What is a Computer Support Specialist?
A computer support specialist is a professional technician who helps individuals, businesses, and other organizations get the most out of their computer systems. They are also commonly known by a variety of other titles such as computer network support specialists and/or information technology or IT specialists.
Highly knowledgeable of old, new, and developing technologies, computer support specialists have the skillset and training to repair almost any kind of technological malfunction. Essentially, these professionals work with computers in the same way that a plumber works with pipes, toilets, and sinks.
What Does a Computer Support Specialist Do?
Computer support specialists perform a variety of job duties that revolve around repairing computer hardware, software, and information technology (IT) systems.
There are different specializations that these tech-savvy professionals may choose to concentrate their skills; for example, maintaining everyday computer operations, configuring equipment and repairing malfunctions, assisting individual customers with their computer processing needs, and documenting technical procedures and issues.
Additionally, many computer support specialists provide valuable insight and recommendations to company decision-makers and executives.
Maintain Everyday Computer Operations
The primary job duty of a computer support specialist is to maintain an organization’s everyday computer operations. In order to ensure that all technical equipment, hardware, and computer software is functioning exactly as intended, computer support specialists regularly run preemptive tests on networking systems. These tests help them anticipate what sorts of processing errors are likely to occur; and then, based upon the results, they perform maintenance updates to prevent any such errors from actually occurring.
Configure Equipment and Repair Malfunctions
An important responsibility of computer support specialists is to ensure all technological systems are working correctly from day one. It is their duty to set up technical equipment, properly connect all cables, configure computer hardware and software, and install updates to programs and operating systems as needed. Furthermore, computer support specialists also repair malfunctioning equipment, manage diagnostics, and troubleshoot internet systems and networks.
Provide Customer Service Assistance
In addition to taking care of technical matters, most computer support specialists also provide customer service assistance. These job duties involve answering phone calls, listening to customers as they describe their technical issue, identifying all likely causes of their issue, and delivering step-by-step instructions to help users resolve the problem.
In cases where they are unable to help customers via the phone, it is not uncommon for computer support specialists to meet with customers in person and repair their technical issues on-site.
Maintain Technical Records and Documents
Whether they are solving technical issues for individual customers or for the entire organization through which they are employed, computer support specialists are typically required to document each cause and solution to every issue they encounter.
Furthermore, as technology continuously evolves, computer support specialists are expected to be the experts on each and every one of those advancements. To ensure that they always have the latest, up-to-the-minute information, computer support specialists read technology magazines about new hardware and software developments.
Give Insight and Make Recommendations
Computer support specialists document each technical issue that they encounter because it is their duty to update management about these malfunctions and provide valuable insight into how they can best be prevented in the future. Administrators rely on computer support specialists for their recommendations and guidance to make important decisions when purchasing IT equipment, hardware, and upgrades to software.
What are the Working Conditions of a Computer Support Specialist?
While working conditions may vary depending upon the specific industry and type of employer, nearly all computer support specialists perform their job duties within a typical office setting. For example, those who primarily provide technical assistance over the phone work in cubicles at large corporate call center.
Visiting multiple different offices in one day, some computer support specialists travel from client to client, while others are able to practice from home. For the most part, they work a standard Monday-through-Friday and 9-5 schedule. However, technology can malfunction at any time, day or night; and accordingly, there are plenty of computer support specialists who work weekends and other odd hours such as second and third shifts.
What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Computer Support Specialist?
Computer support specialists enjoy working in one of the few professions that does not officially require any type of degree or formal education. Employers simply want applicants who are highly knowledgeable of computers, and for the most part, they are not particularly concerned with how they achieved it. Of course, there are certain advantages to obtaining a degree and there are a variety of different educational paths from which to choose.
For entry-level positions, employers may select candidates who hold an associate’s degree or have at least completed a few courses in computer science and technology. However, those who aspire for a higher ranking and/or managerial position should earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, preferably in business administration with a concentration in computer information systems.
What Do You Learn in a Computer Support Specialist Program?
There is so much information an aspiring computer support specialist should know before applying to or interviewing for a job. While formal education may not officially be required, earning a bachelor’s or associate’s degree is an excellent way to prepare oneself for a successful career in computer support. It should be mentioned, however, the following is not a complete list as there may be many more concepts that students learn in a computer support specialist degree program.
- Overview of Computer Hardware – Students learn about the working parts of computer hardware, their intended functions, and typical design flaws.
- Theories of Operating Systems – Students study the various theories behind the creation of different operating systems and the directions that they might take in the future.
