Main image of article Escaping the Help Desk
Manning the help desk and providing technical support can be difficult work. Most problematic for employees, though, is how the position can offer little opportunity for growth and greater compensation. But if you’re a frustrated support person (either internal or external), there’s no need to consider yourself stuck in a dead-end job for the rest of your days. Your technical and customer service experience has value, and the help desk can be a launching pad to support management, systems administration or analyst positions.

Character Traits

“A customer support specialist wanting to move into a management role needs to demonstrate a few tangible traits as well as a few less-obvious ones,” said Richard Myers, director of customer support for Linode LLC, a cloud-hosting service. Myers knows of what he speaks: He’s never hired someone for a management position from the outside. Everyone on his team has worked his or her way up through the ranks. "The right person knows how and where to get the best answer to an issue,” he said, stressing that an IT support person’s biggest asset is problem-solving savvy, “and they should be able to capably offer feedback in a constructive fashion, as well as be able to receive it, which includes admitting when someone else has a better solution.” Myers observes that employees who want to move into a leadership role from a customer support specialist role don’t allow themselves to be dulled by the nature of their position. He’s found that those who are able to show an unflinching passion and dedication to providing excellent and far-reaching customer support make great candidates.

Don’t Just Talk, Communicate

“Technical support can be very cut and dry. Things either work or they don't,” said Lenny Fuchs, the owner of My IT Department, an IT support-services company. “Talking about anything else is not black and white. It requires a lot of soft skills and doing things that just don't always seem logical.” If you’re a natural on the phone, you may be on your way already to a more senior position, but Fuchs still strongly advises focusing on strengthening your ability to communicate technical and non-technical ideas to non-techies. “It’s not as easy as it sounds,” he continued. “It’s difficult to walk the line of speaking too technically and losing the attention of whomever you’re speaking with, or over-explaining and appearing to talk down to that person or group.” Fuchs also recommended that anyone wanting to escape the help desk take a creative writing class. Being able to express ideas on paper is not only a solid business skill to have, it may work its way into other corners of your life—for example, by improving your ability to tell the kinds of stories that allow you to connect with strangers.

Smaller Is Better

If you work for a large company that isolates its tech teams in silos, the odds of moving up may be non-existent; the structure is just too rigid. Finding a position at a small or mid-sized company, however, could provide significant opportunities for change. A smaller company will likely have a more flexible organizational culture that allows for greater communication between teams and management, as well as a broader definition of the job’s responsibilities—all of which will give you a leg up toward becoming something else.

Want More

Learning more about the business you’re in is a critical element in moving beyond a support position; it’s your technical inquisitiveness that may prove your strongest relatable attribute. Both Fuchs and Myers noted that you must know how all the moving parts of an organization work together; much like figuring out a complex problem for a client, your potential for growth may depend on how well you can mine the various facets of a company. Ultimately, forcing yourself up the ladder is in large part an inside job. Many people spend their entire career on the help desk; you have to be highly motivated to leave a sure thing. If you’re someone who looks beyond the immediacy of solving a single problem and cares more about the greater issue and its effect on a system’s processes, and you desire greater challenges and responsibilities beyond comfortably answering questions about software and hardware, you’re ready to make a move.