Why It’s Time to Leave Desktop Support

By Benjamin Weiss

Dice's Guest AppearanceA few weeks ago, our firm was working an open desktop support position for a client in the financial industry. A qualified applicant sent in his resume for the gig, and one of our salespeople put him on the hiring manager’s radar.

Curiously, while we’re used to picky leadership types nixing potential candidates for whatever reason, this particular individual’s candidacy was met with a resounding “absolutely not.” The reason? He’d been engaged in a support role for the last 12 years at the same company.

Now, this might seem unfair, as commitment to a business for a prolonged duration is often seen as a virtuous characteristic in a job seeker.

However, when considering level one and two IT positions, this kind of professional inertia is generally seen as a red flag. For example, in this case, the fact that the candidate had never evolved beyond the support role indicated to the hiring manager that he didn’t strive for upward mobility and that he was the kind of person who didn’t do well outside his comfort zone.

The overarching issue here is that if you’re working in a level one or two support role, you need to start considering your future before it’s too late and your experience begins to work against you. When a technical professional who has been in the support role for more than 5-7 years begins to seek new work, hiring managers will have myriad skeptical questions. For instance, why hasn’t he/she tried working in a new environment? Why hasn’t he/she progressed or moved up? What’s causing him/her to make a move now?

And in most cases, the answers are assumed to be that the person lacks motivation, couldn’t cut it on the management track, and needs a new job now that his/her utility has worn off at their current job. Consequently, folks with too much support experience will often be passed over for new gigs, while professionals with only a few years of experience get the nod because they’re perceived to be hungrier and more ambitious.

Here are a few strategies to avoid these negative scenarios and ensure that IT support professionals can keep a variety of options open as their career progresses.

1. Do what you can to move up in your current organization.

After spending some time troubleshooting general IT issues over the phone in a level one support role, hungry technical professionals traditionally embark on a track that brings them to desktop support and then a hybrid support/administration role, providing exposure to back-end work.

This path often leads to an administration/engineering position, laying the framework for a technical professional to become a specific administrator (perhaps in exchange, SQL, IIS, SharePoint, etc.) before either diverging towards a managerial role or a subject matter expert role in Citrix, VMWare or other.

Moving up the ladder in such strategic fashion is a surefire indicator to potential employers that an IT professional has both the drive and the skills to undertake new challenges, whereas folks who get stuck on the lower rungs are perceived to be unfit to do the same—even if that isn’t the case in reality.

The natural conundrum here is that professionals in help desk or support roles may try to move up, but either don’t get tapped by leadership or are rejected in the interview process.

In this case, it is wise for help-desk and desktop professionals to…

2. Seek out a higher-level degree, earn additional certifications, secure more training or volunteer to do more diverse work.

While there are certainly no guarantees, taking a training course or going back to school could provide the necessary skills to kickstart upward mobility.

And if the issue revolves around a lack of experience to rationalize a promotion to a more senior role, then volunteering to do work outside of one’s daily responsibilities—perhaps offering more sophisticated server admin work for a charitable or non-profit organization—is an excellent way to bolster the resume and help in the effort to move up.

But, if that doesn’t work either, then …

3. Diversify your experience by working for different companies.

What this doesn’t mean is that a professional engaged in help-desk or desktop support should job hop every year. However, if leadership at one’s current company refuses to grant upward mobility after two to three years, then engaging in the same role at a different firm is a viable option.

While staying put in these roles for too long at one firm may indicate a lack of motivation, at least moving around to different industries, even if the title is the same, diversifies experience and indicates a willingness to move out of one’s comfort zone—as long as the positions are held for at least a few years.

Additionally, by interviewing in various industries, IT professionals can better understand what their technical gaps are, which may suggest a more strategic course for the additional training needed to accelerate their careers.

By looking into these tactics, IT professionals can better secure future prosperity before too much of the same experience begins to work against them.

