Tech & Work

10 signs that you aren't cut out to be a support tech


So you want to be a computer support technician? Or perhaps you are one already, but you can't decide whether you're just having a bad week or you're really not cut out for the job. What does it take to be an effective support tech? Is this a career at which you can excel and be happy? The ability to do well in any job and to enjoy it depends to a certain extent upon our personalities, skills, and attitudes. But how can you tell if you shouldn't be a support tech? Consider the following indications that you might be on the wrong track.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: You don't respect other techs

Start by examining your attitude toward support techs. When you have to call your ISP or other service provider, do you treat the techs with respect or do you assume they're all idiots reading flip charts? If you do not respect the role of the support tech, regardless of how well a particular tech performs, you probably shouldn't be one, as you won't value yourself or what you do.

#2: You view the job only as a stepping stone

How do you see the job as support tech? Is it an end in itself or merely a stepping stone to something "better"? Unfortunately, in many organizations, the support tech job is regarded as being on the lowest rung of the IT ladder, as an entry level position to be filled by people with little or no proven experience who will be promoted out of the spot at the earliest opportunity.

All too frequently, I've seen applicants for support tech positions state their objective as being a network administer or DBA. Few applicants actually say they're aspiring to be a support tech. Irrespective of the frequent lowly positioning of support techs, if you do not respect the job as something to aspire to rather than a necessary rite of passage -- a techie purgatory -- you probably should not be a support tech.

#3: You care about technology but not people

Ask yourself why you want to be a support tech. If it is first and foremost because you enjoy messing around with computers, supporting tech-ing may not be the best choice of career. In many organizations, the tech spends as much time, if not more, dealing with user-perceived issues as with genuine technical problems. On the other hand, if you primarily enjoy helping people, relish problem solving, have infinite patience, and have some technical aptitude, being a support tech could make you deliriously happy.

#4: You're not really driven to keep up with tech trends

Of course, #3 does not mean that an interest in, and an aptitude for, technology are not necessary prerequisites for being a support tech. Arguably, without a strong independent interest in technology, it is highly unlikely that the support tech field will be a successful choice of careers. Being an effective support tech requires keeping up with current technology and, regrettably, not every company will provide the time and tools necessary for this task during normal working hours. This means that to stay competitive, you will need to devote some of your own time and resources to keeping yourself current.

#5: You don't care about the business you're supporting

Support techs are employed in all types of businesses, from schools to hospitals to chemical plants to casinos. Although many of the basic functions and roles of the tech in each of these industries are the same or similar, in my experience, the really outstanding techs are the ones who take the time to learn the industry they are supporting.

You don't need to pass the bar exam to be a support tech for a law practice, but making the effort to understand the business will give you the information you need to better prioritize your tasks and provide proactive support. A tech who takes the time to learn the job functions of the people he or she is supporting can add considerable value by making suggestions to enable the users to make more effective use of the available technology and become more efficient in their jobs.

#6: You don't handle stress terribly well

Another important factor to consider is how you respond to pressure in the form of urgent deadlines, highly stressed employees, and irate corporate executives. If you aren't capable of staying calm and thinking logically and clearly to figure out why the presentation due in exactly seven minutes will not print or how to retrieve the boss's file that a secretary inadvertently deleted, a career as a support tech is liable to cause you a great deal of stress and misery. In such circumstances, techs are required to show that they acknowledge the urgency of achieving a fast resolution without engaging in the user's panic, while still treating a quite possibly abusive user with respect and professionalism.

#7: You need recognition and praise

Being a support tech often means being invisible until something goes wrong. Ironically, if you're doing an awesome job by proactively taking care of the users, you're less likely to be noticed than if you're slacking and are frequently called upon to save the day.

Early in my career, a VP took me aside and suggested that I might like to occasionally crash the network server so I could justify my existence by heroically restoring it overnight. You may be fortunate and encounter the odd users who appreciate that they never have to call you, or even a boss or co-worker who expresses gratitude for the fine job you are doing, but this type of positive feedback is usually the exception. If you require frequent approbation to feel confident and satisfied with your performance, being a support tech may not be the best choice of careers.

