Last Updated: January 27, 2020
Systems analysts work to optimize user experience with programs. These professionals advise employers and clients on which software they may need, implement the software, and liaise with users to ensure the programs function properly. Employed by large corporations and small startups, systems analysts may work for one company or consult with clients.
This page discusses how to become a systems analyst, including information on necessary skills and education and answers to frequently asked questions. Read on to learn about career options, salary potential, industry options, and the best places for systems analysts to work.
What Does a Systems Analyst Do?
Computer systems analysts, or system architects, work with companies, institutions, and independent clients. They survey and diagnose database program issues, resolve user issues, and advise management about systems innovations to improve productivity. Whether formally associated with corporations or acting as freelance consultants, systems analysts work with program users and platforms to gauge issues. This role requires communication and interpersonal skills, plus an understanding of standard and new technologies.
Systems analysts research the latest technologies in database and system design to upgrade infrastructures and train employees, clients, and patients to access systems efficiently. These analysts can also specialize in finance technology, engineering, or educational privacy law (known as FERPA) to cater to client needs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects computer systems analyst jobs to grow faster than the national average at 9%, making systems analysis a solid bet for stable employment.
Key Hard Skills
Hard skills hinge on learning rather than inherent personality traits. For example, systems analysts must demonstrate proficiency in Microsoft Office and programming languages like Structured Query Language (SQL).
- Microsoft Office: The Microsoft Office suite of computer programs is the dominant system for professional and educational centers worldwide. Learn to use these programs and their underlying structural coding language to identify and isolate issues and provide programming resolutions. Programs include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, OneNote, Outlook, and Publisher.
- SQL: SQL supports and orients all data management systems and programs, including Microsoft Office products. SQL allows programmers to build websites and connect datasets and web programs to provide compatible, complex search engines and platforms for company and institutional innovation.
- Systems Administration: Whether at a company, school, or government branch, these professionals monitor computer systems, including software and program configurations. They also oversee user access, and security. They help community members access computer systems, troubleshoot issues as they arise, and upgrade or install new systems and translate relevant information or metadata among programs.
Key Soft Skills
Professionals can develop soft skills, but these skills tend to rely more on personality traits and matters of personal preference. Systems analysts must communicate well in a variety of mediums, employ critical thinking to solve client problems using technological solutions, and analyze both business and technical demands from a company perspective.
- Communication: Systems analysts regularly communicate with supervisors, colleagues, staff, and clients. They collaborate on projects with colleagues and managers, and they may need to communicate technical information so their clients can understand it. These professionals may need to communicate via phone, email, and in-person meetings and report progress through formal reports.
- Critical Thinking: Systems analysts focus on problem-solving on several levels, first analyzing an organization's needs, then designing and implementing solutions. As such, they must engage strong critical thinking skills to identify problems, consider logical solutions, implement plans, and study whether their changes cause improvements.
- Business Analysis: Systems analysts identify the needs of businesses or corporations. They develop software systems and suggest program or security innovations to protect their company's sensitive data. These professionals investigate product options and find the most economical systems innovations possible, considering both short- and long-term results.
- Technical Analysis: Financial and business technical advisors work with software and programs designed to forecast financial climates, while school administrative technical analysts focus more on innovations in information technology and education dissemination.
Systems analysts' responsibilities may shift depending on their particular project's stage of development. Daily tasks for system analysts may include coordinating computer installations and running tests on new software or hardware, potentially requiring them to consult directly with users, colleagues, and managers. They also run tests on new and running systems to ensure that all programs run smoothly, troubleshoot bugs, and make modifications when problems occur.
Can Anyone Be a Systems Analyst?
Systems analysts typically hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, though many employers seek systems analysts with MBAs specializing in information systems.
Is it Hard to Become a Systems Analyst?
It depends. Aside from educational expectations, systems analysts must demonstrate knowledge of programming languages and understand how technology can improve business functions.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Systems Analyst?
Bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete. Those seeking to bolster their skills with an MBA can expect to complete the degree in 1-2 years.
What’s the Difference Between a Systems Analyst and a Software Engineer?
Software engineers create computer programs, whereas systems analysts analyze company needs and implement existing software and hardware solutions to help streamline their processes.
What Do Entry-Level Systems Analysts Do?
Entry-level systems analysts may begin in IT support or software development. They can work to implement systems designed by supervisors or focus on database administration.
Systems Analyst Salary Information
According to the BLS, the top-paying industry for system analysts is oil and gas extraction, which earned an annual mean wage of $124,690 as of May 2018. Other high-paying industries for system analysts include audio and video equipment manufacturing, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, and other information services, with annual mean salaries ranging from $107,330 to $112,330.
