IT guy,” on the other hand, could be anything from a data scientist to a PC technician.
Unfortunately, calling someone a “computer systems analyst” is like putting the “IT” in IT guy —depending on the company, you could have a person responsible for a variety of different tasks. Let’s try to map out what a computer systems analyst is and give an overview of the profession, or at least a majority of the positions encompassed by that label. There are a lot of common denominators.
Defining the role
Many internet sites define a “computer systems analyst” as someone who studies an organization’s current computer systems and procedures, and then designs information systems solutions to help the organization operate more efficiently and effectively. A good analyst, under this definition, understands the needs and limitations of both business and IT.
To judge by all of the organizations I have ever worked for, however, that person is what is commonly called a business analyst. A good business analyst is a bridge connecting the business to its IT division.
The main difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst is that the business analyst (commonly called a “BA”) is business-oriented and focuses on the broader context of business changes and systems development. A systems analyst, by contrast, will focus on system specific requirements.
Don’t forget soft skills
There are a lot of skill sets that can be included under the systems analyst description and some that are absolutely needed for it. A computer systems analyst must have certain soft skills, or personal qualities, in addition to their technical skills.
The two most important soft skills for a systems analyst are probably problem solving and critical thinking. These abilities will let you readily identify problems and then evaluate alternative solutions to determine which one is best.
I recently wrote an article on soft skills and how they are desperately needed in the IT industry as a whole. I believe the following is the base-level brick foundation needed for any role, not just that of a computer systems analyst; you should try to develop and/or refine these key traits:
Strong work ethic: You need to be able to power through those days when you really don’t want to work or, even worse, the days when your team doesn’t want to. Stay late, work hard, don’t cheat the system — these are all are core elements of the work ethic soft skill.
Positive attitude: This is a given simply out of the need to exist in harmony with others. IT personnel can often seem intimidating to others, however, so you should make an effort to have an excellent attitude at all times.
Effective communication: This is another must for any field, but it’s particularly important for success as a computer systems analyst. Take a management class, or read some books, or do whatever else will bump this up for you, ASAP. I believe it to be the most important soft skill.
It’s also important to work on time management, acting as a team player, building and maintaining self confidence, and the ability to accept criticism.
Strong technical background
There are some hard skills that are essential to preparing for a computer systems analyst position. First, for a “system” or “platform” you need to be skilled and versed in that system. If you are the BA or CA on a PeopleSoft implementation, then it will serve you well to be well-versed in PeopleSoft.
If there is not a specific skill set related to the systems you’d like to work with, then shoot for a broad knowledge of hardware, software, and programming. Going for the well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades approach — and then letting your employer of choice assign you to a role — is a viable means of entry into the field.
Whichever you choose, try to learn quickly (you will often be asked to master new technologies) and make a point of understanding how to explain technical concepts clearly and simply. Work on becoming a valued and trusted member of whatever teams you end up on. (This is often called being “business aware.”)
Get the right education
When seeking work as a computer systems analyst, an MBA degree is generally considered a plus by most employers. Previous employment in an information technology field, such as network administration or systems administration, is also essential.
Most employers require systems analyst applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer systems analysis, computer science, computer information systems (CIS), management information systems (MIS), business intelligence, or a similar field of study.
You will enjoy a high potential for career growth as a computer systems analyst. There are intermediate steps along the way, but a good analyst could reasonably expect to wind up as a CIO. You will start out earning around $60,000, if you are good, with the potential to advance deep into six figures territory (and beyond) by the time you reach the top.
There are several certifications related to this job track than can help you advance. I am a huge fan of PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. The project management abilities of information technology professionals in today’s market are often sorely lacking.
Even taking just a stutter-step into the project management realm, perhaps by earning PMI’s CAPM or CompTIA’s Project+, will improve your prospects. Take a Udemy course, or at least read a book! Any degree of project management fluency will improve your world immensely.
If you want to be all-encompassing and understand a large variety of security-related items, you could get a CISSP from (ISC)². Understanding cybersecurity is increasingly important across all IT disciplines and job roles.
Make sure that any certs you pursue that cover a specific topic are broad enough to allow you to use them in other areas of IT and other systems. Chances are, if you are a good computer systems analyst, you won’t be on the same project for long periods. Your employer will want you to solve other system issues.
Stick to your guns
This job is a big one and it’s not easy. Historically, ensuring the smooth function systems of any kind has never been easy — but with the right effort, training, and pure ambition an individual can be successful at any position.