Intro to Desktop Support
Desktop support is an umbrella term that captures an essential role in any modern organization. The term desktop support could be used to describe many different jobs, but they all do similar work: keep the computers running (and running properly!).
Unfortunately, desktop support professionals sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to passing out blame: when networks don't connect, when files don't open, when printers refuse to say anything except "PC Load Letter," who else to blame than tech support? But what those blame-givers forget is how many errors and problems they never see, thanks to desktop support professionals' work.
Desktop support professionals are well-rounded generalists with a diverse skill set, including technical knowledge, managing expectations, educating users, and documenting network-wide technical trends.
Desktop support is often a stepping-stone to different careers in IT, but not necessarily so. It's a large and diverse enough career field to warrant a full-time career, and there's always something more to learn – because there's always something else to fix.
Intro to Desktop Support Video Training Playlist
Anyone interested in desktop support probably has lots of questions. What even is desktop support? What sort of training gets you into a desktop support job? How many of those jobs are there?
Anthony Sequeira is a CBT Nuggets trainer and IT expert – he created a playlist of training videos that explains the most common questions about desktop support. All 12 training videos are available for free here:
These videos will be helpful for people from diverse backgrounds. Managers and small business owners who want to implement an IT team can learn more about expectations and requirements.
Students who don't know where to start their career journey can see how quickly they can land their first job. Junior IT professionals who want a foot in the door can learn how to specialize their knowledge and careers.
What are the Desktop Support Basics?
You might think that desktop support is simple, but remember that most desktop support professionals are responsible for more than one hardware combination running dozens of applications on networks of wildly different configurations. The basics of desktop support ensure a professional can keep most software running on most hardware working most of the time – and that's easier said than done.
Desktop Support, Defined
Desktop support is a specialized IT role dedicated to providing technical assistance to end-users. Desktop support involves diagnosing, troubleshooting, and resolving hardware and software issues related to desktop computers, laptops, and other devices. Desktop support professionals install and update software, configure hardware peripherals, and maintain network connectivity.
Desktop support goes by many different names, but they're usually interchangeable. Some careers in desktop support can include IT Support Technician, Help Desk Technician, Technical Support Specialist, IT Service Desk Analyst, and more.
The commonality? As first responders, they provide timely and effective solutions. They also identify what issues will require a more specialized resolution. No matter what it's called, the role of desktop support is unequivocally crucial for sustaining an organization's digital infrastructure and enabling smooth day-to-day operations.
What Technologies Should a Desktop Support Professional Know?
From software to hardware to people, a desktop support professional needs to know how to spot problems quickly and resolve them efficiently.
There are many skills and technologies that a desktop support professional should be familiar with. This is a small list of some of them:
Operating systems: Windows is the most common OS for businesses and organizations, but macOS, as is Linux, is also important. At the very least, desktop support techs must navigate them and understand how to access administrative controls for operating systems.
Hardware: Although removing hardware components and reinstalling new ones doesn't happen daily, issues can arise. Familiarity with desktop computers, laptops, printers, scanners, and other peripherals is essential for desktop support.
Software and Applications: The number of different applications that all the employees of even a small company might use on a given day is staggering. A desktop support professional uses and navigates standards like email clients, web browsers and industry-related apps, but the list will always grow.
Remote Desktop Tools: Desktop support specialists often "remote in" to a troublesome computer, taking control of a device at a distance. Familiarity with multiple apps of that sort is important.
Basic Network and Device Security: A desktop support specialist touches more devices on the network than nearly anyone else. Being aware of basic security principles means each user and the network overall is safer.
Cloud Services: Cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud provide apps, features, and services to organizations of all shapes and sizes, and interactions with and between them are often challenging for non-technical users. Desktop support professionals should know and understand the basics of interacting with cloud service providers.
Soft Skills: Being able to diagnose rapidly and develop creative solutions for technological hang-ups is a great skill for desktop support specialists. Communicating clearly and politely is also important, especially in an environment so often filled with frustration and impatience on everyone's part.
What is the Actual Work of Desktop Support?
One desktop support professional's job can look wildly different from another's based on factors like the size of company, the industry the company is in, types of network, and more. Nevertheless, there are commonalities in the desktop support career field that make it possible to describe the day-to-day normal job expectations of working in desktop support:
User Assistance: How a desktop support professional learns about a user problem varies (phone calls, emails, IMs, tickets, walk-ups), but most of the desktop support job is learning about a user's problem and helping resolve it. That may involve hardware, software, or network issues.
Troubleshooting: Once they know about a problem, a desktop support professional's job hasn't really begun – many end users can barely explain what happened, much less what the actual problem is. Getting past symptoms to the root cause of a technological problem is another fundamental part of the job.
Software Installation and Updates: Properly installing software and ensuring it's updated reduces user errors, so whether you're visiting devices personally or doing it all remotely, a lot of the desktop support job is installing and updating software.
