Take a look at typical support tech job description and
you’ll find a list of fairly standard skills and responsibilities: Installs,
tests, and maintains PC and network hardware and software systems; establishes
and maintains a parts inventory for personal computers; produces support
documentation… and so on. But being a successful support tech requires more
than the ability to perform a diagnostic test or image a workstation. It
requires the appropriate attitude and aptitude. And while skills and knowledge
can be taught, attitude and aptitude cannot — they have to be selected for
when the tech is hired. The following is a list of traits that support the
attitude/aptitude side of the equation.
1: Respect for all users, team members, and superiors (even when it’s not
Showing respect is an acknowledgement of another person’s
value and knowledge, an essential quality of a support tech. If the users don’t
believe that the support tech takes their problems seriously, they’ll be less
willing to communicate and they’ll lose confidence in the tech, their
equipment, and the IT department as a whole. It’s particularly important that
the support tech has sufficient composure to remain respectful even when on the
receiving end of verbal abuse from an angry, stressed, and frustrated user.
Although the user’s problem may seem trivial from the tech’s perspective, all
that really counts is the user’s perception of the problem, and that’s what the
tech needs to address.
Being self-disciplined affects several aspects of the
support tech’s job, such as setting and adhere to a schedule, reliably meeting
deadlines, delivering resolutions to the end users on or before the promised
date/time, and sticking with a task until it’s complete. Self-discipline goes
hand-in-hand with respecting users; by making deadlines a priority, the support
tech is demonstrating respect for the user’s time. Self-disciplined support
techs are more reliable, dependable, punctual, and able to handle more
responsibility than their less-disciplined counterparts.
3: The ability to effectively prioritize tasks
If support techs are given any degree of control over
scheduling their time, they must be able to prioritize their tasks. Effective
prioritizing requires the support tech to have detailed knowledge of each
employee’s role in the organization, a thorough understanding of the nature of
the business, and a firm grasp of the business priorities. The rank and/or job
function of the employee requesting assistance should usually figure as a major
factor in prioritizing assignments. Assuming the environment is conducive to
their doing so, support techs should do everything within their power to learn
the business so they can gain the knowledge necessary for effective
4: Dedication and commitment to problem resolution
The tech must be committed to seeing the problem through to
resolution, which occurs only when the user is satisfied that the problem has
been resolved and the solution is permanent and conforms to company policy.
Consider the following example: A user reports that he can’t run a recently
installed application. As a step in diagnosing the cause of the problem, the
tech elevates the user from restricted to full administrative access to his
machine. The user can now run the application, but the work order is not
complete, as company policy requires the user to have restricted access. The
user is under tremendous pressure to ship an urgent order, so the tech decides
to allow him to finish processing the order with administrative privilege. If
the tech is not committed to complete problem resolution, it would be easy to
simply close the work order and move on, violating the company security policy.
Support techs must be both willing and capable of following all the steps in a
procedure even in a crisis situation, pursuing loose ends when necessary.
5: A detail-oriented working style
Paying attention to the details is essential for the
successful completion of a work order. Although resolving a problem to the
satisfaction of the user is necessary, it’s not a sufficient condition for a work
order to be considered complete. For instance, in the previous example, the
tech still needs to determine the cause of the problem, fix it, document it,
and restore the user to his usual status. The longer the tech takes to do this,
the more problems could arise. Paying attention to the details helps ensure a
consistent, secure, and reliable computing environment.
6: The ability and willingness to communicate
In many organizations, the support tech is the most visible
member of the IT department, in daily contact with the end users. In this role
as representative of the IT function and as intermediary between IT and end
user, effective communication is critical. The support tech basically has to
serve as a Babel Fish, translating between Tech-ese and Human. The tech must
learn to listen to users, acknowledge the reality of their problems, translate
their descriptions into technical terms, fix the problems, and explain the
solutions in terms the users can understand.
7: The willingness to share knowledge with team members, superiors, and
One specific aspect of the support tech’s communications
skills is a willingness to share knowledge. Some employees attempt to attain
job security through the possession of unique knowledge; this is misguided, as
most employers are aware of the vulnerability this creates and will seek to rid
themselves of such employees. The willingness to share knowledge is an
essential part of being a team member. Most support techs work under great
pressure, with little time for research or training, so they often depend upon
other team members for the advancement of their knowledge.
In addition to sharing knowledge with peers, techs should be
willing to educate their users. Training users to make effective use of their
applications and peripherals and teaching them to accurately report computer
problems will help reduce user downtime and speed problem resolution.
8: A humble attitude about knowledge limitations
Techs should recognize that they’ll never know everything
about an issue. The key is to know where to look for information and resources
and to be willing to ask for help when they need it. They must be prepared to
read manuals and take correction from others. It takes a certain humility to
crack open a manual, go to a colleague for a solution, or press F1.
9: The ability to learn from experience and from informal/formal
After years of school and technical training, it’s all too
easy for techs to relax their drive to learn, assuming that now that they’re
employed in their chosen profession, they have all the knowledge needed to
perform the job function. This may be true in certain environments, but if the
tech ever wants to change positions and/or companies, he or she will soon find
that the knowledge is outdated and of limited use. Rapid change is an inherent
characteristic of IT, and those who want to remain productive within the
industry must actively seek out every opportunity to further their knowledge,
whether through formal training by attending classes or simply by reading,
participating in forums, and asking questions of co-workers.
10: The ability to think logically and creatively
Techs should be able to apply a consistent, logical
methodology to the resolution of computer problems. This means that even when
confronted with new situations, the tech will stand a good chance of being able
to resolve the problem, or at least isolate the problem area. To back up their
logical thinking, techs also must be able to make creative leaps in reasoning
when the application of logic fails to produce a satisfactory resolution.
11: The ability to apply knowledge to new situations
This ability goes along with being a logical, creative
thinker to form the essential nature of an outstanding troubleshooter. Some
techs I’ve worked with are excellent at following prescribed procedures in
familiar situations but are completely stymied when confronted with an alien
situation. Being able to adapt specific knowledge to new situations is
extremely important; in most environments, it would be impossible to train the
techs in every possible scenario. The very nature of troubleshooting requires
the ability to transfer knowledge.
12: A demonstrated independent interest in technology
I am almost hesitant to include this as an essential attribute
of a support tech, as I once walked out of a job interview when I was told they
were seeking a candidate who “lived, breathed, slept, walked, and talked
technology.” In my experience, this type of person often makes a lousy
support tech due to a lack of interpersonal skills.
Having said this, I still maintain that if the tech has no
independent interest in technology and just regards it as a job, it will be an
ongoing battle to keep the tech up to date with the latest developments or to
elicit any form of enthusiasm or excitement for the work. Having a tech who is
engaged and excited about new technology becomes particularly important during
a rollout, where the tech is uniquely positioned to influence users’ attitudes
toward the changes in their environment. Rollouts can cause considerable stress
to users who are now required to learn a new product to perform their job
function. Having a tech who is excited and engaged with the new product will
encourage and reassure the users.