Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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What does it take?: Part 3

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

We continue this week with our discussion of various computer careers and the skills they require. This time we address the skills necessary for a career in technical support.

More than just a starting point

In most companies, technical support is seen as an entry level position. Workers are expected to "pay their dues" before moving into more prestigious positions such as programming, management or marketing. While this indeed happens in many places, I do not agree with this attitude in the least.

A good technical support person is a rare commodity and should be courted. Too often, good support people are promoted out of the technical support ranks, leaving a staff that is forever at a low level of expertise. Good support people should be turned into mentors and hands-on managers. They shouldn't be placed in positions where they never use their skills again.

What is needed?

I good technical support person should have the ability to deal with a wide variety of technical problems and a wide variety of personalities. They should never be afraid to say "I don't know" but always willing to find the answer. They need to be able to calm distressed computer users but they should never feel they have to take abuse.

One major requirement of a technical support person is the desire, maybe even an obsession, for learning new information. They should want to try out every new software package that comes along. They should want to read every trade magazine they can get their hands on. If the speed of computer innovation feels overwhelming or even threatening for you, then technical support is probably not a good choice for your career.

In some cases, the combination of vocation and avocation can help. I am a computer hobbyist as well as computer professional. This helps me to keep current on computer advances without feeling that I am working every hour of the day. I am honestly interested in computer information and this then spills over into my work life.


Just like programmers, technical support people must do everything in their power to remain versatile in the hardware, software and networking systems they support. This is one career that allows for no bigots regarding computer platforms, operating systems or software. You will, of course, have your specialties but a good understanding of a wide variety of products will insure that you have a long career.

Where to from here?

The biggest problem faced by technical support people is that of promotion. Most companies have no idea how to promote exceptional employees except by moving them to jobs outside their expertise. If you have no desire for management you will often have to create a new position for yourself within the company. This might involved becoming a mentor and leader for other members of the tech support staff without actually becoming their manager. This insures that you will continue doing what you love, and using your best skills instead of spending your time on paperwork.

A career in technical support if you can find the right home. Keep looking for those companies that treat technical support as a valid career in itself and not something to be survived.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. While he cannot answer every letter directly, he welcomes questions and suggestions. Douglas can reached via email at or