How does a person get into tech support/IT work?
July 19, 2023 12:23 PM   Subscribe

My teenage daughter is considering a career in tech support/IT. She's great with computers (including installation, security, troubleshooting, etc.) but doesn't want to focus on coding or physical repair.

No formal experience or qualifications so far, and she's not sure if she wants or needs to go to college. Also, she's not super keen on Macs (mentioning just because I doubt if this is an Apple Store situation).

How does a person get into this general line of work, what kind of first jobs might she be looking at, and what else should she be thinking about now in terms of this kind of career path?
posted by lgyre to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
This resource from the BLS might be helpful.

I work in healthcare and at my organization, the entry-level tech support staff have titles like “desktop support specialist.” Looking for entry level tech support jobs at large organizations (including local government/education, universities, etc.), particularly if it’s a field she otherwise finds interesting, might be a good route- she could figure out if she wants to further specialize in a specific IT field, become an expert in a specific software category (like electronic medical records, course management software, etc.) that could open up different career paths for her and help clarify what education she would need to advance.
posted by MadamM at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2023 [5 favorites]


Certifications from COMPTIA (https://www.comptia.org/) are essentially the industry standard. Starting there is a good idea, and will inform her of possible career paths.
posted by schyler523 at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2023 [2 favorites]


Might she be interested in cybersecurity? Many infosec folks start out in "security operations centers" which are kinda similar to tech-support shops.

I ask because infosec has clearer career progression than tech-support -- a lot of tech-support people I know have had trouble figuring out their next step, or trouble getting accepted to better-paying tech jobs.

Certifications are also the way to go in infosec; degree programs exist, but certs are cheaper and work better. (I say this as someone who teaches some aspects of infosec in degree programs, by the way, and I cheerfully give this same advice to my students.) She can start with CompTIA, but don't end there -- they're low-prestige certs.
posted by humbug at 12:51 PM on July 19, 2023 [12 favorites]


An author named Mike Myers (no, not that one) has written a few "All-in-One" certification guides for CompTIA A+ and Network+ certifications, and I found them very readable. Both of these certs, like most of CompTIA's certs, are an inch deep and a mile wide, and I'd recommend at least those two certs, plus maybe Security+. A+ is really aimed at the desktop/depot support types (depot support is like a help-desk at a storefront, as opposed to a helpdesk inside a corporation or university).

As intended by CompTIA, all three of these certs cover basic knowledge and also will expose her to a variety of technologies, which may help her focus her interest as she enters the career path. The certs never expire, though they certainly can get dated and are updated every few years.

As humbug implies above, the value of the CompTIA certs are to the test-taker, not so much the person who hires them, but they will check boxes for HR people who are looking for some core qualifications.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2023 [2 favorites]


She could probably get a job in a call center right now. That’s how a lot of people (myself included) started. There’s a call center in the city I used to live in that will hire almost literally anyone off the street. I walked in off the street, as did a lot of the people I know in IT. One of the advantages of so many people working there is a pretty significant alumni network, and if you aren’t an absolute idiot, some of those more experienced alumni will see themselves in you and take a chance. There are more conventional ways to get into IT, but working at a tech support call center and then networking is a time-honored tradition.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:33 PM on July 19, 2023 [4 favorites]


A lot of colleges and polytechnics have IT programs. My local one has a few options, from micro credentials (6 credits), to diplomas (2 years full time). Maybe look at local schools?
posted by Valancy Rachel at 2:21 PM on July 19, 2023 [1 favorite]


I would recommend some kind of IT degree path, just because I've seen people hit a career progression ceiling at some point, when the next role requires a degree. An AA might be perfectly adequate for jumping through that hoop.

