“I feel like the top, the top things that people miss, whenever they’re looking for work is actually thinking about themselves and what they want. So very often when someone does, they want a new job or if they get laid off or something and they need a new job, what they do is they look at hard skills that they used. They look at job titles that they’ve had. They immediately go on LinkedIn or Indeed, or the website of some company that they’re interested in and they start searching for that stuff. It’s particularly dangerous, in my opinion, for technology workers that are in high demand to do that. In my bio you talked about how my philosophy is that work should feel good. Well there’s reasons why work doesn’t feel good to people. The first is that they’re in the wrong work. Like they just aren’t doing the right thing.”
(Click for full transcript)
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Traceability podcast. I’m your host, Tracie Edwards. And today we have my friend Diana Alt with us. Diana is a connector, a problem solver and a career strategy coach. And she uses the skills she’s gathered, um, throughout her 20 plus years in corporate product development roles to in turn, help people manage their careers in business. She does this by helping people get out of their own way and helping them build confidence and set boundaries and create a vision for an awesome life. And she believes in the principle that works should feel good, not like a long slow March towards oblivion.
So, I like that. That is definitely my feeling as well. And then Diana and I kind of discovered we’re kindred spirits in that regard, that work should be meaningful and that we need to take ownership of our careers. And so welcome. So happy to have you here today.
I always find it interesting to listen to people, read your bio because it sounds so formal. So many bios sounds like it’s almost like the sound more like an obituary. Like you were trying to convince me that you’ve lived in Austin and you’re alive. Like our bios should indeed be fun. So yeah, appreciate that.
Typically how we start out here is we go back to the beginning and ask how you got your start in business analysis and product development. Take it away.
That’s so interesting. And I know one of your guests, Thea Rasins really well, I’ve known her for over 10 years, as a matter of fact, listening to her and another one of your guests, Judy, is what made me pick up the phone and call you. And I think Thea was onto something when she said she thinks she’d always been a business analyst like ever since she was a little kid in my case, I don’t know that I was a kid when I figured it out, like she said, but I probably started down this path in high school for art in high school.
And definitely in college, I went to an engineering school University of Missouri Rolla, which is now Missouri University of Science and Technology, for the youngsters. And I studied chemistry in my undergraduate engineering management and my graduate program. But my dad who was also on the faculty always said that Diana studied extra-curricular activities. So I got a lot of enjoyment out of working with people in leadership roles and student governments and my sorority and all those types of things. And I was always trying to figure out how we could do things better, how we could onboard people, how we could make new members of organizations feel more welcome. And then, so I did, I did that in several organizations. And then in the student government, I got involved in things like reoffering our constitution for the student government and completely changing the way we did student body elections and serving on a lot of committees and things.
So there was a lot of what problem do you want to solve and writing and talking to people and figuring out what’s the best way to get down on paper, how we do these things. And I was in college. I started in college in the fall of 1993. So that was back still in hardcore waterfall days where we wrote everything down. I also in college, talked a lot about how I felt like I was the most right range person on a left brain campus. Really, I’m pretty balanced. I’m a pretty analytical person, as well as a, uh, someone that’s interested in people. So I was a little bit different than a lot of the people that were very, very focused just on their math or engineering or technology, future careers. After I got out of school, I ended up going into it consulting right when the internet boom was going on.
And I discovered pretty quickly that I didn’t much like coding, you know, in 1999, when a lot of people were starting in technology, no matter whether they were in the it consulting space or somewhere else, they were coding. I mean, we were, we were taken to bit fields and turning them into orbit fields for Y2K and things like that. I realized that I liked testing and I liked project management. I liked working through processes with people, but I didn’t like coding as much. So I did that for a short of a period as I could. I still didn’t know the name of this role called business analysis. I just knew that I wanted to marry up the people in the technology at the time. So over the next few years, I had a couple of different jobs. Like a lot of us did that survived a couple of layoffs during the tech rack.
