In the Digital Age, nearly every business and administrative problem has a computing solution. If you have a task that needs to be done more efficiently, someone has probably designed an application that solves your problem. But what will happen when you add that application to your computer system? Will it integrate seamlessly? Will its introduction negatively impact other applications, or create security breaches? Is it possible your organization already has a solution available that you simply don't know about?
Enter the systems analyst, an IT professional who looks at a computer system as a whole to find and eliminate inefficiencies, to resolve conflicts, and to strategize on future optimizations. Systems analysts work behind the scenes to help businesses run by:
US News and World Report ranks computer systems analyst (or systems analyst) as the second-best technology job (software developer is number one), the eleventh-best STEM job, and the 27th best job overall. Professionals in systems analysis bring business savvy to IT departments and spread technology expertise throughout their company by assessing the needs of various departments. A computer systems analyst aims to create solutions and improve the user experience for every stakeholder.
In this guide to becoming a systems analyst, we'll cover:
Theoretically, one could become a computer system analyst without a degree—not even a high-school diploma. That's because there are no official requirements for the job, no licensure or accreditations or professional organization memberships.
Even so, it's the rare computer systems analyst who doesn't have at least a bachelor's degree. Many employers require it, in fact. Among the undergraduate majors most often pursued by systems analysts are:
While a bachelor's degree is generally the highest level of education required to work in systems analysis, some candidates decide to earn a master's degree to gain leadership experience and/or improve their technical skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, common graduate degrees for computer systems analysts include:
Which graduate degree should you pursue? It depends on your aptitude and desired career trajectory. The three degree options listed above can prepare you for different niches in systems analysis and the technology sector as a whole.
For instance, Loyola University Maryland offers an MBA Information Systems that prepares graduates "for areas such as software application or knowledge management and decision-making."
An MS in Computer Science from the University of Chicago "is especially well-suited for students interested in mobile computing, information security, data analytics, high-performance computing, or becoming software developers."
And, finally, an MS in Systems Engineering from Boston University prepares students for "a research-oriented career in academia or industry."
A computer systems analyst needs to stay current as technology evolves. Seeking out continuing education and professional development opportunities, such as industry conferences and trainings, is one way to keep up. Three professional organizations that provide such opportunities are:
Some employers might require certifications, and some even offer incentives for you to earn them. Among these certifications:
Depending on your employer, certifications may be more (or less) valuable than a graduate degree.
The best way to become a computer systems analyst is by earning a bachelor's degree and then gaining work experience. For those who are sure they need a graduate degree, there are some schools, such as Tufts University that offer combined bachelor's and master's degree programs. These degrees can be completed in just five years.
Some employers are willing to pay for their employee's graduate education. These deals often involve an agreement to stay with the company for a certain amount of time after completing the degree. Many employees who accept such deals find it most convenient to pursue their degrees online. Consider the following online degrees:
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, computer systems analysts should have skills in the following essential areas:
These skills take on more importance as you rise through the ranks. For instance, planning is more critical for a systems analyst IV, who leads entire teams to complete a project, than for a systems analyst I, a lower-ranking team member.
System analysts have an average level of job satisfaction, according to a US News and World Report study, which uses job mobility, stress level, and flexibility as measurements. Here are some pros and cons of being a computer systems analyst:
The bottom 10 percent of systems analysts earn $55,000 per year, a number that increases to more than $142,220 for the top 10 percent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most system analysts are employed in the following sectors:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also tracks employment data, including the top states and cities for employment by occupation. Below, we've listed the top locations for computer systems analysts' employment opportunities as of May 2018.
Some cities pay systems analysts above the average. According to PayScale, these cities, and the percent above average, are:
Nothing is for sure in the fast-moving Age of Information. Twenty years ago, you would have thought a job with Gateway Computers would carry you through to retirement. Netflix was a company that delivered DVDs by mail, and Blockbuster Video stores were still a thing. Times change fast and dramatically.
Even so, computers and computer systems appear to be here to stay for a good long while. Systems aren't replacing humans (just yet), but they are making it easier for technology professionals to dig deeper into more challenging work. That's great news for you if you're ready to become a computer systems analyst. You'll get to use your research and technical abilities to improve and lead business functions, and you'll work across many industries. It's a good feeling to be in high demand and make a generous salary, all while doing what you love: tinkering and problem-solving computer systems.
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