And humbug has great advice above on considering cybersecurity! She might also consider networking and datacenter work, which are physical-machine oriented, without being hardware repair. Also, there are also a lot of broadly-used software tools for which companies need administrators, like Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce, so consider those sorts of career paths as well. Lots of options!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2023 [1 favorite]


Agreed that call centers is a great starting point. Most tech support jobs are looking for a few years of experience. To get to that, a year or two at a basic call center doing phone/email/chat plus a couple of certifications would put her on a good path. I would suggest Microsoft Office365 certifications to start. O365 is everywhere and it's easy to find companies that need O365 support roles that can transition to being an administrator for things like Sharepoint, Outlook, desktop security, etc. Also, the exams are cheaper than COMPTIA. Microsoft is generally $100-$150 and COMPTIA are more like $250 and above. OR do COMPTIA through a community college certificate program as they generally include prep for exams and sometimes exam costs (at least my local one does).

As for career path, I started in tech support (supporting software applications), eventually moved to managing the team and have now ended up in data privacy and compliance through on the job learning. In my experience, doing support at larger orgs give you visibility to lots of different areas (as you support other teams) and lots of institutional knowledge that can give you a leg up in moving around. There can be stigma in some orgs of support staff as limited or low knowledge workers than could impact that mobility. However in most places it can be an opportunity for the networking kevinbelt mentions. Do a good job, some tenured person will notice and can help her move up or onto new opportunities. The visibility I mentioned will help her figure out what options exist, what she might like and importantly, if staying in the same org, managers she'd like to work for and ones she would NOT.
posted by thatquietgirl at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2023 [3 favorites]


Yesterday I heard that of new jobs which will be created in Australia, 9/10 will require a university or Tafe (vocational college) qualification. So it might be a good idea to get a qualification at some point, but I don't think it needs to be as soon as she finishes high school. I jumped into a degree which turned out to be kind of useless. I might have made different decisions if I had waited.

There so many different ways your daughter can use these skills and interests.

Every business, educational institution etc needs people with IT skills. Either to provide basic IT support, or to do things like manage networks and data centres.

There would also be opportunities to provide technical support to people on a more ad hoc basis (be a local IT Handyperson).

If she is patient and able to describe technical concepts to non-technical people in a way which is non-judgemental and easy to understand, she would be able to help so many people who aren't tech savvy in a world which basically needs you to be.

I don't personally think that I'd focus on cybersecurity. I feel like every third person I know who works in tech jumped on that bandwagon a couple of years ago, so it's probably very competitive. Having skills in a number of areas and being able to pivot seems important in this age of less job security.

Best of luck to your daughter
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2023


Tech support will have lower pay and prestige, and being female will compound that. Software companies abound, and usually have a QA Dept., and Business Analysts who help implement, train, troubleshoot, etc., working closely with clients. Security is a broad term and is growing; the barrier to entry is training/ certification. Consider expertise in ESRI/ mapping or database admin. IT is a huge field, there are tons of niches. I liked tech support because I have ADHD and distractions are a way of life, so I could be installing on 1 machine, running some tool on another, and then get a call and run to another building to press a button. (It's been a while, but people who can't locate a switch or the key combo to (not) use a projector is non-zero.) It requires patience and the ability to get callers to think differently.

For now, work on getting certifications. Libraries may have access to good training. The tests are not inexpensive. If she can get an internship at any sort of helpdesk, huge plus. Don't do it for free; work has value.
posted by theora55 at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2023 [2 favorites]


Go to a vocational school situation rather than a college; pick up certificates from training whenever possible.

I might also suggest looking for mainframe training. A lot of organizations still use mainframes but have a shortage of qualified people, meaning salaries are better in many cases.
posted by TimHare at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2023 [1 favorite]


Generally, the small PC stuff are governed by CompTIA, and the 3 certs companies want are A+, Network+ (or N+) and Security+ (S+). A+ will often involve some repair, but modern PCs are mainly swap things out, rather than actual repair by replacing chips and stuff. Microsoft have some of their own, as does Cisco (CCNA, etc.) but that's more corporate level.

