How did I get here?

I did not train to work in IT. I didn’t take a series of courses in computer science or even technology. I was a Creative Advertising student who holds a B.S. in Communications. I never planned to work in IT. I was going to be a designer. I worked for the college newspaper creating the print layouts and managing the website.

Then I graduated and realized I did not want to work in Advertising. I didn’t want to try to coerce people into buying things they really did not need. I wanted to help people. I have always been curious about technology and using it to make our lives better. So I fell into tech support directly out of school.

Into the trenches

I worked for a year on a PC roll-out contract with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. I spent six months working in Richmond swapping hundreds of PCs out in the headquarters and regional office. Then for the next six months I went on the road. I was at a different office each week around the state swapping PCs and troubleshooting problems that arose on the way.

From there I worked briefly for a print shop running high end printers and copies and managing the output of the shop. Then I went back to tech support working for Honeywell, General Electric, City of Richmond government. And very briefly for Wachovia Securities help desk.

When I moved out of Richmond I worked for the Atlantic Media Company, the parent company of The Atlantic Magazine as well as other publications. Now I work as a federal government contractor for the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

I’ve worked at city, state and federal levels of government. I’ve worked on help desks fielding hundreds of calls a per day and as a desktop support technician with over 100 buildings to support as a single technician. I’ve been part of a large team and the lone wolf.

Essential Skills

I got into this with no formal training and have since taught myself what I needed to know. What I’ve learned over the years is that every job is exactly the same, in that they’re all very different.

Each organization I’ve worked has its own set of rules and policies. Each industry had its own set of jargon, software, technology and systems. And as a support tech it is my job to learn them well enough to be able to explain and make them work for others.

I often have customers ask what I studied in school to do the job. They’re often surprised when I tell them I’ve never formally studied computers, technology or anything related to my current field.

The interesting commonality I’ve noticed is many of my co-workers all majored in all things non-technical. Sure, there are are couple of Computer Science or Information Systems majors. But there are just as many Mass Communications, Psychology and Criminal Justice majors. Somehow we all found our way to IT work. Whether it was where the job were or the better money or we just found we like the work more than what we studied to be. We found our calling in the IT support world. Formal training has much less to do with success in IT support than experience and soft skills.

Technical Skills

Being “good with computers” is a good start. But so is being able to search for answers effectively. You don’t need amazing technical knowledge to get a job. You don’t need to know computers inside and out. You don’t need to be an expert in anything. Knowing what to look for and how to look for it is just as important as knowing the answer.

People Skills

IT Support is customer service. Help Desk and Desktop Support roles appear to be nothing more than fixing computers. That is only half of the job. The other half is far more important. When I arrive at a customer’s desk, it is my job to take control and put them at ease. I am here to understand and solve their problems. I am here to sympathize. I am here to be play the hero and the whipping boy. I take the bad and the good. I am the problem fixer and technology wrangler. But in the process I’m also here to help them.

What else is there?

There’s still plenty to learn on the way to becoming a great technician and problem solver. Listening closely to your customers, communicating clearly (verbally and in writing), empathy, sympathy, acting, time management, and thinking on your feet.

Wow, that sounds like a lot! It looks like a huge, daunting list. But most of these skills work together and many of them are things you’re probably already doing. You just don’t realize it. I sure didn’t until I started focusing on how I interacted with my customers.