Best practices? My job laughs at these. Please help me leave.
January 21, 2013 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I work in a very small IT company that makes custom business applications. The owner is way too involved in the day-to-day and pushes the sales guy to schedule us back to back to back for projects. We have no dedicated support staff so support for existing clients falls back to us (me and the one other developer) in addition to building new applications - and having all the meetings etc with clients. We are like half BA, half developer with no project manager anywhere in sight. I need to develop some skills that will allow me to get another job but no one here has the time or interest in creating requirements documents or making use cases. I barely have time to get my work done and am working more than 40 most weeks without overtime (I am salaried). I am getting burned out and need to leave. But the lack of actual SDLC/Agile/documentation stuff is really killing my attempts to transition to a straight BA position.

I don't even know what to do.

Basically, once the sales guy has gotten to the point where a client is actually interested, he sends us whatever description of the project the client has sent (could just be a bulleted list!) and expects us to take no more than 15 min to come up with an estimate of how long it will take. We don't even talk to the client before that! Then we (either me or the other developer) are expected to have just a few hours with the client and just start building this thing. There is no formal scope document, no formal requirements, no use cases, nothing. The "documentation" is that 15 minute estimate based on little or no knowledge of the business needs.

We are building on a platform, like Salesforce or SAP. I've been there over a year now. I've been actively looking since November for a new job.

On paper, I look great as a BA - I am really good at getting requirements and business needs from clients. Clients love me and constantly say that I really understand their business quickly. But I am not a developer and am not getting better at that part of my job, despite my trying. The area where I have excelled is in the BA part. There is no chance that there will be a BA-only position at this company at any time within the foreseeable future, so please do not recommend that. I have tried to discuss this and gotten nowhere.

But I cannot provide examples of use cases, requirements, or scope or anything. Even if I were to start writing these, I have no one to look at them. In fact, I need to be working right now, but I am just finally so frustrated that I had to turn to the green.

There is a local chapter of the IBAA but they don't seem to have any ongoing functions or open meetings. I can try to call them. I don't know what they could do for me though. Proofread my stuff?

Is there a job title I should look for that would allow to get more on-the-job training in writing requirements and other formal documentation? I make under 40 a year with no benefits and no OT. We're not getting raises because they have decided to go after some new "incentive" program that will really only give us a bonus if we don't file timesheets for a project, which will just cause them to wonder why we were over-estimating projects. It's a no-win situation. We are literally being asked to do work in less time than it will take. We have no formal QA so there's always problems with that too.

I can't take time off to regroup because we have deadlines all the time. We do not have vacation or PTO or anything. It's an informal "take time off if you want if your work is caught up" thing. Ha. If I am "sick" I am expected to work from home. The other guy just tried to take a week off to visit his sister who lives in another state and ended up having to work almost a full work week (well, 30 hours, he normally works about 60).

I burn out after 50 hours every week. I need out. I'm taking the civil service exam for a BA position in February, but in the mean time I'm trying to find other jobs. I had no idea I'd be asked for examples of my work and now I just don't know what to do. My resume is good enough I'm getting call backs, but without having this other experience, I'm stuck. I'm worried the state will also want examples of these formal documents.

I cannot move to another city at this time, unless the job offer was like 60k a year which no one will give me without this experience. I am on the east coast about 2 hours north of DC. I have a liberal arts degree, but my job experience since college has all been in IT depts. I am in my early 30s. I bought a line about this company and am now very concerned for my future, both professionally as well as my ability to save for retirement or deal with a, god forbid, medical emergency. If I got majorly sick right now or broke my arm or leg, I'd be so far up shit creek, I don't know what I'd do.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think that you can look for "product manager", "project manager", "project coordinator", or "business analyst" and find something that fits. Start marketing yourself as a BA/PM with developer experience, speak with a recruiter or two if need be, and get out. We just hired two new developers and that process was hard: developers are in demand, and good ones even more so. We're probably going to be looking at PM/BA types soon, but they'll be best for us if they have SOME development background. There are plenty of shops that are far more competitive than yours and shouldn't be hard to find.

You can easily market yourself as a business analyst and outline the projects you've worked and what your process was without having to go too crazy.

You also have to work at a shop that respects PTO. We give 15 days, but we do require some notice so we can schedule around that. 60k on the east coast should be easily attainable for anyone with good developer/BA experience who updates their resume and works for it a bit.
posted by disillusioned at 3:39 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You've got two separate problems. First, you're a dev who doesn't have the support of your company. Second, you're a dev who wants to be a BA.

Fix the first problem by moving, as a dev, to a larger company with a dash of professionalism. Fix the second problem by transitioning to BA within that company (or moving again when you're no longer firefighting, that's cool too).
posted by Leon at 4:04 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd continue going after business analyst positions while reading up on Agile methodology and project management. You may not have the "formal" training, but you've obviously got some experience. Let me ask you this...

