Gary Mesick is the manager of the digital services and analytics engineering lifecycle data organization at Boeing, where he works with aircraft and operational data to process, validate, correct, prepare and manage the data for use by Boeing’s data analytics professionals.
We spoke with Gary — a published poet, award-winning beer brewer and retired infantry officer with a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard — about the UW Certificate in Business Analysis and how poetry relates to business analysis.
What is business analysis?
At Boeing, where I’m responsible for 180 business analysts, I often describe business analysis as “systems engineering-lite.” Both a systems engineer and a business analyst are trying to help you solve a business problem. That’s really what it comes down to.
No matter what part of a company you work in, it’s always helpful to have the business analysis background.
What’s changed since you started in the field?
In the past it would have been enough to say, “I’m the person who’s going to help you figure out your business problem, define your requirements and manage them until you’re done.” But now, business analysis is more like a wrapper around other skills you have.
If you’re going to be a good business analyst in the data world, you’re going to need to need to know how to query data. If you’re going to go about reorganizing organizations, you’re going to need some grounding in business structures and organizations. If your position is more about addressing process, you’re going to have to understand Lean, Agile, or Six Sigma.
That’s the biggest change. The expectation now is that you bring a business analysis way of thinking but you also bring some technical chops with you.
What’s unique and exciting about the UW Certificate in Business Analysis?
Business analysis is a way of thinking. And so for people who have other skill sets but don’t have the business analysis approach to going after problems and addressing them, this program can be really valuable in their toolbox.
Sometimes people are thrown into a job where they don’t have a complete picture of what the work is, or they don’t have the credentials, so they’re encountering that question of, “Why should I listen to you?” And the Certificate in Business Analysis provides a great answer to that question.
The certificate’s in-class experience also sets it apart. We ask you to come to class with a cohort of 25 to 30 people. It’s really remarkable how different each cohort can be — with the same instruction and the same set of tools, but with different students and experiences. There’s a huge advantage in being able to learn from each other.
In your view, what’s the future of business analysis? How has the field changed during your career?
The issue right now is the mountain of data that’s available. As people try to monetize the data they have, it can overwhelm you. Because it’s so easy to say, “Go get it all,” it’s important to have somebody who can ask the question, “What do you want to do with it?”
It’s even more important now to have someone who asks what problem you’re trying to solve. Some leaders think we can go get all the data now and figure it out later, but you’ll just drown the company in all that information.
You’re a published poet. Do you see any connection between poetry and business analysis?
One of the critics I admire, Cleanth Brooks, said, “The language of poetry is the language of paradox.” So what you have to be able to do to write a good poem is to hold two apparently opposing points of view simultaneously — and be comfortable with that.
In class, students want a definitive answer, and I often say there isn’t one, and you should be OK with that. We spend a lot of effort making them comfortable making decisions in the face of ambiguity. It’s really an important thing, to be able to handle ambiguity in your decision making.
You’re never going to know as much as you’d like to know, and you have to be OK with that. How can you make decisions and take actions in the face of imperfect information? I think that poetry celebrates that.