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 reciprocated.
    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 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 users.
    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 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
  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