December 1, 2020

Interested in IT? The Help Desk Is the Perfect Place to Start Your Career

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Charles Eaton, the Executive Vice President of Social Innovation at CompTIA and CEO of Creating IT Futures.

If you’re interested in an IT career, you’ll find Charles’ advice very valuable.

In today’s economy, tech jobs still abound. And these jobs exist in every industry.

Want to get into healthcare but don’t want to study medicine? Tech and data skills give you a big leg up. Want to get into banking and finance? Knowing how to harness tech tools to build new financial models can set you apart from the competition. It’s all part of becoming a “technologist” — someone who uses technology to solve problems.

One way a technologist can launch their career is at the IT help desk. This entry-level position in tech allows you to see how a company works, what internal and external clients need, and how to collaborate with a team to deliver solutions.

You’ll be on the ground floor learning the basics of tech for your company. And ultimately, you can use this knowledge as a springboard into more advanced tech jobs.

But how do you get a job on the help desk and keep it? Maybe even before you earn your college degree? Read on.

Why the Help Desk Is the Place to Start Your IT Career

After earning his CompTIA A+ certification, Keith VanDerMolen started his tech career working on Echo Global Logistics’ IT service desk (another word for a help desk). “The service desk is where you get your bearings and you learn everything involved in IT,” he said. “From there, you can find your own path.”

VanDerMolen stayed on the help desk for nine months and then quickly advanced to be an IT asset manager for his company. It’s a very different situation from back in 2018, when he was working as a waiter and wanted a more fulfilling career. “In just that short time, I have doubled the salary I was making then. I have been saving and investing money, so I can buy a house,” he said.

Another IT pro, Alexandrea Alvarado, said, “One of the reasons I enjoy doing IT is that it’s helping people. You’re bridging the gap of better connecting them with the world and with the community as well.”

A graduate of CompTIA Tech’s IT-Ready Technical Support program and now a computer support specialist for U-Haul International Inc., Alvarado helps to oversee the company’s software to schedule trucks and reservation systems. “The whole goal of our job is to solve the hiccups that they’re going through and get the customer out the door as soon as possible,” she said.

While staying at U-Haul, she plans to level up her career by learning more about cybersecurity and ethical hacking. “I really like the company. I see a lot of opportunity for growth and moving up,” Alvarado said.

If these career prospects excite you, then the help desk is a great place to learn the necessary skills.

What Do You Learn Working the Help Desk?

On the help desk, you’re tasked with ensuring that computer systems are up-to-date, secure, and functioning properly. Daily responsibilities vary widely, but common tasks include:

  • Running diagnostics and troubleshooting systems
  • Setting up new employees’ computer systems and cell phones
  • Providing technical support over the phone or Internet

Not only will you gain a deeper technical understanding of the tech devices and operational systems that your employer uses, but you’ll also hear how these devices and systems are being used within the company.

You’ll learn from the users themselves how to better harness these devices and systems to solve issues your internal or external clients face. This makes you more valuable to the company as a whole and builds a knowledge of tech that will serve you as you advance in your career.

Beyond tech skills, you’ll also hone your soft skills. Communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are prized soft skills with all employers, but especially in IT.

According to Manpower Group — a Fortune 500 multinational corporation that studies staffing trends — 65 percent of companies hiring IT workers say communication is the most valued soft skill one can bring to a technology role.

You’ll need to bring these soft skills to get hired. And working the help desk will help you refine these skills further as you help employees overcome technical obstacles.

How Do You Train for the Help Desk?

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, a help desk employee needs to have some understanding of technology. A certification that demonstrates broad-based foundational tech skills — such as CompTIA’s vendor-agnostic A+ certification — shows employers that you’ve got the technical chops to work on the help desk.

College degrees are typically not required, but certifications definitely help. A good training program will also help get you ready.

When it comes to training programs, you have a few options.

IT boot camps are great resources and have helped tens of thousands gain certifications. However, many of these programs move fast and focus almost exclusively on technical skills. If you’re launching a career in IT without a tech background, look for a training program that provides a more well-rounded curriculum, including soft skills and career services.

If you need low-cost training options, on-demand online programs are a good option. Be aware, though, that they don’t have real-time instructors to answer your questions, the ability to collaborate with classmates, or career support. So you’ll need to spend a good amount of your time buddying up with friends to master the material and build job connections.

How Much Do IT Help Desk Jobs Pay?

The training and certifications are worth it once you’ve landed a job on the help desk. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median pay for computer support specialists in 2019 was $26.33 an hour ($54,760 per year). Plus, a help desk specialist can earn IT certifications to advance into higher IT positions that offer more autonomy and authority — and more money.

If you’re still deciding how to pay for college or not sure if college is right for you, getting a job on a help desk can help you grow your savings while you figure things out. Many companies also will help pay for extra certifications and training. In some cases, they may even reimburse some of the costs of a college education so that you can grow your career while on the job.

In addition to good pay, demand for help desk jobs is strong (and growing). BLS estimates that approximately 863,100 people hold help desk positions throughout the United States. And they expect that number to increase 10 percent by 2028 (compared to just a 5% average increase for all occupations).

Help Desk Jobs Build Strong Career Foundations

While certain areas of the job market struggle, hiring in the IT industry remains strong. Every company needs technology to function; it’s nearly impossible for a company to compete and succeed without it.

By working with the tech that supports a company, you’re building a strong foundation for your career, no matter what type of education or industry you want to pursue.

About the Author

As Executive Vice President, Social Innovation, CompTIA, and CEO for Creating IT Futures, Charles Eaton helps populations that are under-represented in IT and individuals who are lacking in opportunity to prepare for, secure, and succeed in information technology careers.

Creating IT Futures, a workforce charity founded by CompTIA, develops programs like CompTIA Tech Career Academy to expand the IT pipeline and create more on-ramps to tech careers. And under Eaton’s direction, Creating IT Futures has expanded its scope to cultivate best practices in American workforce development and tech-related STEM education.

Image Credits: women working at computer

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