Decompose Your Skillset to Find Your Strengths (And Weaknesses)
By profession, I’ve always been involved in technology. Starting as a Mainframe programmer (yes, I’m that old!) at the age of 19, I worked my way through several forms of analysis – systems, process, business, and quality assurance. When I tried my hand in the digital world with Curatti, I did so unaware of what it would take to succeed. Hopefully, by showing you how I can decompose my skillset, I can help you to do the same with yours. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll plan better than I did.
The jobs are presented in the order in which I did them. But if you read the first 4 backwards, you’ll see a clearer skillset flow. Yes, there are duplications. They are the reason I and others have been able to move through the ranks.
Even if your job is nothing to do with IT, I hope that the way I break down the needs/elements/skills of my jobs helps you or someone you love to do the same for theirs.
Decompose Your Skillset
Strengths of a Computer Programmer or Coder
I’ll not pretend that my list is complete for any of the following categories. This is intended as a demonstration rather than an authoritative source.
Computer Programmers and Coders need the following skills:
- Logic (*1 – see below)
- Comprehension of specifications or functional requirements documents (*2)
- The ability to parse the above into logical elements that can be coded
- The ability to plan and code the program or module(s)
- Data manipulation
- Coders must be able to find holes in requirements and formulate the right questions in order to plug them
- Unit testing
- Top-down/end-to-end testing
Strengths of a Systems Analyst
Systems Analysts are the bridge between Business Analysts and Programmers. They take overall business requirements and turn them into functional requirements in a one-to-many fashion. (One business requirement may break down into any number of functional reqs).
The skills required are:
- Comprehension of high-level business requirements (*3)
- Ability to parse them into functional requirements
- The above steps require the ability to communicate effectively with business and logic/technology professionals. In some ways, the two are different types of humans! 😆
- Data analysis and manipulation
- The ability to ask a wide array of questions and communicate the answers to the various other interested parties
- Systems Analysts are in the middle. They must be able to find holes in the business requirements and formulate the right questions in order to plug them. They must also be able to answer questions from the coders and, where necessary, change the language to ask a business question.
- In a manner of speaking, systems analysts are bi-lingual, as Business Analysts and coders speak a different language!
Strengths of a Business Analyst
BAs are also a bridge. They speak with business groups to both find out their needs and wants, and provide reality checks when they can’t be achieved affordably with new systems, purchased and perhaps customized systems, or enhancements to what they already have.
I’m purposely presenting this in a different order to my career path, as it is both a clear career progression and the beginning of the process that ends in new programs or enhanced software.
Their strengths are:
- The ability to interview end users, understanding their needs
- Great with questions! As with any other type of interview, great questions can be the key to unlocking what might turn into a flow of key information to help formulate the business requirements documents. But the BA also needs to question the benefits to end users (*4)
- Empathy! How can anyone really understand what end-users do without understanding their work day or true needs. How can they find the right questions?!
- Data analysis
- Be a great writer and overall communicator. A BA needs to speak with stakeholders, department heads, managers, actual users, and systems analysts. And in most organizations, also talk directly with programmers. This can seem like a form of multilingualism!
- Being an SME – Subject Matter Expert – who can help guide everyone, including QA testers
- Presentation skills at various levels. You need to get the money people on board, as well as satisfying end users that your vision meets theirs, and systems people will need to see how the vision can be turned into technological solutions.
- Manage high-level testing (although that should really be a BA’s job)
Strengths of Process Analysts
Whereas Business Analysts translate user requirements into broad documents and Systems Analysts and Programmers/Coders create the programs and modules that make up systems and software, the work of Process Analysts is not tied to any particular system.
Sometimes, no matter the groundwork laid to create systems or simplify a company’s work, things just don’t work well!
I’ve worked at large companies which spend many millions on systems development and upgrades, but constantly miss deadlines and smash budget forecasts. The systems may not integrate effectively, but more often, the groups that handle different aspects aren’t on the same wavelength.
To do this, you’ll need these skills:
- Ability to see both the 10,000-foot view and the finest details
- Visualization skills and the ability to create charts showing systems and departmental handoffs
- While others are concerned with their own specific responsibilities and groups, the Process Analyst is independent of these, so may need to navigate around people’s territorialism and feeling. So you need diplomacy and tact
- The ability to face major pushback to the point of having all of most recommendations squasheStrengths of QA Analysts and Testers
To effectively do QA, you need to:
- Be able to learn and understand systems
- Create high-level and detailed test plans
- Be able to face serious pushback from systems owners and Bas. (They will insist you shouldn’t test certain things. You must insist it is necessary)
- Build positive relationships even while doing something where you are, in effect, trying to prove that the work of others didn’t reach the standard required for it to go live
- Ask the absolute best questions! Anyone can follow systems documentation to create test plans. But to be good at this, you must test things no others think of, but that might realistically be done by end users looking for shortcuts
- Explain what went wrong, why, and how to fix it
You may also want to read: How Quality Assurance Concepts Can Improve Your Business
Notes (see above)
- It is the curse of the programmer that not all of us overcome, that we go through a phase early in our career where we simply can’t accept illogical moments in film or TV, because we’re unable to disregard logic
- A functional specification is what it sounds like but typically on a grander scale. It describes the functions of a portion of a system or upgrade
- High-level business requirements are also known as system requirements documents, and they, too, are what they sound like. They describe the overall system or upgrade
- You can call this limitation of expectations. It’s not that anything asked may be impossible. But often, the things that are nice to have cost more than the system as a whole. If you can provide 90% of the request at 50% of the cost, show people how that’s possible and why it makes sense.
Evaluating The Above in 3 Short Paragraphs
Lots of relationship building, analyzing, writing, presenting, and asking questions.
But what’s missing? What are the holes?
Nothing in the above taught me how to develop new business to make money for a company. It was all on the execution side. So, I can ask killer questions, keep vendors and clients informed, and write and edit. I can have great ideas for new business opportunities, design them, and oversee their creation. But somehow, I’m crap at business development. In other words, I can create something great but couldn’t find the customers if I was mingling in a roomful of them!
Knowing your limitations is at least as important as knowing your strengths. You can be the best at what you’re good at, but your results will not exceed your limitations in the areas you fall down in.
Can You Decompose Your Skillset?
If you’re looking to progress in your current career or make a switch, can you break down the requirements of what you do to really determine what you can bring to a new profession? Can you look at that new profession, break down what it requires, and see how close you are to having what it takes? Have you demonstrated the aptitude to learn anything you’re missing?
If you feel that you can’t do this yourself in an objective enough manner, it could be worth your while, and perhaps a relatively small monetary outlay, to seek some help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact an employment specialist you may know. By all means, run this article by anyone else you trust if you feel it will help them to help you. But I’d strongly advise you to go through some type of discovery exercise before you make your move.
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