Password Resets and Account Management: Passwords get forgotten or reset, accounts get locked or migrated improperly, entire network folders go missing. A desktop support specialist spends a lot of time in the password and account software of their network's choice, doing basic work of getting everyone's account properly configured.
Documentation: Keeping records of what issues arose and what was done to resolve them can help identify systemic failures in training, network stability, and even security. Desktop support professionals don't just write down everything they encounter and how they resolve it; it's often done in a shorthand or style that the organization mandates.
Desktop Support Careers
Desktop support is a career field unto itself. Nonetheless, many IT professionals get their start in desktop support, fully intending to move into different fields of IT. Exploring the differences and similarities between those IT disciplines and desktop support can help clarify both.
Desktop Support vs. Systems Administrator
While both desktop support and systems administration are concerned about the operation of IT in an organization, systems administrators tend to be more focused on the overall IT infrastructure. In contrast, desktop support is more focused on individual end-user experiences.
To that end, desktop support professionals often work with end users far more often than sys admins. Systems administration also tends to be more technically complex, with a long-term aim, and requires a higher level of skill and training.
When CBT Nuggets did a nationwide analysis, the national average salary for desktop support technicians was found to be $47,000/year. Compare that to the same analysis done for systems administrators, where the national average salary was $61,000. The difference between the salaries indicates the increased responsibilities, training, and expectations for systems administrators.
Desktop Support vs. Network Administrator
Like with systems administration, network administration is more focused on overall network health than desktop support tends to be. In addition to the difference in type of interactions and scope, network administrators often deal with a much more technical aspect of network configuration and administration. Technical knowledge of networking protocols, configurations, devices, and interactions is more necessary for network administrators than desktop support professionals.
Desktop support professionals who have been working for a long time tend to move into desktop support engineer roles, managing other desktop support professionals and implementing large-scale solutions to end-user problems.
Desktop Support vs. Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts are entry-level IT professionals who safeguard an organization's data from threats. By monitoring network and system security, information security analysts look for threats and problems before they materialize – quite different from their desktop support professional kin who might implement security measures, but usually only once an issue has already been identified.
Information security analysts tend to interact with end users far less than desktop support, and their familiarity with technical cybersecurity hardware and software is much greater.
A role open to senior desktop support professionals is help desk manager, a person who manages whole teams, assigns priorities, and institutes company policy at a managerial level.
According to CBT Nuggets research, the national average salary for a help desk manager is $62,000/year. Meanwhile, averaging variations in geography and experience, the average salary for an information security analyst is $71,153/year.
How to Learn Desktop Support Basics
Becoming a desktop support professional is appealing for many reasons. For starters, you're almost always working at a desk, indoors, seated. The job stability is quite good – computers and networks are only becoming more valuable, and they still manage to malfunction many times every day. Getting into the desktop support career field is much easier than you might think.
Choosing the Right Desktop Support Course
To learn how to become a desktop support professional, you'll want to take an online training course. Don't worry: you'll find tons of introductory IT courses online. As you begin your journey, wait before you pay. There are many courses of dubious content, and you might be surprised how much you already know. Instead, get as much free information about IT and future job roles as possible.
Once you've gotten the gist of desktop support, choose an online training provider. Remember that a huge part of any IT job is being able to do the actual job, not just talk about it. So look for courses with virtual labs or simulations where you can practice the technical skills you're learning about, not just hear about them or read what skills you'll need someday.
Also, you will eventually need IT certifications: take online courses with practice exams for the certifications you want to earn eventually. Practice exams help you identify areas of your study you need to focus on while speeding through areas you're ready for.
Desktop Support Certifications That Cover All the Basics
There are tons of certifications meant for early-career IT professionals. Some are better than others for desktop support professionals, but here are three of the most highly valued IT certifications that can lead to a career in desktop support:
A+ from CompTIA: A+ certifications and all of CompTIA certifications are well-regarded by employers and IT professionals because they're vendor-agnostic, meaning they focus on generic skills, not specific hardware and software combinations. By focusing on basic, entry-level, and generalized skills, CompTIA's A+ represents a desktop support professional being ready to work the very same day they're hired.
Azure Administrator Associate from Microsoft: The Azure Administrator Associate is one of Microsoft's many certifications, hoping to ensure their networks always work at peak performance. The Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate is a good basic certification for a desktop support specialist who knows they'll work with tools and apps in the Microsoft cloud.
CCT Data Center from Cisco: Cisco manufactures the hardware and software that most data centers use worldwide, and their CCT line of certifications are for newcomers to the IT field. Cisco's CCT Data Center is a slightly more advanced and specialized certification for a desktop support specialist to earn if they already know they want to work in a data center environment.
Desktop support is a valuable and important career. Basically every company and organization needs some level of desktop support: it's an excellent starting point for people coming into IT from different career fields or who are looking to begin their working life in IT.
Desktop support as a career is often what you make out of it: it can be challenging and interesting, plus it can lead to specialization in other fields of IT. If you want to learn about those other fields of IT, check out all of our Intro to IT training and find out what best suits your skills and interests.
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