Do I need a degree to be a BA?

A lot of people ask me what it takes to become a business analyst. Some think it’s a very specialized field, and that surely a college degree would be required. And if it’s for business analysis in IT, maybe even a technical degree. This perceived lack of proper education can be a major hold back for someone looking into a business analysis role.  Many people study business management and other business related courses.  There are many diplomas issued each year to hopeful business prospects.  Lots of folks out there earning computer systems and science degrees as well. But when it comes to being a business analyst the rules change.  Although a degree can be helpful, it is not necessary.  Experience is the key.

I know many business analysts who did not even go to college.  If they did it was not in the field of business, but technology.  A business analyst can certainly earn a degree. Heck, I didn’t even finally get my degree until I was in my 40’s!  And, while there are certification classes and exams you can take to hold the title of certified business analyst, most have learned from experience, not from books.

A good business analyst is one who has prior experience in the business world and with problem solving.  They will be able to assess a business proposal or project and determine needs from data gathered.  A book or white paper may not tell a business analyst what needs assessments to prepare.  Only experience can do that in certain businesses. Do you find yourself in a role where your coworkers ask you lots of questions? Are you the go-to “expert” in your area? If so, that may tell you all need to know about whether you are qualified to become a successful business analyst.

Let’s say you’re computer-savvy and would love to join the ranks of IT business analysts.  A good business analyst is going to understand the concept of code, not necessarily HOW to code. In fact, you could argue that it’s better to NOT know how to code because sometimes the best solutions come from pie-in-the-sky ideas that may not, in purely current technical terms, seem even possible.  The key here is knowing there is something amiss when you start researching the problems. There may be simple solutions which require added code to justify the means.  Others may require process changes or organizational knowledge growth with no systems changes at all. Still other projects many require extensive analysis to determine where the problem lies and how to correct it.  Someone with business savvy can figure it out.

The reputable business analyst will be able to speak with management and other stakeholders to hear what problems and solutions have been ascertained.  These issues may or may not be the root source of the conflict.  The business analyst can determine this by digging further into causes and asking critical questions.  He or she can weed through what management thinks is necessary information to glean the truth.  He or she will be able to drop in on IT and see what their take on the problem is.  The business analyst will also speak to front-end users who know more about the application of the program, and possibly even ways they work around it.  With your business expertise, it is quicker to get to these root causes than someone without.

In conclusion, no, a college degree or even certification is not required to understand business issues. Experience and a proven track record of solving problems counts much more than a nice piece of paper in a frame on the wall.

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