Maybe you’ve always had an interest in computers growing up, and you’ve long considered turning that interest into a career in information technology (IT). Working in IT means you’d have a path for advancement and likely much more financial stability than the dead-end job you may be working now. The only problem is figuring out where to start.
If you’re serious about launching an IT career, one of the first stops you might consider is to work as a help desk technician. But if you’ve frequented any tech-related forums, you know there are plenty of tales out there highlighting the struggles that come with assisting users who barely know the difference between a mouse and modem.
Don’t let the exaggerated perception of the job scare you off. A help desk technician’s role can actually do you—and your career—plenty of good.
“Most careers in tech start at a help desk,” explains Nick Teeple, co-founder of the tech startup Skyline Servers. Landing one of these positions could be your ticket to a long and robust career in IT, so let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from the experience.
What can you gain from becoming a help desk technician?
A job in tech support—typically referred to as a help desk technician, computer user support specialist or technical support specialist—is the perfect stepping stone to higher-level IT careers. You can earn a respectable annual salary of approximately $52,160, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the experience you’ll gain in the trenches of customer support is just what many IT hiring managers are seeking.1
Even still, you likely have some lingering questions. That’s why we connected with some IT experts to find out just how valuable this experience is. Here are four ways working as a help desk technician prepares you for the IT career of your dreams.
1. You’ll get on-the-job training
A self-motivated help desk technician can use the time between calls to network with senior technicians, learn new software and equipment and take advantage of training programs, according to Liza Daly, CTO at Safari. She urges aspiring IT pros to go above and beyond by utilizing all available on-the-job resources. Not only will you improve your technical skills, but you’ll also prove your value and ambition to your company.
Working the help desk gives you the opportunity to make the most of your position in the company. Employers know that if you can’t fix customer support problems, they can’t count on you to fix larger technology issues in the company, Teeple explains.
2. You’ll add necessary soft skills to your repertoire
Technical experience isn’t the only skillset you’ll gain at the help desk. Working as a help desk technician will give you the opportunity to gain sought-after soft skills that are critical in the IT field, including communication, critical thinking and prioritization, says Randy Belbin, IT specialist at Technology Seed.
These are transferrable skills that will stick with you on your journey of climbing the corporate ladder in the IT industry. “Technical knowledge doesn’t always stay relevant, but the ability to quickly research and master new challenges will never go down in value,” Teeple says.
Hardware and software change, but your ability to communicate effectively and think critically does not. Help desk work is an excellent place to refine the soft skills that will serve you well as you progress in your career.
3. You’ll become a master of customer service
Our IT experts agree that the skills you gain being fully immersed in customer service at the help desk will serve you well throughout your entire IT career.
“Effective communication, building and maintaining trust and creating win-win situations are all lessons that are learned from interacting with customers in the help desk environment,” offers Sean Vogt, director of operations at Greenview Data. He explains that these abilities will provide great value to you and your organization throughout the entirety of your career.
Teeple emphasizes the importance of knowing how to support your team and your employer as you advance up the IT ladder—a skill that’s honed to perfection working as a help desk technician. You’ll learn how to view problems from the users’ perspectives and work effectively with a team. These are two skills that will prove invaluable in any higher-level IT position.
4. You’ll gain career clarity
There are a lot of directions in which you can take a tech career. Working in a help desk role can give you an opportunity to learn more about the options that await. LaShana Lewis, a former help desk worker and software engineer at MasterCard, says people new to the field have an excellent opportunity.
“Take advantage of your relationship with other departments in the IT sphere,” she urges. “Being in a help desk [role] is a good way to view what other, more intense positions do within the IT field.” It also gives you a chance to either choose to delve further or make a career move elsewhere, Lewis adds.
Where can your job as a help desk technician take you?
Taking a help desk technician job could put you on the fast-track to a high-earning IT career, particularly if you’re invested in building your knowledge base.
“I started off with getting a CompTIA A+ certification through the help of my employer at the time,” Lewis recounts. “I was a help desk analyst for a large law firm, and this initial certification got me started in my career. It helped my more advanced coworkers trust me with larger and better projects to advance my knowledge.”
Lewis’ story isn’t a rarity. Many IT companies recognize that their current help desk technicians are their future leaders. “At Safari, we actively support our own help desk and other junior technologists as they grow into more senior roles as software engineers or corporate system administrators,” Daly says.
Your job as a help desk technician could pave the way for a career in software development, computer systems administration, IT management and more, according to the BLS. The possibilities are endless.
Take the first step toward a successful IT career
The BLS projects employment in computer support to grow by 10 percent through 2026. This is your chance to ditch your dead-end job and achieve financial success in your dream career.
The invaluable knowledge and experience you can acquire by becoming a help desk technician could serve as the first step to a long and lucrative career in IT. Learn how you can get started in as little as 18 months by earning an Information Technology Associate's degree.2
1BLS salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017. Insights from Teeple, Belbin, Vogt and Daly remain from the original article.