Does my dream job exist?
January 18, 2008 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Does my dream job exist?

In my current semi-administrative, vaguely project-management-related job, I frequently find myself pulled in to participate in processes or teams who have already begun a project and (too late) realize or decide that my particular skill set can contribute to the design and implementation of the project. Often the area of my contribution is technology-related, although I don’t work in the IT department. Rather, I am one of those in-between folks who can “speak both languages,” bridging the gap between IT and other business units. I am good at spotting inefficiencies and designing solutions. I am also able to envision how technology can be used to innovate old-fashioned behavioral patterns and streamline workflows.

The solutions I help provide are often progressive responses to long-standing or recurring obstacles. This means many people who understand the advantages of embracing forward thinking can still remain reluctant to leave their comfort zones. They can inadvertently throw up obstacles and impede potential progress. Often a great deal of work must be done to offset poor decision-making in the early stages resulting from lack of information or presence of incorrect information. Often I find that if I’d been involved from the get-go, I’d have been able to help steer things in the right direction.

But by the time I enter the fray, the ground is less fertile because the time, effort and money already spent has made people adversarial. My ideas are met with greater skepticism and I have to work twice as hard to make my case. Depending on the situation, I must also contend with bruised egos of those who must now admit they didn’t have all the answers after all, making them even less receptive to my solutions.

First request: I would like to make this role of “solution provider” (or whatever you might call it) into an actual position. Is there an official corporate term or business role that encompasses what I’ve described? If I can point to other companies of individuals doing what I’ve been doing in a real-world capacity, it will increase my chances. [Note to those who can identify such a position- is it more likely to find this type of role within an IT department? I’m trying to decide if a switch to IT would make this path more accessible.]

Second request: I want to find ways to ensure I get involved sooner in things so that I can make a positive impact going in, rather than always have to handle damage control. How can I get myself included in projects (often in parts of the company I don’t normally interact with) earlier so I can make a difference?
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Technology (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like a Product Manager. Escape from IT and get into an actual software company where they understand the value of this sort of bridge-the-chasm role & skillset.
posted by GuyZero at 7:10 AM on January 18, 2008

I could be wrong, but it sounds (in a more general sense) like what consultants for people like Bain and their ilk do. Basically a company pays them a ton of money to come in and offer solutions to problems that they don't think they can solve internally. Thats pretty much my dream job too, but it seems like getting a position with them is difficult because potential candidates can be cut throat and shape their education around working for them. I'm sure those types are more of an exception than rule, but its something to keep in mind.

As for the second- I think the best way is just to offer insight to people who have authority to make decisions and shape projects when you feel you have useful input. Even if it gets ignored at first the goal is to put it into people's heads that you have things to contribute and can bring new perspectives to problems. Eventually people will start involving you directly or at the very least asking you questions which is important. Making people aware that you can do more is an important first step.

Something else I just thought of- what you describe also sounds like what Business Analysts do. I know they are BAs who are focused on IT. Basically business units come to them and say I need to address A B and C issues, how can IT do this for me? At that point the BA works with SMEs (subject matter experts) or whomever is relevant to develop solutions. The BA is the bridge in that instance.

Hopefully some of this is helpful. This kind of work seems very fulfilling and stimulating intellectually so hopefully it works out for you :)
posted by zennoshinjou at 7:14 AM on January 18, 2008

It sounds like you want to be a project manager, but with a twist.

There exist consulting companies (I work for one) that specialize in solving difficult or "impossible" technical challenges for clients who are other companies. Our PMs often do pretty much what you describe. Sometimes, by the time our clients come to us they are looking for a creative, out-of-the-box solution. Of course, it is the client's people who are "stuck" -- our own people take delight in implementing innovative solutions.

The trick is to establish a track record you can point to that shows you can successfully manage such a project.
posted by metabeing at 7:18 AM on January 18, 2008

You're a business process analyst.

I'd take exactly what you've written here, and give it to the people who employ you and 'draft you in late' usually. Make your case.

If they don't get it, apply to work for any one of the big technology consultancies - their business consulting teams would be delighted to have you.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:20 AM on January 18, 2008

I understand the type of bridge you're talking about. I did my MSc dissertation (with a UK university a couple of years ago) on website usability viewed from a business perspective. I found plenty of evidence to suggest that most people are in one camp or the other (business or IT). There are very few in both and I was trying to argue that it's important to bridge that gap, by encouraging people to speak "both languages".

Even accountants do it these days in the case of understanding computer security systems. I'm not sure if the whole idea of bridging the disciplines has caught on yet but it can only be a matter of time.

Good luck!
posted by stravaig at 7:46 AM on January 18, 2008

I could be wrong, but it sounds (in a more general sense) like what consultants for people like Bain and their ilk do.

Yup, but don't look at Bain, look at Deloitte Consulting, Accenture, and BearingPoint. They're all IT-heavy consulting practices, as opposed to Bain, McKinsey, BCG and others who are more operational or strategy focused.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:46 AM on January 18, 2008

You're a business analyst, or a business process analyst, or a business systems analyst if you throw a bit of database/coding work in there.
posted by pdb at 8:08 AM on January 18, 2008

I did pretty much what you describe, and my title was Business Analyst--it's a real, legitimate field with professional associations and all that, so it should get some recognition. It gets called different things at different places, though, so Product Manager is often the same sort of thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:45 AM on January 18, 2008

Best answer: Wow, I could have written that question. Until recently I was always the clean-up person and suffered from many of the same issues, especially seeing all of the problems when it was too late to do anything about them; now I lead projects, so I have more control over the early decisions. In my case, my manager recognized the knowledge I had amassed over time and appointed me to lead a particularly tough project. If your management is not recognizing your skills, you will need to make your case. Do you know of an upcoming or recently-started project that you may eventually work on? Ask to be included now and give some reasons why it makes sense. You probably won't be leading a project out of the gate, but being the "subject matter expert" on a project someone else is leading is fine too. You may have to find ways to keep your ear to the ground so you know when these opportunities come up.

Keep in mind that you will probably be giving up the stuff you do now, to do the stuff you want to do. Typically, when you move to the front of the project, other people start to fill in at the back end. Testing and implementation are my favorite parts, personally, but now that I'm up front in design and development, I have to give those tasks to other people and it kills me.
posted by cabingirl at 8:59 AM on January 18, 2008

I work for a consulting firm (like the ones that have been mentioned earlier) and what you do is a skill we use! It sounds like you're good at business process improvement and probably some change management too.
posted by pointystick at 9:51 AM on January 18, 2008

Best answer: Hey, that's my job.

If you would be interested, the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) recently started certifying BA professionals in much the same way project managers are certified. Their site might help you learn about the kind of work you seem to crave.

It also offers networking opportunities, courses, the document they cultishly refer to as the Body of Knowledge, etcetera, etcetera.
posted by Sallyfur at 8:57 PM on January 18, 2008

Instead of working in the IT department, work in a web or technical solutions company as a product manager, strategist, or information architect. Companies range from more technical and IT-oriented (think IBM, Wipro, or Accenture) to very designy (companies like R/GA, or IDEO) but what they have in common is that companies come to them with problems that can be solved by a combination of strategy, technology and design, and they put together solutions for them. The choice depends on your skillset and what kind of technical problems you like to work on.
posted by lsemel at 3:39 PM on January 19, 2008

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