Ben Weiss, Infusive SolutionsBen Weiss is the digital marketing strategist at Infusive Solutions, an IT staffing firm in the Microsoft Partner Network located in New York City. Infusive specializes in the efficient placement of Microsoft technical professionals and provides providing clients and candidates with the resources to take their careers to the next level. Its whitepaper entitled “Microsoft Technologies Booming in the Big Apple” can be downloaded here. Follow them on Twitter @InfusiveInc.

Comments

  1. BY jaded says:

    It’s ironic that I happen to be in desktop support and for 12 years at that. How did you get into my head? Lol. I’m searching for something new because of one of the reasons you pointed out. Thanks for the tips.

  2. BY Mike says:

    Perhaps the candidate LIKED support, and excelled at it. If so, the company should have welcomed him as a candidate rather than assume he was unmotivated, not too bright, etc.

    I actually blogged about that very thing, some time ago:

    http://rmichaelsmall.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/why-is-support-considered-an-entry-level-second-rate-position/

  3. BY Laszlo says:

    Interesting article. Looks like I need to change up my résumé a bit to get more hits or attention. I have been in desktop support for roughly 10 years and looking to move up or even completely change careers

  4. BY Fred Bosick says:

    You know…maybe the applicant *tried* to move up and was repeatedly rebuffed by the managers at his previous job. Or, was told that any additional duties would not come with a raise. How about that the applicant spent quite a while just trying to get hired elsewhere in lieu of an internal promotion?

    So now that the applicant is trying to make a move, he is disqualified because he hasn’t before? Nevermind the hollowing out of the lower to mid career range jobs given over to H-1B visa holders or just plain outsourced. It’s hard to grab the rungs when Corporate America sets the career ladder on fire until it disintegrates.

    It’s bad enough that some companies will not consider unemployed applicants; now you get turned away for holding a position too long?

    These days, no one is moving. You can’t get a promotion until the previous job holder moves up, or out. How often is that happening nowadays? Social media flashes in a pan doesn’t count.

  5. BY demonsidd says:

    Really impressive points. I am working in desktop support from last 5 years and think this article has given me something.

  6. BY Jeff Carroll says:

    As with every story on the internet the “real world” is not factor into your article. Some people in support love the role and it puts food on the table so they have to do it especially in this economy or sometimes it’s a company with other IT positions located at another office out of state and there’s no opportunity for moving up locally. I agree with some of the points but just make sure you mention that there are other circumstances out there in the real world and that everything in the Enterprise world is never this black and white there is some grey.

  7. BY Robert says:

    I would like to say that some of us enjoy working around others, helping them resolve issues. Yes, there are days we may think of something else but our enjoyment tends to win out. For those that have been at the same company for a long time also tend to do other things besides just teching. I think it is ironic that many managers tell their underlings “do not assume”, “ask the questions” or “do your due diligence”, when based on your article they do exactly the opposite. Much like those whom rely so heavily on certificates over someone with many years experience. Unfortunately they are still the ones hiring so they get to dictate the rules. I have seen too many bad decisions by those who are suppose to know more but didn’t know enough to ask.

  8. BY Desktop Support says:

    There are numerous reasons why someone would not leave that position, including what Robert mentioned that they happen to like and excel at it, so why would you leave that?

    I was a helpdesk tech who “progressed” into a Jr Sys Admin then suddenly had to do the jobs of my UNIX/Systems Manager, Network Manager, and Sr Network Engineer when they were terminated. After stressfully working on servers, network devices, telecom, backups, etc alone for 10-12 hr days, 7 days a week for about 2 yrs, I became burnt out. Later, several IT changes required roles to change, so I became a generalist and trained our 3 helpdesk techs to join me in the “Shared Services” model (a sneaky trick the company used so they only had to pay helpdesk salary to 4 Sys Admins, which was about $20-30k less than the average Sys Admin in this region). When I reached my upper 20s and started a family, work/life balance became more important, and ironically I gradually progressed into a high salary and big office while my responsibility balanced out to a regular 9 to 5 and with virtually no weekend work anymore. I was even able to earn a degree attending university full-time (from a “real” school). Most importantly, I’ve earned the title of World’s Greatest Dad according to my coffee mug. I do agree overall that it won’t last forever and that I’ve been working on my exit strategy for years. I’ve actually had job offers & other opportunities, but this place has been close to perfect, so it’s made sense to stay while everyone else scrambles and worries about jobs every other year. Hope this didn’t sound too arrogant, but hopefully you will see that there are others with a different point of view.

