Software Engineer to Business Analyst?
August 20, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I've been a software engineer for almost 10 years. I would rather be a business analyst. How do I make the transition? [More details inside]

I'm a software engineer for a government agency. Due to national politics and various local problems, the budget is shrinking and is almost guaranteed to be smaller in the coming years. My current project is *very* management heavy, and we don't have any positions equivalent to business analysts. In any case, software engineers on my project are not supposed to discuss requirements with stakeholders. I've actually been verbally reprimanded for trying to get written requirements in the past. The big ball of mud is the favored development methodology for our scientific software system.

There isn't anyone with formal training in software engineering or business where I work - the main manager never finished high school and was hired directly from a tier one technical support position for an unrelated product (he started after I did).

My education is as follows: double majored in economics and computer science and picked up two master's degrees, one in business administration and one in software engineering. I'm fairly good at public speaking and have been working on it in classes for a few years. I helped lead my previous employer with process re-engineering efforts in order to earn a level 3 CMMI rating. I have also led some *very* small development efforts in the past.

I sent out a bunch of resumes, but even though I've been tailoring my applications, the only responses I have received are for pure software engineering jobs - which I don't want. I've also spoken with supervisors two levels up and have been told that no other positions are available.

How, Hive Mind, can I best make the transition to business analyst? I'd be happy (even eager) to switch employers and locations (Boston would be ideal). I don't want to find another software engineering position somewhere else.

I've read a few postings on the green discussing the required skills #1 and #2, whether one should be a business analyst and what it's like to be a business analyst, but except for one post asking about the skills necessary to make the transition from data entry to business analyst, there has been very little advice on how to actually make the move from software engineering to business analysis.
posted by taojones to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Stop sending out resumes. What you need to do is identify your "top 10" companies where you would want to work (be realistic, but also be ambitious). Figure out who the hiring manager is, and ask them out for coffee for 30 minutes to ask them how to get into a BA role (generally speaking - try not to ask for a job at their company).

If you don't know who the manager might be, find out. Don't approach HR; it's also a good idea to start at the top, with a CEO or VP. They can "recommend" to a subordinate hiring manager to talk with you. Colleagues or peers are good; people lower down on the food chain, as well as HR, are not.

After you've figured out what the requirements are, start sending out resumes. But the human element is important! Resumes should always be followed up with a phone call.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:59 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Horace Dediu -- who works as a business analyst and comments regularly on the mobile platform business at his blog -- was recently interviewed by Irving Ruan about his transition from engineer to business analyst. Might be useful in an ancillary way?
posted by Kikkoman at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2011

Write more, code less.

I expect you're not getting comprehensive specifications where you work (stop, just re-read your post, so no, not). So my first line is probably not going to work for you. I was going to say, start being more of a BA, code from your own spec and see if you can pass some docs on to other engineers and do more analysis. Doesn't sound like you're in a culture where that can happen, but you never know.

Tough economy to change positions... Here's a thought, research companies the have good BA's, get an engineering job at one and do the transition there.
posted by sammyo at 1:22 PM on August 20, 2011

Kikkoman: "Horace Dediu -- who works as a business analyst and comments regularly on the mobile platform business at his blog -- was recently interviewed by Irving Ruan about his transition from engineer to business analyst. Might be useful in an ancillary way"

That's a market analyst. Totally different. Business analysts generally observe, document and improve the processes inside a business. The difference, as best I can tell, between them and regular managers, is they don't manage anyone in particular, and that they're expected to communicate requirements with software developers.

They talk to customers so engineers don't have to.
posted by pwnguin at 3:34 PM on August 20, 2011

If you don't mind heavy travel requirements, independent software consulting companies and independent software vendors (ISVs) of major database and ERP applications generally always have entry level BA positions open. That's mainly because a lot of people who take those jobs burnout quickly on the travel, but really, if you can hack living in hotels out of a flight bag for a couple of years, it's a good, pretty well paid way to get a lot of relatively broad or deep (depending on your interests and assignments) experience as a BA in several different business settings, in a relatively short time. Also, you'll make business and technical contacts and get application training and exposure that can make all the difference on subsequent gigs.
posted by paulsc at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I disagree with a previous post. Definitely continue sending out resumes. If you are well qualified for a position and/or have a strong resume, then a company will invite you for an interview. That's usually how it works. Of course, if you can find out who the hiring manager is, or even the CEO, then it would not hurt to reach out to them, express your interest in the position and then ask them for coffee. Depending on the situation, you may come across as imposing and even bothersome if you ask someone to meet you for coffee for 30 minutes, especially with someone who is really busy, like a CEO. For me, what works well quite often is sending an email and asking them if you could have a 10-15 minute phone call. Also, generally speaking, it is perfectly acceptable to approach HR. With many positions, your only point of contact with a job posting is HR. Further, in large corporations, it is HR (and not the hiring manager) that controls a number of aspects of the hiring process (e.g., salary negotiations, etc.).

I agree with paulsc suggestion to reach out to software vendors and consulting companies. I work for a large Fortune 100 corporation, and I can tell you that while we are doing fairly well right now, our CEO has made it very clear that it will be difficult for any department to add head count right now and even next year. Such has been the case for a while now, so many of our departments, including mine, have increasingly been hiring/utilizing independent contractors, consultants and outside vendors. It is a whole lot easier to get approval for a $100K annual contract with a software vendor than it is to hire someone to provide such in house.
posted by stevenstevo at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2011

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