- Operating Systems Analysis – In addition to learning their theories, students will also analyze operating systems to identify each of their distinctive benefits and drawbacks.
- Overview of Computer Software – Students learn how computer software is designed, reorganized, and continually improved through updates throughout its lifetime.
- Advanced Coding – Students are taught how to write code and amend it as needed in order to meet a wide variety of changing needs.
- Computer Software Development – Students are taught how to design and develop computer software based upon the specific task/s that a program needs to perform.
- Internet Networks – Students study how internet networks function, how to troubleshoot Local Area Networks or LAN issues, Wide Area Networks or WAN issues, and configure Wi-Fi networks.
- Advanced Business Computer – Students learn far more than merely how to use business computer programs (such as Adobe and Microsoft Office), they learn how these programs work and how to fix them when they don’t.
- Problem Solving and Streamlining – Students are taught how to solve technical problems through computer simulations and how to streamline updates and solutions throughout an entire organization network.
- Training and Communications – Students are taught how to deliver clear instructions to users with technical issues and effective training methods for teaching new software.
- Literature Review – Students learn how to properly read technological research, manuals, and other types of technical literature.
What is an Online Computer Support Specialist Degree?
As the modern world continues to make more and more goods and services available through the internet, universities and colleges have done the same with their degree programs. Students may now conveniently earn a computer support specialist bachelor’s or associate’s degree online and right from their very own home computers.
Through an online educational program, aspiring computer support specialists can acquire the very same technical skills that they would learn by attending any on-site program. While many online computer support specialist degrees can be earned solely through a web-based format, some schools advise that students take their advanced courses on-campus so that they may practice their skills on other computers than their own.
What are the Advancement Opportunities for a Computer Support Specialist?
Many computer support specialists begin their careers by assisting individual customers and making trips to their offices, personal homes, or delivering instructions over the phone. As a result of honing these skills and becoming more knowledgeable every day, opportunities for advancement typically present themselves much sooner in computer support than they do in other professions.
For example, after working in customer service, companies often promote computer support specialists to software development or computer network administration to create systems as opposed to merely solving their issues.
What Tools Are Used by a Computer Support Specialist?
Computer support specialists use different tools and software programs to perform their professional duties. While some functions may overlap from time to time, each one of these tools carries out a particular task according to its own unique processing abilities. It should be noted, however, that the following list is incomplete and that there may be many more tools that computer support specialists use on a daily basis.
Computer support specialists use help-desk applications to record and respond to issues identified by the users. These applications often allow the specialists to respond through emails or phone.
Database Management Software
Computer support specialists use data base management software or DBMS to retrieve, organize and secure large quantities of information as it is stored and retrieved. For example, as a starting point, many support specialists utilize internal DBMS to retrieve solutions for the past issues that are related to the issue on hand.
Software Development Environment
When developing new software, computer support specialists work within a software development environment or SDE to streamline programming tasks and coding. SDE is also used when making software updates and other changes.
Enterprise Resource Planning
Enterprise resource planning or ERP is a system that integrates the numerous different software programs that businesses use to process day-to-day enterprise activities and transactions.
Various Operating Systems
A computer’s hardware and every one of its software programs run through its operating system or OS. All of the daily duties performed by computer support specialists require OS expertise.
When working with highly sensitive and confidential information, computer support specialists use encryption software to protect data from hackers.
While most of their professional working knowledge is memorized, there will always be some tasks that require research. In these cases, computer support specialists use technical manuals, how-to guides, coding cheat sheets, and other types of reference materials.
What Skills are Needed to be a Computer Support Specialist?
In addition to the technical knowledge and expertise that is required to be a computer support specialist, candidates need to possess a wide variety of soft skills and personality traits in order to have a successful career in the field. While the following list is a great start to understanding the qualities one may need, there are likely many more than what is listed here.
- Attentive Listening – Computer support specialists should be able to listen attentively to users as they describe in detail their technical needs and issues.
- Communication Skills – As they are responsible for delivering complex, multi-step instructions to individuals who are unlikely to possess the same technical vocabulary, computer support specialists should have strong and flexible communication skills.
- Critical Thinking – Computer support specialists must be able to detect problems, identify their underlying and often multifaceted causes, and effectively resolve those issues as simply as possible.
- Practical Skills – Repairing all sorts of malfucntions requires computer support specialists to possess a somewhat innate level of working practical skills and understanding.
