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Take a look at a 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

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 for the support tech to have
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.

#2: Self-discipline

Being self-disciplined affects several aspects of the
support tech’s job, such as setting and adhering 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 prioritizing.

#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 when 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 instruction

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 out-dated and of limited use. Rapid change is an inherent
characteristic of information technology, 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

#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 situation, 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 tomake 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’m 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

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