And I eventually moved to Kansas City and landed in a development role at Cerner, where I was doing reporting development for CRM systems, but it was a very small team. And for sales reporting, I was one of one or two people that was working on it. So I had to do all of it. I was the BA, the coder, the tester, the deployer, the everything. And at that point, I figured out that business analysis was really a role and it’s being in a job that people did full time and that I liked it a lot better than trying to wrangle bits and bytes. So I started my first official business analyst role at Cerner in 2003. And pretty much was on that trajectory for almost 10 years. I mean, I had been doing BA work without the title as part of jobs for a long time, but I was a BA for at least part of my duties for jobs for a number of years.
And eventually in 2010, I shifted more into the product management realm because I worked for a company in Kansas City that got bought out by RSA security. And they said, congratulations. People that used to be BA is our product managers now, which is not really a very good way to go find your product managers. But for me, it worked cause I actually had a lot of the background in the business acumen. So from that point, my career was a lot more focused on the product management side of things. And I did that sort of work and thought in that way for honestly, until today I’ve had other roles, account management, I own my own business. Now, you know, I do consulting, but it’s always been kind of about how do we marry up all of the business and technology and process things to solve market problems.
So I kind of want to go back a little bit because, you know, as you’re starting out, as you were growing up, I think you landed on a really good way to discover your gifts. And that was through getting involved, maybe speak to that a little bit about the importance of getting involved in stuff, and how that can kind of guide you towards the things that you’re good at and the things that you perhaps don’t necessarily know about yourself.
Yeah. Interesting. Getting involved in stuff, honestly, one of the things anyone can do, I actually tell a lot of my career coaching clients, which is one of my main areas of my business now that the top skill that they can have and communicate to an employer is actually learning. And so for me, just trying different stuff is one of my top favorite ways to learn. I was not always wired this way when I was younger. I was one of those kids that made straight A’s. I did very well in school and I had a few things that I had some really innate talent. And as a kid, sometimes if you’re not really actively taught about it’s okay not to, you know, knock everything out of the park, we don’t always want to try new things. Cause it’s like, if you don’t think you can immediately be good at it, you think you’re a failure.
So when I was younger, I spent my effort mostly on music, academic pursuits. I always liked to read and to learn, you know, learner’s one of my superpowers, but when I got to college, it feels like, you know, the game changes, you have a whole new world that you get involved in. And so I was still doing things with music. I took choir classes in an engineering school, which is kind of an interesting choice. Not a lot of people do that, but I got elected to be my floor student council rep like the very first I’m an on campus for two days. And every dorm floor has to have a student council rep and I’m like, I gotta show up to a meeting every other week. I can do this. I can speak for my people. And it turned out that I’m a really good cat herder.
I’m a good organizer and I can help activate and acclimate people. And so for that new set of student council reps, I actually was sort of put in charge. It was almost like being class president of the student council reps. I don’t think, I don’t even remember what we called the role, but I was sort of trained to help be the representative to orient all these new freshmen and sophomores into the student government. And I realized that I learned, I liked learning how the campus tipped because student government ended up helping teach me that. And I sure did not think I was going to come on here and talk about student government. You do a really, you’re trying to pull these stories out of this place, super power. They’re brilliant. But I just, I figured out that there was all this stuff that I had never done and there was not really very high risk to doing it.
And it basically plugged me into the campus. And I was on in student government all the way through until I got my master’s degree, helping in some way, shape or form I was on exec. I was kind of a member-at-large for awhile. And eventually by the time I was a couple semesters from getting my master’s degree I was like the wise old soul in the Statler or Waldorf style are the guys from the Muppets for some of us. But it was very important to me to tap into those activities. And through that, I discovered a lot of other things on campus that I could be involved. And I learned more about different departments. I learned more about different collabs. I eventually decided to join a sorority. My sophomore year, everything that I was doing was plugging into the stuff that they don’t teach in class.
And one thing I firmly believe is that academics are important in college, but the things that you learn outside the classroom often have more lasting impacts the extension of that in the real world where we work for umpteen years, until we hire is that very often, our superpowers are not the things that are in the job description. Probably the people that you’ve worked with that have enjoyed working with you the best don’t even know what your job description was. Something else about Tracy. Tracy always seems to get to the heart of the problem quickly or Tracy caring or Tracy does a good job of thinking about all perspectives and those things. Aren’t what HR writes in a job description that they’ve been posted on. Indeed. It’s kind of like the extension of that.
