Computer Support Specialists
Education and Training Requirements
Any technical courses you can take, such as computer science, schematic drawing, or electronics, can help you develop the logical and analytical thinking skills necessary to be successful in this field. Courses in math and science are also valuable for this reason. Since computer support specialists have to deal with both computer programmers and software designers on the one hand, and computer users who may not know anything about computers and/or the Internet on the other, you should take English and speech classes to improve your verbal and written communications skills. Taking a foreign language, such as Spanish, will be useful since you may need to assist people who do not speak English as their first language.
Computer support is a field as old as computer technology itself, so it might seem odd that postsecondary programs in this field are not more common or standardized. The reason behind this situation is relatively simple: formal education curricula cannot keep up with the changes, nor can they provide specific training on individual products. (With that said, a small, but growing, number of colleges and universities are beginning to offer degrees in computer support.) Some large corporations might consider educational background, both as a way to weed out applicants and to ensure a certain level of proficiency. Most major computer companies, however, look for energetic individuals who demonstrate a willingness and ability to learn new things quickly and who have general computer knowledge. These employers count on training new support specialists themselves.
Individuals interested in pursuing a job in this field should first determine what area of computer support appeals to them the most and then honestly assess their level of experience and knowledge. Large corporations often prefer to hire people with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or information systems, and who have some experience. They may also be impressed with commercial certification in a computer field, such as networking. However, if they are hiring from within the company, they will probably weigh experience more heavily than education when making a final decision.
Employed individuals looking for a career change may want to commit themselves to a program of self-study in order to be qualified for computer support positions. Many computer professionals learn a lot of what they know by playing around on computers, reading trade magazines, and talking with colleagues. Self-taught individuals should learn how to effectively demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency on the job or during an interview. Besides self-training, employed individuals should investigate tuition reimbursement programs offered by their company.
High school students with no experience should seriously consider earning an associate’s degree in a computer-related technology. The degree shows the prospective employer that the applicant has attained a certain level of proficiency with computers and has the intellectual ability to learn technical processes, a promising sign for success on the job.
There are many computer technology programs that lead to an associate’s degree. A specialization in personal computer support and administration is certainly applicable to work in computer support. Most computer professionals eventually need to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in order to keep themselves competitive in the job market and prepare themselves for promotion to other computer fields.
Once hired, computer support specialists also receive on-the-job training that can last from one week to one year. Most training lasts an average of three months.
Other Education or Training
The Association for Computing Machinery (http://www.acm.org) offers online training courses and other career-development resources. Student and professional members of the ACM can access online computing and business courses via the association’s Learning Center. Visit http://learning.acm.org for more information. The IEEE Computer Society offers career planning webinars and continuing education courses to its members. Visit https://www.computer.org/education for more information. The Association of Support Specialists (http://asponline.com) also offers workshops and seminars.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification and Licensing
Though certification is not an industry requirement, it is highly recommended. It is offered by organizations such as HDI (desktop support technician, desktop support manager, support center analyst, technical support professional, etc.) and CompTIA (information technology fundamentals, network+, etc.). Some consultants have Microsoft certified solutions expert (MCSE) status, and within this designation, subcertifications are available in core infrastructure, data management and analytics, business applications, and productivity.
To become certified, you will need to pass an examination and in some cases may need a certain amount of work experience. Although going through the certification process is voluntary, becoming certified will most likely be to your advantage. It will show your commitment to the profession as well as demonstrate your level of expertise. In addition, certification may qualify you for certain jobs and lead to new employment opportunities.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Experience working with common software and operating systems via internships, volunteer opportunities, or part-time jobs will be useful.
Regardless of specialty, all computer support specialists must be very knowledgeable about the software, hardware, and other technology with which they work and be able to communicate effectively with users from different technical backgrounds. They must be patient and professional with frustrated users and be able to perform well under stress. Computer support is similar to solving mysteries, so support specialists should enjoy the challenge of problem solving and have strong analytical skills and be able to think logically. Working in a field that changes rapidly, you should be naturally curious and enthusiastic about learning new technologies as they are developed.