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Online Help Desk Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts

Computer User Support Specialists Career Video

Insider Info

dotYour 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!

dotOnline 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.

dotYou 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.

dotHelp 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 works."

dotThe 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 Sarkisian.

"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."

dot As you might imagine, help desk technicians need to have strong people skills.

"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 audience."

"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!"

dotA 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.

dotThe 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."

At a Glance

Help people through their computer problems

  • You have to be part technical wizard and part psychologist
  • Be prepared to keep learning
  • Communication skills are extremely important