Maybe talk about how you can marry some of those things into a job that doesn’t necessarily use those things on the job description. How can you sort of aim uh, maybe find the job and then sort of make it your own through some of these other,
I feel like the top, the top things that people miss, whenever they’re looking for work is actually thinking about themselves and what they want. So very often when someone does, they want a new job or if they get laid off or something and they need a new job, what they do is they look at hard skills that they used. They look at job titles that they’ve had. They immediately go on LinkedIn or indeed, or the website of some company that they’re interested in and they start searching for that stuff. It’s particularly dangerous. In my opinion, for technology workers that are in high demand to do that in my bio. You talked about how my philosophy is that work should feel good. Well there’s reasons why work doesn’t feel good to people. The first is that they’re in the wrong work. Like they just aren’t doing the right thing.
Kind of like for me, when I figured out, I just don’t like keeping up with this programming stuff, want more on the front end of things and whatnot. So I got out of being a software developer pretty quickly did that for a couple of years early in my career. So the work wasn’t right, second reason is that their leadership is not right, which could usually is their direct boss because your direct boss can make you miserable. Even if you work for a wonderful company, but it can be other leaders that you’re involved with. And then the third thing is that your environment is not right. So a lot of times people tend to look at business analysts or computer programmers or whatever, and think that they’re all the same and a programmer that’s good thrive in a highly structured company with a lot of regulatory requirements.
That’s very buttoned up. Like Cerner had a lot of that too. It changed a lot since then someone that’s going to thrive at the 5,000 to 10,000, the 50,000 person company is different than the one that wants to be around the card table in the garage with the startup. And so that environment is important. And environment was also kind of where a lot of the company culture stuff, the, do you get treated adult or are they yelling at you if you’re not at your desk by eight Oh five, much of that’s been exposed to in COVID like people have figured out exactly how flexible and how much they get treated like an adult woman. Whenever they say all that as a preface, that my process involves people, really digging deep into what it is that they actually want. Where are they dissatisfied with their work life?
What is their purpose? What are their values? I, for almost all clients that I work with, I actually have them take the Clifton strengths or StrengthsFinder test. You see it random two different ways to figure out what you’re good at and then digging into the stories of where you felt really successful. And all of that is before you even start to apply for a job. Now, if I have a client coming in mean, they say they got laid off and they know exactly the type of work that they want to do. And the type of environment we will proceed straight into planning, you know, a job search marketing story. But 90% of the people that me say, I need a resume. And 90% of those people don’t need a resume. First. They need to think about what it is. That’s good for them. They want to do once you get a job.
So assuming you can go through that process, think about your strengths, think about where you felt successful and find the right type of role, which was a big role shift. And sometimes it’s just, it’s weak when you, once you’ve gotten there, you, you go into your new job or your current job. If you want to try to reboot where you’re at and you use the information, you’ve discovered about yourself to have conversations with your leadership and with your peers about, I know this is what our mission is, but I’m really good at this. Or I really enjoy this. Can we figure out how to inject some of that into my work? Cause it’s very motivating to me. And I think that, you know, it will benefit our projects and X, Y, Z ways. One of the reasons a lot of companies like to do personality assessments or, you know, strengths finders or Myers-Briggs or things like that for a team is that they’re trying to actually do that because the stuff written down by HR for a senior business analyst or a project manager or whatever the heck you are, it doesn’t capture that I might have my top five strengths be input learner, maximizer, arranger, intellection.
And you also, as a BA might have completely different storage that you want to play to figure out how to do things,
Thinking back to different people’s journeys and, and that kind of thing. Sometimes sustaining a career, to be in a career for the long haul can be a challenge, I guess, as a, as a way to put it. Going through some of those exercises can take a number of years sometimes as in my case, it did, as I was trying to figure out some of that for myself. Can you speak to some of that? What to do when we’re sort of feeling dissatisfied we’re in mid-career we’re in early career, or just not sure where it is that we’re going and how do we get through those times to a point that we can actually sort of sustain long-term a career into our later years?
