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A Day in the Life of a Technician

“Technician” is the politically correct term for “repairman,” but technicians themselves-at least, male technicians-aren’t picky about the label. In fact, a number of them felt it was an honorable title: “You fix things. You make them do what they’re designed to do. I repair televisions, and everyone who comes to my shop needs me to be able to do my job,” wrote one New York repairman. Technicians handle faulty electrical and electronic equipment. They analyze problems, run tests, and then, where possible, repair the item. They are “gadget doctors,” as one put it, who understand the principles of electronics, equipment testing, and tools. Good technicians elicit as much information about the problem from the client as possible before attempting a solution. “Sometimes the fax or copier works just fine-you only need to clean the glass, or replace the toner,” said one technician, who remarked that people cause their equipment to malfunction more often than the equipment itself fails. Service representatives for manufacturers and technicians who maintain large equipment spend a good deal of time in the field. After each trip, they complete extensive paperwork in order to satisfy corporate requirements. Many described this mountain of forms as formidable and unpleasant. Technicians generally work regular hours, except the ones who handle infrastructure equipment or vital-life equipment, such as mainframe computer technicians or hospital equipment repair personnel. The sole technician has a less paper-heavy life, but must be a generalist within a loose area of specialization in order to have enough clients to stay in business. Some specialize in television and VCR repair, personal computer and financial calculator repair, or audio equipment maintenance. Some choose refrigerator or air-conditioner maintenance and repair. Since air-conditioner repair is very seasonal, some learn to repair heating equipment as well. Sole practitioners enjoy being their own bosses, but it’s not necessarily an easy life. “When two or three days go by and nobody comes into your store-you’ve got problems,” said one sole technician, who added that he avoids off-site repairs or schedules them after his regular business hours so potential clients won’t think he’s not available at his store. Still, satisfaction in this profession is significant. Technicians work with their hands, they solve problems, and they rarely take their work home with them. For people with the technical and interpersonal skills, this job brings a lot of positive feedback-and repeat business.

Paying Your Dues

Technicians do not need a college degree; instead, most attend a technical or vocational school that offers general training and elective courses in various specializations. Standard coursework includes circuit analysis, electrical testing, wiring and capacity, and audio/video repair. A number of states have licensing exams for technicians in fields that affect daily life, such as microwave, medical equipment, and heating system repair, so check with the local authorities in the region in which you wish to practice. Technicians who want to work for a large service corporation may have to relocate, at least for initial training program, which can last up to two months.

Present and Future

The need for technicians grew with the popularization of electronic products in the 1950s and 1960s. Nearly everything imaginable-toasters, blenders, microwaves, and washers-was designed for and purchased by the American consumer. In the rush to offer all these options, many companies failed to test their products properly or educate consumers on how to keep their equipment functioning. Technicians experienced unparalleled demand for their services during these decades. The future looks good for technicians given the seemingly endless variety of electronic, computer-based, and sophisticated products. Every year, new records are set for the number of electronic devices introduced into the market, from parlor games to research equipment. In addition, the profession is getting older, and significant numbers of technicians are expected to retire over the next decade. Both of these factors should keep the demand for aspiring technicians high.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

New technicians usually either work for large companies that provide consumer support or practice independently. Hours are longer than average for both groups, but the satisfaction levels of in-house technicians is higher because their jobs are more secure and their work is more regular. Salaries are average, and many use these first years to learn how to apply their technical school skills to real-life repair situations.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Satisfaction levels begin to pivot for both careers. In-house technicians find that supervisory jobs-the most common step up-are in great demand and limited supply. On the other hand, the sole technician who has been in business for five years has begun to build a reputation in his or her community and the work has become steadier. Both work average yet intense hours in an effort to accomplish their goals. Salaries increase.

TEN YEARS OUT

Most ten-year technicians have become sole technicians. Those who are in-house technicians are generally supervisors, managers or senior technicians, but these positions are far less plentiful than basic technician positions. Sole practitioners have seen their growth flatten, as they realize that one person can do only so much work. Many form partnerships with other established technicians (although some of these partnerships do not work out) or hire and train less experienced technicians to handle the less difficult repairs and allow the business to expand.