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A Day in the Life of a Technical Support Specialist

The technical support specialist deals with the nitty-gritty of troubleshooting and problem solving, using specialized technical knowledge to provide computer support. Help desk support serves as the middleman, acting as the administrator to answer the phone and route the call to the proper specialist. The most common problems that technical specialists address are: connectivity-the user cannot reach data or gain access to it; missing data-data cannot be found; slow performance-excessive amounts of users are slowing down the system; overload-lack of space on a machine for data; or program problems-the program is not running efficiently. While some companies have an internal group to support their technical needs, many large businesses outsource their technical help to other firms. Companies will often pay someone else to supply their hardware and equipment and to provide support for their system and all the technology needed to run it. Database management plays a large part in administering a company’s or client’s data, and Sybaseª is one of the most popular applications to create and manage databases. Many companies are heading toward certifying employees in database management. Sybaseª databases are supported by Unix and operating platforms such as Windows. A technical support specialist with background in both Sybaseª and Unix is more valuable. Knowledge of Oracleª, a more fine-tuned database program, is also in demand, as are Microsoft applications, particularly Sequel Serverª. A technical support specialist should be adaptable and able to work flexible shifts and hours in this round-the-clock business. “The hours are demanding and there is no such thing as nine-to-five. Your pager is on you at all times, even outside of the office. We have 24-hour, 7-day-a-week coverage to deal with clients and I often work a 12-hour day,” says one professional. In addition, stress levels run fairly high, since all problems are considered urgent. “The client doesn’t have any technical savvy or understanding of the problem. All they see is a screen where they can type something in and click on a button to make something happen. We can’t resolve everything immediately, and my job becomes stressful because I’m dealing with people who are often irate.”

Paying Your Dues

In your first job, it’s not unlikely to get stuck with the night shift, particularly at a large company. After a few years, you might be eligible to work during the day, though on a less desirable shift, such as 3Ð11 p.m. You can also expect to spend at least 7.5 hours of a nine-hour day in front of the computer.

Present and Future

Tech support specialists came about the instant people wanted their systems to be up and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Early on, when the Internet was accessed by a select few, if a site was down, it wasn’t a big deal. Today, this means not only egg on your face, but lost revenue as the Web runs on a global, round-the-clock schedule. As more complicated applications are developed, they need to be tested more thoroughly and monitored more carefully, requiring people whose job it is to do only those tasks. Constructing a corporate network is quite far from being plug-and-play, and technical support specialists will continue to be in high demand. According to the annual Association of Support Professional’s Tech Support Salary Survey, front-line tech support employees earned significantly larger paychecks in 1999. Median pay grew by 2.6 percent to 16.7 percent for various categories of support employees. What will this position encompass in the future? It depends on how computers evolve as futurists predict smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more powerful equipment. If nanotechnology allows for tiny machines to be implanted in your body, as some people believe, technical support professionals may become highly specialized surgeons.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Desktop support experience is desirable before moving into technical support, and the best way to do that is to start with an administrative position with a help desk. A job in help desk support earns about $35,000 to $40,000. If you are certified right out of school and boast enough experience to dig into technical support, salaries can range from $80,000 to $100,000.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Jobs are easy to find once you’re in the Internet environment. “I didn’t even look for my job. Recruiters are calling me constantly,” says one professional, who notes that tech guys change jobs more often than people change underwear. After five years, you would be considered a senior person in this field and might earn from $100,000 to $150,000.

TEN YEARS OUT

After ten years in the industry, a technical support specialist is eligible to head up a tech support department. At this level, you are delegating troubleshooting responsibilities and are ultimately overseeing the overall function of the system. These professionals earn some big money. At this stage, you can also consult and earn $125 per hour or more.