Building a Career Beyond Tech Support

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There’s always a lot of debate within the tech sphere over whether tech support can serve as an effective first rung in the career ladder. For every pundit or expert who believes that tech pros with the right motivation can quickly leapfrog beyond support into management and other roles, there are those who think it’s difficult to translate experience at the support desk into something bigger.

Certainly a tech-support job offers the opportunity for lots of hands-on experience. If you’re a recent computer-science graduate who wants to work in anything from datacenters to application-building, tech support can serve as a window into how those various tech segments actually operate on a day-to-day basis.

At the same time, it’s difficult for any one tech pro to stand out amidst the enormous number of tech-support staff currently working, especially in large enterprise companies. According to new data from CompTIA, some 35 percent of U.S. states have computer user support specialists as their top IT occupation, ahead of software developers and computer-systems analysts; nationwide, some 13 percent of those involved in an IT occupation work in support.

So how do you find the “right” support job that leads to bigger and better things? While larger enterprises tend to offer the most support positions, small to midsize companies are more capable of giving individuals the career attention they need. (There’s also the perception that smaller firms tend to promote employees much more quickly than at bigger enterprises, which isn’t necessarily true in all circumstances.)

Whatever the size of the firm, the impetus is on the employee to look for ways to advance. During the initial interview for a tech-support job, ask about formal mentorship or training programs; if neither are offered, analyze whether the firm can offer what you truly need from a career perspective. (In lieu of a mentoring program, an employee can also opt to observe the firm’s more experienced tech pros at work, provided the latter are fine with being shadowed.)

Once you’ve mastered your core duties in tech support, and if you figure out how to arrange your work schedule to free up the necessary time, ask your manager if you can assist on other, larger projects. If he or she agrees, get to work showing your utility beyond the tech-support silo. Once you’ve built up enough experience, keep a watch for any new positions and projects within the organization; if none are forthcoming within a set period (five months, say), consider taking your skills and jumping to a new position.

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