Systems Analyst: Executive Summary

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The Ace Widget Co. has an ancient computer system. It'd like to upgrade to an Oracle-based operation with wireless capabilities, so employees can access the system with their BlackBerrys. The systems analyst orchestrates the effort. He starts by interviewing users, teasing out what they need as opposed to what they want—the nice-to-have things usually cost more than necessary.

Then, members of the team develop a shopping list, plot a step-by-step game plan, implement the system, test it, and troubleshoot. They also might supervise the trainers, who will try their best to convince everyone that the new system "really will make your life easier."

Being a systems analyst requires programming skill, but more important is the ability to see the big picture: translate geek-speak into plain English, identify company needs, and get everybody on board.

Creative liberal-arts types with computer expertise usually make better systems analysts than pure techies. If you'd love playing with leading/bleeding-edge adult Tinkertoys for a living, this can be a dream career. Yet another plus: Because so much sensitive communication is involved, this is among the most offshore-resistant computer-related careers.

Median Pay

National: $91,000. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

A bachelor's degree is normally expected, but not necessarily in computer science. Computer expertise acquired through real-world experience is often acceptable. An M.B.A. is a plus, though for most positions it's not required.

Smart Specialty

Government agencies and universities hire lots of systems analysts, and they're often the most stable employers. Increasingly, the private sector is using temporary employees, hired just for a specific project.

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