One of the "are you sure" certifications that's cheap to go for is the Google IT Support cert offered through Coursera. It doesn't go into repairs, and it's also cheap like $39 or $49 per month (faster you finish all courses, the less you pay). Google / Coursera also has a bunch of other certs like Data Analyst that your daughter can look into. Maybe go for that, which will make sure she REALLY wants to get into that, then go for A+. Free prep and cheap prep material are available online. ProfessorMesser has free lessons on his Youtube channel (he sells the prep material in print form, and practice tests, etc.) and if you keep an eye on StackSocial, they often have extremely cheap or free certification lessons offered, as do bundle places like Humblebundle.com or Fanatical.com (which mainly sells games, but under bundles, often have cert prep stuff)
posted by kschang at 4:01 PM on July 19, 2023 [1 favorite]


I know several universities and community colleges have IT teams where students work closely with staff, and they are all paid work that people did alongside their studies, and was a pretty cushy job. Several of my students and classmates at my alma mater worked for IT and held student worker positions with a decent amount of responsibility. I'm based in California.

Do avoid suspicious for profit schools like ITT Tech, which was part of the group where students had to get their loans discharged bc of how it was a scam.
posted by yueliang at 4:21 PM on July 19, 2023 [1 favorite]


One of the things I neglected to mention about call centers is that you can do it while in college. Work part time while in school and you’ll not only have a CS degree, you’ll have a CS degree AND experience.

Most universities will have an IT department where you can do work study doing things like setting up projectors in classrooms. That’s another good route to go. Or non-Apple retail support. I know a guy who’s still at Best Buy 20 years after taking a part time Geek Squad job in college.

Do all of the above (CS degree, call center, school IT, retail) plus a certification or two, and you’ll not only be an extremely attractive entry level candidate, you’ll also have a huge professional network who will help you find jobs before they’re posted.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:26 PM on July 19, 2023 [2 favorites]


Generally, university computer labs are staffed by "work study" student staff with a couple permanent employees as supervisors. But OP's daughter isn't sure if she wants to go to college.

Cybersecurity is definitely another possible field to get into, and Google/Coursera has an "are you sure" cert for that as well... FWIW, I got that cert in 5 days, so I got it for free. But then I'm 50+, have a BS in EE and minor in CS, and been in computer industry for decades. :D I did make a video talking about it, but I won't link it here.
posted by kschang at 4:26 PM on July 19, 2023


Help Desk are the "TV/Movie extras" in the IT industry. People join thinking they are starting on a career path to the big show, but much of the time it's just a ladder with one or two rungs.

I suggested either the Cisco networking certs (CCNA and friends) or the afforementioned Google cyber security certs.
posted by Back At It Again At Krispy Kreme at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2023


Our local community college had a certification program that would get you a Cisco networking or Microsoft cert as part of it. It also went into repairs and building computers.
For free, maybe an AWS cert?
For something above the usual tech support paygrade database administration would be pretty ok, especially for Oracle or whatever is big.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:47 PM on July 19, 2023


I run a support operation for a fairly small IT Consultancy business -our clients are large enterprises in several countries. The job requires that people learn a lot of the specifics of the systems we support - and get certified in them where appropriate. We like to recruit people who are graduates in an IT related degree and who have done some existing work in support (maybe during the time they are studying). We expect many people who start in support to go onto consultancy roles quite quickly. The best candidates are really good listeners, focused on constant learning, talented at explaining complexity, able to be assertive when necessary, aware of cultural differences for regions/organisations, and effective at working as part of a larger team. They love helping people but are aware that their help is being offered as part of a commercial agreement. We have some people who's interests are more on the functional side: interested in how things work in a business context and some who are inherently technical - but really we need people to have an appreciation of both sides. In the end, the non-academic qualifications are less important than the human ones listed above, for people to get a job.

In terms of initial experience: I would echo others who talk about the merits of trying out a job in desktop support for a medium to large organisation.
posted by rongorongo at 11:00 PM on July 19, 2023


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