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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Entry Level or Dead End – October 7, 2005

Archive: Entry Level or Dead End – October 7, 2005

November 5th, 2008

Are companies keeping employees on the help desk forever instead of letting them grow?

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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We all had to start our high-tech career somewhere. The usual entry point within most companies was. and still is, the help desk. It is here we learn our craft, creating solutions out of research, hard work and our own creativity. After spending some time “in the trenches”, we move out into different areas of the organization, creating specialties and building our knowledge further. Of course, this is an idealistic view and one that is being threatened by companies who seem intent on keeping help desk staff on the help desk instead of helping them grow.

Stick to the script

If you have had any reason to call a help desk lately, you have probably experienced “the script”. Despite your attempts to solve your question quickly, the person on the other end of the phone takes you through a step-by-step process, most of which you have already tried. I can’t blame the support person, though. This is clearly company policy. The focus on help desk managers is to get as many callers off the phone as quickly as possible. In most cases, though, this is a dis-service to both the caller and the help desk staffer.

Spending your day working through troubleshooting rubrics created by someone else is no way to improve your high-tech career. In order to move into jobs that offer better pay and are more satisfying you need to be learning something every single day. In the old days, this education was built into the job. You simply had to learn in order to solve the problems. You had to create the script before you could think of using it and failing to solve a problem was not an option. In such an environment, either you learned or you found another job.

It might seem a bit far-fetched, but keeping people “on script” might have another purpose. Help desk operations have notoriously high turnover rates. In the past, it was expected that you would move up and out of the help desk department, Today, though, if you find yourself on a help desk, your supervisors and managers might be doing everything they can to keep you there. In some operations, there might be an active policy to keep workers from learning too much and then taking that knowledge elsewhere. Instead of facilitating learning, companies are starting to see the help desk as the final destination.

Move up or get out

As you might imagine, if you are starting your career in a help desk operation you will want to carefully choose the company. Investigate their operation thoroughly. Talk with existing and past employees and try to gain some understanding of how the company views its help desk workers and procedures.

Is education an important part of every day? Do they attempt to script every possible situation with the callers? When finding a solution for the customer is creativity rewarded or punished? Is there a clear career path for help desk employees? I would be wary of any help desk operation with too many 5-6 year veterans in the department. Occasionally, there will be some people who have found their specialty in the help desk environment but spending an entire career there should not be the norm.

Above all, you must remember that the goals of help desk management might not necessarily be your goals. If you are looking to build a long and prosperous high-tech career, you need every opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes you will do this with the assistance of your management and, at other times, without. Be particularly aware of any overt disapproval of your attempts to learn more. No one should ever make you feel that a help desk position is the end of the line. This is a sure sign that some thing is wrong.

A position with a high-tech help desk operation was once the birthplace of many a high-tech career and it can be still, if you find the right company. Seek out those companies that maintain a policy of growing their employees from within, allowing them to move from entry-level positions up through the IT ranks. If you find yourself in a company where the help desk is the beginning and the end you might find that your entry-level job has become a dead end.

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