Computer User Support Specialists, also known as help desk technicians, work with companies and organizations to aid users who are experiencing technical issues. There are also computer specialists who work more on the network side of things, but those tasked for user support spend their time troubleshooting individual problems. They often work in a centralized help desk, answering phone calls and managing workflow with the help of web-based tools.
They may work remotely, but depending on the job site visits could be required. In these cases, the specialist goes to the user’s work location to provide in-person assistance with hardware or software difficulties. Workers might also be responsible for installing new equipment or helping with the preparation and proper disposal of old equipment. Often, Computer User Support Specialists create training information or written guidance to disseminate to end-users, in an effort to minimize potential issues beforehand.
- Exposure to a broad range of technical issues, which may require research to resolve
- Opportunities to work with users at all levels of an organization
- Serving in one of the most critical behind-the-scenes roles of an employer
- Helping users accomplish their daily tasks
- Minimizing workflow disruptions
- Enabling enhanced productivity across-the-board by offering user training
Computer User Support Specialists typically work when their clients are at work. For average organizations, this involves a standard Monday through Friday workweek schedule. However, some technicians may deal more with remote customers in different time zones. In such cases, this involves early or late shifts.
- Fielding phone calls, emails, and online help requests
- Using web-based tools to manage help desk workflow by logging incoming issues into tickets, assigning them to technicians, and tracking their status to completion
- Paying attention to user descriptions of issues to determine the problem and fix
- Asking diagnostic questions to home in on the potential issue
- Exercising patience and empathy while working with frustrated clients who may have a limited understanding of IT-related matters
- Explaining corrective steps users can take on their end
- Requesting permissions to remotely log into a user’s computer to troubleshoot
- Taking note of common issues; drafting training procedures to address them
- Sharing information with peers; keeping a knowledge base of solutions
- Responding to external customers to assist with purchased hardware or software
- Potentially working with customers in other time zones or other countries
- Helping end-users prepare IT assets they intend to travel with
- Training users on new or existing hardware and software, to minimize help desk calls
- Physically hooking up IT equipment or performing manual repair actions
- Ability to work independently
- Desire and aptitude to help frustrated users
- Strong communication skills, including:
- Active listening
- Articulate speaking
- Clear, concise writing
- Telephone and email etiquette
- Patience and composure
- Integrity and confidentiality
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Analytical thinking, sometimes under pressure
- In-depth familiarity with common IT hardware and software
- Familiarity with common associated problems and solutions
- Knowledge of printers, scanners, and photocopy equipment
- The ability to troubleshoot a range of issues without actually seeing them sometimes
- Ability to work with small tools
- Understanding how web-based help desk ticket systems work
- Understanding information assurance and security best practices
- Ability to qualify for a security clearance for sensitive positions
- Computer equipment manufacturers
- Software producers
- Large companies and other organizations
- Federal, state, and local agencies
- Educational institutions
As our world becomes increasingly connected with technology, demands for skilled Computer User Support Specialists will continue to rise. With a job outlook better than average, this field is expected to have ample opportunities for incoming workers. That said, technology is evolving at an ever-accelerating pace, so it is important to keep up with relevant education and training.
According to Moore’s Law, as explained by Investopedia, “we can expect the speed and capability of our computers to increase every couple of years.” If true, workers in this sector will need to stay vigilant for changes and willing to take extra classes or certifications.
Meanwhile, as cybercriminals continue to pose threats to organizational systems, Computer User Support Specialists should keep up with information assurance and information security best practices. They will often need to ensure end-users understand and comply, as well, in order to avoid account or network compromise. For certain agencies, workers may be required to obtain a security clearance in order to assist users who deal with sensitive data.
Organizations that employ Computer Use Support Specialists totally rely on these workers to keep end-users up-and-running. It is the specialists’ job to ensure others can do their job, in particular those who work on computers. In the modern era, this may include the bulk of any given organization’s employees.
A work stoppage for one person can have a ripple effect, causing delays that have costly ramifications. Thus there can be pressure on the technician to respond and apply appropriate corrective actions rapidly. This demands that Computer User Support Specialists maintain a high degree of technical competence.
They must keep up with current trends, such as potential new software threats, software upgrades, and how those upgrades affect end-users. For instance, a software security patch, designed to protect against viruses, may unintentionally disrupt several users simultaneously. This can cause a sudden temporary crisis, creating the potential for overtime to return affected users back to work.
The average employee may have little understanding of IT problems and might vent frustrations to the person trying to help them. This can lead to help desk technicians experiencing undue stress, which they must work through to accomplish their tasks. Depending on the job, many employees work remotely and may have unusual shift hours because their customers are in other time zones or countries.
