How to See the Help Desk as a Career Builder

I had the great pleasure to write for the Human Infrastructure Magazine!

I wrote about the value of working in a Help Desk role, and how it can help prepare you for a career in IT. You can check out my post here:

Lots of IT careers include a stint in an entry-level help desk role.

Dealing with clueless users, fried laptops, and printers from hell can be frustrating and thankless. But if you’ve got your eye on a better job or a higher position, you can learn crucial skills in tech support that will help you advance your career.

The most obvious skills to learn are technical, such as troubleshooting. You’ll get very familiar with software and hardware when you’re diagnosing boot failures, figuring out why there’s no output on a monitor, and so on.

A help desk role will also teach you about end-user connectivity issues, which can span from the network through the OS and up to the application layer: three vital areas of IT knowledge.

On a side note, one hard skill that I feel many help desk techs lack is basic understanding of networking. Networking knowledge, and familiarity with the OSI model, helps dramatically with low-level support in an enterprise.

For instance, you can get to a root cause more quickly if you understand that if you can ping successfully, but not reach, it likely means something is going on with DNS. Or, knowing what it looks like when DHCP isn’t working (APIPA, anyone?), can speed a resolution.

Build Your Soft Skills

Tech support obviously prizes domain expertise, but it’s also an opportunity to build valuable soft skills, such as communication, planning, and teamwork. These skills can serve you well throughout your career.

Each time you visit someone’s desk to troubleshoot, it’s an opportunity to sharpen your abilities to listen to others and communicate clearly and directly. And you’ll probably get lots of practice in how to stay calm when dealing with people who are tense and frustrated.

I recently saw the consequences of bad rapport and poor communication skills when a tech was let go from their job because users dreaded having this tech handle their tickets.

When you are swamped with tickets, find ways to do better at prioritizing and planning. No matter what your job is in IT, there’s never enough time to do it. So the ability to prioritize will only become more important as you take on new roles.

Teamwork is also a critical skill, and tech support is a great department in which to hone it. You’ll likely need to work with other help desk techs and other levels above you to get the job done.

People in tech who can work well with others will always do better than the lone wolf who knows everything. Being able to work with your peers to resolve an issue will help you get the problem resolved more quickly.

Working in a help desk position will often put you up against areas of technology that you may not have encountered yet. The next time a ticket comes in that you know Alice will take because it’s Alice’s specialty, talk to Alice about working together so you can learn that new skill.

Working in tech support isn’t glamorous, but it does present opportunities to learn and advance. So take advantage of them. It’s on you to make it happen.

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