Taylor B is an IT Support Specialist at a large corporation. In this interview, he tells us about life on the help desk.
What does a typical day at work look like?
At my current site, a typical day involves a lot of managing time and juggling users. (Customers might also apply here depending on where you’re employed and for what.) I sit in an open bar-like area and am available for walk-ins or appointments. It’s very easy for multiple users to approach me at once. This kind of thing could lead to what we would call in my service industry days “the weeds.” If you’re not familiar with the term it basically means you’re sat with multiple guests at once. Falling back on the skills I learned in the service industry to juggle and make the best usage of my time while working with multiple users is a big part of my typical day. Aside from walk-ins I manage some repeated tasks to make sure the office and my station has what it needs to succeed.
How did you prepare for this position? (College degree, certifications, experience?)
I’d always been interested in tinkering, modifying, and repairing my personal electronics- I should lead with that. Professionally though, it started with experience. I was in Project Management for an India based employer. The parent company being an IT/Technology firm handled our IT. With certain limitations with being a remote help desk solution my first experience in actual IT related duties would begin there. After a couple years of assuming more and more IT responsibilities in that position, when it came time to move on I got a Network + cert and began looking into IT work instead of PM. My degree isn’t in an IT related field, but skills like critical thinking and logic are universally useful, in my opinion.
Is there a book or other resources you would recommend for someone wanting to learn about this job?
For CompTIA Certifications I would recommend the Mike Meyers resources. (Author’s note: Here are the links for ompTIA books from Mike Meyers. A+, Network+, and Security+. Mike also has a YouTube channel.)
For practical information, I’d recommend finding a tech board online that will feature threads about current issues(and how to resolve or avoid them). One skill I’d really stress is being able to quickly pull and apply information resources. You’re human, you shouldn’t expect yourself to remember everything. What you can train though, rather than a eidetic memory, is your ability to find, process, and apply information. In a help desk situation (which you will most likely be in at some point in the beginning) you might run into something you’ve never seen before. When this happens you have to know where your help is and how to use it.
If you could redo the route you took to get here, would you take the same path or would you do things differently?
I’m not certain I would. If I had this career expressly as a goal, sure. While I love where I am, I also know who I was and where I’ve come from. I don’t think I’d have the same opportunities and skills if I went back in time and changed something.
What is the most frustration thing about your job?
Not being able to help someone!
This can express itself multiple ways. I might know what to do but don’t have access to apply the fix (EG not the same domain/network/etc). In other cases I might be on a time crunch for the user and can’t find the right solution in time to help them. Or, my favorite, no resource at my disposal or any of my experience lends itself to a workable solution.
I may have read sarcastically just now, but the third is actually my favorite of the three. Why? Because unlike the first two this third one doesn’t end with me; I can still reach out to my team members and keep trying to find a solution even though I haven’t been able to find one on my own yet. In the first example while it might stroke my ego a bit my hands are tied and I have to send the user off to another organizational body to seek help. There’s nothing I can really do there besides try and follow up with them later to see if it was able to get resolved. In the second example I’m not able to make it through best practices/troubleshooting needed in the time allotted. There’s only so much a person can do in that situation so while I understand that it can still be frustrating not being able to help the user. In the third example though, I have an opportunity to reach out to my team, learn from them, and grow together with them when applying the fix. It might not sound ideal on its face, but having to reach out for help to the next tier of support or even reaching out to your team is the best possible place to be. The user still gets the help they need and I get to grow as a professional.
What kind of person is this job ideal for?
I think the position I am in is ideal for someone with a customer service background as well as technical inclination. I say inclination as opposed to know-how/experience because while those two can come with time and be taught to the inclined, knowing how to deal with people, especially people having services issues, is something deeply necessary to the demands of this position. A willingness to think flexibly and troubleshoot unfamiliar issues is also important I think. You can’t be rigid in dealing with problems. The problem doesn’t care if it’s illogical to you and you still have to fix it. If you’re thinking about getting into a customer-focused position, you should be out there because you want to help people. If you’re using it s a stepping stone, you might want to look into other avenues to get to where you want to end up.
Who should stay away from this job?
People who don’t like talking with, interacting with, or coaching other people. People who don’t suffer fools. People who would rather do something where they don’t have to talk to anyone. You won’t like the work plain and simple.
Does this job require lots of continuing education? If so, is it mostly on the job or outside working hours (such as taking night classes, working on certifications, etc?)
I think for many certifications you’ll find experience will eventually replace the certifications necessity. This is speaking about introductory certifications like the Network+, A+, etc. Depending on how specialized you become, you might find that keeping up more advanced certifications is helpful educationally as well as professionally though. I would say with a position like help desk specifically, most of the training will be on site as the company’s environment evolves. As you grow in your IT career that might change though. As you grow seeking out next level certifications will be a great way to prepare yourself for your new responsibilities and expand your knowledge.
Is this job mostly solo work, or do you interact with others a lot?
Working directly with users I find that I will almost always at very least be working with the user to resolve their issue. Taking that into consideration though, I do a lot by myself at the moment but the work is very team based as well. Whenever I need help or have a question about the environment I’m in being able to communicate with my team/support network is critical for me to be able to do my job. Of course accessing knowledge bases and research is important, but sometimes you’re going to have to talk with someone and ask a question. Being able to know reach out for help is very important.
What is something you would want to tell people about your job? Is there anything people should be aware of?
How big of a role communication plays! Communicating with users, my team members, and vendors is a huge part of what I do. If you come into this line of work thinking people aren’t a big part of the equation you’re going to find how mistaken you are very quickly.
What is something that surprised you about this position?
I was surprised how broad a field “IT” really is. I had this preconception in my mind that sort of touched upon a lot of different things then amalgamated them into one. It was easy to psych myself out doing that. But once I learned how I would fit into the IT world as opposed to how I would fit into my preconceptions about IT, I had a much better time.
What is the most rewarding thing about this position?
I genuinely get a joyful feeling inside when I’m able to help someone resolve their issue.
Is there anything you wish I’d asked you about? Did I miss anything important?
Not that I can think of! Please let me know if there’s anything I can explain more in depth!
Author’s note: If there’s anything I missed that you’d like answered by Taylor, please leave a comment below with your question.