Location, too, plays a part in systems analyst salaries. New Jersey paid the highest annual mean wage as of May 2018 at $107,540, followed closely by Washington, D.C.; New York; California; and Virginia. California employed the most systems analysts in the same time period.
Systems analysts can also increase their salaries through years of field experience. According to PayScale, entry-level systems analysts earn a salary of $54,716. With just 1-4 years of experience, salaries can increase by $6,000.
Systems Analysts by Job Level
|Entry Level (0-12 Months)||$54,716|
|Early Career (1-4 Years)||$60,035|
|Mid-Career (5-9 Years)||$69,257|
|Experienced (10-19 Years)||$76,198|
How to Become a Systems Analyst
Earn Your Degree
The educational foundation for systems analyst careers varies. For most positions, a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field suffices. However, because analyst roles require interpersonal skills, liberal arts majors tend to suit these positions. Liberal arts majors may consider taking continuing education courses to gain a foundation in information technology and computer coding or programming. Large-scale corporations and financial centers often look for candidates with an additional master's degree in business administration.
Students can complete these courses or degrees online through programs for working professionals who wish to maintain part- or full-time employment. No matter their field of choice, most systems analysts continue their education beyond formal schooling both through on-the-job experience and continuing education seminars. They take courses and earn certifications from private companies like Microsoft or IBM, or they take classes through associations and continuing education schools to remain competitive in the job market.
Most companies expect candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in a computer- or information technology-related field. Some jobs require 1-4 years of prior professional experience in IT service or analysis. Other companies, particularly those in finance or business, often require an MBA.
Many systems analysts maintain company-provided certifications, like those from Microsoft, IBM, and Adobe. Employers do not always require these certifications, but they prepare professionals to assess and troubleshoot issues. They also provide access to company support systems and resolutions. Such certifications can boost analysts' earning potential by increasing their skill sets and setting them apart from competitors.
Other optional certificates in areas, like the global information assurance certification, offer supplemental proof of competency and professional acumen. A supplemental degree like an MBA proves vital for those interested in working for large-scale corporations and financial institutions. On-the-job experience is even more important for aspiring systems analysts. If possible, find a volunteer or part-time position to build practical skill sets, and enter the job market with a solid foundation.
Types of Careers in Systems Analysis
Systems analysis careers can vary depending on location and industry. No degree can guarantee a particular title or advancement, but opportunities generally increase along with education and experience.
Graduates with associate degrees may work as computer support specialists or web developers, while those with bachelor's degrees qualify for jobs as actuaries, computer systems analysts, and computer network architects. Some employers prefer master's degrees for computer and information systems managers, and they generally require it for computer and information research scientists.
According to the BLS, systems analysts earned an annual median wage of $88,740 as of May 2018.
Careers for Systems Analysis Graduates
Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts improve their organizations' processes by studying technology-related problems and implementing solutions. Bachelor's degrees generally represent the minimum educational requirement, though some employers prefer master's degrees.
Median Annual Salary: $88,740
Actuaries specialize in risk management. They study data to make recommendations surrounding their organizations' personnel policies, insurance, investments, and pension plans. They typically hold bachelor's degrees.
Median Annual Salary: $102,880
Computer and Information Systems Manager
Computer and information systems managers deal with their organizations' technological needs, which they plan and implement. They typically hold a bachelor's degree, though many employers prefer a master's.
Median Annual Salary: $142,530
These professionals create systems and applications that run on computers. Software developers often work for computer systems design firms, and this position typically requires a bachelor's degree and strong computer programming skills.
Median Annual Salary: $105,590
Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects create and maintain the hardware systems that support network data communication. They typically hold bachelor's degrees, though some employers prefer master's degrees.
Median Annual Salary: $109,020
Where Can I Work as a Systems Analyst?
Desired by large corporations and small start-ups alike, systems analysts work across diverse organizations and industries. They may handle systems analysis for a single company or work for larger organizations with multiple clients. Some systems analysts work as self-employed freelancers, consulting with companies of various sizes.
Location plays a part in job availability for systems analysts. The BLS names California as the largest employer of systems analysts in the country, with 67,950 employed there as of May 2018. Texas ranks next at 51,710, followed by New York with 44,030 and Ohio with 29,010.
Top-paying territories for systems analysts in the same time period include New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and New York.
|States With the Highest Employment Level of Systems Analysts (Applications)||Number of Systems Analysts (Applications) Employed|
|Top Paying States for Systems Analysts||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$106,790|
Systems analysts can work for a variety of industries, including companies of all sizes. Computer systems design and related services employed 178,810 systems analysts as of May 2018, accounting for 29% of all systems analyst positions in the country. Finance and insurance ranks next at 13%, according to the BLS.
