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Is Help Desk a Launchpad or a Dead End? 206

Tracy Mayor writes "Is a gig on an IT help desk really the career death it's always assumed to be? Not always, this Computerworld writer found out, just don't get comfy and stay too long. "
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Is Help Desk a Launchpad or a Dead End?

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  • Use the italics tag much?
    • See, this is why I use

      div style="font-style:italic"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kellyb9 ( 954229 )

      Use the italics tag much?
      N o t R e a l l y
    • I scanned this whole thread. NOT ONE had a score higher then 1. Yes its a dead end. No one on slashdot went back to rate this.
      Unix admins/apps programmers/ and other lofty sorts see it as a dead end so it is, Such are the population here so QED. Most of these articles say something like: "I worked the HD for 6 months then got promoted and.."
      FEW remarks come from dedicated tech support pros. People who have worked a desk long enough to know the quirks, know the tricks, know how to keep peopel producti
  • Added Bonus... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spritzer ( 950539 ) * on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @03:39PM (#23254780) Journal
    Your very own guide to salary.....oh subscription huh? pfft
    • Silly me, expecting to get a free salary breakdown. Not that I want to change careers and go into help-desking, I was just curious to see how crappy the salaries would be.

      Can we get a slashvertisement or shamelessplug tag for this one?
      • Re:Added Bonus... (Score:5, Informative)

        by aetherspoon ( 72997 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:11PM (#23255392) Homepage
        There is a salary guide [computerworld.com] in the article.
    • Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, but I believe that the word "spam" most definitely crossed my mind.
    • Tracy Mayor: Boss, will you take me off the help desk if I can drive half a million hits to the site?
      Boss: Oh sure. Whatever.
    • Ehhh, salary surveys are highly overrated IMHO. They seem to be pretty damn low. My experience is that you get the best results by holding off the money talk as long as possible, and by killing in the interview.

      I highly recommend Dorothy Leeds' work, either the original Smart Questions book's chapter on interviewing, or the book spawned from that chapter. It's a lot to remember, but take notes and refer to them when they say, "Do you have any questions." You'll look prepared (hmm, you will be prepared) and
  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @03:40PM (#23254804)
    Help desks that push call times and scripts over fixing stuff the right way are a Dead End and good tech people will fail at it and it can lead to you losing good techs.

    Putting a lot TPS report BS in the help desk is also a bad sign.

    There ones that say help desk but you also do network, desktop, imaging, roll outs and other takes as well.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JJNess ( 1238668 )
      My "Help Desk Support" position is so much more, like you said... and I'm making a good bit of money more at this new position in an engineering firm than my friend who manages IT for a local TV station for 3 years! So while it says "Help Desk" on my resumé, I'll be able to prove it was oh so much more than that.
  • I thought it was good experience from a "oh crap everything broke what do I look at first" perspective. The troubleshooting skills were definitely worth it. Then again, I did my 3 years in help desk during college, and avoided it like the plague after graduation.

    I'd also like to add that the HDI certifications are a joke.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ArhcAngel ( 247594 )
      HDI certifications are a joke.

      Here let me fix that for you

      HDI certifications are a cruel, joke.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @03:41PM (#23254832)
    Is working at Burger King as a teenager a launchpad or a dead end? I guess it depends on your attitude, your ambition, and your ability to learn from experiences.

    Any work dealing with customers will prepare you well for working in any kind of environment where you have to deal with people that are sometimes unreasonable or like to treat others like garbage. In other words, it prepares you to deal with real life. Help desk has the added bonus of being somewhat related to tech stuff, so if you combine it with some learning on your own time, maybe you can end up in a more technical role.

    Most companies will tend to recruit from within, so if they see that you're highly technically competent and are good at dealing with people, you're likely to get moved up out of help desk if you make it known that your ultimate goal is, say, system administration (and God help you if it is). If you sit around talking shit about the idiot customers all day when you're not on the phone, you're probably not going anywhere except possibly the unemployment line.

    In short, any job will give you what you're willing to get from it. Whether any particular job is a dead end or a door leading to bigger and better things is entirely up to the person doing the job.

    On a personal note, I was in help desk for 6 months before being promoted to Unix admin. I got there because I saw a very clear need for improvement in the servers at the company (their Windows mail server was crashing constantly) and I presented a plan to improve things with a Unix-based design and showed I had the technical ability to pull it off. So, they gave me the opportunity, I got the job done, and they promoted me. If you have the drive, any position can be a springboard.
    • This has been my experience as well, both personally and second-hand. Those who wanted to move out/up and showed an ability to do so, were moved out/up. Those who didn't got moved out to the unemployment line.

