Computer support specialists, or computer technicians, perform installation and maintenance, or solve problems people have with their computers. They usually start out as help-desk technicians — fielding calls and emails from customers with computer problems, then identifying the issue and walking the customer through the problem-solving steps. Technical support specialists support other computer users in their own organization. They oversee the daily performance of their company's computer systems and train users on how to use new hardware and software. Both types of specialists may work long hours, but keeping computers (and the companies that depend on them) functioning properly is rewarding.
Day in the Life of a Computer Support Specialist
On any given day, a computer technician might perform the follow supporting tasks:
- 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
There are several different types of IT support specialists, each with a particular emphasis. 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
Computer support technicians usually work in comfortable environments, such as offices or computer laboratories. Those who work as consultants tend to spend a lot of time away from their offices, sometimes spending weeks or months working at a client's locale. Employers often require computer support specialists to work extended hours on a regular basis, and to be "on call" for rotating evening or weekend work. They are also expected to work overtime when technical problems arise.
Important Characteristics for Computer Support Specialist
A successful computer support technician has strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills. In addition to troubleshooting technical problems, a computer support specialist should be able to communicate clearly with peers as well as non-technical clients and co-workers. Communication takes place in person, over the phone, via email, and on paper (such as when preparing manuals and instructions for employees and customers). This job requires patience and the love of a good challenge!
Typical Steps for Becoming a Computer Support Specialist
Education requirements for IT support specialist jobs vary depending on the position and the employer. Here are some typical steps one might follow if the goal is to become a computer technician:
- 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, consider taking some introductory courses on networks and operating systems at your local community college.
- Gain experience. 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 are excellent training for other work in the field.
- Earn an associate degree in an area of computer technology. A two-year degree program from a computer technician school usually qualifies a student to become a computer support technician.
- Earn a bachelor's degree in computer and information technology. A bachelor's degree can open the door to more challenging, higher-paying jobs. While earning your degree, having an internship can provide practical experience and develop connections within the computer industry. Such connections often result in future employment.
- Get certified. Certifications are important for all who wish to work in this field and vital for those with lesser educational credentials. Employers may require a specific certification. Certifications may be general, product-specific, or application-specific. The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) awards an industry-recognized vendor-neutral certification known as A+, which confirms proficiency in the areas of installation, configuration, preventive maintenance, diagnosing, and basic networking. Vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco award their own certifications which establish proficiency in one or more of their products.
- Hone your "soft skills." Computer technicians at all levels need to be good communicators and have strong people skills. At higher-level positions, you'll also need to balance various jobs at once, and you'll need patience as you work with others to solve computer-related challenges.
- Computer Support Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm