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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or http://home.earthlink.net/~dewelch/