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What is a Help Desk Technician?

G. Kirkland
G. Kirkland

A help desk technician is a computer support specialist whose primary responsibility is to respond to requests from computer users. These sorts of people typically work for companies with large internal networks, and in these settings their main job is to help employees solve problems at individual workstations. Problems can be as simple as constant crashes or frozen programs or as complicated as finding software workarounds or overriding password controls. Some technicians also work for computer manufacturers and Internet service providers directly. These professionals are often more concerned with a general subset of common problems, but may also be specialists in remotely diagnosing more nuanced issues. In all cases, though, typical responsibilities include troubleshooting specific computer issues, working one-on-one with members of the public, and filing work tickets to help track the problem-solving process.

Overarching Basics

Many companies now offer tech support through online chat.
Many companies now offer tech support through online chat.

Computer systems are really important to much of today’s commerce, but in terms of structure they can also be somewhat fragile. Updates, viruses, and depleting memory are only some of the issues that face the modern computer user, and these issues are often of utmost concern when productivity and profit depends on efficiency. Help desk technicians are sort of like emergency service personnel for computer users. They are usually standing by and are available to answer questions and solve problems the moment they arise. Keeping help desks staffed with knowledgeable people can be an expensive proposition, but it’s usually worth it in terms of frustrations avoided and time lost when problems arise.

Customer Service Role

Help desk technicians may be able to trouble shoot computer issues.
Help desk technicians may be able to trouble shoot computer issues.

For the most part, the technician is the front line for customer support whenever there is a problem with a computer. This is usually true no matter where the technician is working. In a smaller corporation, he or she might visit workstations personally to diagnose issues whereas in a bigger company most things might be done remotely, but the idea is the same: the user calls with an issue, and the technician then works with him or her to get it solved.

Tiers of Support

Computer support is traditionally divided into different classifications, called tiers. A first-time caller or someone with a very basic problem will most likely be assisted by a “tier one” technician. The technician usually does his or her best to answer the caller’s question during the conversation, and may offer general suggestions and basic advice.

If the problem is particularly challenging, the support call may be escalated to a “tier two” specialist. These individuals usually have experience solving more challenging questions or problems that computer users face, and are often looked upon as experts. Some larger computer support organizations also have a “tier three” technician to handle the most difficult questions. These technical support engineers typically have great problem solving and technology research capabilities, and they use these capabilities to help solve problems for complex issues that may or may not have previously occurred.

Tracking and Monitoring Problems

Most help desks typically have a specialized software package that is used for tracking the completion of support requests. Having software to track problems can help managers analyze the types of questions and problems that the end users have, and trends can be analyzed to help with planning and anticipating as well as with training. Help desk software also usually charts statistics with respect to how many calls each help desk technician resolves over a given period of time, and whether the problems were truly solved or whether they generated more calls in the future.

Help desk software can also be helpful to the end user who is making the request. In most cases a ticket is generated when the support call begins, and both the caller and the technician can follow this ticket — usually identified by a series of numbers or letters forming a code — to track progress on the problem until it is satisfactorily resolved. Closing out a help desk ticket signals the completion of the support case and releases the help desk technician to begin helping other clients.

Other Responsibilities

Many tech support individuals will also teach computer classes on individual subjects to help employees and users help themselves. This can reduce the number of help desk calls, thereby allowing technicians to focus more time on additional responsibilities. A technician might also help manage a network, perform computer installations, or produce training course material.

Choosing This Career Path

People who choose this profession typically have a love for solving technical problems and helping others. Many have undergraduate degrees in information technology (IT), or at the very least have learned the trade from extensive computer use and experience. There are usually a lot of entry-level openings in the field, but also many possibilities for advancement. As more and more companies become dependent on IT functions, the more demand there is likely to be for people who both understand the systems and can help troubleshoot them.

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Discussion Comments

@Federlink: You may need to relocate to another area with more, or better paying jobs. Or, if you have a reliable internet connection, you may be able to find a virtual help desk technician job that allows you to work from home, providing customers with computer assistance over the Internet.

The compensation for entry level IT jobs varies widely, depending on where in the country the job is located, the amount of experience required, and how large the company is that is offering the position.


I've completed my help desk technician training, but am having difficulty finding a position. There aren't many computer firms or large businesses in my area, so jobs are scarce.

What areas of the country are best for finding an IT job of this nature? What type of salary or compensation can I expect? I'm interested in pursuing this career field, but keep hitting dead ends.

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    • Many companies now offer tech support through online chat.
      By: pressmaster
      Many companies now offer tech support through online chat.
    • Help desk technicians may be able to trouble shoot computer issues.
      By: imageegami
      Help desk technicians may be able to trouble shoot computer issues.