#8: You're a little short on patience

Do you regard yourself as a patient person? Dealing with certain users requires a great deal of patience and composure. Some users will always make the same mistakes, which they expect you to fix. Others will require hours of individual tutoring to be able to perform even the most basic tasks on their computer. Addressing the needs of these users calls for patience, composure, and empathy.

One tech with whom I used to work had an outstanding reputation among the more difficult users for being an excellent teacher, willing to give up his breaks and lunchtime to assist with any mundane task. One evening after work, I ran into him at a local park, red-faced and pouring sweat, violently slamming tennis balls into a wall. Each tennis ball had a face drawn on it in the unmistakable likeness of certain employees, with a name inscribed underneath to remove any doubt as to the intended identity. Not being an innately patient person, the tech had developed this creative method of dealing with his frustration rather than taking it out on the users.

#9: You're a bit shaky when it comes to problem solving

The process of resolving computer problems requires a systematic, logical methodology, with occasional flares of inspiration when the logic fails. Although there is no single "correct" methodology for determining the cause of a problem, the ability to think clearly and logically is an essential qualification for being a support tech.

If you do not have a natural aptitude for systematic problem solving, being a successful support tech will require you to devote considerable time to developing comprehensive problem-solving techniques that can be adapted to any situation.

#10: You're shy, antisocial, or awkward in your communications

If your communication skills are anything short of excellent, or you possess good skills but have a strong preference for hiding behind your keyboard all day, a career as a support tech will make both you and your users very unhappy. In most organizations, the support tech is the face of the IT department. In many cases, the tech is the only IT staff member with whom most users will ever interact. This means that the ability to communicate effectively with all types of users, regardless of their technical ability or position within the company, is of paramount importance.

94 comments
JamesMathewJJ
JamesMathewJJ

Actually when I face some computer problem like slow PC, BSOD etc., I used to call on the tech support department of AskPCTechies and they had always helped me to resolve the problem completely. So, approaching the topmost and right support service company will definitely take you to the right solution.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There's a reason why the abbreviations 'RTDM' and 'RTFB' were coined. If you can't be bothered to read instructions, you'll find the IT field frustrating for two reasons. First, you won't be able to accomplish anything since you won't know how to do it. Second, you find no sympathy from other IT professionals, who will expect you to do the basic research before crying for help. EDITED - Auuuugghh! The zombie ate my brains!

diman75
diman75

Believe me, nobody handles stress terribly well, it is just that some people can hide their emotions for a period of time while at work, but then stress finds its way to burst out anyway.

diman75
diman75

In my experience of being an IT Tech I'm yet to come across a user who is satisfied with the service, whether you are being patient, polite or tolerant. Just the fact that something is wrong with a computer and takes time to be fixed is just enough to hold you personally responsible for the trouble.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

>Few applicants actually say they???re aspiring to be a >support tech. "Few burger king cooks say they are aspiring to be a burger king cook. Most want to be a 5 star restaurant cook someday." >If you do not respect the role of the support tech There is the role and the person, and you are mixing the two. If the person on the other end of the line has no clue what they are doing and refuses to get help, they do not deserve respect. And Tier I phone support techs usually are reading from a script. Sorry to burst your bubble. >This means that to stay competitive, you will need to >devote some of your own time and resources to keeping >yourself current. Don't let your employer take advantage of this. Its in their interest to skimp on training and force you to use your own resources ( time/money) to train. If you want to let them take advantage of you, then you deserve to be a tier one phone monkey for the rest of your life. >In most organizations, the support tech is the face >of the IT department Not really. The interconnection between Business orgs and IT has been emphasized more and more since at least 2001. The 2 sides must talk directly for the right solutions to be created. Sometimes a business liason can help bridge the communications gap, but far too often, you need to get ( for example ) sales, marketing, and the IT department in the same room so IT understands what the business wants ( needs? ) and the business understands the limits of the tools the IT Dept has at its disposal. I meet with the Marketing personnel often as they are the primary users of my Web Analytics application. If I didn't mention a sign, then that means I agreed with it.

