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Information Technology (IT) is not rocket science PhD TV: Scientific Explanations For The YouTube Generation [Stuff to Watch] PhD TV: Scientific Explanations For The YouTube Generation [Stuff to Watch] PhD TV is a YouTube channel aimed at delivering short, sharp bursts of scientific wisdom, complete with webcomic Piled Higher and Deeper's signature comic style. Read More .

Okay, it can be, but you don’t have to have a degree in computer science Learning Computer Science? Tag Some Video Tutorials On Teaching Tree Learning Computer Science? Tag Some Video Tutorials On Teaching Tree Learning with the help of massive open online courses or YouTube videos has one slight problem -- there isn't anyone around to help you take shortcuts to the precise concept. You wade in and flounder... Read More to enjoy a career in IT. The people on the front line of IT are the help desk or technical support people. If you want to use a military analogy, these are the people deep in the trenches. They are your first line of defense for computer problems. And, if you are stout of heart and sharp of mind, you could get a career alongside them.

soldiers-on-computers

Tech Support Career Outlook

According to Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast survey, “30% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.” US News says the median salary for a computer support specialist is $60,180. Keep calm, you’re more likely to start in the $30,000 range.

“30% of respondents said they plan to hire for this skill in the next 12 months.”

Those numbers make IT help desk or tech support careers look like a good career path in IT Do You Have What It Takes for a Career in Technology? Do You Have What It Takes for a Career in Technology? The digital world may tempt you to jump on the information technology wagon. But is it the right choice for you? You have to make a decision. Ask yourself these seven questions. Read More . Increased employment opportunities and pretty good pay, right?

According to another Computerworld article “IT jobs will grow 22% through 2020, says U.S.“, the growth projections aren’t to be relied on. In the article, Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology said,

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“Volatile occupations tend to be subject to bad forecasts, and it’s clear that computer occupation employment levels are very hard to forecast.”

There’s No Life Like IT

Computers run 24/7. Consider that. Tech support workers often work in shifts and are expected to be on-call. You also tend to hear only about the problems, and people are often in a foul mood when you meet them. It can be a pretty thankless job. In fact, you may even shoulder the blame for things beyond your control.

businessman-behind-his-computer

Consider that IT is always changing and evolving. You will have to keep pace as well. Some progressive companies allot time and money for additional training, but many will expect you to learn on your own time Reap the Benefits of Microlearning with Bite-Size Lessons Every Day Reap the Benefits of Microlearning with Bite-Size Lessons Every Day A little learning is always better than no learning. That's how the idea of using little snatches of time for bite-sized learning every day becomes a good habit to start. Read More and your own dime. Add that to your shift work and being on-call, and it can become more of a lifestyle than a career.

Make sure it’s a lifestyle that you really want and can live with. Make sure that your spouse or other people in your life can live with it as well. If you’re good with that, carry on reading to see how to break into the career.

Know Your Stuff

You need, “…some computer knowledge, but not necessarily a post-secondary degree.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests this minimum requirement. That’s a pretty wide open suggestion. You can break into the field with just a few computer courses Get Tech Skills You Need At These Top 7 Online Course Sites Get Tech Skills You Need At These Top 7 Online Course Sites It's not only about learning programming languages, but also the little unnoticed tech skills that could take you further in your career. Iterate to the next version of you. Class is in session. Read More , but like many careers, the more you know the better your odds of getting hired.

A degree in computer science, or something similar, would be your best bet and carry you further up the career ladder. Still, a college certificate or associate degree will take you pretty far. Those take less time and less money, so if time and money are a concern this is a good path.

computer-class

People with a few years work experience and some self-learned computer skills Take it from Microsoft! 8 Best Free Ebooks from MSDN's Huge Collection Take it from Microsoft! 8 Best Free Ebooks from MSDN's Huge Collection Microsoft released almost 300 free eBooks. We've sorted through them all and picked picked some of the best for private and professional use. Read More may want to look at industry certification.

