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The Call for Help Desk Technicians

Computers are an essential part of the working world. And while their benefits are many, computers -- being man-made machines -- have problems.

Help desk technicians aid computer users with hardware and software questions not answered in the computer's manual. They help people figure out what's wrong with their computers and walk them through the steps of solving that problem.

Companies Need Help Desk Techs to Keep Up

Basically, help desk technicians exist to make businesses run more smoothly, says Sharon Thomson. Thomson is a support analyst for a research and development company. She is also a member of a professional association for information technology practitioners.

"Companies of any size are realizing that although they need computers to get the job done, computers can take valuable time away from employees trying to get the job done," says Thomson.

"At one time, an employee could know their job and know what they needed about the computer or software they were using. With the rapid change in software and hardware of the computer, it is becoming more of a challenge to stay on top or even in the know when it comes to computers."

More companies are realizing this, Thomson explains, and that is driving the demand for help desk technicians.

Alan Kasper is a product manager for business service optimization at a computer company. He agrees that the help desk has become indispensable to the corporate world.

"Many, many organizations have elevated the service desk to a central point of contact for all issues, not only anomalies," Kasper says. "These companies use the service desk as a vehicle to run their company, not just support it."

Other careers in this category include technical support specialists. They are troubleshooters like help desk technicians. But technical support specialists are more hands-on, installing, cleaning and repairing computer hardware and software.

Most computer support specialists start as help desk technicians.

Improved Productivity

Help desk technicians are in demand because computer systems are growing more complex by the minute, and people need someone to help them through this technological maze, says Fred Pack. He is vice-president of a software company that creates a web-based help desk product.

Pack believes that computer troubles can slow a company's productivity, and that help desk technicians can help untangle the mess.

"Downtime or inefficient use of the systems results in lower employee productivity, and increased employee frustration and unhappiness on the job," Pack explains. "Additionally, the complexity of office networks and applications has caused the need for help to increase.

"All of these factors combine to make the help desk a very important place in a company, and the value of the help desk technicians to increase. There is every reason to expect the demand on help desks to increase."


There are some shadows hanging over the help desk profession's seemingly sunny future. Chief among these is outsourcing. This is the practice in which a company delegates certain responsibilities to another company, either local or in another country, such as India. Experts are divided as to whether outsourcing could affect the help desk profession.

"This career definitely can be affected by outsourcing," Pack says. "That is the chief downside to this career path. It is not unusual for companies to outsource their help desk -- either to another country, such as India, or to a USA-based 'help desk company.'"

But Kasper sees the trend as somewhat less of a threat. "Given that the service desk is mission critical, many companies are reluctant to outsource the service desk responsibilities," he says. "This is particularly true in those companies who use the service desk as the central point for all issue management."

People Skills Required

So what do you need to get into this field? Kasper recommends taking a certification course. "Like other fields, education is important," he advises. "Those individuals who are educated will rise above others who have not taken the trouble to be certified."

Because this is such a diverse profession, some specialties are in stronger demand than others. Pack believes it's especially helpful to have knowledge of the Internet, networking and the latest applications.

But most of the skills needed to succeed in this career are personality-based. Thomson says that patience is indeed a virtue in this profession, because much of the job requires working with the public.

"You need to be patient with the computer systems because you have to figure out what happened by working backwards," she explains. "You need to be patient with the client whose computer it is because they are under a deadline that, to them, is extreme and they are always rushed."

Other skills include being able to speak to clients in plain English, not technical jargon. "Speak in their words," Thomson says. "If you need the techie terminology, do it in your head or on a piece of paper.

"They are usually trying to mix what they know to be happening with what they think you need to hear. Break it down...repeat it back to them -- then move forward. Otherwise you will only frustrate your client and yourself."

But you don't just need to speak to do this job well -- you also need to listen. "You need to be a good listener," Thomson continues. "Often the problem that you are hearing or reading from the client is the latest symptom and only a small piece of the picture.

"They may have had many problems that they have attempted to fix and this one they can't get past. Or they may know what to do, but because of stresses in their job, they can't think or use words that you are looking for or need to hear. So listen to what they are saying as well as to what they are not saying."


Help Desk Institute
The world's largest membership association for the service and support industry

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