In Response offers a weekly roundup of feedback from TechRepublic members intended to help inform you and your peers about critical issues in the world of IT. This week, TechRepublic members share their opinions on the importance of working an enterprise help desk.
Is working an enterprise help desk necessary?
Earlier this month, my article, “The importance of working an enterprise help desk,” outlined my belief that working an enterprise help desk is an essential endeavor for techs wanting to climb the IT ladder. TechRepublic members responded in force, and I’d like to share some of their comments. Unfortunately, due to the volume of feedback, it’s not possible to publish every response. However, I believe I have presented the best balance of all the submissions.

TechRepublic members respond
Help desk: Ticket taker or tech?
“Although I agree with the gist of your article, I think you should mention that there are help desks and there are help desks. In one large enterprise I worked for, the help desk staff was mainly ticket takers and would assist in only minor troubleshooting. Anything major went to the support techs. They weren’t part of the HD, and there was little movement of staff between the HD and the techs. Getting caught in such a help desk would not give the benefits you write of in your article.”

This is a very important distinction
“I agree that tech support for a large corporation is a great place to learn. But the help desk is often broken into two groups—first level support and second level support. At my company at least (6,000 users), those who are first level have little opportunity to learn. They focus mostly on answering phone calls. Anything they don’t know, instead of researching it and learning something new, they have to pass along to the second level support.

“Along with problem resolution, second level support gets to do all installations, hardware maintenance, testing software upgrades, and so on. As you say, it can be a great learning experience in a large company. It’s unfortunate that most help desk personnel do not get as much training as they all desperately want. After all, ‘techs’ are usually considered the blue-collar folks of IT. Most people I know in tech support wanted to learn as much as possible in order to move into the LAN, WAN, Database, and other groups.

“But tech support makes for a great foundation. Every network admin I know who started out as a ‘tech’ is much more effective than those who just took classes at school or passed a few certifications.”

Good and bad at both levels
“An enterprise-wide help desk does help you handle the stress of talking to a wide variety of users on sundry systems and applications. However, working on a smaller desk lets you develop relationships with users which helps you improve communications and understand the business better.

“While on a small government agency help desk serving about a hundred users across the country, I got used to the people and how they’d react to situations. One end user would often get frantic about stuff, and sometimes I’d tell her to go outside and have a cigarette and then call back—and tell her boss the help desk told her to! Once, when it was 6 P.M. her time, I told her to go home, that the problem would still be there in the morning waiting for us and we’d fix it then, and to not worry about it meanwhile. I realized that calming certain people down is the quickest way to solve some problems, that other people need to focus, and that some need to vent. That learning won’t occur on a help desk where you never develop relationships.

“Also, you have the time to discover what it is they really want. A smaller desk isn’t so focused on standards, so I could help people tweak their systems or add software so they can perform the work that really needs to be done. Learning how to ask the right questions by listening to unspoken assumptions and apparently irrelevant comments is very useful when getting requirements for a system. On a large help desk, you have neither the time nor the inclination to find out other business needs and figure out the most cost-effective way of meeting them.”

It’s a different animal
”I too went from a small-to-medium organization (Sysadmin and one-person help desk for a 50-user law firm) to PC Support Specialist for the U.S. operations of a company that’s expanding internationally. What I’ve found challenging is some of the bureaucracy I have to deal with, plus purchasing hoops to jump through. I have a lot less autonomy in my current job, though I do work hand in hand with the Network admin here.

“The upside? Experience supporting a bigger network, more users, different applications and technology. I’m starting to learn about routers and subnetting, and helping to fix more complicated network-level bugs. There are days I wish I was back at the other place, but if I was, I know by now I’d be getting bored. I still have plenty to learn here!”

Share your story
Have you moved to an enterprise help desk and found the experience incredibly challenging and rewarding, or do you feel small organizations are the place to be? E-mail me your story and let us know.
By submitting a response, you agree to let TechRepublic publish your thoughts on its Web site. You also agree that TechRepublic may adapt and edit, and authorize the adaptation and editing of each submission, as it deems necessary. TechRepublic may or may not publish a submission at its sole discretion.