Squiz Q&A with Business Analyst, Shelley Gurney

Squiz New Zealand business analyst reflects on her new-found dream job and what it’s like to be the company’s Swiss Army knife.

Squiz: In which office are you based Shelley?

Gurney: Wellington

How long have you worked here?

I’ve been at Squiz for five glorious months.

What did you study at university?

It’s a bit of a list. I have a bachelor’s degree (honours) in comparative literature; a master’s degree in English literature and theology; a master’s degree in information science (MIS), specialising in metadata and semantic structuring (technically, I was a digital librarian); and I wrote a doctoral thesis in comparative literature and social anthropology. Alas, I never submitted the thesis due to a fiasco with my supervisor leaving the university, and, well … I got a job. One day, I may publish the thesis as a book. We’ll see.

What attracted you to the Squiz role?

Essentially, this is the unicorn role for me. I was looking for something in project work, where no two days are the same, and I’m not always stuck behind a desk. I was also looking for a role in which I could solve problems, work with a variety of people, and make a difference. I’d been looking for a role like this for years. I’m still waiting to find out what the catch is.

What does a business analyst do?

Gurney: What doesn’t a business analyst do? Ask 100 business analysts that question, and you’ll get 100 different answers. To me, a business analyst is a Swiss Army knife of skills and insights, working across a project team or with clients to design and create the best solution to their problem. A good business analyst spans presales through user-acceptance testing (UAT) and sign-off, keeping in mind the big picture and understanding the project’s goal.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a scriptwriter – at least, that’s what I started studying at university. Before that, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

What was the last book you read?

The last fiction book I read is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. And I’m once again on the last chapter of Robert M Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I love it.

Who inspires you – and why?

There are a few people. Audrey Hepburn is my heroine; she overcame such a difficult childhood. And beyond her work as an actress, she was with UNICEF until she died, working tirelessly out of the spotlight.

Another inspiration is Sir Ernest Shackleton, for how he led his team during the Endurance expedition. (Read South; it’s extraordinary.)

Third, two very good friends of mine (they’re going to kill me for saying this!) have been inspirational: Dr Kylie Smith, who recently became a fellow at Emory University in the US, and Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario from Monash University. Smith showed me how to roll with the punches and that the universe does have something planned for all of us. And Do Rosario is my fairy godmother. She, too, has shown me that you can live your dream. Both women are my sanity-checkers and absolute role models.

Can you share an interesting tidbit about you?

Only one? I’m a certified AIDA International Freediving Judge. (Yes, that sport in which you hold your breath and swim as deep as you can or as far as you can without passing out.) I also play underwater rugby.

What are your favourite days at work?

Sitting down with my team, Team Discovery, aka Team Disco, and development and cranking out a fantastic build spec and wireframes. These’ll pull all the user experience (UX) and research together with the design and tech work and become something exciting and innovative. Plus, when the client loves our outside-the-box concept. Seeing all the ideas evolve into something solid is so rewarding.

What’s new and exciting in the world of business right now?

Gurney: It’s not very new, but it is exciting, and it’s certainly gaining momentum: design thinking and hypothesis-driven development and design . It’s user-centric and involves whole-team engagement from the beginning. We’re looking at how Team Disco can build this into our everyday work here in our little corner of the world.

What’s the vibe like in Squiz New Zealand?

Fun-loving, relaxed, and quirky. There’s a real family atmosphere here, one that’s both encouraging and supportive.

What’s one of the most exciting things you’ve done at Squiz?

Gurney: Being pulled into a meeting with a prospective client to talk about a product on my first day on the job – and not messing up spectacularly. It was exciting. Also, standing up in front of a whole lot of university staff to explain the journey we were about to take them on to redevelop their website.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?

Just breathe. You’re never going to please everybody, so pick your battles wisely. And most important: Be kind to yourself, which is actually far more difficult than it sounds.

What qualities make for an excellent business analyst?

There are a number of them:

  • having empathy
  • being a good listener
  • being able to connect the dots
  • knowing how to identify risk from the outset (and envisioning several scenarios based on the evidence at hand is a bonus)
  • not being afraid to play devil’s advocate
  • being a strong communicator.

Shelley will be tweeting her week at work at @lifeatsquiz from May 16 - May 20. Follow along to see what she gets up to on a day-to-day basis.


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