robbie
robbie

Hear! Hear! These statements are soooooooooooooooooo true! I know just the support tech to send this list to. What a bear! Everyone is definitely not cut out to be a Support Tech. On my job, I have mandated that I NEVER come in contact with one of our Support Techs again. This individual needs to "give up the ghost" and take up another vocation. And that's coming from more than one person in the office.

jpurssey
jpurssey

I am a part-time unpaid tech support for a voluntary organisation, as well as having been supported in government and private companies. A few other things I have learned to reduce my workload are: Take the initiative in communication. If you follow up to check that the problem has been fixed you will find you are getting thanks, unless you haven't fixed the problem; which leads me to:- Test you have fixed the problem, otherwise you will get calls about not having done anything when you think you solved the problem; which leads to: Try to get your support organisation to follow a process and improve it. If every new user has the same problems after they are set up it is better to change your process so you set them up correctly. Otherwise you will get the reputation that "support hasn't got a clue" I will respect tech support until they fail to respect me and treat me like an idiot (or stupid user). Too numerous are the times when I have been fobbed off with a shallow analysis and have had to persist and persist until they recognise that there is a system problem.

annettea
annettea

If you read like me then we might be in a pit of trouble you say this I think that p should be a b see the bit back on top tracking lines with no eezeec root to star. wit.

alexh19740110
alexh19740110

A great load of nonsense. I'm now a UNIX sysadmin & a consultant earning a six-figure salary & I'm pretty good at it. Yet I was a support tech once & many of those "signs" would have applied. Any juniors / support-techs out there, take this article with a grain of salt. These are 10 qualities of an ideal support technician, not real support technicians. All of these skills can be learnt.

micah.mcneil
micah.mcneil

This is very true article. It's ridiculous the way front-line support techs are treated in some organizations. This really needs to change drastically.

micah.mcneil
micah.mcneil

This is very true article. It's ridiculous the way front-line support techs are treated in some organizations. This really needs to change drastically.

streetleveltech
streetleveltech

I have to disagree with the author on her second point. I worked as a desktop tech for several years before I was offered a position on my employer's networking team, which is the job I'd always wanted. I never wanted to be a desktop tech but when I was offered the job I took it and gave it everything I had. I considered the job a stepping stone, but I always treated the job and my users with respect. For me, my work was part of the process of learning and developing my skills so I could move on or move up, so I studied, earned my A+ and Network+ credentials, I took part in my employer's tuition benefit program and earned a Masters degree in Information Technology all the while doing my best to meet all my team's SLAs and, most of all, developing relationships with all my users to understand their needs and the needs of the business. I believe what's important is to keep a balance between ambition and whatever job I happen to be doing so I can set my sights on a higher position but still give my all to my present responsibilities. R. Jones

stuffstorage
stuffstorage

After 30+ years in international technical support (Measurex - 1970's; Dysan (1980's; Phase Metrics (1990's; and Lumisys (1990's), you are RIGHT on the point on this article. If you aren't VERY flexible, personable, and knowledgeable - please don't enter the field. Regards, Jan

pviavatt
pviavatt

I think it's right on the money. I am a self employed Computer Tech. My clients are home users and small business owners with less than 6 computers and only a few are server based networks. Beleive me you have to have patience and be able to listen to what they are telling you. 80% of my work is troubleshooting so if you are only interested in building or souping up PC's you will become boored very quickly. About 20% of my time is spent consulting with clients about what they should purchase and what upgrades they need. I formally worked for CompUSA and have been on my own for 5 1/2 years now. I'v seen many come and go, most know a lot about computers and networks some more than me, there problem was they don't listen to the clients and just want to dive in and fix it because they think they know what the problem is. Everything is an ID10T Operator Error. Well it was a good article and I agree with the writer. Phil

