While many teenagers struggle to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, Angela Sullivan knew right away in junior high: While taking a business course, she knew she wanted to be an accountant. "I knew I loved accounting when I stayed after class to find a missing penny on a balance sheet," she recalls. You could say Sullivan is a stickler for the detail. A B.A. in accounting and 10-plus years of experience in the field later—including her current role as the principal accountant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—Sullivan wanted to learn how to take a macro-view of how her work improves her organization as a whole.
"I was drawn to the Business Analysis certificate because I liked how it focused on optimizing solutions with an array of stakeholders: customers, managers, users and subject-matter experts," she explains. "I was intrigued in finding ways to add value to a company instead of just focusing on completing a specific project or process. I have a lot of experience in improving accounting procedures—one at a time—but I wanted insight into how to improve overall outcomes for my company."
Having recently completed the certificate, Sullivan takes us through her educational journey.
What have you learned since completing the certificate?
Continuing education is extremely important for professionals because it drives you to think of solutions differently. When I started this program, I was intimidated by the thought of elicitation—understanding stakeholders' underlying needs, not superficial ones—because when I hear someone mention a problem, I like to solve it but was fearful that I would come up with effective but not efficient solutions. By the end of the program, I was able to learn how to use my underlying competencies to make sure we found efficient solutions.
In Dan Cohen's The Final Module: Change Readiness, he discusses the four basic elements of a change-readiness assessment: take the temperature, identify the hurdles, talk to the people in the trenches and be prepared for pushback. These elements are about forward thinking and that is what really connected with me. Some of the best managers I've worked for are forward-thinking because they know what their employees do, they know some of our daily struggles, but they are also on the forefront trying to improve the overall process. I want to make sure I am that type of manager.
My past work experience, and now completion of this certificate, gives me confidence in understanding and making new recommendations at work.
In your mind, what makes a great business analyst?
One of the keys to being a great BA is developing one's underlying competencies, such as interaction skills, software applications, business knowledge, analytical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Constant development will allow a BA to improve current states, transfer between industries or transfer between systems. My past work experience, and now the completion of this certificate, give me confidence in understanding and making new recommendations at work. I learned not only how to recommend a process change but how the recommended change needs to add value to the business. This new way of thinking has allowed me to have more in-depth, more strategic and more change-driven conversations with my boss. A recent example of this is with conference accounting, where instead of just recommending a change I thought needed to happen, I took my recommendation and added substance. I was able to show whom the change would affect, how much time it would take to complete the change and what value would be added.
You've been recommended to attend a six-month leadership program at work. Tell me about this program.
It's called Partners in Leadership, led by a consultant. This program was started as an initiative of a three-year strategic plan for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. This program is especially exciting because it will include professional guidance from our experienced consultant, as well as peer-to-peer experience with attendee participation. My company has done an amazing job at supporting professional development because they know if they improve their employees, their employees will improve them.