      It takes a good manager to recognize this, but then again, all promotions require that.
      • by jafac ( 1449 )
        In my help-desk job, we had a saying:

        "You either learn out, or you burn out."

        That is all.
    • I could not agree more. Various technical skills can be taught/learned, but people skills are so often overlooked by people on specific career paths. If there is 1 essential skill to any job, it is good people skills. This means not only learning to deal with difficult customers (as you alluded to in the "BK Lounge" analogy) but also learning to manage people (this includes managing UP as well as managing DOWN).

      I wasn't thrilled at the time to be working at several of the crappy jobs I had in my you
    • Add in a bunch of name-dropping of middle-managers from a bunch of random, well-known fast-food companies, and you could submit your post for consideration to be published in the next FastfoodWorld.com article!
    • by syousef ( 465911 )
      Is working at Burger King as a teenager a launchpad or a dead end? I guess it depends on your attitude, your ambition, and your ability to learn from experiences.

      If you're over 20 I'd say it's a complete dead end. Once you reach that age, you're labelled a burger flipper for life even if you're assistant manager by that point.

      Any work dealing with customers will prepare you well for working in any kind of environment where you have to deal with people that are sometimes unreasonable or like to treat others
      • I've been working in a Helpdesk environment now for about 4 and a half years, having moved my way up to manager. I work in a college. I have a staff of 2 part time employees and 1 full time employee who works at night. I have a staff of somewhere between 60 and 70 students depending on the year. Because I work in a smaller college with a small IT department, I have my hands in all sorts of various places. Perhaps it's because our department promotes learning (could be because it's a college), perhaps i
  • The "added bonus" is a site you have to register for. Ass.

    As for helpdesk, depends on the organization. Pretty much any position could be career-building or dead end depending on the organization and where it's going.

    IT seems to get little love in general and helpdesk gets none in particular. I think that it would more often than not be a dead end but it really should be more of a stepping stone in the ideal world. For the new guy just coming into the field, that's the first place he can be of real use. Tha
  • The ultimate help desk job was being Bill Gates' technical assistant. There really was such a job, and one of the people who held it now is in charge of the entire Microsoft Office product line.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Actually, "technical assistant" in that case was just a euphemism for "hooker procurer." And he only earned the MS Office job by having the foresight to keep copies of some embarrassing pictures.
    • by lgw ( 121541 )
      And of course the best paying job at Microsoft turned out to be: project manager for Microsoft Bob! Talk about sleeping your way to the top.
  • Every person I've ever worked with that hadn't worked helpdesk was a tool. They had no ability to deal with users. They were sloppy because they (consciously or not) figured someone else would have to deal with the aftermath. And they had an attitude when it came to doing the periodic shit-work that always comes up and doesn't require a brain, just a pair of hands.
    • You can tell almost right away those of us who had to do help desk and those who have not. The ones who did help desk are a little more versed and careful about their wording to the end users. We've been in the trenches of "No, I can't fix that...Why not? Because there is a power outage in your area"

      Those who haven't had to walk through the coals are far more likely to use the exact tech terms and lose the user claiming superiority and user error instead of lack of communication skills.
      • by pla ( 258480 )
        Those who haven't had to walk through the coals are far more likely to use the exact tech terms and lose the user claiming superiority and user error instead of lack of communication skills.

        Having worked on both sides of the "glass IT desk", I can confidently say that virtually all problems do result from user error, oftentimes bordering on sheer stupidity.

        Sorry, but you can only walk so many people - people who use a Windows machine daily, both for work and at home - through the concept of double-clic
  • The trick is to work help desk somewhere that the help desk is meaningful, where you get to do lots more than just answer a phone and read a tree. For instance, I spent two years under "help desk" hacking Perl every day.

    Any job is a dead end if you take it as an excuse to stagnate and never learn anything beyond what's needed for competent performance.

    The trouble with help desk is the reputation as help desk -- you have to be able to convince people that you know something beyond the job title. Of course,
  • I have found my help desk experience to be essential in many aspects of my career. Being able to keep a level head, even when you are in the right, is essential in the business world, especially if you are looking to do any independent software development where you will not only be coding, but also providing support to end-users, many of which lack basic understanding of computers. When you are able to communicate efficiently and politely with your customers, it goes a long way in building and maintainin
  • I work for a major IT company. I started as a tech support for one of their products. While my time in tech support, I took more classes programming, talked with developers of product I was supporting, and even wrote a tool that was implemented while I was working there to help with the job.

