As a lead technician at Arcadian Management Services in Oakland, Calif., Austin Williams is responsible for providing IT technical support to over 350 users in 18 remote sites, as well as several external partners.
Can you describe your career path?
I didn’t really start out thinking I’d ever be in IT. I would say that I stumbled into it. I had filled out a survey somewhere and got a call from ITT Tech. I went down to see what they had to offer, and I really liked their pitch for computer networking. I’m a smart guy, and I think computers are cool. I wasn’t a nerd or a hardcore gamer, but rather a guy that liked the job because it looked fun and challenging. I graduated at the top of my class and I landed an internship for $300 a month from one of my former instructors. I quickly learned that nothing can replace real world experience.
I’ve been with Arcadian Management for one and a half years and it’s been an awesome learning experience. I contracted with them for a year, and then was hired on as a desktop support technician. That means that I’m level II/III support to our users. I’ve also been designated as the lead technician, meaning I assign tasks to my peers, work the big projects and I act as a leader within the department and the company.
What are the primary skill-sets you need to do this job well?
My former supervisor once said a good technician needs a "trifecta" of skills: a good memory, excellent customer service, and excellent problem-solving ability. Notice that I didn’t say intelligent, a nerd, a love of computers, or anything like that.
The thing about help desk and desktop support is that they encompass so much stuff and so many different scenarios, that it’s pretty much impossible to rely on book smarts. You have to be willing to learn. Many of the people I’ve encountered have been willing to share their knowledge with you. You have to ask questions. The standard out there is Microsoft products, so you need to know those well. Also, you should have a slightly more than basic understanding of how a computer works, including parts and terminology.
You have to be flexible because your company will probably have industry- or even company-specific applications that you can’t learn unless you’re at that company. If you understand the basics and how the company works, you’ll do fine.
Do you view this type of job as a jumping off point to other IT work?
I think help desk/desktop support is the best starting-point, the best place to learn about the company you work for. I’ve really grasped what the different departments do here, how they do it, and who in our company is directly responsible for revenue. It helps to understand the big picture, which helps you learn about how to meet the needs of the people you serve, while saving the company on resources. Those skills can carry easily into other areas of the business or into other professions.
What’s your typical day like?
My company has sites across the nation and I happen to work the first shift. I work from 5 a.m to 2 p.m. I normally start my day by checking e-mails to get caught up on what’s going on in the department. I’ll then check our queue to determine what issues have been assigned to me and what issues need immediate attention. I spend 30 percent of my day on the phone assisting people with various issues. The rest of the time is at my desk or on the floor visiting and helping people. I’ll assist with phones, printers, computer hardware, software, access and setup of the different applications that my company uses. As the lead, I’m responsible for triaging issues and assigning them to the other technicians. It’s a rewarding job that leaves me tired at the end of the day, but I know important my job is to my company, and that ultimately trickles down to the customer.
What advise would you give to someone who’s looking to gain experience in desktop support or help desk work?
Take the help desk job even if it’s an internship. The experience you’ll gain is priceless. Certifications and degrees are good, but if you’ve never done the work in the real world, no major company will let you touch their setup.
If you have a strong customer service background, you’ll do okay because the help desk is very similar. You should learn about what your company actually does. If you know how it works, you’ll be able to better help your users. You need to understand what’s most important. It’s like being in a hospital emergency room. You have to triage to figure what are the worst injuries and treat them first. Being decisive and having common sense will serve you well.
— Sonia Lelii