Well, I think there’s a couple things that we need to distinguish between. And one is that there’s a difference between a career and a job. So very often people chase the wrong thing to me. I have had some people would tell you that I’ve had umpteen careers, but I don’t think that that’s the case. I think that I am currently at the beginning of my second career, I’ve had a number of different jobs. Like I’m like a lot of it, people who have changed jobs on average every two years, two to three years, and very often had a transfer, you know, a department transfer team transfer or promotion or something like that during tenure at those companies. That to me is job changes, not career changes. I have had a 20 year long, it product development career focused in software. I still do some of that under my own business.
I do the career coaching stuff and I do product strategy consulting and business strategy consulting for small businesses. That’s different than what I did in corporate for years. So people chase jobs, security all the time. And I advocate for chasing employability career security as another way to look at it. And at this point, since I’ve jumped over into the entrepreneurial space, I’m really getting passionate about the notion of pursuing multiple revenue streams. Our goal isn’t necessarily to have a single career that we work out for 40 years until we retire. Our goal is to make enough money to get the things that we need and want for our life. So for most people, the majority of that income does come from working for someone else, which is fine. Not everybody is suited to do what I’m doing some days. I’m not cool what I’m doing, but if we look at our objective is career longevity, instead of job security. The first thing that that does is it opens you up to the notion of, I might not have to work for this guy or in this company or in this department at this large company forever. So you gotta be open to the notion that you might be doing similar work to scratch your itch in a different environment. Does that make sense, Tracie?
Yeah, It absolutely does. When we’re young, we’re not always prepared to think in that manner, you know, as we’re sort of coming up.
Yes, absolutely. And I’m a classic example of that because I grew up with two, two parents that were junior college professors. And so they had for decades, basically the same job title in the same employer. So I really had a rude awakening whenever I get into the workforce in corporate America, which my family had no experience at and got hit by layoffs. Like I had to within the first two and a half years of my career, my dad and my dad in particular was like, why can’t you hold a job like Keith? It’s like, he thought that you have this master’s degree, but are like, why can’t you hold a job? And that’s a completely different experience than what, what they went through. And my father would tell you that he never actually applied for a, because he always knew somebody.
And there’s something too that we undervalue right now, right now people are overvaluing, like hacking their resume for the ATS and undervaluing, the powerful power of meaningful networking. My dad, I mean his, his first job from the time he could practically walk was working on the family farm. And then after he graduated from high school, I believe it was high school. He worked for the railroad for a year or two, which I didn’t even know until after he died because he had this like pension or some sort of railroad retirement with like two years of stuff in it. Then my mom found out about, so he did that. Then he went to college and then his first job was, you know, teaching high school. And he knew a guy. And then he went back for his master’s degree. And then he taught at a junior college and he knew a guy.
And then he went to work at a brand new junior college where he spent most of his career, like 27 years or something like that and knew people that were on the founding faculty. So, you know, he just didn’t apply for jobs. I mean, he might have to fill out an application, you know, knives and dots and thieves, but he never applied for a job. So not understand what I was going through in 2000 and 2011, where I was desperately trying to figure out to, with my skills. So that was a little bit of rabbit trail. As far as career longevity is concerned. So not being tied to your department or to your company is one of the biggest ways. The second way I’d say is to not be tied to job titles. So people get overly tied to I’m a, this I’m a project manager, I’m a director of it. I’m a business analyst I’m in this. And the fact is that business analyst is not something you major in, in college, 99% of the time. It is not something that you graduate and go straight into actually every, I mean, you know, this, this is your, so do you said, so you’ve at least nine other people that did another job before in their career before they became a business analyst. There’s also things that can be after business analyst. You know, one thing I was involved with the IIBA here in Kansas city for many years, I helped start or I was on the board for a long time, including being president for a year. And the biggest thing people would talk about is how business analysis seems to have a cap. Like you would get to a point and there wasn’t anything farther to go. And in the early days we were talking about the Royal Bank of Scotland, I think all the time about how they actually created a very high up career track trajectory for business analysts.
