Help Desk Technician: The First Step on Your IT Career Path
By Will Erstad on 06/06/2023
Wouldn’t it be great to base your career path on the computers, gadgets and technologies that already hold your interest? Instead of the daily clock-in, clock-out routine at a job that just pays the bills, you could actually find work you’re truly passionate about—and that’s one of the big potential benefits of working in information technology (IT).
Whether your passion for tech was sparked by trying to build the ultimate online gaming rig or by becoming your family’s de facto tech support, you have the ability to parlay that established interest into a number of rock-solid career opportunities. But with any career, you have to start somewhere.
If you’re serious about launching an IT career, one of the most-likely first stops you’ll consider on your career path 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.
“As a former systems administrator turned consultant, the help desk roles I worked helped form the foundation for the skill set and knowledge that I have in all of the areas I work in,” says Nizel Adams, CEO and principal engineer at Nizel Corporation.
Landing one of these positions could help you on your way 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 not only a solid way to earn a living in its own right but also a great stepping stone role for higher-level IT careers.
With the technical and interpersonal experience you can gain in a help desk role, it’s no wonder why this is such a common starting point for IT professionals.
Even still, you likely have some lingering questions. That’s why we connected with IT professionals to find out just how valuable this experience is. Here are four ways working as a help desk technician can help prepare you for the IT career of your dreams.
1. You’ll have opportunities for professional growth
It’s no secret that there’s a lot to learn in an IT career. And while you’ll certainly need a foundation of technical knowledge to get started in a help desk role, these positions can also offer opportunities to develop your technical expertise.
April Osman, owner of IT at Home, says her time working in a help desk role provided opportunities to grow in her career. One of the drivers of that growth came from the knowledge contained in the system guiding her IT department.
“Every company that has an IT department will need to have an IT service management (ITSM) solution in place to build knowledge bases, track issues, and report trends. Having exposure to utilizing any ITSM software will not only benefit an individual's capability to manage issues, but it will also open doors to more opportunities,” Osman says. “I used ITSM as a tool to network, self-educate and showcase my wealth of knowledge which launched my career forward.”
In addition to the tools you’ll have at your disposal on the job, many employers are willing to help facilitate your professional development with training and assistance programs that can help grow your technical expertise.
“Almost every company I worked for offered paid certification training and degree assistance,” Osman says. “This allowed me to test the waters in numerous [IT career] paths.”
2. You’ll add necessary soft skills to your repertoire
Technical knowledge isn’t the only thing you’ll develop at the help desk. Working as a help desk technician can give you the opportunity to gain sought-after soft skills that are critical in the IT field, including communication, critical thinking and prioritization.
These are the types of 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,” explains Nick Teeple, co-founder of Skyline Servers.
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.
While not every IT help desk role will have the same soft skill growth opportunities as Adams’ experience, he certainly values the chances he had.
“While working the help desk, I’ve learned how to communicate with vendors and executives, negotiate contracts and more,” Adams says. “I’ve learned how to manage professional relationships with influential people as well as those within the rest of the office. These types of soft skills have helped me in life tremendously.”
3. You’ll become a master of customer service
Our IT experts agree that the skills you gain from 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.
Osman says working in a help desk role provides opportunities to network with more advanced technicians and engineers, as well as gain a better understanding of how other teams operate and resolve issues. This additional perspective can be incredibly helpful for narrowing down what would be a wide-open IT career path.
“If I found myself going down one path and talking to the leaders within the department I [was] interested in, I could gauge whether I saw myself there with a new title,” Osman says. “Working as a help desk technician gave me the time I needed to make sure I was going to pick something that made me happy.”
“Help desk is a proving ground,” Adams says. “By that I mean it’s a place where you can see if you like IT and what issues you like resolving.”
Where can a job as a help desk technician take you?
Taking a help desk technician job is just the first step toward what could become a rewarding 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.
“I credit my previous managers and co-workers for helping me build my skills in order to get where I never thought possible,” Osman says.
Adams explains that interdepartmental communication happens all the time in IT, particularly at companies where IT works together as a well-oiled machine. That cross pollination of sorts can be a ladder for you as you look to move forward in your career.
“Once you’ve established yourself at a company, you can ask your manager if they’d be willing to talk to a higher-level engineer or that engineer’s manager to possibly set up some time to shadow them,” Adams says.
Take the first step toward a successful IT career
As you can see, even entry-level help desk roles can end up being a great value to your overall career. Even better? You might not need years and years of college education to get your foot in the door. Programs like the Rasmussen University IT Support and Network Support certificates can provide a solid starting foundation that can be easily built upon with more advanced degrees like our Information Technology Associate's degree. That gives you the flexibility to grow into your career path and find the right-sized education to get started.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed January 2023] www.bls.gov/ooh/.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2023.
Mastercard is a registered trademark of Mastercard International, Inc.
CompTIA A+ is a registered trademark of CompTIA, Inc.