IT help desk workers handle technical issues reported by technology consumers, investigate the problems and try to correct them. Help desk workers answer questions over the phone and via the Internet and may also provide in-person support. In general, they help people use technology effectively and ensure that computer systems maintain an operational, steady and secure state. The U.S. Department of Labor classified these workers as computer support specialists.
Because there are many technology types, from computers and laptops to servers, software and softphones, IT help desk support jobs require a wide range of technical skills. The educational requirements for help desk positions vary, but many employers show a preference for candidates with some formal college experience. Although some jobs require a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as information systems, computer science or systems engineering, other jobs may only require an IT-related associate degree or technical certifications, such as the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST). All IT help desk jobs require specialised technical skills and familiarity with computers.
Many employers provide their IT help desk workers with on-the-job training. The training process can take anywhere from one week to one year, but typically lasts about 90 days. Many help desk workers participate in continuing education programs to keep their technical skills current and sharp. Many hardware and software vendors, colleges, universities and professional learning organisations offer technical training programs; some employers even develop training programs customised for their business market.
For some IT help desk jobs, technical certification may lead to employment or advancement. Technical certification can demonstrate an individual's expertise of a technology product or process, such as resetting passwords or configuring computer workstations. IT help desk associates employed by hardware and software companies may need certification in their employer's technology area. Additionally, a wide variety of organisations, including training institutions and IT product vendors, offer voluntary certification programs. Cisco Systems, Inc., Microsoft Corporation and Learning Tree International are among many organisations with these types of programs.
Because troubleshooting technical issues and helping others are critical elements of the job, IT help desk workers must have strong problem-solving, analytical and communication skills. Although some job duties involve face-to-face interaction, help desk workers also use e-mail, instant messaging and computer telephony integrated (CTI) applications to communicate with others digitally. Individuals with a positive attitude, good writing skills and the ability to explain technical concepts in easy-to-understand language may have an advantage in the highly competitive IT industry. The job is best suited for people who are patient and adept at working with end-users with varying levels of technical knowledge.