I did hot-line work at the U and a NASA Research Center, and during one period it was great, but during another it was the worst experience I've ever had.
In the first period, it was relatively egalitarian, everyone co-operated and pitched in, we all had immediate (though sometimes shared) access to the latest, greatest docs. We were involved in interesting programming, SQA, DB, pre-compiler, OS dev, and other projects (but, reasonably enough, not quite as much as the "applications" and "systems" group people did). We all pitched in to write articles for the news-letter (and to fold and pre-sort them back when it was still sent via campus and US Snail), prepared and delivered topical lectures, etc. At NASA, of course, the expectations were stepped up. Bug reports to vendors were expected to be orders of magnitude more meticulous; a series of very controlled experiments had to be conducted and a great deal of data compiled, narrowly circumscribing the nature of the failure. But there was a great deal of respect.
In the later period at the U it was very hierarchical, my front-line people had every dirty job that others didn't want to do dumped on them (e.g. making recycling runs, data entry...). There was very little respect and very little pay. We were under-staffed, under-equipped with others' cast-offs, including obsolete docs. But the worst part was that management wanted us to do things that are illegal.
The thing that differentiates the consultation function (hardware and software) from a real job (e.g. software product development) is that you're on a hamster-wheel, going nowhere. You work and work, succeed and succeed, minute by minute and hour by hour and day by day..., but every day management and the customers still demand, "Yes, but what have you done for us lately?". The informal praise and certificates never add up to genuine respect and reward.
It got to the point that I detested the term "help desk" (My people are not pieces of furniture!), and stayed away from telephones as much as possible for a couple years.
Software product and tool development are much more fulfilling and rewarding all around.