    Besides doing my best in the job, and all of these things, I was also searching for a development job within the company.

    Less than 2 years after I started as tech support, I am now a developer of a different produc
  • As mentioned in this article (at least 20 times), it all depends on the organization. In some, helpdesk is it. You don't go much further. In others, they want to promote people.

    In my case, I did an 18 month stint supporting a proprietary case management system (for the State court system). By the time I left, I knew every screen in the app and when people would call in with a question or a problem, I didn't have to look at the screen to know what they were talking about.

    I took that knowledge and went in
  • Some of the skills learned at an IT help desk are extremely worthwhile, and very portable. For example, the ability to speak in an accent so incomprehensible that after only a minute or two, the person at the other end will utter a soundless cry of inchoate fury and slam down the phone. This invaluable skill can get a telemarketer off the line when even an air horn fails.

    If your training includes that particular accent so thick that even a fellow East Asian shakes his head and says, "Huh?", you can pre

  • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#23255164)
    After 30 years in IT, here are some things I've learned about advancing a career.
    • Never stay at a job too long. Raises don't keep up, jumping ship for more money does
    • Never say "I don't know how to do that". Instead, say, "I'm not sure how to do that, it will take some time for me to read up on it"
    • There is no such thing as wasted time. You get paid the same whether the project gets tossed or not. Learn something from it and move on. It's the company's problem they are going to waste money, not yours.
    • Get rid of the ego and listen, you might learn something
    • Ask questions instead of dictating. 'My way is better because' arguments aren't received as well as "I'm not sure I understand, can you explain why doing x is better than doing y??"
    • Never be the last one out of a sinking ship, your loyalty will probably not be rewarded.
    • Learn something new all the time. When you understand networks and databases and telephone systems and several languages and how business works and how investors operate, you become valuable. Only knowing how to code Java makes you a code monkey.
    • Accept the fact you don't know everything, and question your knowledge in everything you think you are an expert in.
    I think these work regardless of whether someone is in a help desk, development, systems, or management role.
    • Well said sir. The only things I'd add is

      Jumping ship at 1 year intervals look a bit questionable on a resume. Stick it out a bit and then go look for someone who will pay you what you're worth.

      Learning is great, but try to stick to technologies that have a future. With the H1 craze, companies are addicted to hiring talent who already has the experience in whatever languages/dev environment they want, instead of say training people like we did before. After all, if these people don't work out you can
      • Several years ago (around 1998) I learned some stuff on Tandem systems. Only used it for a year. Knew it was a dead end, so I made sure I didn't get sucked into having to support it, only learned enough to get done what needed to get done and made sure I stayed wrapped into my real job as the web guy.

        Two years ago the company I was with had ... guess what ... Tandem computers. While I didn't have to write anything in TAL, knowing it and how to navigate around Tandem command prompts was very helpful. I could
      • by jafac ( 1449 )
        . . . absolutely!

        Last company I left - I worked my ass off for an internal promotion, and they finally approved the new req, and I went through formal interviews, got the job, and they lowballed me with some BS "HR policy says nobody gets more than 6% increase without VP approval."

        I said "bye".

        . . . and got 15% at my next job.

        Note to HR departments:
        You will not retain talent if your raises do not keep up with inflation.
    • Great advice!

      It always amazes me how quickly the "I'm right, you're way is wrong" people get tagged in I.T. departments. They're the ones who never advance, because the supervisors see them as not wanting to learn.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:16PM (#23256468)

      Learn something new all the time.

      That's the best advice you can give for ANY job, not just IT. Nothing pisses me off faster than a worker who doesn't know how to do something and refuses to learn. A human being who is lazy and incurious is absolutely worthless.

    • Posts like these are why I keep coming back to /.

      Good form sir.
  • But not a dead end either. It's more of an impediment to your technical career. Take it from a guy who fucked up his job interview and had to spend 1.5 years in QA (the offer was too good to turn down). Even though I worked as a developer before I took that job and I've been a developer for over six years after that stint, it's still a big fat albatross on my neck, because every time someone sees my resume they all have the same question - WTF? No matter what I say in response, they'll think I'm not as good
  • For some people, it's a lifelong career. For me, I had a job that was partially helpdesk work when in college, and now I'm mostly done with my CS PhD.
  • I was doing support for device drivers for a while. I was being paid $35/hour to help in dealing with device driver problems (much of it was on the development side). This is the exception. Of course in the old days, when I called the help desk for SoftIce, I would get the company founders (I was using version .99).

