How (And Why) to Become a Systems Analyst
March 18, 2021
Are you tech-savvy and business-minded? There's no need to choose one when you become a systems analyst. In this role, you'll blend your knowledge of commerce and systems to improve and optimize your organization's operations.
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:
- Weighing the costs and benefits of various new platforms
- Improving existing company technology infrastructure
- Figuring out how new tools will be used through user testing
- Creating how-to guides for their colleagues to follow
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:
- Education needed to become a systems analyst
- How to become a computer systems analyst
- Why become a computer systems analyst?
- Computer systems analyst career outlook
- Should you become a systems analyst?
Education needed to become a systems analyst
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:
- Computer programming
- Computer science
- Database management
- Information sciences
- Management information systems
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:
- Master's in Business Administration (MBA) , with a concentration in information systems
- Master of Science in Computer Science
- Master of Science in Systems Engineering
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."
Continuing education and training
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:
- International Association for Computer Information Systems
- Association for Information Systems
- Association for Information Science and Technology
Some employers might require certifications, and some even offer incentives for you to earn them. Among these certifications:
- Certified Software Business Analyst (CSBA)
- Project Management Professional (PMP)
- Microsoft C# Certification
Depending on your employer, certifications may be more (or less) valuable than a graduate degree.
How to become a computer systems analyst
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:
- Boston University: Master of Science in Computer Information Systems
- Columbia University: Master of Science in Computer Science
- Georgia Institute of Technology - Main Campus: Online Master of Science in Computer Science
- Johns Hopkins University: Master of Science in Systems Engineering
- North Carolina State University at Raleigh: Master of Science in Computer Science
- University of Maryland - College Park: MBA in Information Technology
- The University of Texas at Dallas: MBA in Information Technology
What skills are essential to a systems analyst?
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, computer systems analysts should have skills in the following essential areas:
- System improvements
- Research and technical evaluation
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.
Why become a computer systems analyst?
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:
Pros of becoming a computer systems analyst
- Compensation: The median annual systems analyst salary is $88,740 per year or $42.66 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Benefits: Most analysts receive comprehensive benefit packages.
- Job opportunities: Systems analytics is expected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS, which is an above average growth rate.
Cons of becoming a computer systems analyst
- Potentially long hours: According to TechRepublic, you work on the system's schedule, not the typical nine-to-five workweek. If it's snowing on Christmas Eve and Scrooge McDuck needs a report, expect a phone call.
- Interpersonal relations: If you have a hard time collaborating and making compromises with others (especially management), this might be the wrong job.
- Details: Systems analysis is not a field for people who only see the big picture. You must also be able to get down to the granular-est of granular levels.
Computer systems analyst career outlook
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.
What industries can computer systems analysts work in?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most system analysts are employed in the following sectors:
- Computer systems design and related services: employs 29 percent of all analysts
- Finance and insurance: employs 13 percent of all analysts
- Management of companies and enterprises: employs 9 percent of all analysts
- Information: employs 7 percent of all analysts
- Government: employs 6 percent of all analysts
Where are the most jobs for computer systems analysts?
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.
States with the most jobs for computer systems analysts
- California: employs nearly 68,000 analysts
- Texas: employs nearly 52,000 analysts
- New York: employs over 44,000 analysts
- Ohio: employs over 29,000 analysts
- Illinois: employs over 28,000 analysts
Cities with the most jobs for computer systems analysts
- New York/Newark: employment of nearly 43,000 analysts
- Washington D.C./Arlington/Alexandria: employment of nearly 28,000 analysts
- Chicago/Naperville/Elgin: employment over 23,000 analysts
- Los Angeles/Long Beach: employment over 19,000 analysts
- Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington: employment nearly 19,000 analysts
Cities with the highest average pay for computer systems analysts
Some cities pay systems analysts above the average. According to PayScale, these cities, and the percent above average, are:
- Seattle: 20 percent above average
- New York: 14 percent above average
- Atlanta: 6 percent above average
- Dallas: 3 percent above average
- Houston: 3 percent above average
Should you become a systems analyst?
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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