If you like the idea of being the technology leader at a small business, be warned: Finding that job will be tough. Research conducted by Dell and Intel last year discovered that just 15 percent of small businesses have dedicated IT resources on their payroll; the rest either rely on shared resources—someone who divides their time between IT and another job—or outside vendors known as managed service providers (MSPs).
That means the more realistic path to a job in the space involves either setting up your own shop or landing a position at one of the country’s MSPs. According to the industry group CompTIA, there are about 16,000 of those operations around the country.
Whichever path you take, you’ll need to know your way around networks, mobile, desktops and laptops, and have a knack for troubleshooting business-class technology. Although the technical challenges are many, the need for soft skills is often paramount.
A Juggling Act
The small-business tech specialist’s life can be intense. They juggle the day-to-day maintenance of networks and business applications, along with the constant need of users for hardware and software support, all while trying to keep up with new products and tools. In smaller companies, things move so fast that the ability to switch priorities, resolve problems quickly, and above all communicate are as important as knowing your way around the hardware and software.
“In small business, you typically have to make things happen in very compressed time frames and, often, budgets,” observed MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group, a managed service provider in Portsmouth, N.H. “In the corporate world, there’s plenty of time to plan, architect, test and phase a rollout. Small business wants it yesterday.”
That means small-business IT specialists need the ability to think on their feet about issues that are both technology- and business-based. Though they want the newest technology and want it implemented quickly, smaller companies tend to be less forgiving about disruptions than larger organizations.
Because of that, understanding how to keep things moving is imperative. For example, Shoer added, small-business tech experts must know when to look for help. Sometimes, digging for your own solution can result in spending more time on a problem than it’s worth to the customer. Especially if you’re working for an MSP, keeping in mind—and acting on—the customer’s priorities is critical.
As in other areas of tech, keeping current is a constant concern. “You can get stale really fast,” Shoer warned, emphasizing the importance of staying up-to-date with the basics in core areas—networks, mobile tech, desktops and laptops—while giving manufacturer-based training a lesser priority: “Manufacturer training tends to mirror manufacturer issues, not real-world issues.” For that reason, he prefers vendor-neutral training from organizations such as CompTIA.
That said, Shoer doesn’t emphasize certifications in his hiring. Instead, he focuses on basic technical knowledge and experience. Though he said certifications “are good to see,” he believes that real-world experience ultimately trumps all.
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