Your laptop suddenly makes strange noises and the screen goes black. Your
computer has crashed -- and the document you've spent countless hours on might
be lost forever!
Your heart is racing and you've broken into a cold sweat. Who are you going
to call? An online help desk technician, of course!
Online help desk technicians, or computer support specialists as they are
sometimes known, provide technical support and advice to users.
"Technology's always changing. There's always something new. There's always
something more that we're trying to do. And it needs the support so that people
can get their job done," says Russ Gouveia. He's a professor of computer and
information science at a college that offers a help desk certificate program.
You can often find help desk technicians working within an organization
or directly for computer or software companies. Many of these technical professionals
work for help desk or support services firms on a contract basis. Others work
for Internet service providers.
Help desk technicians have one primary goal: assess a customer's problem
and hopefully save the day. Specific duties can vary, but most technicians
answer phones that never stop ringing and emails that never stop arriving.
Once online or on the phone, they try to relieve your fears and guide you
through a solution.
"The focus is on people being able to get their job done and get the support
that they need to do that," says Gouveia. "It's one of the reasons that companies
are investing in customer support and technical support. They know that it
The job can be very stressful. These professionals have to be part technical
wizards and part psychologists. Most of the calls they take are from people
in a state of distress. No one ever calls just to say hi.
"At times, it can be stressful just because sometime you're faced with
issues you haven't really tackled before," says help desk technician Steven
"Sometimes problems are just bizarre and it takes a little Googling to
figure out exactly what's wrong. But I find that when I'm dealing with a customer
on the other end of the phone that's understanding and is giving me the time
of day, that things go a lot smoother."
As you might imagine, help desk technicians need to have strong people
"Part of our course [deals with] understanding difficult callers and [that
involves] what we call the 'soft skills' -- your ability to deal with people,"
says technical instructor and former help desk technician Orrett Morgan. "Because
you'll get all levels of callers, and part of it is just understanding your
"Probably the most challenging aspect of this career is not taking some
of the negativity personally," says Dan Slentz. He's a network engineer who
owns a technical support company.
"Oftentimes, you only hear from users when they are frustrated and angry
-- not necessarily at you, but at the technology you work with," says Slentz.
"So sometimes that can feel like they are upset with you. It's important not
to take it personally and just work on getting their issues resolved as quickly
as possible. And keep smiling!"
A growing trend is for help desk technicians to work at least part of the
time from home. This is known as "homesourcing."
Many online help desk technicians work regular daytime hours, 35 to 40
hours a week. But there are many others who work rotating shifts, including
nights and weekends. It just depends on what kind of company you work for.
Software companies often don't need to staff help desks nights and weekends.
However, Internet service providers usually staff help desks in off-hours
to deal with problems encountered by home computer users. Some help desks
run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The physical requirements for this job are minimal. As long as you can
sit at a computer while you read, type and think clearly, you'll have no problem.
This makes it an ideal occupation for people who are wheelchair-bound.
"I think the most rewarding aspect of being a help desk technician, or
working in this field, is being able to be the hero," says Slentz. "When you
can fix the problem for them and get it operational again, they are so happy
and thankful and you leave the room a hero."