Interview: Bart Michilak, From Entry Level Business Analyst to DOOR3 Practice Lead
I recently had the opportunity to speak to DOOR3’s Business Analysis Practice Head Bart Michilak about DOOR3’s approach to business analysis.
Like a lot of kids who were born in the early 90s I was surrounded by technology and I was very into that sort of thing. I started building computers when I was very young. I started learning how to program when I was in ninth grade. I always had an affinity for that and engineering. I wanted to be a developer or an aeronautical engineer. I liked math, technology, and solving problems.
So, once it came time to take a look at colleges I thought programming and engineering disciplines seemed right up my alley. I went to Lehigh University and what I studied there was, originally, computer science.
The year I got there, they were taking applications for a new program that they had rolled out just a few years prior which is now known as the Computer Science and Business Program, which is a dual degree program. You do the full curriculum degree in the business school and then one from the engineering school, specifically in computer science. So for the business side, I chose finance and for the engineering side I obviously chose computer science.
I’m the first in my family to attend college, so I figured two degrees for the price of one was a pretty smart move. It was a lot of work but it sounded almost like a way to kind of hedge your bets for job security to me.
What I really liked about the program is that they put all these mandatory elective courses on top of your required course with the intention to bridge the gap between computer science and its application specifically in business. It made the program not just about the theoretics of how programming languages work, what’s syntax, and all that good stuff, but it really bridged the gap between practical applications of computer science in the context of a business, and that’s how I found out that I actually like the business side of it. Probably not as much as the engineering side, but I had a healthy appreciation for it.
Fast forward to my senior year. It was time to apply for internships and I was still pretty dead set on becoming a developer. I really like my computer science courses. I was fairly good at it, got good grades, and so I did my internship at an ad agency called McCann Torre Lazur. They were an ad agency serving the pharmaceutical space. And so my job as an intern was basically to turn out front end code for a lot of client websites.
That was the first time I really applied what I had learned in computer science to an application, and it felt really good. It was also the first time I’d been exposed to a creative team, and I really enjoyed the collaboration between the creatives and the development side of things. It was really unique, and. I remember when I was there as an intern, there was a project manager that had made a terrific impression on me. I got to know him really well. I was always a curious guy by nature so I would ask him, “How did you get into this?” “ What are your favorite aspects?” “What’s a day in life for you as a product manager at a company like this?” and the more he talked about it, the more I kind of shadowed him around.
I found that I really, really liked it and it gave me a lot to think about. Then came graduation and it was time to apply for jobs. I decided to actually lean into the original purpose of the program and apply for a more business consultative position over a development position.
How did you break into the field as a professional?
I worked for a company as an entry level business analyst that handled pension management through SAAS, specifically state pension funds and also special interest funds.
In that job, I discovered how much I enjoyed working with enterprise software as an entry level business analyst. I gained a deep respect and appreciation for back office solutions, because they do so much and never see the light of day. The only users they have are internal which allowed for innovative ways for everything to be connected in the implementation of workflows. What I didn’t like were the limitations that were put on you when you’re working at a product company like that, especially as an entry level business analyst. There’s only so much input you can have in the future outlook of how the program is supposed to work. As a 20 something year old early in my career, I wanted to explore and engage with the software differently.
I had a couple ideas I tossed around to improve the program and was met with, “we can’t really do that’’ more often than not. I still did enjoy it, but I was looking for more, and then fast forward a little bit into the future. I found myself at DOOR3 starting out now mid level instead of as an entry level business analyst and was immediately both humbled by the workload but also vindicated by the freedoms that we could take in terms of delivering things to our clients.
If there was a specific business case or business flow that needed to operate a certain way to be custom tailored to them. We were able to do that. That’s also why our clients came to us, because they needed this hyper-specific thing that out-of-the-box solutions couldn’t do for them. Collaborating with stakeholders and engineering teams and UX designers to make sure their product was this perfect little thing with a bow around it saying “this is yours that does exactly what you need to do” always felt really cool.
Well, we’re glad you ended up here at DOOR3 where you have been leading the practice for a while now with great success. What’s a day in your life like as the team leader?
