What Is a Desktop Support Technician? Exploring This Key IT Career

illustration of a desktop technician working on a laptop tools and a cup of coffee

If you are ready to take your working life to a new level, it’s no wonder that you’ve been thinking about getting started in information technology (IT). The IT field offers opportunities and room to potentially advance as you grow your career into something you can truly be proud of.

Even better, there are entry-level IT roles that don’t necessarily require several years of college education before you can get started. The desktop support technician role is one prominent example you may have seen in your early career planning steps. Could this be the perfect first step for you? How does it compare to other common entry-level IT roles?

Keep reading to learn more about the role and what it takes to get started.

What is a desktop support technician?

Desktop support technicians might be what most people picture when they think of an IT department—they’re the crew the rest of the office turns to when something has gone awry with their device. These professionals are a type of computer support specialist, working to maintain and troubleshoot computers and networks.

Every company with computers needs IT professionals to keep things running smoothly. Since some companies have hundreds of devices to maintain, update and keep track of, desktop support technicians are critical to keeping the work of a business going.

Often, these are also user-support roles. Depending on the company and the size of the IT department, desktop support technicians may assist users with their computer and network problems, creating tickets for each particular issue and working with the user (in person, by email or by phone) to resolve the problem.

The job requires a good mix of technical knowledge and communication skills, as desktop support technicians need to be ready to troubleshoot a wide range of problems and guide users through the steps needed to fix them in easy-to-understand terms. 

Desktop support technician vs. IT help desk

If you’ve done a little looking ahead at potential entry-level IT roles, you’ve likely seen the term “IT help desk” pop up and wondered if there’s much of a difference between this role and desktop support. The answer to this will depend heavily on your employer and the type of support provided. Often, they’re similar enough to be used interchangeably, but there are some general distinctions you may find in some roles. 

Desktop support technicians are primarily in charge of supporting desktop (or laptop) functions in a company. Since those functions also have a significant overlap with network management, many desktop support roles will also cover issues like Wi-Fi, VPNs and the computers’ ability to connect to other necessary devices.

IT help desk technicians might work with a much wider array of users and problems. In some organizations, part of the help desk role is to triage user issues by receiving client or customer technology complaints and then escalating to more experienced or specialized techs if needed. If the issue is something the help desk can handle, they will then assist the user with their problem.

Help desk technicians might work for large software companies or for support service firms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 Employers who own or deploy certain platforms might create a help desk to field any issues that arise with that specific technology, such as an electronic health records program used in hospitals. Help desk technicians might also work in call centers as technology-specific customer support.

What education does a desktop support technician need?

The education requirements for computer support specialist roles can vary substantially, as these roles are often in a tiered system. For example, it’s common to find job titles roughly following the format of Help Desk Technician T1, Help Desk Technician T2, Help Desk Technician T3 and so on. The BLS reports that depending on the scope of the job, some employers will accept candidates who have a high school diploma (and some additional training), while others have requirements around an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.1 Generally speaking, the more technical your knowledge needs to be, the more education employers expect.

That lines up with what employers are seeking in job postings as well. Of over 10,000 job postings for desktop support technicians in the last year, 43 percent sought candidates with a high school diploma, 24 percent were looking for people with an associate’s degree and 30 percent wanted applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.2

Given the range of requirements, aspiring desktop support technicians have some options for education and training. One option that you may find appealing is to enroll in a certificate program. The Rasmussen University IT Support Certificate program can prepare you to sit for well-known professional industry certifications and can be completed in relatively short order (as few as six months).3 The credit earned from this Certificate program can transfer seamlessly into more advanced IT degree programs, making this a great option for someone looking to get started without committing to a lengthy academic program.

Desktop support technician salary information

Given the tendency for these roles to be tiered by expertise and experience, you can expect to find some variance in earnings. That said, according to the BLS, the 2021 median annual salary for computer user support specialists was $49,770.1

This role bests the 2021 national average for all occupations ($45,760), making this role appear to be a fairly strong option for newcomers to the IT field.

Taking the first step to an IT career

Working as a desktop support technician can be a fantastic career move for many reasons. The role is interesting and full of opportunities to develop and hone your IT knowledge as you work. And since experience and skills are two of the most important variables on a resume in the tech industry, a desktop support technician job can be the perfect way to show future employers that you are the candidate they are looking for.

If you’re interested in building up your IT experience to take advantage of the industry’s wide range of exciting roles, check out “6 Ways to Gain IT Experience and Break Through.”

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June 2022], https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm. Information represents national, averaged data 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.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 11,716 desktop support technicians and 12,350 IT help desk job postings, May. 01, 2021 - Apr. 30, 2022).
3Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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