Systems Analyst

What do computer systems analysts do?

Computer systems analysts, often referred to as systems analysts, evaluate an organization’s computer systems and processes to help clients operate their businesses more efficiently. Combining their knowledge of technology and business, systems analysts design advanced information systems for an organization and their clients.

Analysts work in many different fields, including finance, insurance, healthcare and government. Regardless of their industry, most analysts conduct in-depth system testing, research emerging technologies and prepare cost analysis reports for clients. It’s important for analysts to work well in a team, as they have to collaborate with managers, engineers and programmers to oversee systems installations. Analysts also troubleshoot problems once their system is operational, write instruction manuals and provide training support.

Programming is part of the job for many analysts, and most are well-versed in several languages and operating systems. Some systems analysts choose to specialize in particular computer systems specific to the type of industry they work in.

Key Skills

Building effective information systems requires creative thinking, and systems analysts must constantly stay abreast of technological developments in their industry. Additionally, analysts need strong interpersonal skills and should feel comfortable working with people from both business and technical backgrounds. Successful systems analysts have diverse backgrounds but often share a few critical traits. The best analysts are:

  • Able to design new systems by selecting and configuring hardware, software and networks
  • Adept at diagnosing IT problems
  • Fluent in several programming languages
  • Familiar with many operating systems and hardware applications
  • Able to troubleshoot information system processes and end-user issues
  • Interested in monitoring and learning new technology
  • Excellent communicators and collaborators
  • Aware of how technology and business needs converge for clients
  • Capable of detail-oriented, creative work
  • Able to write and maintain instruction manuals and support materials


Areas of Systems Analysis

The growth of cloud computing and wireless and mobile networks has fostered a need for efficient and integrated systems, as most industries rely on information technology to streamline business processes.

Although there are many general-purpose analysts, those who understand both business and technology have an advantage in today’s job market. Expertise in a specific industry, such as healthcare or finance, is also a valuable skill. Detailed knowledge of a particular field helps systems analysts streamline operations between different sectors of a company, ultimately increasing efficiency and usability.

Systems designers

Systems designers, also called systems architects, partner with a company’s management team to create hardware and software solutions. They ensure that enterprise IT systems suit long-term business goals. Systems designers also:

  • Ensure that optimal systems integrate with existing cloud applications
  • Identify, develop and implement processes to improve productivity and efficiency, mitigate risk, resolve technical problems and optimize costs.
  • Provide architectural design details to new and existing user applications before development
  • Introduce new and custom applications to replace underperforming systems that do not fulfill business requirements

Software quality assurance (QA) analysts

Software QA analysts design and test systems to ensure they meet essential business requirements. They diagnose problems and advise management on how to improve systems. Other key responsibilities in this position include:

  • Testing the effectiveness of new and existing software
  • Analyzing test metrics and offering recommendations to improve the overall quality of the software
  • Creating and maintaining support tools for web developers
  • Working closely with software engineers and delivering clear and concise feedback on their work
  • Communicating the status of projects in laymen’s terms with executives and non-technical employees

Programming analysts

Programming analysts work with management to design and modify systems software and to create applications that meet company requirements. In contrast to other systems analysts, most of this work involves debugging and coding. Analysts across fields share a few key duties, including:

  • Working in several programming languages, analysts improve current software.
  • Maintaining mainframe, server and workstation operating systems.
  • Designing, programming, testing and installing information systems.
  • Providing staff assistance to management.

Work Environment

Systems analysts can work full-time with one company or as a consultant for different clients. Either way, collaborating and coordinating with others is an essential part of most projects. For consultants, the type of work and the hourly demands of the position depend on the needs of the client. Systems analysts often work from home, although they are regularly expected to meet with clients in-person.

How much do systems analysts make?

Even small and mid-sized firms require advanced information systems. Accordingly, systems analysts are always in demand and they are well-paid for their expertise. The BLS reports that the position’s median salary was $87,320 in 2014. Top earners made approximately $129,980, while the bottom 10 percent of systems analysts still earned an average of $50,780.