The CompTIA A+ certification is arguably the best place to start. You’ll get a solid foundation in the technology and customer service skills. From there you can continue with other CompTIA certifications or move into more vendor specific certification programs. Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, and Linux 11 Shortcuts For Learning Linux In Record Time 11 Shortcuts For Learning Linux In Record Time If you'd like to learn Linux, but want some ways to speed up the process, here are ten shortcuts you can use to learn as fast as possible. Read More all have certification programs that are highly valued in the IT world. Plus, they tend to be more up to date than a college or university program.

The complete package is a blend of formal education and certification. It’s not necessary, but it’s also not frowned upon. Most people in tech support don’t start out with that but build up to it over the years.

Show Your Stuff

You’ve got your diploma, degree, certifications…all the proof that you have the basic skills. So do a few thousand other people. What can you do to make sure that you get the interview?

Professional Plain Resume

You’re trying to get a job that requires you to know the facts and make them crystal clear. Anything other than a basic professional resume How To Write A Resume With The Help Of 8 Ivy School Guides How To Write A Resume With The Help Of 8 Ivy School Guides Trying to build the perfect resume? Check out these free resume tips from some of the best schools that make up the Ivy League. Read More probably won’t do you any good. It may even do you harm. Let your words speak for you, not fancy fonts, graphics, or colors. The goal of all tech support is to keep it simple.

Highlight Transferable Skills

What’s a transferable skill?

Here’s an example: you’ve never worked in tech support before, but you have worked in an oil change garage. There you performed inspections, solved small mechanical problems, recorded your work, interacted with the customer, and maybe did a little sales. You did all that in about 30 minutes.

checking-the-oil

You can see that inspecting, problem solving, tracking work, interpersonal, and sales skills are all mandatory on the help desk. Tons of jobs can give you those skills. But you did it in 30 minutes or less, and you did it well. Now you can prove that you can work under pressure and deadlines. That will set you apart. These are the soft-skills that will make a huge difference for you 6 Soft Skills Every Technology Worker Needs For Career Success 6 Soft Skills Every Technology Worker Needs For Career Success Some special skills are lacking in the IT field. For career success, you need the right attitude. Here are six important soft skills that'll get you noticed at your next IT job interview. Read More  — both in getting the job and doing it well.

Dig deep into your experience. Find those things that the job requires that you didn’t even realize you were already doing. Those are the things that will show you’ve got more going for you than just book learning.

Nothing Personal

To help people you do need to be personable; not personal. Employers are going to check that out about you. They’re going to scope you out all over the web. Take that personal stuff as offline as possible Protect Yourself With Facebook's Privacy Check-up Tool Protect Yourself With Facebook's Privacy Check-up Tool Facebook has a privacy problem. It's no secret. You hear stories about that every other day. So to help users understand their settings better, Facebook has released a new tool called Privacy Check-up. Read More . If you’re taking part in Twitter fights or trolling in comments, they may decide you’re not someone they want associated with their company. They want you to be their face to the world.

It’s Not an Interview, It’s an Audition

You know they’ve read your cover letter and resume, and they’ve researched you online. They’ve decided about 95% whether you’re the one for the job. Don’t go in there expecting to regurgitate what they already know about you, and impress them.

Look up different types of interview questions 8 Websites To Get Tips On Job Interview Questions & Answers 8 Websites To Get Tips On Job Interview Questions & Answers Read More , there are sites online that tell you about the common ones. Don’t just memorize how those sites recommend you answer. Make the answer your own. Go the extra mile and have a friend shoot random questions at you. Video that. Watch it and see how you’re presenting yourself.

female-interviewing-female

Look up different types of interviews, too. Sometimes the answers to the questions aren’t as important as your response to the situation. Maybe they make you wait, and have the receptionist chat you up. That’s a good way to see how you are with someone who doesn’t hold your future in their hands. Do you treat them with as much respect as you would your future boss?

