business analyst and software developer

Business Analyst vs Software Developer: What’s the difference?

“Business analyst vs software developer” sounds like a war movie, but the two actually work together. Business analysts (BAs) and software developers (SDs) collaborate in the software development lifecycle, but they’re far from being the same role.

In short, business analysts collect, interprets, and document requirements for a software product, whereas software developers and programmers write the computer code to build that product.

Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between business analyst and software developers (aka programmers, not to be confused with software business analysts).

Roles and responsibilities

In order to understand how the two jobs compare, you need to know a little but about the software development lifecycle (SDLC). In a nutshell, the process begins with an idea. Either management or a client has an idea for a product or feature, that idea goes through refinement and development until the result comes out the other end.

But this is no easy process — entire companies are built managing the design, development, and testing phases in order to produce expectation-exceeding results on time, and within budget. We can break the lifecycle down in these 6 steps and who is primarily responsible for each:

  1. Planning/Requirement Analyst – Business Analyst
  2. Defining Requirements – Business Analyst & Software Developer
  3. Designing Product Architecture – Software Developer
  4. Building the Product – Software Developer
  5. Testing the Product – Business Analyst
  6. Deploying the Product – Business Analyst & Software Developer

1. Planning/Requirement Analysis (Business Analyst)

  • The Business Analyst speaks to all stakeholders in order to understand the requirements.
  • With a client, the BA tries to understand what the ultimate goal is, not what the client believes will produce that result. For example, an insurance company may say they want an mobile app for their customers. However, what they really want is a way for customers to easily read a simplified policy on the fly. The BA knows that insurance customers like everything online — they don’t want to download or deal with and app. It’s the BA’s job to communicate this.
  • With a management structure in an established company, the team generally understands customer needs better. This makes the process easier, but BAs must still ask hard questions to get to the result.

2. Defining Requirements (Business Analyst and Software Developer)

  • This is the first step in which BAs and SDs work together. Once the BA has gathered the requirements in step 1, it’s time to write them down, or document them. There are formal requirements to how this information can be communicated, and the old-school way was to use a very detailed software requirement specification template. While there is merit to taking a structured approach, the invent of agile methodologies encourages a constant dialogue within the team. That’s why most BAs and SDs today prefer to use discussion-based communication above all else.
  • Nevertheless, the BA and software developer communicate to document the most important items in order to get them approved by the client or company management. This is formal approval.
  • Defining requirements is a useful exercise because it further clarifies the ideas shared in step 1, which helps avoid confusion and produces results.

3. Designing Product Architecture (Software Developer)

  • Given what the Business Analyst has communicated as requirements, a member of the design team and a software developer will then create a product architecture that outlines how developers will build the product.
  • This is also a stage of refining the requirements since multiple designs will be proposed. The one that best reflects the requirements becomes the final design.

4. Building the Product (Software Developer)

  • This step is the easiest to conceptualize but the most difficult to enact. Software developers or programmers must use a series of computer languages to build the product.
  • This step is yet another opportunity to refine the requirements, since minimum viable products will go out periodically for all stakeholders to review.

5. Testing the Product (Business Analyst)

  • We write testing as the step following building the product, but this is not in fact the case. Quality assurance testers regularly review the product or its parts as developers complete them.

6. Deploying the Product (Business Analyst and Software Developer)

  • Deploying the product is also a step in which BAs and SDs work together. Once testers have completed their review and the product is ready to go, BAs will have once last control before the developers publish.

Business Analysts Must Know Data

Through requirement elicitation and documentation, business analysts are working primarily with data. What KPIs do stakeholders want to hit? How will this be achieved through the product or feature? Volumes, traffic, conversion, systems, databases, and more are a BAs DNA.

Many don’t realize, but business analysts in practice are requirement-oriented data analysts. So they must know data, and know it well!

Don’t forget, you can get the free Intro to Data Analysis eBook to get a strong grasp of data fundamentals.

Is business analyst better than software developer?

