How to Find the Right Tech Support Job for You
Support jobs can be a great stepping-stone for an IT pro's career. With the average Technical Support Level 3 salary sitting at $79,000, support can be a solid career path, too. However, there are also the stereotypical help desk and call center support jobs that aspiring IT pros can't wait to leave.
Making the right decision in your job search can give you better odds at landing a rewarding role in support. Here, we'll look at some of the key points for you to consider when evaluating IT support roles.
Consider Your Long-Term Goals
Whenever you make a career choice, keeping your long-term goals in mind is a must. For example, if your dream role is network architect, landing an entry-level job supporting network products can be useful. However, after gaining some experience in that support role, your next step should be toward a network admin or network engineer position.
Alternatively, if you know you're interested in support (more on that in the next section), focus on climbing the support ladder. Generally, IT support roles follow a three-tier structure. It looks something like this:
Level 1: Entry-level support tasked with solving basic problems. Issues Level 1 pros cannot resolve are passed on to Level 2.
Level 2: Level 2 handles escalations from Level 1 and may also be the first point of contact for more complex products and problems.
Level 3: Level 3 is the highest level of support. In addition to handling escalations from Level 2, Level 3 representatives deal with other complex problems. Level 3 often acts as a technical liaison between the support team and other departments such as Quality Assurance and Engineering.
If your long-term goal is to become a Level 3 support rep, look for roles where getting there is a realistic possibility. Often, this means asking the right questions in the interview process and maybe doing additional research on a job you're applying for.
Make Sure You're Interested in a Support Career
Support roles aren't for everyone. Before you decide to make a career out of support, you should consider the pros and cons of doing so. Let's look at some of generalized ones of working in IT support.
The pros of working in support:
Constant flow of new problems to solve. New problems mean new challenges and new ways to apply your troubleshooting skills. If you're a natural-born problem solver, this can be a big plus in a work environment.
In-depth exposure to how things work. Working in support, you begin to understand how things break and how to fix them. As a result, you can gain a robust understanding of how different technologies and products work.
Getting to work with a variety of people. This point is particularly true for support reps who work with external customers. In many jobs, the number of people you interact with is limited. In support roles, you may interact with new people every day.
The cons of working in support:
Problems can dictate your workload. The flipside of a new problem to solve every day is that your workload is heavily determined by whatever problems pop up. This can limit your ability to focus on a specific project of interest.
Less exposure to projects related to design and implementation. Generally, support is involved after products have been deployed and problems have occurred. This means if you're interested in projects related to systems and network design, a support role may limit your exposure to those. Note: there are presales "support" roles such as solutions architect where there is plenty of focus on designing solutions.
The job can be thankless at times. Not all those people you work with will be happy. They'll be contacting you because something is broken and might be frustrated. Be prepared to deal with irate and even rude people at times.
Of course, depending on your perspective, some of the pros can be cons and vice versa. For example, an introvert may not be interested in a job that requires them to interact with people all day. The takeaway here is simple: consider the realities of the job, and if it's a good fit for you given your skills, preferences, and personality.
Understand the Different Types of Support Jobs
There are plenty of different types of IT support jobs. From network gear to DevOps to printers and everything in between, support covers it all. That being said, at a high-level, we can group support jobs into one of three broad categories. They are:
Internal help desk support. These are the traditional IT helpdesk roles you're likely familiar with. In these roles, you support internal employees and contractors. Generally speaking, the help desk is responsible for internal IT infrastructure and applications. This means exposure to a wide variety of tech from printers to servers to cloud applications. While the breadth of exposure you'll gain in these roles is wide, you usually won't need to become expert-level in any given area for some time.
External support for a small number of products. In external support roles, you are supporting users of a product or service your company makes. While there's no hard cap on what quantifies small number of products vs. wide variety of products, the idea is that with a small number you're more likely to quickly become an expert. That is, you'll have a narrow focus but a deep level of knowledge in that area. Support for SaaS (Software as a Service) products often falls in this bucket.
External support for a wide variety of products. In these roles, you'll support external customers and be responsible for a wide variety of products. For example, imagine working or Cisco or Juniper support and being responsible for a wide variety of hardware. Generally, these roles end up falling in between the other two when it comes to breadth and depth of knowledge.
Regardless of which one of these models interests you the key is to look for a role that encourages troubleshooting, critical thinking, autonomy, and/or ownership. Roles that don't emphasize those attributes are more likely to be the script-based call-center type jobs.
In some cases, those are the jobs that give support roles a bad rap. To be fair, there's nothing wrong with those roles per se. Here, we're just assuming that's not what you're after.
Get into a Field that Interests You
You can find a support job in just about every aspect of IT you can name. Different support jobs may involve networking, servers, cloud, DevOps, security, or programming. This means if you want to find a support career you'll stay interested in, you need to think about what you'll be supporting.
For example, suppose you're interested in infosec. In that case, a support job at a network security company makes more sense than application support for accounting software.
Look for Ways to Grow
In many cases, particularly entry-level roles, growth is one of the most important aspects of the job. When looking for support jobs, you should ask questions and do your research about the potential for growth. If the potential for growth doesn't align with your own goals, the job may not be the best fit.
One of the nice things about the tiered approach to IT support is it provides a fairly clear path for Level 1 to Level 3. Starting at Level 1, you can take each job description and map out what you need to do to earn that next title.
Of course, in many cases, the organization you work for isn't going to have everything laid out for you on a silver platter. You'll also need to understand your own marketability and what you need to do to progress. In many cases, certifications can help propel your career.
For example, if you've been plugging away at Level 1 support for a bit, a CompTIA network+ certification can help signal you have the skills required for that Level 2 position. Similarly, proactively tackling complex issues and making suggestions for how the team can improve can help demonstrate you're ready for a promotion.
The takeaway here is: look for places where effort leads to opportunity and take advantage of it. Many support professionals have worked their way through the ranks this way.
Final Thoughts: Align Your Interests with the Job
Like most things, a job in support is what you make it. It can be a stepping stone, something you do for a paycheck short-term, or an engaging career. Much of what drives that is how well you align your interests and skills with the jobs you take.
Being diligent in your job search gaining relevant skills for the roles you want are important steps along the way. If you do things right, you can have a more engaging job today and a more rewarding career long term.
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