    Of course help desks today are manned by someone laughs when they say, "oh the software is not supposed to let you do that" after it wiped your hard drive. (Avanquest Partition Commander).
  • In the voice of Kosh, "yes".
  • It was a great start for me. Once a Help Desk Jockey, now a CTO for a multi-million dollar corporation - and in a relatively short timeframe (in my early 30's).

    I remained passionate and driven, and moved around enough to be exposed to myriads of technologies. Volunteered lots of time to F/OSS and non-profit causes (still do) to keep sharp, busy, and seasoned.

    I really feel that all of these little pieces add to success, for any IT pro who insists on professional growth.

    Total: $0.02

  • Help desk is almost always a great launch pad. It's also a great indicator of what kind of company you're working for.

    If you land in the help desk in a decent sized company, and have any brains at all, you're out in a year, 18 months tops. On the flip side, if you end up a shitty company. You'll know within six months, and be working someplace else in 12.

    People that have been help desk for five+ years scare me.
    • People that have been help desk for five+ years scare me.

      Why? Because we know the product inside out, can solve problems you've never heard of before just by recognizing the symptoms and like what we're doing?

  • No subscription, but it only lists ten major cities [salaryexpert.com] as of June 16, 2007. Better than nothing.
  • The linked salary guide in the blurb goes to a subscription.
    There is a small salary guide [computerworld.com] in the article, I think that should have been linked to instead.
  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:15PM (#23255480)
    Frankly, I think every person who wants to work in IT should spend at least a year on the helpdesk.

    In my experience, the number one problem with IT is that the programmers and managers really don't have enough interaction with the end users to understand their side of things. Every time there's an outtage because someone kicked the cord out of a server, or every patch that breaks usability in the name of some wizzbang feature, it really falls on the helpdesk to manage and do damage control while you're out "on break".

    To the rest of the company, the helpdesk is literally the face of the IT department. They're the ones who get to deal with irate customers, desperate password seekers, and the social manipulators.

    On the help desk, you learn every quirk of every system your company supports. You learn all the "unofficial" tricks that get things done, regardless of policy or procedure. Most importantly, you learn who to call when situations arise you can't handle. You know *everyone*, so that when application Z is causing catastrophic system failures on your server farm you know exactly who to go to to make it stop.
    • In my experience, the number one problem with IT is that the programmers and managers really don't have enough interaction with the end users to understand their side of things.

      I agree. I've been working in a medium sized organisation (~400 people, all in one building) for about three years now. We don't have a dedicated helpdesk team apart for a single part-timer whose responsibility is to organise everyone else and chase people up to make sure the less interesting calls get answered.

      Obviously this wo

  • by drgroove ( 631550 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @04:16PM (#23255494)
    I work for one of the 5 largest independent software vendors in the world. We sell a help desk product, which accounts for the lionshare of revenue in that product category.

    If you're starting off in the help desk, be aware that working in a help desk is part of a much larger ecosystem known as IT Service Management. If you're interested in furthering your career, explore as much information around the ITSM space as possible, especially as it relates to the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) process framework.

    According to Gartner, of those publicly traded companies which have revenues in excess of $1 billion/yr, 90% of them either have implemented an ITIL process framework, are in the process of implementing one, or are strongly considering implementing one. ITSM is a huge marketplace, with tons of opportunity, and few active practitioners who are both experienced and forward thinking. It's a perfect place to write your own ticket and have a strong future in IT, as well as work with multi-national companies in shaping how they manage IT.

    Recognizing the help desk's (or Service Desk) place in this ecosystem will help you parlay your position into having a role in shaping how IT organizations define, build, launch, operate and improve IT Services back to their customers.

    Service Desk forms a critical part of an IT organization, where Incidents, Problems and Changes are managed and communicated. Known how Change interacts with Release and Configuration Management. Know how these in turn work in tandem with Capacity, Availability, Service Level Management, etc.

    ITSM professionals are in demand. I'm currently hiring 4 ITSM professionals, whose salaries are in the $125k - $150k range. Many of the individuals currently working for me started off in help desk. It's all about your own personal initiative. If you see a help desk gig as a dead end, it will be. However, if you can see the larger picture, you can work your way up to a very rewarding and profitable career in IT Service Management.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Aggrajag ( 716041 )
      Oh crap, after reading the parent I think I was hired by IBM Global Services.
  • I am actually experiencing a climb through the helpdesk system, albeit with 2 different companies.

