Pros and Cons of Being a Systems Analyst
Systems analysts are needed in nearly all types of industries to set up computer systems and make existing systems more efficient. Weigh the pros and cons before making your career decisions.
|Pros of Being a Systems Analyst|
|Favorable job prospects (expected 25% growth through 2022)*|
|High earnings (about $83,000 median annual wage as of 2014)*|
|Assortment of educational paths lead to this career*|
|Positions available in a variety of industries*|
|Opportunities for self employment (can work as a contracted consultant)*|
|Cons of Being a Systems Analyst|
|Most employers prefer a bachelor's degree*|
|Requires a high-level of technical and industry-specific knowledge*|
|Often requires long hours (many work overtime each week)*|
|Job may require travel*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Essential Career Info
As a systems analyst, your goal is to identify the information technology needs of a company and design computer systems to meet those needs. This may involve developing new systems or configuring existing systems to increase productivity. You may perform tasks like data modeling and information engineering to determine the specifications of your design plan. After determining a system design strategy, you will implement the necessary hardware and software technologies. You'll then perform quality assurance tests to resolve any design flaws and to ensure things are operating as expected.
Some other responsibilities that are common for this position include linking computers via networks to maximize information sharing, making recommendations to improve systems and providing training to end users. You might also troubleshoot for computer program and system malfunctions. Additionally, the scope of your job may be limited to certain types of computer systems, such as those dealing with accounting, engineering or science.
These professionals often work for computer systems design firms, but many also work directly for companies and organizations in a wide range of industries or as self-employed consultants. You'll generally work a full-time schedule, though the job often requires you to work overtime and may entail travel to clients' places of business.
Job Outlook and Salary
Compared to other occupations, employment for systems analysts was projected to grow rapidly at a rate of 25% from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. Factors fueling this job growth include an increased demand for more sophisticated technology, such as mobile and wireless networks. The healthcare industry, in particular, will have a wealth of job openings due to growing prevalence of e-prescriptions and electronic medical records. Many other positions will be available in IT consulting firms, who hire analysts to go from company to company updating and designing systems.
As of May 2014, systems analysts earned a median salary of about $83,000, according to the BLS. Those in the lowest ten percent earned a salary of $51,000 or less, while those in the top ten percent earned $130,000 or more. During this time, the highest-paying jobs were in the support activities for mining industry, which offered on average about $119,000 per year.
What Do Employers Look For?
Most employers prefer to hire systems analysts with technology-related bachelor's degree, such as in computer science or engineering. Some employers prefer candidates who have completed industry-related coursework. For example, a financial institution may favor an applicant who incorporated finance into his or her college curriculum. However, having a bachelor's degree in field not related to technology would not automatically disqualify you for a systems analyst position. You can still be a desirable job candidate if you have relevant work experience or expertise in the field you're applying for.
In addition, employers are looking for applicants that are detailed-oriented, can be effective in managing multiple projects simultaneously and have strong analytical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
Job Postings from Real Employers
As noted by the BLS, many employers are more favorable to candidates with bachelor's degrees. However, not all employers require applicants to have one. Some job postings request both education and work experience, while some only emphasize experience. Here are some March 2012 job postings for systems analyst positions that can help you understand what real employers were looking for:
- A technology company in California seeks a senior systems analyst with a computer science or related bachelor's degree and five years of experience in systems analysis. The ideal applicant will have experience in software development and familiarity of the mortgage industry.
- A mobile phone service provider in Virginia is looking for a systems analyst/administrator to maintain supply systems and workstations used by U.S. Army personnel. Candidates are required to understand software development procedures and technical terminology, have security clearance and meet physical demands like heavy lifting.
- A Colorado electronic payment processing company is looking for an applicant to develop technical design documents and perform software testing. This employer requires a computer science or related bachelor's degree, at least three years of experience in business or system analysis and experience in Microsoft structured query language (SQL).
- A technology staffing firm in Florida seeks a systems analyst with at least five years of experience as a business or systems analysis. Other qualifications include the ability to document and interpret workflow diagrams as well as proficiency in using SQL to generate queries.
How Can I Stand Out?
Earn a Graduate Degree
If you really want to impress employers, consider earning a master's degree. According to the BLS, jobs that require more complex duties often entail a master's degree in computer science. To better qualify yourself for upper-level management positions, you might earn a Master of Business Administration degree with an information technology concentration, which focuses on instruction in both business and IT management.
You can also set yourself apart from the competition right out of college by obtaining the Information Systems Analyst (ISA) certification from the Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP). If you're a senior graduating with a bachelor's degree in information systems, you may be able to take the ISA exam at your college or university. A passing score between 50-70% qualifies you for the ISA-Practitioner credential, while a score of 70% or higher qualifies you for the ISA-Mastery level credential. You are then awarded the credential once you graduate from college.
Other Career Paths
Systems Software Developer
Similar to systems analysts, systems software developers evaluate companies' needs and design software to meet business objectives. They also configure existing software to work with new hardware, test software programs and make suggestions on improving technology. This job usually entails a bachelor's degree in software engineering or computer science. These professionals, however, tend to bring in higher salaries and have better job prospects; The BLS reports that employment was projected to grow by 32% from 2010-2020 and that the median salary for systems software developers was about $96,000 as of May 2011.
Information Security Analyst
These days, companies need to keep their networks secure to avoid cyber attacks more than ever before. While systems analysts design systems to help companies better run their businesses, information security analysts are needed to help keep those systems secure. In this position, you'll perform tasks like encrypting files, setting up firewalls, monitoring networks and updating software programs to protect against viruses. These professionals typically hold bachelor's degrees related to computer science. According to the BLS, the median salary for information security analysts was about $78,000 as of May 2011, and employment was projected to grow 22% from 2010-2020.