Computer Support Specialists
|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||693,610|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||4.1%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||26,950|
What's Needed: While certain skilled computer support technicians may require a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering, associate's degrees are satisfactory for most mid-level positions within the field. Those who work in customer-support roles may require even less formal education. Many community colleges, vocational schools and online universities now offer certification programs for aspiring computer support technicians. However, most employers do require newly-hired technicians to participate in on-the-job training that may last for three to six months. Many also require their employees to take periodic continuing-education classes.
What you study:
Computer support technicians typically study the following subjects in high school and college.
- Computer programming
- Computer science
- Systems and network analysis
- Web design/engineering
A short look at the work of computer support techs. Slightly outdated but still a helpful overview. Created for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
When you chose to become a computer support technician, you quickly realized that there was a wealth of opportunities available in this rapidly-growing field. With so many potential choices, you had trouble deciding on the proper career path. Many major businesses hire computer support technicians to staff their internal IT departments and assist workers in other divisions with technology-related issues. Others hire technicians to maintain the massive computer networks that modern businesses need to function.
After plenty of soul-searching, you decided to work at a virtual help-desk in a consumer-focused call center. Your employer maintains customer-support contracts with a variety of hardware and software firms.
Although you enjoy your job tremendously, you didn't realize that you would have to work such irregular hours as a help-desk technician. This week, you're working the nighttime "third shift." The other offices in your building are completely deserted by the time you arrive at 11 p.m.
You walk into the call center and sit down at your cubicle. Before putting on the headset that you'll be wearing for most of the night, you log into your terminal and check your e-mail. Since your facility is relatively new, you don't have to share a cubicle or computer terminal with other employees. From what you've heard, many computer support technicians work in less spacious environments.
Aside from a company-wide e-mail that details a new procedure for greeting clients on the phone, your inbox is empty. In fact, you rarely have to field lots of electronic correspondence. Most communication with your colleagues occurs face-to-face or over the phone.
You mark the e-mail as "important" and make a mental note to incorporate its recommendations into your routine. Next, you put on your headset, turn on your receiver, and log in to your company's technical-support interface. When a new customer calls with a hardware issue, you'll enter their information into the interface and save it for future use.
Since it's late at night, you wait for about 15 minutes to receive your first call. While you wait, you make small talk with the four other technicians who work the third shift.
When the phone rings, you dutifully answer in accordance with the new protocols and ask the client how you might be of assistance. She describes a complicated problem that started when her computer froze earlier in the evening. Although the computer is working again, she's having trouble recovering some important files. You carefully note all of this information in the file that you've created for her. As she talks, you make some quick notes about potential solutions to the problem. You ask her some specific questions that will help you get a handle on her problem.
Finally, you figure out what went wrong. Since her problem is fairly tricky, you need to put her on hold as you review some information about her particular computer and operating system. Once you're confident that you have a solution, you bring her back on the phone and give her step-by-step troubleshooting instructions. Speaking slowly and clearly, you wait patiently as she performs each step. After a few minutes, you're delighted to hear that she has found the files. The problem has been solved!
Throughout the night, you repeat this basic procedure several times. By the time you're getting ready to leave, the volume of incoming calls has definitely picked up. Although you can appreciate the downtime that comes with working at night, you'll be relieved when you switch back to the day shift next week.
However, you achieved several breakthroughs tonight. You helped a frustrated customer set up a new operating system, walked another customer through a complicated troubleshooting operation, and gave an over-the-phone tutorial on an important piece of software. This is par for the course at your job: Although you barely talk to anyone in person, you exert a positive influence on your clients' lives every day.
Certifications and Licensing
There are no formal state-level licensing requirements for computer support technicians. In fact, there are few reputable trade associations or certification-issuing organizations within the field. However, many manufacturers require the computer support technicians who work with their software and devices to take product-specific certification courses as a quality-control measure. When a technician completes such a course, he or she receives a certificate that demonstrates mastery of the pertinent product. In the eyes of many employers, these certifications are attractive and may warrant the payment of a salary premium. Alternatively, many employers issue certificates to individuals who complete certain on-the-job or continuing-education training programs.
Full-time versus part-time:
Most computer support technicians must shoulder full-time workloads of 40 or more hours per week. In addition, these hours are often irregular. Since most technology-intensive businesses require someone to be available around the clock to attend to computer-related emergencies, some technicians may regularly work evening or overnight shifts.
Most computer support technicians work on-site. Typical work environments include the IT departments of major businesses, government agencies and financial institutions. Others work in dedicated facilities administered by specialized computer-support firms. A growing number of consumer-focused computer support technicians now work from home. These at-home workers may adhere to more traditional work schedules.
The following resources may be useful for those who wish to become computer support technicians:
- Careers.org -- This database provides useful information about the typical computer support technician's earnings, education requirements, career track and daily workload. It also contains links to educational resources and access to a full jobs board.
- Virginia Employment Commission -- This exhaustive resource describes the daily responsibilities of computer support technicians in great detail. It also provides standard information about the educational qualifications and certifications necessary to succeed in the field. Although its job-search feature is specific to Virginia, it represents a great starting point for aspiring computer support technicians.
- iSeek Careers -- This resource provides a complete overview of the computer support technician field, including wage information, educational requirements and job-growth prospects. It also has links to similar career fields and useful educational tools. However, its job-search feature is regional in nature.
- U.S. Department of Labor -- The U.S. Department of Labor's fact sheet on computer support technicians provides median salary information, detailed job-duties descriptions, and important information about education and licensing. This is a great place for any aspiring computer support technician to start.