Every career starts somewhere. In IT, it's usually on the help desk.
True, entry-level IT positions extend far beyond the help desk. Depending on your interests and qualifications, you could enter the field as a support technician, systems analyst, or web developer.
More often than not, however, you start on the help desk, dispatching service requests to senior technicians or, as the most junior team member, getting dispatched to help that one employee who can never seem to get their computer to turn on.
So how do you make the most of a help desk job and use it as a stepping stone to get to your dream IT job?
Tips for success.
- Be willing to learn. You're the new person in the organization, and no one expects you to be an expert on your first day. But you'll have to learn as much as you can as quickly as possible—about the organization you've joined, its IT structure, the customers you'll be serving, and the technology you'll be servicing. Building a broad knowledge base from the get-go will help you stand out when a higher-level position opens up.
- Be adaptable. Sometimes truly baffling problems pop up when you're on the help desk. These problems might be overwhelming at first, but they're opportunities to flex your problem-solving skills. The best IT professionals are those who can adapt and learn new information quickly, so your ability to solve problems and create an action plan is an asset. When you solve a tricky problem, keep a record of how you solved it. It will make for a good anecdote to share when you interview for a better job.
- Own your shortcomings. It is inevitable that you'll come across a problem that you just can't solve. Knowing when a problem needs to be sent up the chain to a more senior technician is a skill in itself. When you're willing to admit that you don't know something, your supervisors might take it upon themselves to teach you how to do it. Humility pays off.
- Practice your interpersonal skills. If you're the person on call when something goes wrong, you'll be the one bearing the brunt of that user's frustration. It's a tough position to be in, but your supervisors will be watching you to see that you're handling those calls professionally. Communicating with users professionally will not only demonstrate your strong interpersonal skills, but it'll also show the lengths you'll go to troubleshoot a problem.
- Be patient. Your users aren't the only ones who get frustrated. If you're constantly seeing the same problems or hearing the same complaints, you'll get frustrated, too. However, you're on the help desk for a reason. Most users don't understand technology as well as you do. So use this time to practice patience with hot-tempered colleagues and customers. After all, you're there to help.
Graduating from the help desk.
Maybe you're on the help desk now, but that doesn't mean you're going to be handling customer tickets forever. Entry-level IT positions can quickly turn into more advanced jobs once you have more experience or education under your belt.
Job seekers with two-year degrees might start on the help desk, but they can also, depending on their experience and accomplishments, work as technicians, web developers, or junior IT analysts. Some of these jobs pay well; developers and IT analysts, for example, earn around $65,000 a year, according to Glassdoor estimates.
Job seekers with bachelor degrees can usually start their careers a little higher up the ladder; jobs such as network architect, programmer, software developer, analyst, and database administrator are more readily available to those with four-year degrees. These jobs come with higher pay grades, too: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annual salaries for these jobs run between around $70,000 to about $118,000.
Then again, there's no substitute for experience, and that's something the IT field values. So maybe you don't have a degree, but if you're good at your job and can prove that you're able to efficiently solve problems, there's a good chance that you'll be able to move from the help desk to a position that's more in line with your career goals.