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5 Reasons Every Finance & Accounting Professional Should Know Programming

In today’s competitive landscape it is difficult for business professionals to distinguish themselves from others.  The pool is growing rapidly.  According to the Occupational Outlook these fields are set to grow by roughly 11% by 2024.  This is faster than the average growth rate of other jobs.  While this is good news from a job attainment perspective, advancement within an organization may be more cumbersome.  In order to distinguish oneself from others there must be distinctive characteristics.  One overlooked attribute is the ability to write computer programs.  This may sound odd but business professionals that are fluent in technology are easily set apart from the rest.  There are few reasons why every business professional should know how to program.

 

 

Productivity

 

One of the benefits of programming knowledge is productivity.  To put it quite simply, someone can get more done in less time through programming.  A well written program can save hours of laborious manual work. For example, in the past I worked in a finance office with an annual budget reporting process.  The process involved collecting proposed budget data for the upcoming year and historical performance.  The office would then analyze the data and make necessary recommendations to senior leadership.  That process would take a team of 8 analysts two weeks to compile, summarize and validate data.  As a result, a small amount of time was left for data analysis.  In response to this laborious process, we developed a custom VBA (Visual Basic for Application) solution that automated that process.  That process took a team of eight, two weeks now took one person four hours to complete.  That was roughly a time saving of 99% for the office at large. Every office has redundant tasks that can be automated for individuals and for the office at large.  The ability to identify and garner time savings like this can distinguish one employee from another.

 

Accuracy

 

Accuracy is a critical skill trait in the business profession.  Every job opening posted in that field has the marker “detail oriented”.  Translation “don’t make any mistakes”.  Errors like inverting numbers or pulling up the wrong account number have little tolerance.  Programming can drastically reduce errors.  For example, in the automation project that I outlined previously, errors were virtually eliminated.  Human intervention will undoubtedly lead to errors, but proper automation can eliminate those items.  There are countless opportunities to improve accuracy programmatically in every office. 

 

Information Technology Fluency

 

One of the advantages to knowing programming is a better understanding of the Information Technology department.  A business professional that understands programming can now become a bridge between Finance/Accounting and IT.  That person becomes a bridge because he/she understands the jargon, capabilities and limitations of both groups.  That person now has the distinct capability of becoming a conduit or the “go to person” for inter-departmental matters.  In every institution that I’ve been employed by, I became the first point of contact for technical issues in the Finance department.  The discussions would be about construction of formulas to manipulate data, questions about databases and participation in enterprise system committees.  These things happened because I had already established myself as a tech savvy individual.  Fluency in programming can lead to projects that can distinguish someone from the pack.

 

 

Business Impact

 

Another reason that a professional should know programming is due to “business impact”.  That means the ability to influence the performance or direction of an organization.  Think of this ability as stored up potential energy.  In the realm of science, potential energy is defined as an object capacity for doing work.  A commonly used example is a rock sitting at the edge of a cliff.  If something pushes the rock it will fall swiftly to the ground.  The damage is largely based on the rock’s weight and the height from which it falls.  A professional that knows programming, increases his/her weight and height.  His/her ability to make an impact on a project or initiative has now increased, due to that new knowledge. 

 

 

Increased Marketability

 

The final reason every business professional should know programming is marketability.  Let’s face it, the more knowledge, experience and expertise one has the better.  A better understanding of programming gives the holder more options for employment or business.  That individual can make an impact in different areas of the same company.  Years ago, upon the completion of graduate school I attended a job fair.  During the fair I shared my resume with a recruiter who had multiple openings at her company.  She reviewed the document and had to ask, “So what do you want to do?”  She saw my degrees and specialization in Finance, Computer Science and Management Information Systems and asked me for guidance in offering me a position.  At the time, I looked at it as a weakness.  However, now I think it was actually empowering.  I had the ability to choose a career path.  Additional knowledge in that area can lead to new unexplored opportunities. 

 

Business professionals by nature of their profession are good in math and analytical.  They also have a high acumen for attention to details.  All those characteristics lend themselves well to becoming a successful programmer.  Visual Basics for Applications (VBA), XML and C++ are the most applicable computer languages.  However, if you learn one language, it becomes easier to pick up or learn another language.

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