gwcarter
gwcarter

In my 45-year support career I found that I had to be an expert at everything. Support is a job for true generalists. When I was a Customer Engineer with IBM I was taught that I must "Engineer them Customers" and that has never ceased to be true. I am not blessed with either great communication skills or superb people skills, but by respecting the users' needs to get their problems solved I was able to survive and even prosper in support jobs. Yes, technical expertise is required, but one cannot apply it effectively without the regard that all users have a right to expect. Naturally, extra effort is required to stay "expert", but that comes with the territory. I found support to be not an entry-level job, but a distinct career path. The facts that both management and developers did not agree was not relevant. Professor Peter wrote very truly that "... an ounce of pull is worth ten pounds of push". Every career support person needs a strong base of user support to advance or even survive in his chosen career, and he can only earn that by effectively solving the users' problems while maintaining their respect. Respect can never be given; it must be earned. Even if you render support to anonymous users over a global network, where you might never have contact with a given user more than once, you can build this respect over time by applying your technical skills effectively in a positive and dupportive manner. In my daily work I must contact a number of support organizations as a client, and while there are several groups I have grown to respect highly, there is one I call with great trepidation because I know they won't want to bother with my silly problem, and who tells me that first I must jump through a number of hoops before I will be allowed to waste their valuable time.

kmdennis
kmdennis

Becky, I read the article and it brought back memories. (At the end of this you will probably draw the right conclusions about me) Let me try to comment on each section. >>>The ability to do well in any job and to enjoy it depends to a certain extent upon our personalities, skills, and attitudes. the really outstanding techs are the ones who take the time to learn the industry they are supporting>If you ???require??? frequent approbation to feel confident and satisfied with your performance, being a support tech may not be the best choice of careers.> being a successful support tech will require you to devote considerable time to developing comprehensive problem-solving techniques that can be adapted to any situation.

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

I have chosen the Tech Support position as a career because I truly enjoy this aspect of IT. When I first decided to get into IT I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I tried a bit of everything. I quickly learned that Tech Support is my niche. The statement that someone who chooses support as a career is not ambitious or has no desire to learn the latest trends is very far from the reality of the job. I'm in constant learning mode as my user's needs and technical requirements change often have me researching the latest and greatest solutions. I also work for a company that has developers, a network admin and Director. I am considered a key component of this department and am highly valued for my soft skills. My technical skills may not be on the same level as my co-workers, but when I need a higher level of assistance, I am able to go to anyone in the department for assistance and we work together. Our Director considers my position on the same corporate level as the developers and network Admin and we all work as a team. I may be low woman on totem pole... but I never feel like that working here. I liked the article, and the fact that I was able to answer a resounding NO to each one has no bearing on my opinion!! ;o)

Stephen Borchert
Stephen Borchert

Thank you for an excellent set of reminders. Although support sometimes considered only a stepping stone on the way to "better" positions, it's actually excellent preparation for those same positions. It's better to deal with issues at a user level before finding you have no patience in front of an executive. My point is that even those who are only passing through will need these same skills for any IT job.

Absolutely
Absolutely

If that's a problem for you as a hiring manager you're probably skipping over the best applicants just because we're ambitious. Way to flatten the bell curve.

dave-richardson
dave-richardson

My college and I were saying if you answer yes to any three you should get out

misitio
misitio

One of my responsibilities at work was hiring and supervising tech staff even though I???m not a techie however it made me a better end user. I was always surprised at how many candidates had attended IT training and that was the last tech thing they had done. They could have saved themselves a lot of headaches (and money) if they had known about your 10 points criteria.

