How I Climbed Out of the Help Desk
Since my last post, Maximizing Career Growth with CBT Nuggets, I have been asked on numerous occasions, "How can I climb out of the help desk?"
Working on the help desk is a great first step toward a career in IT. However, within some companies, it can feel like a very limiting role, which can result in boredom or feeling trapped in seemingly never-ending user requests and tickets! This is especially frustrating if you have acquired technical certifications, yet, find yourself missing out on promotions, secondment opportunities, or getting ghosted by hiring managers.
This post is a continuation of sorts from my previous article and aggregates the main points behind five months' worth of responses that I have provided in the "Ask a Mentor" channel in the CBT Nuggets Learner Community. I hope that it provides a lot more detail on how you can climb out of the help desk.
Learn how Technology Shapes Your Organization and Industry
It is important to understand how technology is used by your company and the consequences that follow if it fails. However, you cannot understand those consequences if you don't know what your business does in the first place.
The help desk is, in a way, the central nervous system of the business — it receives input from the business about technical issues as they happen. Any help desk technician should be in a prime position to take the time out to learn about the business, different aspects of it, and what the impact is should the technical tools start failing. If your help desk calls are not timed (e.g.: must finish all calls within three minutes, a practice which I personally despise), then take the extra minute or two to understand how a department uses technology and how the business suffers if that technology does not function.
Once you have developed an understanding of how your business works, you may find that it is easier to communicate and empathize with your users. Identifying key problem areas may be simpler. You should be able to take the user feedback and translate it into the technical language that higher-level support teams require.
After understanding the inner workings of your own organization, you need to develop an understanding of how your industry functions. What are the common business problems? What technology vendors seem to be the "main players" in your market? A great source of information about what technology other companies use is their job listings — Glassdoor, and what people list on their LinkedIn profile.
Industry knowledge is essential if you are going to hop between companies during your career, as it will provide you with valuable information on how transferable your skills are between businesses.
I personally find ITIL® is an incredibly valuable framework that can help any technical person develop an understanding of how technology can drive value for businesses. Fortunately for us, CBT Nuggets trainer Keith Barker has been releasing ITIL® 4 Foundations training, which is an excellent starting point for learning this framework.
Develop Relevant Technical Skills
If you want to climb out of the help desk, you need the technical capability to do so. Determining which skills you should develop can be difficult. When considering your options, it is important to understand which one will provide the greatest return on investment.
The last thing that you want to do is to invest your personal time and finances paying for certification only to realize that it's not going to do your career much good. Therefore, it is critical to resist studying blindly and to understand what technical skills and capabilities are in demand within your business and industry. Here's a list of certifications that help speed up your move from the help desk.
If you already have a job and are seeking an internal promotion within your company then your top priority should be identifying the team that you want to move into. Connect with people within the team and have a conversation with them. How you do this varies by corporate culture, I am personally fond of the informal "coffee catchup" at a local café to break the ice over email chains.
You should be asking them what type of skills they need new hires to have, how they operate as a team, and what type of person they need to hire next. Chances are there exists a specific skills gap within the team's structure that they will be looking to close. As your technical skills improve, see whether there could be opportunities to collaborate with the team and work on solving problems. You may not get the most interesting work to begin with, but it's a chance to put your knowledge in action and make a name for yourself.
Other ways to explore and cultivate new skills include networking events, vendor information nights, or online communities. Just get yourself out there can expose you to information and people that can help you position yourself for a career shift.
Once you know what you want to study – you're ready to use the CBT Nuggets learning platform. If you get stuck, connect with the CBT Nuggets Learner Community on Slack. There are a lot of people who can provide feedback about what you wish to study. You might just get a response from me!
Do Not Neglect Soft Skills
My final tip is to never neglect the development of your soft skills. This includes being able to effectively translate "technical mumbo jumbo" into "everyday language," managing conflict and difficult stakeholders, and planning effective improvement initiatives.
The best technical people who I have met, and worked with, understand how to take their technical knowledge and start solving real business problems. For example, when meeting with business stakeholders, they listen and seek to understand their technology needs. Then they can implement changes to better support the business.
To be a successful IT pro, you need to be able to communicate effectively at all levels, from end users to the C-suite. The good news is you've likely developed a strong foundation while working on the help desk. After all, you spend a lot of time listening to users and helping them solve issues,
About the Author
Luke Snell is an IT professional who works in the mining industry in Australia. When he's not tearing his hair out and working to complete his Cisco certification studies before the February 2020 refresh, he is a mentor in the CBT Nuggets Learner Community.