- Big Picture Organization – Much of a computer support specialist’s duties revolve around organizing small parts into a big-picture system. This becomes difficult when each of their compartmentalized roles effects the functions of other parts.
- Interpersonal Skills and Patience – Most computer support specialists will spend some portion of their careers assisting customers through trying technical issues.
- Comprehensive Reading Level – Computer support specialists should be able to read quickly and accurately through technical manuals written in dry and complex industry jargon.
- Staying Calm under Pressure – Oftentimes, computer malfunctions and systems errors can have serious and costly consequences if not solved quickly. In order to solve such issues, computer support specialists must be able think clearly and remain calm under intense pressure.
- High Self-Esteem – Computer support specialists must have high self-esteem and trust their own knowledge and skillsets in order to help others resolve their complex technical issues.
What are the Pros of Being a Computer Support Specialist?
Below are seven of the most common reasons why so many computer support specialists love their careers.
- Flexible Schedules – As technology is used 24/7 all over the globe, computer support specialists get to have their pick of work hours. While many do have Monday-through-Friday 9-5 jobs, others may choose to work nights, weekends, and other less traditional shifts.
- Voluntary Formal Education – A college degree will certainly help those who aspire to join management, but a formal education for the most part is entirely voluntary. Ultimately, this means that computer support specialists do not have to spend decades paying off student loan debt.
- Work Setting – The majority of computer support specialists work in office settings where they can enjoy central air, heating, and enjoy their coffee in a comfortable breakroom.
- Staying Local – Unlike other modern professions where employees might be required to travel and even relocate, computer support specialists enjoy staying local due to ever-evolving technological advances. Some can even perform their job duties right from home.
- Everyday Heroes – Most everyone uses computers either professionally, for personal enjoyment, or while pursuing their education. When technical issues arise, computer support specialists enjoy coming to the rescue.
- Financial Security – While average salaries vary amongst industries and from position to position, computer support specialists are largely financially secure due to their higher-than-average payscale.
- Industry Variability – It is nearly impossible to think of a single industry that does not rely on technology and networking in one fashion or another. So while computer support specialists will always, of course, work with computers, they enjoy great industry variability.
- Living in the Future – Computer support specialists love the fact they are always one step ahead of everyone else in regards to digital and computer technological advancements.
What are the Cons of Being a Computer Support Specialist?
Like most professions, there are disadvantages to being a computer support specialist. Here are a few of the most common complaints.
- Customer Service – Anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows how aggravating and absolutely unreasonable people can sometimes be. Nevertheless, the primary duty of a computer support specialist is to help customers solve their technological issues.
- Tedious Tasks – Although it is exciting to be at the forefront of technology as it continuously evolves, a large portion of a computer support specialist’s career is spent performing tedious tasks.
- Always On-Call – While they do enjoy being everyday heroes, there are some drawbacks. Technological issues can arise at any moment, which means many computer support specialists must always be on-call.
- Too Much Pro-Bono – One of the most commonly cited disadvantages to the job is that friends, family, and neighbors frequently expect support specialists to help them with their technology issues for free.
What is the Employment Outlook for Computer Support Specialists?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer support specialists can expect to see opportunities of employment increase 9 percent by 2030. Faster than the average of all other professions, this growth is attributed to the fact that technology is continuously always evolving while our reliance on it exponentially increases. And as every bit of technological equipment currently requires maintenance updates, that number is unlikely to drop any time soon.
On the other hand, some speculate that as cloud storage and processing continues to develop, companies may become so efficient at streamlining their tech support that computer support specialists will actually to see a drop in employment opportunities by 2036.
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What Professions are Similar to Computer Support Specialist?
Information Security Analysts
Information security analysts are computer systems experts who work to prevent unauthorized individuals and organizations from hacking into computer systems and stealing highly sensitive, confidential, and sometimes even government-classified information. Information security analysts help prevent identity theft and keep customers’ credit card information private while making online purchases.
Computer Systems Analysts
A computer systems analyst combines business-savvy expertise with information technology to build computer systems and software programs for a variety of different clients. What sets these computer science professionals apart from others is the fact that they must know about business in order to design computer programs to meet the specific needs of any company.
Computer Hardware Engineers
Computer hardware engineers are the shoulders upon which all other computer science professionals stand. They design, develop, and engineer the very hardware equipment that is a computer. While programmers and coders, certainly have a significant influence upon the technologies that we use every day, their ideas could not come to life without the tangible equipment and hardware to support it. In other words, computer hardware engineers create the canvases upon which software developers paint.