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How to Become a Program Analyst

If you’re analytical, well organized, like working with computers, and have stellar communication skills, becoming a program analyst might be perfect for you.

Program analysts are information technology professionals who evaluate, optimize, and improve organizations’ computer systems by monitoring program metrics and performance and analyzing data to identify system trends. They make optimization suggestions and prepare reports based on their findings. 

Program analysts collaborate with program managers to develop budgets and schedules for system optimization. They also test, plan, and implement new systems. They evaluate the effectiveness of systems and will prepare presentations on the results. Program analysts may provide support and training to relevant personnel.

Sample job description

As a program analyst, you will perform high level financial modeling and solve one-of-a-kind problems to improve efficiencies and operations across a broad range of groups with organization-wide impact. We need a forward looking, strategic yet realistic problem solver to work closely with internal groups and senior leadership to help. In this role, you would provide recommendations for developing or modifying applications or databases, using research and fact-finding. As an ideal candidate, you have proven experience optimizing systems, procedures, and processes, evaluating operational and program effectiveness, and developing solutions to make improvements or address performance issues. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Develops and implements data management collection procedures
  • Participates in strategic planning meetings
  • Documents all changes in programs and outcomes
  • Validates data and implements quality control measures to ensure the continued success of programs
  • Assists with grants and event coordination
  • Creates budgetary controls and financial management processes
  • Analyzes programs, policies, procedures, and systems and makes recommendations to optimize them
  • Creates and implements new or revised policies and procedures
  • Identifies and resolves issues

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science, business, or similar field
  • 3+ years of experience with project management or program analysis

Required skills and qualifications

  • Understanding of industry best practices
  • Excellent presentation skills
  • Strong analytical and organizational skills
  • Exceptional math and statistics skills
  • Ability to work independently and with a team 
  • Ability to adapt quickly to changing technology
  • Effective communication skills 
  • High proficiency in computer technology and programming 
  • Strong project management skills.

Preferred qualifications

  • Experience creating and delivering budgets
  • Experience in software design, debugging, and development
  • Familiarity with a variety of databases and software systems

Typical work environment

Program analysts typically work in an office environment. They spend a good portion of the day sitting at a desk using a computer. Program analysts sometimes need to travel to collect data. Some program analysts may work remotely.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a program analyst are during standard business hours, 9 AM to 5 PM from Monday to Friday. They might sometimes work overtime, which can include evenings and weekends, depending on the needs of the business. 

Available certifications

Program analysts work in various industries, and many institutions offer certifications for finance professionals. Here are some of the top certifications:

  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Certification. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the pre-eminent framework for managing IT service delivery around the world, defining the processes for the design, development, delivery, and support of IT services. ITIL offers five levels of certification: foundation, practitioner, intermediate, expert, and master. Each certificate earns credits, and with 22 credits, you can achieve ITIL Expert certification. The ITIL Master certification demonstrates the ability to apply the ITIL framework in real-world situations. It requires the ITIL Expert certification, 5 years of ITIL experience in a management or leadership role, submission of a proposal for a service improvement, submission of a work package demonstrating your ability to apply ITIL principles to a real-world business case, and an interview with an ITIL assessment panel.
  • Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA). The PMI-PBA, offered by the Project Management Institute, is for IT professionals who manage requirements or product development and project or program managers who perform business analysis. The PMI-PBA demonstrates your competency in all facets of business analysis. This credential is highly sought after because a certificate holder is considered an expert in business analysis and gives you a solid edge over your peers. The eligibility requirements include passing a rigorous exam and various combinations of experience and education.
  • Capacity Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) certification. The CMMI model provides businesses with a framework for developing better products and services, from development to acquisition. Three levels of certifications are offered through the CMMI Institute. The CMMI Associate certification demonstrates your commitment to performance improvement. The CMMI Professional certification proves your ability to apply the CMMI model in an organizational structure. The Certified CMMI lead appraiser is qualified to help organizations determine their capability level or maturity level. If you want to teach others how to use the CMMI model, you can become a certified CMMI instructor.

Career path

The path to becoming a program analyst begins by earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, business, or a related field. Some program analysts participate in internships to gain experience. They may work in a variety of industries, including accounting companies, health care, manufacturing, and government. Program analysts should have some experience managing large amounts of data and a good understanding of how to process that data for practical applications. Many companies prefer candidates with a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or a related field. Obtaining a certification is not required but it is a good way to advance your career.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 13-1111

2020 Employment907,600
Projected Employment in 20301,032,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 14% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift124,400 increase

Data security is a major objective of companies today, and the need for program analysts who are focused on data security is becoming increasingly important. Program analysts will have to work with cybersecurity experts, architects, and engineers to design, deploy, and integrate enterprise-wide security processes.  As many companies have, or plan to, permanently shift some employees to remote work, new data analysis techniques will need to be adapted to better support workers’ ability to securely access resources remotely and remain productive.