Have you been reading up on the software development life cycle? Agile methodology and SCRUM? Project management? From the sounds of it, you have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, and your current job isn't allowing you to do that. That doesn't stop you from talking the talk in interviews with prospective employers, and it doesn't stop you from employing your own documents at your current job. Those documents don't have to be fancy, but the principles need to be in place, especially the functional requirement portion.

Ideally, I'd try to find a coordinator or lead developer position. If your development skills aren't great, maybe this isn't the path to take, but many lead developers transition to business analyst positions because they know the business more and more with each project they do, and they can estimate work accurately because they've done it. Furthermore, they are managing their own tasks constantly, which is great experience.

Strangely, your current company sounds like the nightmare I was in during my first job. I would get 2 day deadlines for projects that should take 3 months. No requirements, nothing, scope changed to whatever they wanted. I left after getting my 2 years of experience, and since I was basically thrust into charge of the development team... it looked great on my resume. But I didn't overstretch my worth. I knew I didn't have massive development experience, so I took a job at a larger corporation as a developer. I've since moved my way up to a project lead developer, and I'm now in line to become an BA/PM. Perhaps that's a path you might want to try to take as well.
posted by MMALR at 4:12 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should not stop looking for BA work. In many cases you can't show examples because they are commercial in confidence.

But to be honest - I'd take any job over what you've described. Start looking for BA roles ASAP, I'm sure you have enough experience. Also the formatting and interpretation of use cases varies really widely. I don't know if I've ever really seen a proper UML example out there. I wouldn't let lack of knowledge stop me from looking for work.
posted by mattoxic at 5:42 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let me boil this down a bit.
• Your current job sucks and it makes you unhappy.
• You are not a great developer and don't want to be a developer.
• You have strong BA skills and clients who would recommend your work.
• You have platform specific skills.

My advice is to not get overly hung up on not having documentation to show. Such documentation is nearly always proprietary. I hire BAs and I'd look askance at someone who handed me propriety work product. Send out your resume, get yourself some interviews and get moving.

Start attending user groups for your platform. Here's the one for Salesforce, but find the ones for your platform. Platform specific skills give you an edge over other BAs. Start working that angle. You do this openly under the guise of professional development to improve your coding/configuration skills.

Also, if you have clients you trust ask how they like working for X company. If there's a job open, they'll let you know. There may be non-competes in place, but with a small company as your employer probably not. If the clients love you and you're going to leave anyway, you are a very strategic hire for them.

I've had jobs that sucked the life out of me. It's not worth it. Don't let anything stop you from finding something better.
posted by 26.2 at 5:51 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yup, the Salesforce Users Group is great.

Also, update your LinkedIn profile with EVERYTHING you currently do within Salesforce and SAP.

Apply for the BA jobs, be honest about your weaknesses, your strengths are what will get you hired.

Stress how well you mesh with clients. THAT skill is a ALOT harder to teach than Agile Scrum.

I'm a Salesforce Admin and even my shittiest SFDC job paid more than $40k.

So you can go to work as an Admin/Sales Ops person, and get the other skills as needed.

Private Message me and I'll connect to you on LinkedIn. I have a metric Shit-Ton of SFDC contacts. Also LinkedIn has lots of great jobs. Try looking there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:13 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I make under 40 a year with no benefits and no OT.

You're being sorely underpaid and taken advantage of in this job. I can't give you advice on how to get something else, but I have a feeling almost anything else you do in IT will be better paid and benefited than the job you're in now.

I didn't see any information on how much IT experience you have, but if you have more than a year, for the purposes of applying, focus on what experience you do have, rather than the things you don't have. You know how to get things coded and fixed extremely quickly. You know how to meet client requirements informally and to their satisfaction. You know how to keep clients happy. In spite of the fact that they were gained under duress, these are extremely valuable skills, whether you have SDLC experience or not.

It looks to me like you're working a sub-entry level job (from a pay perspective), which is great in the sense that almost anything you take will pay more.
posted by cnc at 9:16 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fortna in Harrisburg, PA is hiring a Marketing Analyst. Try that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thank you all for making feel less crazy about thinking this place is crazy. I have updated my resume and gotten in touch with a recruiter. After it was mentioned here that is seemed out of the ordinary to ask for examples, I asked her about it and she said confirmed it was not normal and was just for the one particular client. Hearing that from you and hear makes me MUCH less worried about this process.

My LinkedIn is all up to date. Ruthless Bunny, I will reach out to you.

There is not a group for my platform and I really would like to get away from doing any development. Trust me when I say that no one else uses my platform anyway.

I have a few years of general IT knowledge and I do read up on a lot of Agile and other such stuff. I'm currently reading (and trying to put into practice) Karl Weiger's Software Requirements 2. I try to make as much of own documentation as I can, but there really is so little time.

I'm concerned about getting in over my head somewhere, but I think that I up to the challenge if I can just get a foot in the door somewhere as a BA. I'll post back when (hopefully!) I land a new position somewhere.

In the mean time, I'll try to not convey in interviews any of the desperation I know I've conveyed here.

cnc - Thank you for saying "taken advantage of". I needed to hear that to see what an absolute mess this is and that I am, indeed, being taken advantage of.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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