pgm554
pgm554

#1: You don't respect other techs Respect is something to be earned. Unfortunately, with all of the offshoring and cost cutting done by a lot of the major companies these days,what respect I have had in the past has been replaced by pessimism. Experience has taught me to be wary of most tech support these days. At best, most of the tech support that I have delt with in the past (Dell,Novell,ATT) are batting about .500. So your number one is ,in my opinion,wrong.

burnite
burnite

Great article, sounds like it was written with experience. I am also a Support Tech or IT Assistant. I love my job and I am making $50K plus working part-time!! (sounds like get-rich quick scam ad) I get to play with the latest technology, people are always amazed at my impressive skills in computing (started as hobby-who knew?) Because of my inter-personal skilss, I have been greatly rewarded with recognition, and monetary gifts. Best job I have ever had, I don't need to be the Network Admin or DBA (they always seem stressed)

jimmie.kepler
jimmie.kepler

I have been doing level one and two desktop and telephone computer support for a dozen years. Yea, that means I am old, but it also means I love helping people. I see too many people viewing these as foot in the door or even temporary jobs until they can become an admin. On the help desk team I work there are 6 people. Their tenures are 10 years, 9 years, 8 years, 7 years, 3 years and 18 months. Almost all are college grads. It seems the 20 somethings just out of college view the position as a stepping stone instead of a career. Our customers benefit from our tenure. Our company saves dollars from reduced turn over. Our families benefit from our employment stability. We enjoy a great team to work with. The article is on target. By the way, the positions are more than entry level. We have the following positions: 1) support analyst, 2) senior support analyst, and 3)lead support analyst. And of course there is the support manager.

detours
detours

Sure, you have to start in tech support, but if you don't have most of these qualities, you definitely shouldn't stay there. Some people aren't cut out to do it longterm, but imho, EVERYONE in IT needs to learn how to face the customer. I spent 2 years in tech support before I went into QA. And even though I hated the sound of a ringing phone for years afterward, what I learned from facing customers stayed with me. Patience, follow-through, methodical approach, envisioning a problem you can't see, stress release ... and most importantly ... never losing sight that real people have to use the software after GA. One company I worked in started a "Tech Support for a Day" program. They brought in all the product and project managers and most mid-level executives to hit the phones once a year. They left with a new respect for our jobs and our input at product design and defect meetings.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

This is article is totally off. The first two headings seem to contradict each other. In 1 you say that support techs should be respected for their knowledge then in #2 you say that support tech is the lowest rung of the IT ladder. You go on to say in #2 one should "aspire" to be a tech support...what self respecting person "aspires" to be the lowest rung of the ladder? Headings #3, 4 & 9 apply to every tech job. #5 - 8 & 10 apply to almost any job you can name. What is it with these "10" lists any way???? Sometimes less is more. Most of the time I find these lists filled with common sense that most people should already be aware of and therefore a waste of time to read. This one doesn't even have that going for it.

mpr32
mpr32

So let me see.....technical aptitude is not at all a priority in I.T.? You may not be able to fix a problem but darnit you can hold a good social (Tupperware party anyone?).

necomputerpro
necomputerpro

Yes ... good article. I would add "sense of humor" to the list. I'm not talking about laughing at anyone, of course, but to enjoy some of the situations as well as being able to laugh at yourself. Also, add a "good team player" to the list. Even if one works alone, it's very important to be able to work with others, whether it's your subordinates, or boss. And another: Understand that the people you support are your "customers", even if they are in the same organization.

dogknees
dogknees

I agree with the items you've listed, but while "soft skills" are needed, so are the hard ones. #11 - You need to know the applications your "clients" are using at least as well as they do. While knowledge bases are useful, they don't replace both deep and wide knowledge of the applications. #12 - The ability to "see" in your mind what the client is looking at. If you don't have a mental picture of what the user is seeing, it's dificult to assist them or determine what they're doing. #13 - Good hearing. You need to listen carefully not just to the client, but to what's going on in the background. For example, you may hear them double-clicking instead of single-clicking. You may also hear them hitting several keys when you only expect them to be hitting one. Regards

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