They might walk you into a room with several interviewers, just to see how you respond to pressure from groups. They may even pop a time-restricted quiz on you. It might have something to do with a ‘right fit’ test for the job. Be prepared, don’t get thrown off. If you get the job, you’re going to be walking into unknown situations every day for years. Prove you can handle it.

bored-interview-panel

A good secret weapon is a portfolio. They aren’t just for creatives anymore! If you’ve built your own media center computer DIY Budget HTPC Media Center Build and Giveaway DIY Budget HTPC Media Center Build and Giveaway We built a sub-$400 yet energy-efficient HTPC media center running Ubuntu. Now, we're giving it away. Read More , did some hardcore electronics DIY Get Started On DIY Electronic Projects with These Learning Sites Get Started On DIY Electronic Projects with These Learning Sites Building our geeky ideas has never before been so easy. Now is the time to learn DIY electronics, and these are our top recommended resources for doing just that. Read More , or wrote a few apps So You Want To Make iPhone Apps? 6 Projects For Beginners So You Want To Make iPhone Apps? 6 Projects For Beginners Why not try learning Swift, the language that will let you create iPhone and iPad apps? Read More of your own, document that. Take lots of pictures. Document your steps and the reasons why you did what you did. Show the results you attained with the end product. Now you’re not just talking the talk, you’re showing that you’ve walked the walk.

It Ain’t Over, Even When It’s Over

The end of the interview isn’t the end of the trial. Think customer care. When your customer walks out the door, you want them to know you’re still there for him, next time he needs a hand. Some may think it’s old-fashioned, but sending a thank you card or a brief, but professional, thank you e-mail How Writing Amazing Emails Can Further Your Career How Writing Amazing Emails Can Further Your Career Sending professional emails gives an intangible boost to your online (and offline) reputation. The ultimate yardstick of artful emailing is if you can bag a job or land a gig with just an impressive email.... Read More is just good manners. Manners are no longer something everyone has — it’s a skill in itself.

thank-you-card

If you get the call that you didn’t get the job, it’s okay to ask why. But do it in a way that shows you want to learn what that company needs so that you might learn it to improve yourself. In the biz, that’s called initiative. Another tech support skill.

Get to Work

That’s it. You’ve got the tech skills and the soft skills. You’ve presented yourself professionally in a resume, interview, and online. All that’s left to do is keep shaking the trees and see what fruit comes down. Stay positive, be patient and persistent. Keep learning. That job, and career, will come.

Are you working on a help desk or in technical support? Got any tips for the newcomers? Are you a hiring manager? What would make a candidate stand out to you? Been working on getting the job? Ask your questions here, one of our authors or readers might be able to help you.

Image Credits: Interviewer, Interviewee, Working in Cubicles, Angry Man, Oil Change, Bored Interviewers, via Shutterstock, Computer Class, Soldiers on Computers, via Flickr, Thank You Card, via Pixabay.

  1. LB
    August 27, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I worked in ISP tech, and in the interview, talk about how important it is to win a customer's trust and confidence, because right off the bat, you reassure , " rest assured Mr. Customer, I can help you ". Tell the interviewer this. You will win him over. It is hard on the job to overcome bad negative call after call. I'm not going to lie. Make sure you want to help, and people can get very aggravated. It's a tough job, and that's why they pay you.

  2. Ramirez
    August 24, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Like the first post that I read.....how about the age??? I'm trying to get in IT I passed my CCNA and I almost done with my AA, but I change careers 2 years ago and I'm 47

  3. Alberto
    April 22, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I have been in IT for over 15 years and at the moment I can't even get an entry level helpdesk position in a town where it's supposedly exploding in hi-tech jobs. I think it's due to my age, I am 42 and balding already, seems to be a big turn off for companies. They want young but at the same time they want experienced, I think they want more young than experience.
    Beware, the IT field is very unforgiving once you enter your 40's, you are looked at as too old to learn new things and not having the same energy level to get the job done. I would advise you try to move to management positions when available because you won't last as a network engineer, administrator or programmer long once you start leaving your youthful years.

    I have a CCNA, MCSE, A+, Net+, Security+ and so far I'm seeing entry level positions asking for bachelor's degree in CS plus my above certifications, all for the great salary of $15-$20/hr. I would steer away from the IT industry, too expensive, requires you to always be in school learning or getting updated certifications and the return for your investment is just not worth it.

    • Dexter Christmas
      August 25, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Really? I am a student in my last semester and worried about further job in I.T. I'm a young dude with no experience, so what should I do?

