Computer Support Specialists - What They Do
Computer support specialists provide technical assistance, support, and advice to individuals and organizations that depend on information technology. They work within organizations that use computer systems, for computer hardware or software vendors, or for third-party organizations that provide support services on a contract basis, such as help-desk service firms. Support specialists are usually differentiated between technical support specialists and help-desk technicians.
Technical support specialists respond to inquiries from their organizations' computer users and may run automatic diagnostics programs to resolve problems. In addition, they may write training manuals and train computer users in the use of new computer hardware and software. These workers also oversee the daily performance of their company's computer systems, resolving technical problems with Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide Area Networks (WAN), and other systems.
Help-desk technicians respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages from customers looking for help with computer problems. In responding to these inquiries, help-desk technicians must listen carefully to the customer, ask questions to diagnose the nature of the problem, and then patiently walk the customer through the problem-solving steps. They also install, modify, clean, and repair computer hardware and software. Many computer support specialists start out at the help desk.
Help-desk technicians deal directly with customer issues, and their employers value them as a source of feedback on their products and services. They are consulted for information about what gives customers the most trouble, as well as other customer concerns.
Computer support specialists normally work in well-lighted, comfortable offices or computer laboratories. Most work about 40 hours a week. Those who work for third-party support firms often are away from their offices, spending considerable time working at a client's location. As computer networks expand, more computer support specialists may be able to provide technical support from remote locations. This capability would reduce or eliminate travel to the customer's workplace, and may allow some support specialists to work from home.
Injuries in this occupation are uncommon, but like other workers who type on a keyboard for long periods, computer support specialists are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Due to the wide range of skills required, there are many paths of entry to a job as a computer support specialist. Training requirements for computer support specialist positions vary, but many employers prefer to hire applicants with some formal college education. A bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, or information systems is a prerequisite for some jobs; other jobs, however, may require only a computer-related associate degree. Some employers will hire applicants with a college degree in any field, as long as the applicant has the necessary technical skills. For some jobs, relevant computer experience and certifications may substitute for formal education.
Most support specialists receive on-the-job training after being hired. This training can last anywhere from 1 week to 1 year, but a common length is about 3 months. Many computer support specialists, in order to keep up with changes in technology, continue to receive training throughout their careers by attending professional training programs offered by employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, and private training institutions.
For some jobs, professional certification may qualify an applicant for employment. Certification can demonstrate proficiency in a product or process, and help applicants obtain some entry-level positions. Some hardware and software vendors require their computer support specialists to be certified, and many of these will fund this training after an applicant is hired. Voluntary certification programs are offered by a wide variety of organizations, including product vendors and training institutions, and are available across the Nation.
People interested in becoming a computer support specialist must have strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills because troubleshooting and helping others are vital parts of the job. The constant interaction with other computer personnel, customers, and employees requires computer support specialists to communicate effectively via e-mail, over the phone, or in person. Strong writing skills are useful in writing e-mail responses and preparing manuals for employees and customers.