A good IT help desk technician “will be smart enough to act more like a bartender than a help desk tech,” according to J. Colin Petersen, President and C.E.O. of J-I.T. Outsource. Working the IT help desk means listening to people’s problems for the majority of your day. And, just like a bartender, you need to be friendly while you listen.
Being an IT help desk tech is a fast-paced job. When clients call about a crashed computer, a glitch in their software or a suspected virus, chances are they were working on a deadline. Now suddenly their deadline is your deadline. “Your end users will expect you to know how to do everything with technology and solve the problem within 15 minutes,” Petersen says.
The truth is that not everyone is cut out for working the IT help desk. But for those who are, it can be an exciting and rewarding opportunity. Keep reading for some expert insight on what it’s really like, so you can decide whether you’ve got what it takes.
8 things you should know …
1. It’s a common entry point in the profession
If you’re interested in launching any type of tech career, working the IT help desk is a great first step. Pros in the field want to test the mettle of IT techs at the help desk before unleashing them to other tasks.
“You should expect to sit at the help desk for anywhere from 18 months to 3 years. It takes serious IT chops before advancing up the ladder,” Petersen says. “You gotta crawl before you can ball.”
2. After a while, not much will surprise you
Working the help desk is a testing ground in the IT profession. You’ll be exposed to all sorts of situations you might not expect. As soon as you assume you’ve seen it all, you’ll encounter another obscure issue.
“Once you get a few years of experience in different environments and with different user groups, you become less surprised by strange things happening,” says Dan Johnson, an IT system administrator at Newscycle Solutions. “Computers still manage to learn new tricks once in a while that don’t make any sense. It’s best to approach these issues not from frustration, but rather from an attitude of ‘Well, that’s interesting…’”
3. You won’t always have all of the answers
Help desk techs are often seen as the experts who should know everything, but no one can be that person every time. This begs the question of where to turn when the inevitable happens. Before the age of Google, Petersen remembers relying on his colleagues for help. If you haven’t dealt with a particular issue before, there’s a good chance someone else has. It’s important to build a network of experts you can call on.
These days, Petersen and Johnson agree that Google has become a helpful tool of the trade. “The problem is, you have to know the right questions to ask,” Petersen explains. “Otherwise all you get returned is bad information.”
4. You will inevitably deal with difficult people
Nobody likes opening their computer only to be met with an error message. The fact that someone calls you means they are facing an issue of some sort, and everyone handles issues differently. You can expect to interact with challenging clients every so often. So what do you do when that happens?
“The key in almost every situation is to properly set expectations,” Petersen advises. “Let them know what they are about to experience, deliver on your promises and you should be fine.”
It also helps to try and put yourself in the client’s shoes, according to John Grabow, who worked in IT for Bemis Corporation. “Try to understand the pressure they’re under when applications don’t work properly,” Grabow says.
5. Patience is key
“The best tech support people are good listeners with lots of patience,” Grabow explains. Successful help desk techs must have the tolerance to deal with even the simplest issues on a frequent basis. “Learn to hold your tongue when the same user repeatedly forgets their password, because it happens,” he adds.
You’ll need to pair that patience with great communication skills in order to simplify complicated subject matter so clients can comprehend. “It’s good to be able to explain problems and solutions to users in non-IT terminology,” Grabow says.
6. It can help you gain career clarity
Johnson believes the best help desk tech is an ambitious person whose goal is to move beyond help desk work. In this position, you’ll be introduced to various facets of the field, helping you determine where you’d like to forge your career path. Whether you decide to narrow your focus and pursue a specialist track, or widen the scope and become a jack-of-all-trades, your experience working the help desk can help you plan your future in the field.
7. You’ll need to stay up to speed with the latest technology
The technology landscape is ever-evolving, with new techniques and technologies being introduced all the time. Petersen stresses the importance of staying on top of the latest trends and news.
“Read the blogs every morning and tinker with your own stuff every night. Don’t skip a day,” Petersen recommends. “If you don’t love doing that, stay out of tech and find another job.”
Johnson suggests that another way to continue developing professionally is to build a network of people who specialize in various areas so you can learn from one another. “Vendor and training events are some of the best learning environments and can help build lasting connections for the future,” he adds.
8. It feels good to help people
While working the IT help desk certainly isn’t a walk in the park, our experts agree the position definitely has its perks. Petersen compares the role to being Superman, coming to the rescue when people are in need.
Johnson says he loves the feeling of accomplishment when he completes a project, especially when it is done on time. “Getting known as the ‘go-to guy’ is a good thing,” Grabow adds. “Having an end user thank you for your work is rewarding.”
Do you have what it takes?
Thanks to our panel of IT pros, you’ve now had a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like working the IT help desk. It’s clear this job isn’t for the faint of heart, but along with the challenges come some exciting rewards.
Learn how this position could kick-start your tech career in our article, Help Desk Technician: The Perfect First Step on Your IT Career Path.