And the reason we talked about that is because they were about the only people doing it was thinking in those terms, you had to either turn yourself into a product into, well, at the time, like back in 2007, it wasn’t, especially in the Midwest. People weren’t turning themselves into product managers. The common wisdom 10 years ago was that you started as a tester, you got promoted to be a BA and then you got voted again to be a project manager. In reality, all those are very different skill sets and finding a person that even over the course of a 10 or 15 year period is going to be good at all. Three of those things is rarer than hen’s teeth. I I’ve done all three of those jobs. I’m, I’m, I’m the best at being a BA. So getting to where you’re not so tied to the job title is good, because then you can start thinking about what else is there.
So in my career product management was something that came very naturally to me because product managers work with requirements, but depending on how your organization is set up, you might have support from a business analyst. So maybe some of the really detailed functional requirements, your business analyst is helping drive through with you because you have focused on what are the user needs and what are the market problems that we’re going to be facing. And so it becomes an extension of something that you were already good at. Similarly, things like process improvement, engineers, or process architects. That’s another type of things that uses a lot of skills for a business analyst, but can be elevated. It can end up being management roles can end up being really well paid. If you’re a good business process architect that can very lucrative thing to be in and you need to divorce yourself from I’m a BA. And instead think I have these skills that I honed in my years as a BA, what else can I use them for?
I love that. And I keep saying this, we just often don’t like you say, take the ownership of our career. We don’t take the time to learn ourselves to, um, understand our gifts and talents and superpowers.
There’s another big thing that people do and that is they do what they think they’re supposed to do, but there’s a very big, there’s a lot of ego and status concern and things like that, that people have their career. One of the things I’ve loved so much about jumping, jumping into the entrepreneurial world is watching who has ego about what they’re doing and who doesn’t and what the impact on their businesses. I met with a business coach last week, Roberto, in Nashville, he and my mastermind coach, Terry basically said, we’re going to drag your business through the mud here and figure out how you’re going to be able to be a coach that scales, because most coaches start as coaches and consultants start. Cause it’s hard to be billable at the rate you want and maintain energy and all that stuff. So Roberto told a story about a client he was working with that was being extremely stubborn about something in their business. Like I think it was maybe about the product name or the business name, something like that. And at one point he was very frustrated. So he finally just said, look, do you want to, do you want to, how did he say it? It was something to the effect of, do you want to be a slave to your ego? Or do you want to go live your dream?
Because this person was being really intractable about something that he knew from his experience simply was not going to work. We get very tied to our golden handcuffs and we get very tired. Well, you know, I was a senior manager here and I don’t want to take a job there because it’s, you know, I wanted to be a director Knox or whatever. And we ended up staying slaves to situations where we may never get what we want or we aren’t actually inspecting if the next career step that HR or our boss told us, we should take in that company is actually good for us. I want to know,
Go back to something you said about meaningful networking. I, especially these days, there is a lot of networking going on, even more so than normal. A lot of it is not particularly meaningful. So maybe can you speak to what equates to meaningful networking and how that can get you into different situations that might be a better fit. So that et cetera,
The top most important criteria for meaningful networking is that it needs to be rooted in a desire to build relationships and serve others first. So here’s what meaningful networking does not look like. It does not look like if you’re a small business owner and you’re on LinkedIn. One of the things that happens oftentimes multiple times a day is somebody that is an SEO expert or a lead generation Ninja or something like that. We’ll try to connect with you and they will immediately push you a message with a sales pitch. Like I’m so interested. I help consultants get a full at full funnel. And I’m like, I’m busy. I don’t need it. Like I don’t need the funnel that you seem to think I need. And they don’t give any indication that they’ve actually even read your profile behind them, behind the fact that some job entry on your work experience says owner.
And they think, okay, I can sell this person lead generation. That’s a really for entrepreneurs. That’s an example that happens multiple times a week for people that are real, especially really hot technical resources. You know, those rare skillsets like data scientists or product, product managers, or almost anybody working in the IT space has experienced this. At some point, it looks like a cold email from a recruiter who has not read your profile to know that the job posting they’re trying to send you is for something you did 10 years ago, or only related, I will get things asking me to please submit my resume for the perfect role for me, that that’s always in there somewhere, which is a QA analyst position. That’s going to make $50-70,000 less than I made. Yeah. You’re laughing because you have this happen to you.