Opportunities abound in these industries for eager systems analysts, though employees may find higher salary potentials in the industries of oil and gas extraction, audio and video equipment manufacturing, and aerospace product and parts manufacturing.
|Industries With the Highest Level of Employment for Systems Analysts||Number of Systems Analysts (Applications) Employed|
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||178,810|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||55,500|
|Credit Intermediation and Related Activities||23,990|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals||22,610|
|Top Paying Industries||Annual Mean Wage|
|Oil and Gas Extraction||$124,690|
|Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing||$112,330|
|Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing||$108,810|
|Other Information Services||$107,330|
|Other Personal Services||$107,250|
Siddhesh Patel is a program manager for Cyber Solutions at Lockheed Martin. Sid’s career has included supporting operations, systems administration, leading STEM activities, systems engineering, and project management. He graduated from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technical Leadership Program and is a member of the Program Management Talent Initiative.
Sid holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a master’s degree in systems engineering from the George Washington University, a master’s degree in cybersecurity from the University of Maryland University College, and a master’s degree in business administration and management from the University of Maryland University College.
Why did you decide to pursue a systems analyst career?
Going through school as an engineer, I realized quickly that I liked solving complex problems, particularly ones that involved multiple disciplines. As I started as an engineer with Lockheed Martin, I found myself challenged to see the larger picture in resolving engineering problems. This included analyzing processes, technology, and resources to develop a holistic solution. This made me interested in pursuing a master’s in systems engineering.
With my master’s degree, I found frameworks and techniques that I leveraged in my career as a systems engineer and other positions I have held since.
What are the most challenging aspects of working as a systems analyst?
Understanding a system holistically is the most challenging aspect. Most of the systems I have supported have included hardware and software components. These are systems of systems; understanding all of the inputs, outputs, and how everything integrates together is complicated. As a visual learner, I spend a lot of time developing workflow diagrams and models to assist in decomposing systems to provide a holistic understanding.
The most rewarding aspects?
Being involved in multiple aspects and seeing how different disciplines interact is the most rewarding. Interacting with many different groups and functional areas provided me the opportunity to continue to learn and understand how different functions operate. As a systems engineer I am challenged with understanding different disciplines. This allows me to continue to learn and grow as an engineer. It has also afforded me opportunities to grow in my career as a leader.
Was it challenging to find a job in the field?
I’ve been lucky to find roles that I am passionate about throughout my career. For me, working for Lockheed Martin has been an amazing opportunity. I knew I wanted to work for the organization coming out of college, and I was privileged to find an opportunity to do so. Working in a global organization such as Lockheed Martin, I have been able to move into different positions and opportunities while remaining with the same company. I’ve worked in space systems, IT systems, and cybersecurity, all with the same company.
What did your career trajectory look like after earning your degree?
After earning my degree, I was able to start with Lockheed Martin. As I grew in my career, I pursued a master’s in systems engineering, which afforded new opportunities and roles. Since then, I have obtained a master’s in cybersecurity and a master’s in business administration. I have taken on new challenges and have developed as a leader. I’ve recently shifted my focus from engineering to program management, which presents a different set of challenges and requires a different skillset.
What kind of job settings have you worked in?
I’ve primarily worked in an office setting, supporting a government customer. I primarily work co-located with teammates and thrive on daily interactions with my team and others. Although telework and virtual teams are becoming more critical in our environment, there is tremendous value in working through problems and solutions face-to-face.
How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?
Planning and prioritization are critical skills in my field. There are new tasks daily, and priorities move constantly. Utilizing a tool such as OneNote has been critical for organizing my thoughts and work. I utilize OneNote individually to track action items. As meetings complete or new tasking is identified, I add it to my OneList tracker. Additionally, our team utilizes it to simultaneously collaborate and have a central repository for documentation frequently used.
Advice for newcomers to the profession?
As a newcomer, I recommend identifying what you are passionate about. As a systems engineer, there are so many different aspects to the position and role. Additionally, always look for ways to grow, either through stretch opportunities or education. I’ve grown in my career through mentorship and training opportunities. Some of the most challenging roles I’ve held are positions that were outside of my primary skill set; however, those positions resulted in the most growth for myself personally.
What are some of the best ways you gained experience outside of primary education?
Outside of primary education, I think mentorship and real-world experience are critical. I’ve sought mentorship opportunities to identify areas of growth. Most of my mentors have supported my soft-skill growth, helping me navigate challenges in my career that weren’t technical. Leveraging those relationships has provided me different perspectives on problems throughout my career. Additionally, hands-on experience is very critical. I’ve found that supporting efforts and projects even if you don’t have a specified role can give you great work experience.