It’s a lot of balancing between the role as a team leader and a billable BA. There was an adjustment period, but after a while I started to really enjoy the different balancing acts because they kind of fed off one another. I’d see elements of my projects that would become trends that I could speculate with on potential projects that were coming into the sales pipeline. It gave me a license to drive the practice in a direction that I would like to see it move towards, which is a more technical direction.
So what does a day in the life look like? It’s a lot of meetings, it’s a lot of project work, and to be honest it’s a lot of research and reading. Keeping up with the latest movements, or which trends are moving and in what direction, from both a language perspective and business process perspective. It’s a lot of reading.
Could you speak on the challenges you face in your work?
A lot more solutions that we’re building out are now nestled in an array of other systems. They have to play nicely with those other systems, right? That’s something that I’ve been seeing a lot more in most projects, and while I find it particularly interesting, its also something that can be challenging to navigate.
There’s been a much, much greater and renewed emphasis on user experience. I think a lot of that is in light of the recent trends resulting from things like ADA gaining a stronger foothold in the field, as it should. So a lot of the ways that we’re designing systems, from an industry perspective, are changing or evolving and we’re following suit. Evolving and adapting can of course be filled with growing pains, but at DOOR3 we are up for the challenge.
What has your recent work been like?
I’ve been working on a project over the last year for a company that produces software that is used in call centers. It’s one of my major projects and that has been fascinating for me personally because it’s one of those industries that you very rarely get exposed to. Most people just kind of take it for granted that things like call centers work, right? You don’t really get to see how the sausage gets made. But when you work with these companies from a BA perspective you get a more intimate look at how these processes work.
We all take for granted being able to call a number on the back of a credit or debit card and get an answer to a question we have, but think about the scale. Some of these call centers have thousands of employees. Maybe they have multiple centers and they’re likely all over the globe. There’s a lot of Localization and globalization, integrations with other ACD instances, compatibility with multiple types of networks, etc.
It’s a company that is making moves to push more of its offerings onto a web platform, and that’s been very interesting to me.
Another one that I’ve been working on is Doctors Without Borders, which is just a very neat project because it’s a project you can feel good about. Not that you can’t feel good about other projects, but Doctors Without Borders do a lot of good in the world and particularly even working on a platform that is being used by medical professionals to share and pull the latest research, articles and materials that are being used in developing countries to support the local population. It’s fantastic.
Tell us about the future direction of the team? Are there any initiatives on the horizon that you’re excited about or other people might be interested in that you can speak about?
Through the things that I’ve seen happening and through my own bias coming from an engineering and computer science background, the direction I wanted to move our team was to build a stronger, fundamental baseline of technical skills abilities. Because that’s one of the trends moving into 2023, but you’ve been seeing this for a while.
The nature of business analysis has changed, especially from when I was first starting. BAs for the longest time had limited responsibilities of just being documenters. I ask you a question, You give me an answer, and I make sure that it gets documented and routed to the proper source. There really wasn’t a consultative approach to it. Some BAs had an individual flare if they worked at a company like ours that allowed for that approach, but it wasn’t common.
One of the things that you see changing now is that the BAs are taking on more consultative roles, even as an entry level business analyst. A secondary trend that you’re seeing now more than ever is the interconnectedness of technology and business processes, particularly business intelligence.
Ever since automation got a foothold in the software industry, it’s been growing and scaling, to the point where now we see hyper automation. Basic automation takes a repetitive manual task and replaces it with an automated solution. This is generally only reflected in one thread or process or function that is being performed. What hyper automation is driving is taking multiple things that are being automated, and then having them work and feed off of one another. A lot of times you’ll see they’ll have layers on top of them (artificial intelligence or some machine learning) to coalesce the processes into this greater thing, and therefore the responsibilities change, even for an entry level business analyst.
I think this speaks to the fact that we as professionals in the custom software industry need to be very very well versed in the technical aspects. All of this is so new and it’s growing so fast that in order to adequately build out some of these systems, you really have to understand how some of the stuff is being put together so that you can give someone the right feedback and provide proper recommendations as to what it is that they should do. Because a lot of times these clients aren’t really sure of what direction they should go in, in fact a lot of times they’re not even sure what options they have available.
They know what they need to accomplish, but unless you are well versed in what the options are and what the tools are available, it is really hard to put together a well thought out solution.
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