Average Salaries, 2004-2012

  • $87,320 2014
  • $83,800 2012
  • $81,250 2010
  • $78,830 2008
  • $72,230 2006
  • $68,370 2004

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES Archives

States with the Highest Concentrations of SAs

State Employment Avg. Annual Salary
Delaware 3,160 $89,410
Virginia 27,130 $97,590
Washington 15,890 $95,550
Maryland 13,430 $91,990
Arizona 13,540 $88,580

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES

Top Paying Cities

Avg. Annual Salary

San Jose $108,500
Bridgeport $108,040
San Francisco $105,780
Ventura $103,760
Washington DC $103,750

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES

Pay by Experience

Median Salary

Entry-Level 0-5 yrs $57,000
Mid-Career 5-10 yrs $66,000
Experienced 10-20 yrs $75,000
Late Career 20+ yrs $82,000

Source: PayScale

Top-Paying Industries (Only OES)

Industry Employment Avg. Annual Salary
Support Activities for Mining 790 $118,770
Securities and Commodities Exchanges Estimate not released $107,720
Securities and Commodity Contracts Intermediation and Brokerage 4,290 $106,250
Oil and Gas Extraction 3,450 $105,770
Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing 3,790 $102,580

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES

How do I become a systems analyst?

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information science or a related field, such as computer science, is the most direct way to prepare for a career as a systems analyst. A bachelor’s is hardly a prerequisite for a career in the field, though: plenty of analysts only have an associate degree, and some people teach themselves all of the skills they need to do their job successfully.

Because this career requires a nuanced understanding of how business and technology work together, some companies want their employees to have a master’s degree in business administration or information technology. Certifications in other enterprise applications and programming languages are desirable as well.

I Have Completed my Undergraduate Degree

Consider whether earning a second degree in information science or CS is an option for you

  • Think about how you would like to integrate computer systems analysis into your career.
  • If you’re a mid-career professional, you might want to take some individual CS or information science courses to supplement your skills through certification programs given by professional organizations, seminars and continuing education classes. Depending on the work environment, a bachelor’s degree in a nontechnical field may be adequate if you also have technical skills.
  • If you are seeking a major career change, you may want to consider earning a second bachelor’s degree in CS or information science.

Meet and speak with systems analysts. Ask the following questions:

  • What challenges did they face meeting their career goals?
  • What do they enjoy the most about working in this field?
  • What do they wish they would’ve studied harder in school?
  • How do they stay knowledgeable of constantly changing technology?

Find a program that offers courses that fit your schedule and budget

  • If you need further certification, pick a program that won’t disrupt your professional or familial life.
  • Remember, in many cases you need certification, not a degree. Know the skills and certification you need for the job you want, and make sure your program sufficiently prepares you for your career.

I’m Currently an Undergraduate

Enroll in introductory information science or CS courses
Take a foundational class in systems analysis and see if you enjoy studying business management and computer information systems. Possible courses include:

  • Fundamentals of Information Systems
  • Computer Programming I
  • Business Software Programming
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Business Analysis and Management

Consider summer internship opportunities in systems analysis

  • Get practical experience.
  • Use internships to prepare for a career.

Get to know your professors

  • Ask questions and show your interest in mastering the fundamentals.
  • Leverage your relationships for internships and recommendations.

Balance your studies between business, communication and technical skills within your declared major

  • Take a variety of classes to build a well-rounded skill set.
  • Use elective courses to develop new abilities; don’t neglect communication skills.

Certification Options

Whether you want to complement your degree or pursue certification in lieu of a degree, the following certificate programs can enhance your skills and add value to your resume:

Career Advancement

A systems analyst needs to simultaneously approach their work from the perspectives of a programmer and a manager. Throughout your career, you’ll need to demonstrate how technology improves workflow; strong communication skills are important, and your tasks will be easier if you can think like a business leader. Through an internship, you can develop the practical knowledge that employers find valuable while honing your technical skills and learning how to increase efficiency in a structured environment.

Pursuing a master’s degree in information science or business can help you earn a management position out of school. Becoming certified in programming languages and enterprise applications can also help advance your career. Regardless of your degree or experience, you will need to monitor technological development and industry trends to remain relevant in the field.

Additional Resources

If a career as a systems analyst sounds promising, check out a few more resources. Below, you can discover new coding languages, find online forums related to programming and search for a job in the field.