Helpless Desk

When was the last time you called the help desk and got someone who was just as clueless as you were?

That’s most likely because they can’t. They are a contractor brought on for a short-term project like a large rollout or a merger. They may be an outsourced technician sitting in another state or another country. It may even be a local person who is technically savvy. However, they can’t help you for a number of reasons.

This is the reality of the IT Support industry. Technicians are a dime a dozen and passed around like pawns in a game of tech chess. In this day and age, it is considered cheaper and easier for a company to hire a bunch of contractors to help support their employees or their customers. ((This should give you an idea of how the company views your employment or patronage.))

The skills required for these positions are pretty basic. Can you ping a PC? How do you look up and IP address? These things are poor indicators of how a person speaks to customers, their problem solving skills or how the prospect prioritizes issues. Help Desks in particular have their challenges. Your knowledge is expected to be a mile wide and an inch deep. A good technician knows how to Google the answer or consult documentation, if it exists.

Technicians who are hired to support you, the customer, often have no idea how to use the applications they are supporting. In some cases, the technician doesn’t even have access to the application you’re using.

I am in such a situation. I was plucked from the ranks of unemployment to help support a software rollout to a company who got bought out prior to the financial free-for-all.

My contract was to support a software application being pushed out to the company being merged into the behemoth. This is internal, proprietary software I have known about for a little over a month. Despite being trained on this software I still have nowhere near the ability or knowledge to properly support this application.

My knowledge within the Windows and Office realm is wide and deep. This knowledge of hardware and software allows me to diagnose with a high degree of certainty the problem and in most cases to determine a solution.

I can troubleshoot with the best of them. Even in most cases when I am not familiar with the software I am supporting, I can use my existing knowledge and resources to support it to the satisfaction of my customers. In this situation, the software is so complex and has so many components there is no amount of reasonable deduction which will allow me to resolve issues with any degree of certainty.

I was hired with 17 others who share a variety of technical backgrounds and competencies. So when calling our help desk, as in many places, there is a good chance you’re reaching someone who knows less than you do about the software in question. And where does that leave the caller?

This is not the exception, but the rule for the industry. It is the framework which most businesses are built on and IT Support is a security blanket.

Think about all the places where computers are found in business today. Do you have a website? Do you keep records electronically? Is your cash register a computer? Technology is everywhere. With this technology proliferation, comes an army of technicians supporting the software and hardware you depend on to keep your business running.

IT Support is necessary in today’s age. However, with this necessity has not come an investment in quality. Every IT job I’ve ever held has been a contract. Every time I am hired the “temp to perm” carrot is dangled in front of me. But it never happens, and I doubt it ever will. Why invest money and time in your support technician when you can go out and find another one just as easily?

Why not make the investment in your tech workers? We’re cheaper as contractors. We can be easily replaced. We have all the loyalty you’d expect from a contractor. ((Loyal until something better comes along.)) There is no long-term investment made in the development or retention of your technicians so there is no investment of time and attention made by the technician to your company. You see us as pawns, we see you as kings. Kings who sign our pay check but the moment a rival kingdom comes calling we’ll leave for more money or a shorter commute.

Full time jobs are secure. Employees have good benefits for themselves and their families. The job won’t disappear at the drop of a hat. None of these are the case for contractors. These are the realities of being an IT contractor. You may do an excellent job and still get laid off. I was laid off in October 2008 in a round of budget cuts. I was the last person hired so I was the first person let go.

I have been on both sides of this equation. Right out of college I worked for a government agency for a year. The contract and money ran out after the year so I was let go. The same situation exists where I worked previously. I was hired on a 6 month contract and when it ends, it ends. And afterwards, I would be unemployed again regardless of the quality of my work. I have also been on the flip side.

When I began work for a Honeywell manufacturing plant, it was for no other reason than Honeywell’s support contract was bought out by another corporation. As a result, the people who were on site, supporting Honeywell’s employees and applications everyday were suddenly without a job through no fault of their own.. Instead of keeping the current techs, they were kicked to the curb and replaced by myself and one other person who had no working knowledge of the site and its particular setup and challenges.

Instead of keeping the people who had been doing the job for many months, if not years before us, they were fired and I was hired. All the accumulated knowledge and familiarity was lost. The same thing happened nine months later when I caught wind of dissatisfaction between Honeywell and my company who had hired me I looked for a speedy exit before I was shown the door.

The high rate of turnover because companies won’t invest in their techs is one of the biggest problems in the industry. You can get someone else to support your customers or employees for less money. However, in doing so the quality of that support diminishes. There is nothing more frustrating when someone calls for help and the person they called to help cannot help.