Computer Support Specialist
Computer Support Specialist
Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$40,430 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Computer support specialists help people with computer problems. Some computer support specialists called help-desk technicians field phone calls or e- mails or make house calls for people who are having difficulty with a particular piece of computer hardware or software. Most of these people who need help have no technical expertise. The support specialist asks the user to describe the problem as well as the commands that were entered or steps taken that led up to the problem. The support specialist may then repeat those steps on his or her own computer to try to duplicate the problem. If the problem was caused by user error, the specialist explains how the problem occurred and how to fix it. If the problem is due to a fault with the software or hardware, the specialist tries to determine the cause of the problem. This may require consulting with supervisors or computer programmers. Once the cause of the problem has been determined, the specialist walks the user through the steps required to fix it.
Other computer support specialists known as technical support specialists provide support to people in the information processing department of a company. In addition to troubleshooting problems, they may be responsible for the operation of the company's computer systems. They may assign work to employees in the department and determine the priorities of various tasks. They may look over computer programs to make sure they are installed properly and are compatible with existing programs. They may look over projects to make sure they are completed properly and meet the company's goals. They may also evaluate computer systems to see if they need to be expanded or upgraded. Technical support specialists may also modify software produced by other computer firms to meet the needs of the company.
Still other support specialists specialize in setting up computer systems that are delivered to customers. This includes installing the operating system (the program that tells the computer how to run software programs loaded onto it) and any software the client will need. The support specialist may also train personnel at the client's office to use the computer system and answer questions about getting started with the system. A support specialist may be assigned to user support for a particular client, taking all calls from that client to resolve problems that arise.
All computer support positions require strong analytical thinking and problem- solving abilities. Support specialists must write technical reports about the problems they encounter. Computer programmers use these reports to modify existing products or to help avoid similar problems when designing new products. Support specialists must deal with both inexperienced users and computer- savvy programmers or software designers. They must be able to reduce technical information to simple language.
Education and Training Requirements
Most employers require that computer support specialists have at least some college education. College programs in math and sciences, particularly computer sciences, are valuable, as are courses that develop communication skills. There are no courses specifically devoted to technical support because the technology changes too quickly and individual products require different knowledge bases. Most firms that make computer software or hardware train employees to provide support for each of their products.
High school students interested in pursuing this type of work should study mathematics, computer science, and physics. They should also take computer programming courses in school or study computers and computer languages in their spare time.
Getting the Job
Almost all computer hardware or software companies maintain their own in- house technical support staff. Often this is a basic entry-level position within the company. Large companies that use computers extensively may also have an in- house support group. Support positions are often advertised in local newspapers as well as with career placement offices at local schools. Someone working for a company that has an in-house support staff might speak to the personnel department about the possibility of transferring to such a position. The company may pay for the cost of training or provide its own training program.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 518,000 computer support specialists were employed in the United States in 2004. Employment of computer support specialists was expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Although many help-desk technician jobs are being outsourced overseas to countries such as India and Eastern Europe, developments in new technology and the need for in-house technical support staffs will create many new jobs in the United States. Technical support specialists may go on to supervisory positions in which they oversee the work of a support staff and handle more complicated problems. With additional training or education, a support specialist may pursue a career as a quality assurance engineer who tests computer programs for problems, or designs software to perform such tests. Other career paths that require additional training include software engineer and systems analyst.
Support specialists usually work a standard forty-hour week in an office environment. They may have to work evenings or weekends to provide timely support to users. Technical support specialists who work with a particular client may have to travel to the client's place of business. This may mean working overtime or irregular hours. The job often involves working with frustrated users who do not understand the technology. This requires patience and the ability to work under stress.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of Computer Support Specialists
333 Mamaroneck Ave., Ste. 129
White Plains, NY 10605
IEEE Computer Society
1730 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Earnings and Benefits
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual wage for computer support specialists in 2004 was $40,430. The "Computerworld Salary Survey 2005" (Computerworld, October 24, 2005) gave a higher figure, reporting that the median yearly wage for a computer support specialist was $47,464 in 2005. Because most support jobs are with established companies, benefits include paid vacations, medical benefits, and retirement packages.