Help Desk: Springboard to a New Tech Job

Working the help desk is one of the most ubiquitous tech jobs in America. While many specialists enjoy assisting people through their problems, the position does come with its share of (occasionally hilarious) horror stories. It’s understandable—and honorable!—if you want to make the help desk your career; but for those who want to use their tenure as a springboard to another technology job, challenges and opportunities await.

Actual salaries for help-desk specialists vary wildly. Some report barely making more than minimum wage; others can earn more than $50,000 per year. As with other tech jobs, pay is dependent on everything from company and city to skill-set. Your paycheck will rise if you ascend to a higher “tier” of tech support specialization, or to management; but it can often take quite some time to advance to that level.

The good news is, you can use your help-desk experience to lock down another tech job that plays to your interests (and possibly pays more money). But as anyone who’s made the transition can tell you, it’s not always seamless or quick.

Boost Your Skills

Some tech-support positions come with quite a bit of on-the-job training. Others give you only a few hours of instruction on a particular platform before throwing you into the proverbial shark tank. Depending on the company, your managers may just want you to follow a script, log tickets, and kick the most complex and unsolvable problems to a specialist experienced with particular technologies or issues.

Whatever the nuances of your role, use it as an opportunity to boost your troubleshooting knowledge. Knowing how and why systems work is vital to whatever you decide to do next. If your company offers more training, take it; and when solving issues, take a few moments—if only in the post-incident analysis—to consider alternate pathways to a solution. Your hardest cases will become useful stories in your next job interview, in terms of demonstrating your creativity and skill.

The help desk gives you a chance to work on your people skills. It’s a stressful job, and you often encounter upset or angry people. While such situations are emotionally draining, they also offer a crash course of sorts in dealing with human behavior. Learning how to empathize, and communicate complex concepts using simple terminology, can only help you later. (Just remember to “de-stress” as often as possible.)

Once you’ve learned everything possible from the help desk with regard to skills, you can think about advancing into another role.

Climbing the Ladder

Some people sign onto a help-desk job because they think it will provide a fast track to another tech role at the same company. If the job you want is radically different than the help-desk work you’re doing now, however, you could have a hard time convincing managers to give you a shot at the new role.

What to do? Find a mentor. Having an advocate will potentially accelerate your career much faster than blindly applying to internal job postings. This mentor can speak to other managers and generally play advocate. If the company offers a formal mentorship program, see if you can participate; if not, find a senior tech pro whose job and skills match what you want to do. Offer to take them to lunch, or out for coffee; take the time to build a solid relationship before you make the “ask” in terms of a new position.

When applying for a position, it’s great to emphasize your help-desk experience, especially your knowledge of the company’s internal processes and systems. Don’t neglect your other experiences, though: depending on the role you want, make sure you have the necessary certifications and education.

Working for a smaller company may also accelerate your climb up the ladder. Larger firms sometimes isolate their help-desk employees in silos, and make it very difficult for people in those roles to jump to other teams or divisions. At small or mid-sized firms, on the other hand, you have more face-time with decision-makers, and a bit more flexibility when it comes to taking on additional projects or demonstrating your broader technical aptitudes.

Jumping to Management

If you want to stick with the help-desk, but move to a more managerial position, you’re going to need to demonstrate not only problem-solving skills, but also your dedication to ensuring a great customer experience. Although many companies like to make internal promotions to help-desk manager, you’re going to need to compete against some dedicated colleagues in order to land the role; in order to stand out, you must show that you really care about the core issues affecting customers.

In light of that, make sure you can do the following; an executive or interviewer may ask you questions along these lines if you apply for a management position:

  • Demonstrate problem-solving ability
  • How to solve tough or strange customer-derive issues
  • Passion for customer service
  • How to improve the company’s help-desk system

If you have answers to all of those (hopefully backed up by stories), you have a solid shot.

Attitude

While it’s no guarantee of advancement, displaying a healthy sense of passion and motivation is key if you want a shot at leaving the help desk for a different technical career. Most of all, maintain a sense of optimism; escaping the help desk may take time, but it is definitely possible.

Comments

8 Responses to “Help Desk: Springboard to a New Tech Job”

September 18, 2017 at 10:48 am, Miss Tekkie said:

This article is bull. Help desk work is the lowest-paid tech job, one that requires the least knowledge (if any) up front. “Knowing how and why systems work is vital to whatever you decide to do next.” Working at a help desk will NOT teach you how and why systems work. If you work at the help desk and want to go further in tech, take college classes in your off hours. You won’t learn enough on the job to get you to any other tech job.

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September 18, 2017 at 4:53 pm, Marcus said:

I concur with Miss Trekkie. I earned my computer Science degree but the only job I could get was a tech support job at a large bank. My thoughts were I could earn my way into developer position. It did not work out that way. I was rebuffed at every turn when I tried to get into the software development group. And what frustrate d me even more is they would hire someone who did not have business knowledge of the company I had and they would train him on the technology. Eventually I left that job and started all over again. Applying for only software dev positions using my college courses as my work experience.

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September 23, 2017 at 8:18 pm, Timothy said:

How well has that worked out so far? im looking to do the same.

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September 19, 2017 at 9:38 am, Mark Jensen said:

The day is over when this was actually feasible. In 1999, I started Help Desk and worked my way into developer with no college degree or certs. Now, that little avenue is plugged with people.

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September 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm, Sam Tyler said:

That’s all well and good … so long as you don’t have any hearing issues. What if you have a hearing problem that precludes you from doing phone work?

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September 20, 2017 at 1:10 pm, Miss Tekkie said:

Obviously you need the physical qualifications to do any job.

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September 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm, Sam Tyler said:

That goes without saying, but what I’m getting at is this: If an applicant has hearing difficulties that preclude them from working in a call center, what other options do they have to enter the IT world?

In my case, I don’t have a “hearing problem” per se. I have an auditory processing disorder. Most people don’t understand what that is, so I just tell them I have a hearing issue. I’m not completely deaf; I just have extreme difficulty understanding people on the phone, especially if they have an accent or do not speak clearly, or there is ambient noise. This locks me out of call-center work.

Even if I were deaf, why should that lock me out of the IT profession, especially when an awful lot of IT jobs do not involve heavy phone work and can very well be done by deaf applicants? Articles like this remind me of something a rather popular deaf activist on Quora often says: Deafness itself isn’t a problem — hearing people MAKE it a problem. In this case, deaf applicants, or even applicants like me, who have hearing issues, may find themselves locked out of a profession that does not require hearing because they cannot first perform a job that does.

This speaks to the many debates about “diversity” in tech. Is tech open to applicants who are deaf or hard of hearing? I’ve never heard that one discussed!

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September 20, 2017 at 11:45 pm, Tech Wienie said:

You don’t have to work the Help Desk to get into IT. I’ve been in IT for over 30 years and have never worked the Help Desk. The same is true for most of my peers. Take programming courses and become a programmer. I’ve known a couple of deaf programmers, also some who were visually impaired: one with retinitis pigmentosa, the other totally blind. Apply to big companies; they are more likely to be willing to hire the disabled because it’s easier for them to be able to accommodate any special needs.

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