In a nutshell, computer technicians perform installation and maintenance, or solve problems that people have with their computers. Just as there are different types of computers and different levels of computer systems and networks, there are also several different types of computer specialists. A partial list of some of the job designations in this field includes the following:
- Desktop support specialist
- Network administrator
- Systems administrator
- Computer forensics specialist
- Help desk technician
- Customer support analyst
- Internet professional
Many computer technician jobs take place in the corporate world, where technicians are responsible for the day-to-day management of an organization's PCs, terminals, monitors, networks and server component hardware. Many others are self-employed.
Some of the duties of a computer technician include:
Installing, configuring and upgrading PCs, laptops and related equipment
Diagnosing and troubleshooting both common and unusual hardware and software problems
Performing preventive maintenance on computer equipment
Installing required software patches
Ensuring the connectivity of PCs, laptops, handhelds and other computing devices to both the local area network (LAN) and wide area network
Setting up and maintaining locally connected and networked printers
Connecting needed peripheral equipment
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Learn about computers.
If you have an aptitude for electronics, math and computers, and are interested in becoming a computer technician, begin by taking some classes in high school. If you have already graduated from high school, and are wondering how to become a computer technician, take some introductory courses on networks and operating systems. You'll quickly learn whether this is the right field for you. If you have any older or outdated computers at home, disassemble them and use online manuals to study how they work. Barbara Viola, president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, says many high school students who want to know how to become a computer technician can find after-school jobs in repair shops or working for large businesses, rebuilding work stations or loading software. "It's a great way to make money but also to find out whether you enjoy the work," Viola said. "This work is also a great way to find out about different jobs. You may find you like the project management aspect or prefer working on security issues."
Use your knowledge and high school diploma to find work as a customer service representative, helping customers learn about new and emerging hardware and software. These jobs pay an annual median wage of $30,580, according to BLS data from May 2014, and for those interested in learning how to become a computer technician, they are excellent training for other work in the field, Viola said. "Many people go from working on a help desk, helping people resolve computer issues over the phone, to more hands-on, face-to-face troubleshooting," she said. "Helping users fix a computer problem when they are going crazy is very rewarding work."
Earn an associate degree in an area of computer technology.
This two-year degree would make you qualified to become a computer support specialist, helping set up computer work stations for employees and helping them troubleshoot software or hardware problems. This is valuable experience that, over time, will qualify you to take on more complex problems involving network or computer systems administration.
Find an internship.
If you enter a bachelor's degree program, an internship can help you get practical experience and develop connections within the computer industry. Internships, and the references they can provide for your resume, could help distinguish you from others applying for the same jobs. "Often, internships lead to permanent, full-time jobs," Viola said. "At the same time, if you don't have an internship, you may have trouble getting a job later."
Earn a bachelor's degree in computer and information technology.
A bachelor's degree can open the door to more challenging, higher-paying jobs. According to the BLS, computer and information systems managers with a bachelor's degree earned a mean annual wage of $136,280 in 2014.
Professional certifications in this field can either be vendor-specific or vendor-neutral. Vendor-specific certifications show that you are qualified to perform certain jobs. Many product vendors and software firms, such as Microsoft and Cisco, offer certification programs, and some employers require these certifications. Vendor-neutral certification, including the Computing Technology Industry Association's CompTOIA A+ certification, verifies that you are trained to install, configure, diagnose, maintain and do basic networking on computer systems. These certifications also indicate you are skilled in security, safety and environmental issues.
Hone your "soft skills."
According to the BLS, computer technicians at all levels need to be good communicators and have strong analytical skills. The demand for soft skills can start at entry-level positions like computer support, where you need to have good listening, speaking and writing skills as you try to understand problems and convey solutions to customers or fellow technicians. At higher-level positions, you'll also have to be able to balance various jobs at once, and you'll need to have patience as you work with others to solve computer-related challenges.
To figure out how to take your career to a higher level, we sat down with Barbara Viola, President of the Association of Information Technology Professionals.
Q. What do all great computer technicians have in common?
They enjoy and are good at troubleshooting computer problems. It takes an inquisitive mind and someone who enjoys a challenge! But it also requires a lot of patience. You can't be someone who rushes to try to fix something without taking into consideration all the factors that might be involved.
Q. How do you know if you have what it takes to succeed as a computer technician?
A good indication is if you are the person whom everyone goes to when their PC is not working. If you have a logical, rational approach to solving problems, and you are patient, you'll make a good computer technician.
Q. What is the most rewarding thing about working as a computer technician?
It is very fulfilling to be able to troubleshoot a complex problem and get a computer running properly again. It's very fulfilling to see the gratitude of the users who are usually very frustrated.
Q. What's the best way to prepare for a career as a computer technician?
An A + degree is great, as well as taking IT classes in college. Many computer techs start out in high school and college working for local computer repair shops or systems integrators or on their college help desk and desktop support areas. Interning within the field (usually this is paid) is an excellent way to get some real, hands-on experience and to know whether you would like to do this as a career.
- Computer Manufacturer Links
- Computer Repair Utility Kit
- Technology and Computer Guide
- Computer Repair Resources
Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.