It happens all the time.
Yeah. So that kind of thing is rooted in what, what can the person I’m reaching out to do for me? And that’s not right. It should be, what can I do for you? So whenever you and I talked, I had listened to see us podcast and I had listened to Judy’s podcast episode with you on my way across. I was driving from Kansas City to St. Louis, what else are you going to do? You’re going to listen to podcasts. And I just called Thea after I got done. And I was like, this was a great, I love listening to you. And this Tracie lady seems amazing. Tell me more. And she told me a little bit about you and gave me your number. And I just wanted to talk to you about what you were trying to do to see if I could help. Now they’re a little twinkle of, yeah, it can be fun to be on a podcast, of course, but I was also interested in what you’re about because I think anybody that’s trying to help people inspect careers is an important voice to listen to right now.
So we chatted what 45 minutes or so while I was driving and I wasn’t even sure you would be interested in having me on your show because I’ve moved past business analysis and I’m doing other things for myself. And you said, no, that’s like, that’s hope for people. That’s hope we can show them some things past what they may be thinking about. I didn’t want anything other than just to connect with someone that was doing something cool. And so we need to think about that first. How can I help people? You know, I’m sure that if I sat down and brainstormed, I could think of five VAs with different backgrounds you could connect with among my friends, Scott has a podcast and he says that I’m as booking agent. I am not looking agent. I just will say, well, this person can be cool. This person could be cool. And then he makes a connection on his own after an introduction, but let’s say in trying to help people do their thing. So I’m actually going to a conference later this year. That’s literally called “The Thing” because everybody has a thing. That’s yeah, it’s really cool. You might enjoy it. Maybe you can, there’ll be a lot of podcasters there.
I can see that. I will have to have to look that up for sure. Yeah.
It’s a, it’s pretty cool. It’s cool stuff. You know, my bio also says I’m connector and I just like to keep my little encyclopedia of information about people when I run it, I’m one that I think should meet somebody else. I make it happen. So I do, I do that with my clients. I do it with my network. A lot of times what I tell people that I’m coaching consult with me is you don’t just get me and my expertise, but you also get appropriate introductions on my network. And that can be really powerful. And it’s just to try to create a little bit better of a hive mind. Like I want people to be successful and their work work is too much part of our life for it to suck. Like we should not let our work lives suck, and we have the power to take control of it. So,
Absolutely. I completely agree with everything you just said. And I think that’s a really good point to end it on today. Take ownership of your careers network, meaningfully, reach out to people and offer help, ask how you can help them discover your gifts, work to become the person the you want to become in your life and in your Career.
So, what’s coming up for you?
Oh gosh, what’s coming up for me. I am, I feel like I’m doing all the things I was doing. A lot of consulting work that kind of went on pause during the pandemic. And now it’s all coming back to life, but I’m actually working a lot on developing my coaching framework so that I cannot just work one-on-one with people that hopefully develop some courses and some content and things like that, just to help folks. Cause I can only do one on one coaching with so many people and only a few people can afford it. So that’s a big focus for me. And like I said, I’ve been dragging my business strategy through the mud. So I’m sure some other things are going to be happening soon, but that’s my top focus is trying to figure out how to help people that don’t feel like they have power or have the confidence progress their career in a way that they want to.
So how can people get in touch with you?
The best way to get in touch with me honestly, is just shoot me an email. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And so please do send me an email. Let me know you heard about me on the Traceability podcast and I probably will have some nuggets created in the next few weeks that I can send to people. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m Diana Alt and I have a Facebook presence as well. My website is currently completely under construction, so that’ll come to life soon and I’ll have that link from all those other places. So it’s the best way.
Cool. Great. Well, thank you so much for being here today. Diana, I’ve so enjoyed our times chatting and, and for those of our listeners, your call to action today is to do some of the things that Diana has recommended and shoot me an email, at email@example.com or follow me on the traceabilitypodcast.com website. And let me know, what’s one thing you’re going to do to take action today in your career and your life today.
You’ll have to forward any of those threads.