    • BY Ethan says:

      To anyone reading:
      I do understand that the desktop support (or most IT support roles whether it be tier 1 or 3) is severely under-appreciated today. It should be a job that many IT professionals enjoy since they get to work with a good balance of logic and hardware, get to analyze, socialize with others, and see results based on their abilities to solve & prevent computer issues. This can definitely be a rewarding career choice for at least a decade.

      Now that I got that out of the way, reality is far less than ideal. Pay is far lower than most other computer-related occupations (pay is often lower than even many office administrative tasks that a higher tier desktop support technician probably can do better), not a lot of respect is given to desktop support technicians among the IT community, the glass ceiling is embarrassingly low, they’re some of the first IT people to be laid off by upper management since they are viewed as replaceable, and… people would be amazed at how often many technicians end up performing basic maintenance man and janitor duties in some smaller companies. Bosses will often put a positive spin on it by calling the concept “wearing different hats” or being a “team player”.

      After a non-computer related bachelor’s degree at Florida State University, good level of work experience with excellent reviews, versed in 3 languages, CCNA, MCSE, and regularly working 50+ hours a week with no overtime pay; my salary is still equates to about $13.20/hour from $12/hr…
      I recently enrolled at a local university to get second degree in CS. My father his career at over $40k/yr working with programming and currently makes well into the 6 figures. Most of my friends in the programming or IT consulting field make upper 5 figures to low 6 figures. The few friends I have in desktop support roles live with their parents due to high rent (me included).

      Why would any competent person want to enter or even continue with a desktop support path at this rate? I brought in similar money working part-time at Starbucks as a college student.

      Desktop Support as an employee is dead. If I started over, I’d only work desktop as a student. And that’s only if I can’t get an internship for something better.

      Perhaps, it’s very different in other regions of the US since DESKTOP SUPPORT had a positive experience. I also think it might be due to what company each of us worked for since you can grow in a big company. I work at a small company with no room to grow. Maybe I need to get out of Florida. lol…

  9. BY max says:

    “desktop support” – my fucking god… It’s not fucking 90′s anymore! Yes you did renamed yourself “talent’ and got rid of that terrifying “HR”! Do you also hiring “laptop support” “tablet support” and “mobile support” technicians? I think “desktop support’ position that is open means that you will support everything, but we will pay you as low as $10/hr :)

  10. BY Dan says:

    This is an unsatisfying [expletive] job with no way out. Do you really think your going to become the next network or sys admin at your present company ?? HAHA good luck, even if the position were to open up, you will lack the experience and know how of what actually to do with the servers and routers in the server room. Even if you take a stupid MCSE course at your local CC it will never be compared to what really goes on in the real world. Once your in SUPPORT, you’re pretty much done, unless you switch careers. IT support completely sucks, you have to know how to fix everything, even the damn microwave in the lunch room. The pay is [expletive] compared to what you have to know. There’s no respect, users only think you GOOGLED everything. You have to deal with every type of user. From the warehouse shmuck,to the [expletive] CEO and his stupid [expletive] family members. There is no upward mobility in this [expletive] position. I don’t understand why are there so many stupid people out there trying to get into this crap? Go become a dental assistant or auto mechanic instead. These for profit colleges are dishing out these goons a dozen a minute and that is only driving up the competition and lowering the wages.

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