Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.
Computer network support specialists typically do the following:
- Test and evaluate existing network systems
- Perform regular maintenance to ensure that networks operate correctly
- Troubleshoot local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet systems
Computer network support specialists, also called technical support specialists, usually work in their organization’s IT department. They help IT staff analyze, troubleshoot, and evaluate computer network problems. They play an important role in the routine maintenance of their organization’s networks such as performing file backups on the network. Maintenance can be performed daily, weekly, or monthly and is important to an organization’s disaster recovery efforts. Solving an IT problem promptly is important because organizations depend on their network systems. Network support specialists may assist the organization’s computer users through phone, email, or in-person visits. They often work under network and computer systems administrators, who handle more complex tasks.
Computer user support specialists typically do the following:
- Pay attention to customers’ descriptions of their computer problems
- Ask customers questions to properly diagnose the problem
- Walk customers through the recommended problem-solving steps
- Set up or repair computer equipment and related devices
- Train users to work with new computer hardware or software, such as printers, word-processing software, and email
- Provide other team members and managers in the organization with information about what gives customers the most trouble and about other concerns customers have
Computer user support specialists, also called help-desk technicians, usually provide technical help to non-IT computer users. They respond to phone and email requests for help. They can usually help users remotely, but they also may make site visits so that they can solve a problem in person.
Help-desk technicians may solve a range of problems that vary with the industry and the particular firm. Some technicians work for large software companies or for support service firms and must give instructions to business customers on how to use business-specific programs such as an electronic health records program used in hospitals or physicians’ offices. Sometimes they work with other technicians to resolve problems.
Other help-desk technicians work in call centers, answering simpler questions from non-business customers. They may walk customers through basic steps in re-establishing an Internet connection or troubleshooting household IT products such as a Wi-Fi router.
Because of the wide range of skills used in different computer support jobs, there are many paths into the occupation. A bachelor’s degree is required for some computer support specialist positions, but an associate’s degree or postsecondary classes may be enough for others.
Education requirements for computer support specialists vary. Computer user support specialist jobs require some computer knowledge, but not necessarily a postsecondary degree. Applicants who have taken some computer-related classes are often qualified. For computer network support specialists, many employers accept applicants with an associate’s degree, although some prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.
Large software companies that provide support to business users who buy their products or services often require a bachelor’s degree. Positions that are more technical are likely to require a degree in a field such as computer science, engineering, or information science, but for others, the applicant’s field of study is less important.
To keep up with changes in technology, many computer support specialists continue their education throughout their careers.
Certification programs are generally offered by vendors or from vendor-neutral certification providers. Certification validates the knowledge of and best practices required by computer support specialists. Companies may require their computer support specialists to hold certifications in the products the companies use.
Many computer support specialists advance to other information technology positions, such as network and computer systems administrators and software developers. Some become managers in the computer support services department. Some organizations provide paths for support specialists to move into other parts of the organization, such as sales. For more information, see the profiles on network and computer systems administrators and software developers.
Customer-service skills. Computer support specialists must be patient and sympathetic. They must often help people who are frustrated with the software or hardware they are trying to use.
Listening skills. Support workers must be able to understand the problems that their customers are describing and know when to ask questions to clarify the situation.
Problem-solving skills. Support workers must identify both simple and complex computer problems, analyze them, and solve them.
Speaking skills. Support workers must describe the solutions to computer problems in a way that a nontechnical person can understand.
Writing skills. Strong writing skills are useful for preparing instructions and email responses for employees and customers, as well as real-time web chat interactions.