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On Doug Heintzman and the qualities of an industry analyst

I am regularly asked by people: How Do You Become An Industry Analyst?
 
There is no magic formula, and given I have never actually worked at one of the leviathan firms you could argue I am not in a position to know. On the other hand, RedMonk is a respected boutique firm and I believe I have some useful insights. Over the next couple of weeks I will be making a couple of posts on the subject.
 
I used to think being an analyst would be a really cool job, until I actually became one. Just kidding. Being an analyst at RedMonk is a fulfilling and fun job. But what are some of the qualities that make a good, or great analyst?
 
I was reading John Simonds latest IBM executive Q&A and it struck me that Doug Heintzman would be, indeed already is, a strong analyst.
After graduation, I was looking around trying to figure out what I wanted to do and my dad suggested that I interview with IBM, so I went through the interview process, and at my final interview with the Montreal Branch manager I asked him “why would you hire someone like me?

The answer is one that I still remember quite clearly and that I relate to new employee classes and to high school students at career days. It went sort of like this: “The stuff we do here you can’t learn in school, the stuff we are going to be doing in 6 months….. – we haven’t invented yet. I’m going to send you to school for 8 months to learn what it takes to succeed in this business. You will never stop learning. You will read 100’s of pages of journals every week and will attend many courses every year, The people I hire have demonstrated a passion for learning. That is the most important skill you can have at IBM.
I would argue a passion for learning is the single most important character traits in an industry analyst.
 
You have to be happy with change, to actively seek it out. An analyst is close to useless the day he or she stops learning. If he isn’t learning on the job, then she has become a PR man for some model he/she thought of in the past. I see some industry analysts at conferences ask the same question over and over again, because of their self-referential model of the world.
 
Its clear that Doug wouldn’t think like that. He is happy and prefers change and flux.
It’s interesting, when I speak to new employee classes, to explain to them that everything I’ve done has been somewhat accidental instead of having a planned career. It is difficult to chart a career progression in a company like IBM because the landscape and technology is so dynamic.

If you don’t thrive on change, don’t even consider becoming an industry analyst. If you don’t thrive on change and you’re an already industry analyst then its probably time to start looking for a new job.

Industry analysts, like IBM strategists, also need to play a two horizon game – encompassing both strategic and quarterly concerns. As Doug puts it:

Articulating some wonderful vision about what the world might look like to a general manager who is worrying about this quarter’s earnings is tough. You have to bridge today and tomorrow and lay out the steps to get there, a pragmatic approach with intermediate steps. You need to tell the story of the journey.

This interview perhaps tells you more about IBM and why the firm is still an industry leader than any number of official statements or white papers.  Like my partner in crime recently said, John Simonds is emerging as one of IBM’s best bloggers.

Why? Its about people, not just bits.

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7 Responses

  1. what i like about you james is you can look at the same thing as me and come up with a view and/or opinion that not only is insightful, but leaves me thinking time after time…..why didn’t i see that also. i’ve worked with other ibm’rs that would have been good analysts also now that i think about them the way you’ve stated this….

  2. What impresses me is the breadth of stuff you manage to cover; is there a knack in gauging the level of detail you need to go to, while avoiding getting sucked down to the geeky depths…?

  3. One can probably predict that the analyst(s) who continue to ask the same questions at industry conferences more than likely work for a large analyst firm where this is more opportunity to hide out amongst the ranks.

    The funny thing is that many customers are also aware of this fact. Now only if we could convince the guys in procurement that maybe they don’t really need to limit choices of vendors in a particular category…

  4. I think the allure of any job is better before you have the job. The grass is always greener on the other side. Christmas trees in the field look more symmetrical from further away. I bet it would be fun to be an industry analyst!

  5. I have noticed that Doug Heintzman is not on Twitter or Google+ or even Facebook. It’s, therefore, hard to get information to him. How can a VP for one of the companies in the industries he’s watching speak with him? I know that industry analysts often have the policy of only speaking with those they approach, but I don’t agree that this provides the best flow of information. If we’re about to release a major new API and white label service next week, he’s not going to be clairvoyant and think “I should approach these guys now”.



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