    I started out as a workstation helpdesk jockey, driving from school to school doing basic workstation, network, and server duties. Nothing too fancy, just repairing older PIIs and PIIIs, adding users into a Novell environment, and patching/unpatching ports as needed. The nice side was being able to drive locally, get reimbursed for mileage at a decent rate, and getting close to the staff members and faculty a

  • I climbed out in the 90s and am now a Sr. Developer. Smaller companies are the way to go. You have more opportunity to work on side projects. Also, don't be afraid to change companies. If you are doing some cool things in the help desk but IT doesn't even want to look at it, you need to look at other companies where you can come in as a Junior Developer.

    Other things to note. If you're working for a company that does contract and outsource help desk, make sure it's the kind where you are on-site. There
  • There's a huge difference between manning the helldesk at a giant corporation vs a small firm. In the former case, you're likely an expendable resource little better than a sweatshop worker. In the latter, you have the opportunity to interact with other depertments and management in the course of your duties, and impress them. If all you company knows about you are you're handling times, you're going nowhere. If the sales reps bring you cookies and half the VP's come to you for favors, you have some opp
  • I did a stint on the Compuserve/AOL help desk in college (in the 90s heydey of dial-up). I technically worked in the cancellations department, and my job was to "Save" accounts by convincing people not to cancel. I saved countless accounts by helping people quickly and easily fix common dial-up issues or re-install TCP/IP in Windows 95/98/Me. I was of course eventually fired for going "off-script" since there was no script for actually fixing a computer... even though I was successfully convincing peopl
    • Granted I never worked for anyone as nefarious as AOL, but the one thing that I learned after 4 years of internet help desk was that fixing the problem isn't what you are there for. Making the customer happy with their service and more importantly happy with the company is.

      When lightning has fried something or there is noise on the line and you tell the customer that fixing the problem is in their hands not yours, nine times out of ten they will cancel their account and tell you to go to Hell if you come of
  • I've done help desk (Internet technical support) for most of my career... because I enjoy it. My hope for my future career is not to leave phone support, but to get a job as server or hardline support. I actually enjoy helping noobs just as much as helping tech experts, but you get paid a lot more for helping people with real problems.
  • I was happily working as a desktop support engineer, when suddenly my employer sent me off to be the technical lead on a client's Help Desk. At the time, I really dreaded the move.
    However, I was able to make a lot of progress for the client -- standardizing Help Desk procedures, documenting handoff procedures to (and responsibilities of) other teams within IT, and coming up with some technical stuff they hadn't even imagined. (Two words: "batch file").
    Then, in 2003, my company tried to sell the client on a
  • Coming from someone who happens to be right at home working at Help Desks, I can't help but feel somewhat insulted by your "career death" line.


  • Short answer: Yes

    Long answer: Yyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssss

  • Helpdesk tends to reward renaissance, jack of all trades types in a market that is typically a specialists market.

    This is it's own advantage and disadvantage - the advantage is that you get to see more of an organization - I work for a corporate helpdesk here in the U.S. that goes toe to toe with the Indian companies by justifying our greater expense with stronger customer service and a range of skills. I have talked to clients in Japan, Germany, Korea,China, Mexico - well, just about everywhere, doing just
  • [ ] Launchpad
    [ ] Dead End
    [X] Rest Stop

    In so many ways...
  • Helpdesk is typically a dead end job at your current employer - but can be excellent resume fodder for your next. And if its the only thing you're qualified for (lack of experience, education, or both...) it could be a great place to start and build some skills.

    I worked at a major ISP helpdesk for a period of time while I finished my college degree. It was a good place gain experience in the basics of computer troubleshooting remotely with people (some glad to talk to a human, others just dumber than a bag
  • If you work in a proper help desk, one where you actually try to help people, and where there's a proper escalation of work within the company, help desk is anything but a dead end job. Level 2 folks move on, and good help desk staff are always good candidates to replace them.

    The only real obstacles to progressing from this kind of role are either not enough or too much ambition(ie folks who don't care and don't try and folks who think that having done a year of help desk makes them qualified to be sys admi

  • I started out at 18 on an assembly line. At 19 I was doing an advanced assembly line. At 20 I was doing a badassed field engineer/installer job that had me traveling the country on salary just above minimum wage, but damn it was a cool job with a bit of prestige.

    At 20/21 I moved to a company that paid a little better, but I was a mobile systems administrator/general tech of anything they needed done. It was a tackle anything position and really job function wise what most techs shoot for.

    We partnered up

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.