  4. Sean Stewart
    April 3, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    But how could someone hit the ground running when just one cert takes so long to study for and pass. For example I am studying for the a plus cert now, and the book is over 1000 pages long.

    • Guy McDowell
      April 4, 2016 at 1:34 am

      There's 1000 pages standing between you and the absolute minimum most employers want for a job in IT.
      Think about that.

      Most people in IT go through 2-4 years of formal education.

      And then it never stops.
      A new version of of something comes out.
      Or there's new hardware.
      Or there's a completely new software package your company wants to use.
      It never stops.

      Every day I read at least 20 IT related articles.
      I skim through about another 200.
      That's just to keep me marginally current.

      If I'm researching a problem I haven't encountered before, it can take more than 8 hours of research.

      I've spent as much as a week on a single programming problem. Not the entire program, but how to accomplish just one thing within the program.

      In a career in IT you will never stop learning. You can NOT stop learning.

      Of all the professions out there, it is literally the only one that can change completely in a
      month.

      Step out of it for a year and you're lost.

      Medicine, law, engineering...nothing else is like that.

      And all three of those professions tend to make way more than the IT professional.

      So, tell me, how small is that 1000 page hurdle now? Are you sure you want a career in IT?

    • Rita Garrett
      May 14, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      I understand your frustrations with the reading material. I have taken an A+ course after my company decided to close the doors after 20 years. I have 18 years of troubleshooting consumer electronics and thought that it would be an easy transition to the IT field. I have taken the 801 for A+ and passed and took the 802 and didn't. I'm feeling a little frustrated now. But I'm staying optimistic for a future career in IT.

      • Guy McDowell
        May 20, 2016 at 7:40 pm

        Don't let the frustration get you down.
        In fact, in IT frustration is a daily state of being. ;)
        Try some test preparation software for the 802, if you haven't already.
        Our MakeUseOf Deals often have really inexpensive online certification prep courses, too.

    • LB
      August 27, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Work on campus in the computer lab some way. My first tech job was handing out computer stations to students. My next one was resetting passwords over the phone. Then registration of classes and online registration, that led to a job at CSC computer sciences corporation after college, for the credit bureau, also customer service and tech support of our software, and a career in finance. I got CSC by paying ten percent of my salary to a headhunter, 18,000 a year. I was broke, but had a great foot in the door. It's competitive.

  5. Guy McDowell
    March 16, 2016 at 11:59 am

    If you have no IT background, get some sort of training. Avoid the for-profit schools that advertise on late-night TV. Either a good business school, community college, or state college are doable options.

    If you have some IT background as a hobbyist, put together a work portfolio of what you've done. Think of it as a visual add-on to your resume to show hard proof that you are capable and creative. And get some A+ certifications.

    Then, just like George Fayad said in his comment, "...don’t be picky about your first job." If it sucks that bad, just remember that you were looking for a job when you found this one. You can always find another one.

    It's only taken me about 20 years to find the job I was looking for. I hope your journey is a bit shorter. ;)

  6. cassie
    March 8, 2016 at 6:10 am

    ethical hackers also make good tech support when you find a veteran. contact 2Ton9 on kik, he's your man

    • Guy McDowell
      March 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Yes, any seasoned IT pro should be quite helpful. But I recommend dealing with ones that you can verify.

      I'm sure 2Ton9 is good...I'm just really cautious when it comes to my important documents.

  7. Un Laur
    June 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    what's that lady doing in Paint? :))) She seems to be in her own world in that picture.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 17, 2015 at 1:18 am

      Lol! Your eyes are way better than mine.

      I did spend a computer lab or three screwing around in programs that had nothing to do with the course. Sometimes ya just need a break!

      • Laur Florin
        June 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

        Well... If she thinks that the "art of computing" is about this, I got bad news for her :))

  8. likefun butnot
    June 16, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    I do IT certification training part time, including pretty much all the CompTIA programs (A+, Network+, Server+, Security+).

