Is tech support the perfect place to launch your IT career? Or is it a dead-end department where neophytes toil in obscurity while their technical skills grow stale? The answer depends on the company and the circumstances, so if you're a new graduate, do your homework before accepting a tech support position. Are you looking at tech support jobs? Tell us why in the comments below. “I think tech support is a great place for new computer science grads to prove themselves and acquire general business and IT knowledge with one big caveat,” says Jesse Oquendo, service manager for Williams, a natural gas producer based in Tulsa, Okla. “You need to interview the company and evaluate your ability to grow by acquiring certifications, project experience, or training in network support.” Budding professionals shouldn't accept a rudimentary position with a third-party provider of first-tier support, where all they do is read scripts and pass along technical issues through a process that Oquendo calls, “catch and dispatch.” Instead, they need to secure an analyst role where they talk with users and acquire technical knowledge by troubleshooting and resolving second and third tier issues. With those skills, tech support analysts can ultimately move into data center operations, network administration or support, or even become a business analyst. But at the very least, novice professionals need to acquire the hands-on experience and references to advance their careers once they've maximized the benefits of a stint in technical support. When interviewing, “ask about the company’s promotional philosophy, history and policies to assess your growth and training opportunities,” says Phillip Kimball, associate director of Customer Advocacy and Value Alignment at University of Utah Hospital and Clinics. “You shouldn’t accept a position in a tech support department where there hasn’t been any internal movement in the last two years.” Oquendo gives new hires 90 days to acclimate before eliciting their technical interests and letting them train on the network or embed in an interesting project.

Smaller is Better

Oquendo notes that it's easy to get lost in large companies that employ 400 to 500 people in tech support. So he recommends beginning at a small to mid-size organization that offers formal training, mentoring and a crystal clear career path. However, professional growth is never guaranteed, so you'll need to excel and not be afraid to ask for more responsibility. But: If you're an analyst, you'll have to master master your initial duties before volunteering to assist with mini projects. Then you should offer to help your manager by setting up a knowledge management database, preparing reports or analyzing help desk performance and data. At that point, you're ready to graduate to a new and larger role in the company or the IT organization, unless you conclude that it's time to revise your resume and hit the market. “If you’ve been there for six months and find limited opportunities to advance, you need to start looking to avoid getting trapped in tech support,” says Oquendo.