Technical Support

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Quick Facts: Computer Support Specialists
2017 Median Pay $52,810 per year
$25.39 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 835,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 11% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 88,500

What Computer Support Specialists Do

Computer support specialists provide help and advice to computer users and organizations. These specialists either support computer networks or they provide technical assistance directly to computer users.

Work Environment

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, support services may need to be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

How to Become a Computer Support Specialist

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer network support specialists was $62,340 in May 2017.

The median annual wage for computer user support specialists was $50,210 in May 2017.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer support specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. More support services will be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software.

Duties

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, 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 information technology (IT) problem promptly is important because organizations depend on their network systems. Network support specialists may assist 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 nonbusiness customers. They may walk customers through basic steps in reestablishing an Internet connection or troubleshooting household IT products such as Wi-Fi routers.

Computer network support specialists held about 198,800 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of computer network support specialists were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 18%
Telecommunications 13
Finance and insurance 8
Management of companies and enterprises 6
Data processing, hosting, and related services 4

Computer user support specialists held about 636,600 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of computer user support specialists were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 21%
Educational services; state, local, and private 12
Management of companies and enterprises 5
Temporary help services 4
Software publishers 3

Faster computer networks are making it possible for some support specialists, particularly help-desk technicians, to telework, or work from their home. However, a few specialized help-desk technicians may have to travel to a client’s location to solve a problem.

Work Schedules

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, support services may need to be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

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 applicants applying to computer support specialist positions, but an associate’s degree or postsecondary classes may be enough for others.

Education

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 may be qualified for these jobs. 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 applicants to have 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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.

Advancement

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.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Computer support specialists must be patient and sympathetic. They 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 for real-time web chat interactions.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer network support specialists was $62,340 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,960, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,230.

The median annual wage for computer user support specialists was $50,210 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,900.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for computer network support specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Telecommunications $69,610
Data processing, hosting, and related services 65,510
Finance and insurance 64,840
Computer systems design and related services 63,230
Management of companies and enterprises 62,230

In May 2017, the median annual wages for computer user support specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Software publishers $54,860
Management of companies and enterprises 51,140
Computer systems design and related services 51,010
Temporary help services 47,240
Educational services; state, local, and private 46,880

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, support services may need to be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

Employment of computer support specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. More support services will be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software. Computer support staff will be needed to respond to the installation and repair requirements of increasingly complex computer equipment and software. However, a rise in cloud computing could increase the productivity of computer support specialists, slowing their growth at many firms. Smaller businesses that do not have information technology (IT) departments will contract services from IT consulting firms and increase the demand for computer support specialists in those firms. Employment of support specialists in computer systems design and related firms is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Employment growth also may come from increasing demand for IT support services from healthcare industries. This field is expected to greatly increase its use of IT, and support services will be crucial to keep everything running properly.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable. There are usually clear advancement possibilities for computer support specialists, creating new job openings. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a strong technical background should have the best job opportunities.




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Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Support Specialists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm (visited December 15, 2018).

Salary information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Program, a semi-annual survey that provides wage and employment statistics for the nation, each state, and sub-state regions.


Written by Angela

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