    It's very difficult for me to say that A+ is a good entry point for IT skills. It's really more like a very long and comprehensive vocabulary lesson. You'll learn enough about computer hardware and parts of Windows that end users don't normally see to know why someone would want to do something, but not necessarily how to use that knowledge. The exam as it is presently implemented is woefully short on practical application of skills, so for example a candidate might learn three places in Windows to check the status of Windows Services, but not why one might want to change the state of a service. I've had students who passed the exam who still had difficulty navigating file systems.

    Moreover, A+ covers general hardware and Windows (XP, Vista and 7), with tiny little bits of iOS and Android in the current objectives. That's moderately useful for someone doing hardware repair work, but it really doesn't address common applications such that a helpdesk might support, dealing with security issues in any but the broadest sense ("Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date!") or networking to any degree beyond basic vocabulary. The tests are meant to simulate the level of knowledge someone with six to twelve months of experience as a technician might have. This is frustrating from both the candidate standpoint, since my student often think that they're going to get some kind of hardcore PC repair bootcamp for their $2200 tuition, and also from an instructor standpoint, since my objective in class is to teach the exam objectives and not the skills a PC tech or support person truly needs.

    Completing an A+ certification is still and accomplishment, and I'm not going to take that away from anyone who has completed it. There is a reason that A+ training manuals typically number around 1000 pages long. I know how hard some of my students have to study to get there, especially when their own professional life does not immediately require the skills involved in A+ training. I do wish that the exam more closely represented real-world knowledge (and yes, I've been a member of CompTIA and I've offered this feedback in the past).

    Is there a better entry level certification for entry level IT? There was. Microsoft used to have a program called MCDST (Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician), which covered Windows and Microsoft Office applications. I thought it was a great program. Unfortunately, Microsoft discontinued the certification with the release of Windows Vista. It has been replaced with the MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) credential, which is only available to students in accredited post-secondary education (i.e. community, trade, vocational or four-year college), which I feel limits its usefulness as a credential.

    For helpdesk or support-type careers, there are also professional certifications from Microsoft for Desktop Windows (the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) or the MOS (Office Specialist). Both are probably better from the standpoint of learning immediately applicable skills, though I can honestly say in years of IT work, I've never seen an employer actually looking for anyone with an actual Office certification.

    • joesmoey
      March 14, 2016 at 4:41 am

      Hmmm sounds like the class i am in now lol

  9. fcd76218
    June 16, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    "Those numbers make IT help desk or tech support careers look like a good career path in IT."
    IT looks like a good career path IF you have the skills NOW. If you start to acquire the skills now, by the time you're ready, the opportunities may be gone.

    Some years ago there was a shortage of primary and secondary level teachers. Articles touting the great future of teaching jobs abounded. Many high school graduates went to college to obtain teaching degrees. Unfortunately, by the time the got those degrees, the market became saturated and the only jobs these graduates could get was in the service sector for minimum wage.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 17, 2015 at 1:17 am

      True - to a point.

      If someone can jump into a business school with an 8-12 month program that gets them A+ and a couple other certs, they can hit the ground running. It is entry-level jobs we're talking about.

  10. George Fayad (JesterMX6)
    June 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I've been working in IT Support for about 10 years now, starting out in a call center for a local ISP and eventually landing where I am now, one of two IT Generalists working under a single Sysadmin for a growing manufacturing facility.

    The single greatest piece of advice I could give to a newcomer is don't be picky about your first job. The pay might suck, the hours might suck (i was working for $9/hr, 3 - 11pm) but even 6 months at an entry level IT job will be more important to your resume than graduating with a 4.0GPA with a computer science degree and zero work experience.

    Every company I've worked for has valued work experience over proof of education. I'm 29 years old now and finally back in school to get my Associates in Computer Science. It is possibly that I may have advanced quicker in the field if I'd had a degree already. But as it stands, I'm making good money working for an excellent company and they are paying my tuition to advance my education. I know I'll have a job after school, unlike many of my classmates, and instead of stressing about my future, I can look forward to it.

    • ashley
      March 14, 2016 at 7:56 pm

      thanks man, good post their, what would you suggest to look into as a newcomer

      • LB
        August 27, 2016 at 6:57 pm

        I agree. My ISP paid college and hired me because of CSC troubleshooting experience.

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