In Steven Harris’ 20-year career in IT, he’s worked as help desk support, database administrator, network engineer and now as director of Information Technology and Systems for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Division of Professional Studies.
And his knowledge and work ethic have grown along the way—to such an extent that he calls himself “Steven of all trades!”
In each role, Steven’s number one priority has been supporting teams and organizations, deftly relying on his capable ability to solve problems. With a multitude of projects under his purview, Steven decided to study for and earn his Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification in 2015.
“As a project manager, you need to be able to figure out solutions for people,” Steven explains of this venture. “I wanted to know and understand how to get information from people, and then fuse that together to make sure it is correct and regurgitate it back to them. I also wanted to learn how to determine the right solution and how to lead that project.”
But there was something missing from Steven’s skill set—an upgrade or refinement of his professional know-how. A business analyst mindframe. That’s when he made the decision to register for our Certificate Program in Business Analysis.
“I chose your certificate because of the curriculum. The different classes would give me a better-rounded approach to do business analysis. I wanted to know how to do business analysis. I wanted to learn how to get information out of people.”
Tell us about your experience in the Business Analysis classes.
Overall, it was good. The discussions were very helpful and I enjoyed having to respond to the other students. There were people from different career backgrounds, like construction and IT. I was getting different perspectives. You’re doing the same thing, but being in a different field brought perspective, and that was interesting.
My Business Solution Development and Delivery class was good. I learned more about the semantics, like the difference between validation and verification. Validation, you are doing the right thing and verification is you are doing the thing right. It was the semantics that helped me to understand this.
One of the things I wanted was a toolkit to help me to get solutions and elicit things from people and then provide them with what they want.
Now that you’ve completed the certificate, how are you employing this new skill set?
The program helped me figure out how to do things. When you are being a business analyst and trying to get information out of people, you realize that there is a certain skill to do so. I remember reading something from one of my classes: If you are moderating a meeting, you might want to stand at the podium. But if you are trying to be a facilitator, you might want to move around and show people that you are engaged in order to get them to give you more information.
I learned I was doing some things right, but also adding to that. For example, when I would interview colleagues to find out what they need and want—I do this all of the time in IT—one of the things I was already doing was making sure that I heard what the person said and noting that. Then when I would give them the product, I’d find out it is not what they wanted.
But with my business analysis skills, I know to probe and recheck, and maybe give them the information in a chart form or diagram, and keep replaying it over and over again. The business analysis program helped me to hone in on those types of things, on how to elicit information from people and how to frame the solution of what you are trying to work for.
It also helped me understand my role better. In my department, I am doing more than project management; I have to play a lot of different roles. When I am in that role of managing a project and also getting solutions, sometimes I have to build the solution. I have taken away the understanding of when I am doing what and what role I am playing. As a project manager, maybe I need to spend 10 percent this week doing project management activities and ramp up the business analysis to 40 percent by interviewing people, holding meetings, et cetera.
Are there any advances or new trends in the IT world that you’re excited about?
Cybersecurity is one of those industries where you need people to defend our solutions. With more people working from home, you need more coverage as they may not be working securely.
One of the most recent developments I found out about is Citizen Developer: click-and-build programs, low-code architecture. For instance, you can make an application that solves a need for an inventory system by quickly clicking codes without knowing how to code or wait for a developer to make something. Citizen Developer is arming people to make their own solutions. It’s not replacing developers, but it’s great when the developer does not have time to build or the money is not there to do it. You are empowered to do it on your own, and that fits it in with a business analyst because sometimes we have to jump in and do the solution.
If someone asked for your advice about IT and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?
When I talk to people getting into IT, one thing that can help you out is working at a help desk. You help people figure out their issues. It exposes you to a lot of different paths if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. Another thing I like about IT is that you get to work with people. You meet different people, help them and they can help you.