Sometimes we shy away from certain aspects of a project, since they may not be our responsibility; however, to grow into the role you want, you should always seek opportunities to stretch your skill set.
What direction do you see your career path trending in?
For me, leadership has always been my goal. I am currently a deputy program manager on a cyber solutions program within Lockheed Martin. My path continues to trend toward leadership opportunities, such as leading programs. I would like to continue maintaining a technical role on programs that I support, as an engineer at heart, but my passion is to be a great leader and support the organization in any role that I can.
Continuing Education for Systems Analysts
Systems analysts can benefit from multiple continuing education opportunities throughout their careers. In a quickly changing industry, successful employees must maintain current knowledge to succeed in their positions. They should also prepare to demonstrate up-to-date competencies to prospective employers through professional portfolios illustrating their abilities.
Through membership with organizations for aspiring systems analysts, such as the Association of Software Professionals, aspiring systems analysts can find networking opportunities and seek out quality continuing education. Hackathon events, like HackingEdu, provide opportunities for new and veteran coders to learn and practice new skills. The table below provides further details on continuing education resources for systems analysts.
- Association of Business Process Management Professional International ABPMP connects professionals across the globe and offers continuing education such as professional certifications based on each individual's career path. It also provides free online webinars and team training opportunities.
- Centre for Software Engineering The CSE offers a variety of technology-based training courses, covering topics in innovation, management, advanced programming courses, and fundamentals of software engineering, among others.
- International Institute of Business Analysis IIBA updates and validates knowledge through several areas of business analysis, providing training and professional certifications in business data analytics, agile analysis, and certified business analysis.
- Object Management Group Webinars Working directly with course vendors, OMG facilitates training courses for member companies in topics like systems modeling language training, business process modeling, and CORBA programming.
How Do I Find a Job in Systems Analysis?
Aspiring systems analysts can take advantage of many avenues during their job search. Job fairs, mentor recommendations, and professional organizations all play roles in the hunt for a position. New graduates should consider attending conferences, connecting with local chapters of professional organizations, and getting to know their colleagues in the profession, as such connections often lead to job opportunities. The table below offers details on some of the resources systems analysts might find helpful in seeking positions.
Association for Computing Machinery Career & Job Center
The ACM career and job center provides a wealth of tools for systems analysts searching for jobs, including a resume management tool and interactive job board.
Project Management Institute Career Center
The PMI career center provides a job database and resume management tools, plus company and salary statistics for research purposes and articles on employment trends.
International Association of Software Architects
The IASA offers a full-service job database, which includes a searchable job board, company directory, resume management tools, and job alerts. The site also offers resources on interview preparation and other job-search necessities.
Association for Information Systems Career Services
The IAS offers job boards for those interested in academic or information services and tech industry careers. Job-seekers can take advantage of their "career connect" program, which allows employers to meet candidates in-person at annual conferences.
Professional Resources for Systems Analysts
Through membership with professional organizations, systems analysts can network with colleagues to aid in their job search and find collaboration opportunities. Professional organizations support their members through credentialing, professional development and continuing education, conferences, and job resources. Most also send regular publications, including industry magazines and newsletters, through which systems analysts can stay current on field news.
The list below describes a few professional organizations for systems analysts, along with some of the benefits they offer.
- The IEEE Computer Society With a membership comprising computer professionals and engineers, the IEEE Computer Society offers career services and recognition, job boards, local chapters, a digital library, and an annual conference.
- Association for Computing Machinery ACM serves its membership of coders, developers, and computer professionals through its full-service career and job center. It also offers a learning center with continuing education opportunities, digital newsletters, and frequent conferences and events.
- Computing Research Association Focused on liaising between academia and the tech industry, the CRA offers organizational membership to North American computer research organizations, which can benefit from events, subscriptions to scholarly publications, and access to industry data.
- DAMA International With membership available to both individuals and corporations in the field of data management, DAMA International supports its members through educational discounts, free webinars, event lists, and a job board.
- Casualty Actuarial Society An international organization of actuaries and risk management experts, CAS administers certification and provides credentials to field professionals. They also offer community through local chapters and forums, and the organization sets forth guidelines for professional conduct.
- Project Management Institute PMI administers credentials for project and portfolio management professionals. It also provides its membership with an online community, professional tools and templates, discounts on certifications, and a job board.
- User Experience Professionals Association Focused on software usability, UXPA offers its membership benefits that include a mentorship program for new professionals, networking opportunities through local chapters, conferences, and social media groups, and career resources including a job board.
- Centre for Software Engineering Designed for professionals focused on innovation in software and technology, CSE provides a variety of courses and workshops, consulting services for organizations, and special programs for organizational mentorship and training.