May 2008

By Frank W. Norwood

I'd like to describe my job by saying: "On a typical day." But there really is no such thing as a typical day when you are working as a computer support representative for a small company.

Although I work in an I.S. department with ten employees, only three are on the help desk. We take calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and support about 300 end users in what is primarily a Windows environment. I say 'primarily' because we also support a legacy software package that was created 20 years ago. And that software is what makes the job particularly interesting.

We have around 200 networked desktops and laptops, and another 200
thin clients. Keeping the printers and computers working on the Windows side of things is fairly straight-forward. It's the legacy software that can throw us for a curve.

I usually get in to the office around 7:30 a.m., and check the printer queues for stalled print jobs. We have a rotating emergency call phone, but the end users seem reluctant to make any situation into "an emergency." I think they're actually happy if they can't get on the network or print an invoice: if they are doing the work outside of the 8-to-5, Monday through Friday timeframe and something fails, they just call it a day!

After the messages are cleared, I check the email for anything that may have come in. Occasionally, overnight there will be a request for a SQL query or overflow/misdirected email from the company website, but usually email is heaviest during the day.
The phones start ringing around 8 a.m. The first few calls of the day seem to be password resets (Active Directory) and printer issues. We use large ticket printers that fail most frequently from a lost network connection. The usual solution is to unplug the power to the little print server on the back of the printer, then wait a minute and plug it back in.

Within an hour or so of the start of the day, all three of us on the support desk will be busy. We are in a period of growth so we configure at least one new PC every day, which means custom loading the software and testing it before we ship it out to the districts. While one person is building a PC, someone else will be taking calls. The other representative may be out on the floor doing some on-site work.

I do a number of tasks during the course of a day, such as writing SQL queries, installing software, helping one of the end-users with a Word document, conference calling Dell tech support with a server issue or modify the customer database in the legacy software system. Probably the best part of the job is the fast pace and variety of work. My biggest complaint is not having enough time to keep up with the changes in software and hardware. My job is considered phone support, but the reality is I spend about 50 percent of my time providing on-site support. If you've ever considered this type of position but not applied because you were afraid of being bored, I can assure you there is more than enough to keep any type A individual fully engaged!

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Cambridge, Mass.