I’ve worked in two different IT companies — one in the United States and the other in Europe — and this question comes up rather often. Ultimately it depends on your personality type, as the roles are different.

In summary, the business analyst role is better for people who prefer being in charge of a process, whereas the software developer role is better for those who prefer understanding the details in a process.

Salary: Business Analyst Salary vs Software Developer

While salaries vary by location, a business analyst generally makes less than a software developer. Here is the average salary by a few different locations for each. The trend is as expected. Salaries on the west coast, namely in San Francisco, are highest. Europe, namely London, comes in last.

Business AnalystSoftware Developer
New York City$75,637$81,711
San Francisco$83,339$100,992 
Miami, FL$64,653$70,298
Business Analyst an Software Developer Salaries in 5 Cities1

Stress Levels: Business Analyst Stress Levels vs Software Developer

Again, stress levels depend on each individual and on his/her personality. Some people tend to be very stressed when they cannot find a solution to a detailed problem. Others find it incredibly stressful to manage other people. In addition, some find a misplaced common incredibly nerve-racking, whereas others may see it as a challenge. Finally, some may panic at the though of managing people, whereas others find it relieving.

You can probably guess which category you fall into by reading that synopsis. That said, there are a few “hidden” challenges behind both the BA and DS job that you should know about before getting involved.

Business analysts and expectations

Business analysts have to manage client and supervisor expectations. This is stressful for anyone. Most senior level managers are in a sort of “visionary” mode. This means that they pitch ideas and requirements, but may not always understand the limitations. A business analyst has to confront them with reality.

For example, I was working in a company funding the development of a social media platform. I remember a senior-level manager wanted to add a ‘story’ feature to an already very slow user interface. This manager had pitched the idea to the entire C-suite, each one of whom supported it. He also discussed it with the Head of Business and many individuals.

Over the course of a few days, the business analyst in charge of that particular workflow dreaded speaking to the senior manager. The manager had a reputation of being a bit hardheaded about his ideas. Long story short, it was a slightly uncomfortable exchange in which the BA had to publicly question the manager. A bit stressful.

Software developers and finding that missing comma

Software developers, on the other hand, have to find that missing comma. When you’re a developer, every detail, every character, counts. You could write hundreds of thousands of characters in order to build a small feature. But for whatever reason, you may not see an error until the end of the process.

At that point, you have to sift through all those lines of code to identify one item that’s out of place. For some people, this is excited. For many others, its highly stressful.

Is it good to switch from development to business analyst?

Given what we know about salaries, it’s not good to switch from development to business analysis. The money is simply better for developers. However, if you hate looking at the details, or simply want to work in a more people-based framework, it’s great idea to switch.

One of the other important advantages to mention about business analysts is the career opportunity. To move up in any company you need hard skills. As a developer you get those. However, you need to be able to manage people. Perhaps more than any other role on the tech side of an IT company, business analysis let’s you get your feet wet in management.

Can a software developer become a business analyst?

Yes, a software developer can become a business analyst. Many before have done so, and you are completely capable of making the move. The question is if a software developer can become a good business analyst.

It’s not a good idea to generalize, but people are typically good at one or the other. That’s not to say you cannot do well in both, but you will be a better version of yourself in one or the other, statistically speaking.

If you’re considering making the switch, it may be useful to ask yourself, “Am I a good software developer?” If the answer is yes, think about if you would really enjoy working on business analyst tasks. On the other hand, if you think you’re subpar as an SD, then perhaps you would be better suited as a BA.

Business analyst vs software developer: the difference is in the detail!

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About the Author


Noah is the founder & Editor-in-Chief at AnalystAnswers. He is a transatlantic professional and entrepreneur with 5+ years of corporate finance and data analytics experience, as well as 3+ years in consumer financial products and business software. He started AnalystAnswers to provide aspiring professionals with accessible explanations of otherwise dense finance and data concepts. Noah believes everyone can benefit from an analytical mindset in growing digital world. When he's not busy at work, Noah likes to explore new European cities, exercise, and spend time with friends and family.


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