Computer User Support Specialists may have grown up with what True Colors calls a “Green” personality. Traits such as “analytical” and “intuitive” help define this type, which is often good at working with inanimate objects in order to troubleshoot problems. They may have been introverts in school, perfectly content to engage in lone activities. Obviously these could include spending a considerable amount of time working with computers, exploring online tools, or perhaps even working with code.
However, since these workers will ultimately serve as intermediaries between computers and people, they would also have likely been comfortable helping others. In fact, customer service skills rank high on the list of essential criteria to become a successful Computer User Support Specialist. Still, having a highly analytical mind is crucial, and the training for this type of thinking often comes from significant practice done on one’s own.
- Most entry-level positions don’t require work experience
- Average help desk/call center workers begin with some computer-related college courses under their belt
- A bachelor’s degree is not required for most jobs
- Skills tests demonstrating proof of self-gained proficiency can be useful
- Specialized certifications are important in this line of work, such as:
- Computer Technical Support Certificate
- Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT)
- CompTIA A+
- Microsoft 365: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
- HDI-CSR: HDI Customer Service Representative
- ITIL Foundation
- Large firms might desire a bachelor’s in computer or information science, operating systems, or related majors
- Learn about web-based help desk tools such as HubSpot
- Most entry positions don’t require a bachelor’s degree but may need certification in specific areas. These can be earned at community colleges, vocational schools or online
- Any institution you take classes at should ideally be accredited, including online schools
- Non-accredited private vocational schools need to have state licensure at least
- When choosing a program, consider whether on-campus, online, or hybrid delivery is the best option for your schedule
- Examine the program’s ties to industry and job placement rates for grads
- Always look for tuition discounts and scholarship opportunities from your school
- Study the wisdom of those who came before you. For example, software giant Bill Gates offers advice to students, such as spending time with people who challenge you
- Volunteer formally or informally to help others with their computer issues
- Keep up with changes by reading industry-related magazines like Wired and Maximum PC, or watching applicable YouTube channels
- Work on your clear written communication and speaking skills
- Join IT-related clubs at school to network with peers
- Take electives related to computers, electronics, telecommunications, English, and customer service
- Spent ample time doing hands-on self-study to discover helpful tips and tricks related to commonly-used software
- Create your own “knowledge base” by keeping notes of the things you learn and the sources where you learned them
- Create an index or Table of Contents so that as your list grows, you’ll be able to quickly reference previously-found solutions
- Become a reader/contributor to IT “solutions found”-style discussion boards and blogs
- Keep track of details on education and experiences you’ve finished, for resume use
- Include hard data on resumes, such as the total value of computer inventory you were responsible for or the number of problems you resolved
- Make certain your resume and cover letter are error-free and professionally formatted
- Ensure your application materials address all the requirements listed in the job ad
- Consider using a professional editor or a certified resume writer to review your work
- Don’t waste time applying for jobs you aren’t qualified for; focus on best matches
- Customize your resume for the exact job you’re applying to
- Expect hiring managers to review your resume or applications for specific qualifications demonstrating you are suitable for the role
- Practice your interview skills by doing mock interviews using common questions
- Look the part of the consummate professional by learning how to dress for an interview
- Ask former supervisors or teachers if they can serve as references for you
- Look for jobs on Indeed, Monster, and other major employment portals
- Don’t forget your cyber footprint. Update your LinkedIn profile every time there is a change, and keep your social media accounts professional at all times
- Tell your company you’re interested in advancement and ask what you can work on
- Make yourself an invaluable asset who customers ask for by name. Word gets around!
- Hone yourself into the most qualified specialist in your work center, by learning constantly and asking questions from peers, supervisors, and end-users
- In some roles, you may be the customer’s first point-of-contact with a company after they’ve made a purchase...so always make a great first impression!
- Be on time for work and proactive in the completion of your daily tasks
- Think “big picture.” Customer issues equal downtime that impacts the work of others
- Go above and beyond. Put in the effort to ensure problems are fixed fast and correctly
- Maintain the utmost integrity at work. Working on user issues can expose Computer User Support Specialists to files which may contain personal or private information
- Ensure full compliance with organizational information assurance policies
- Obtain a bachelor’s and specialized certifications that apply to advanced positions
- Microsoft Knowledge Base
- Bleeping Computer
- Computer Hope
- PC Tech Bytes
- A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, by Fred Beisse
- CompTIA A+ Guide to IT Technical Support, by Jean Andrews, et. al.
- Help Desk Management: How to run a computer user support Service Desk effectively, by Wayne Schlicht
There are several jobs for people interested in working with computers, but who might not want to deal with users’ problems all day. The Bureau of Labor Statics lists many similar occupations to Computer User Support Specialists, such as:
- Computer and Information Systems Managers
- Computer Systems Analysts
- Database Administrators
- Information Security Analysts
- Network Architects
- Web Developers