Transizion’s main focus has always been helping students get into the college of their dreams. But what if a four-year degree isn’t the right path for you? Or what if you want to begin your career while working towards earning a degree online?
Well, we still want to help – so in this series of articles, we’re doing a deep dive into a wide range of professions that don’t require a traditional four year degree.
Today’s post focuses on how to become an IT support specialist. We’ll cover education, working conditions, salary, job outlook, and more. Let’s dive in!
What Do IT Support Specialists Do?
IT support specialists, also called computer support specialists, assist people and organizations with computers and related technology. Some specialize in supporting computer users directly, while others are responsible for maintaining computer networks.
Computer user support specialists, sometimes called help desk technicians, spend their days helping computer users with various problems. They might spend their days on the phone or respond through live chats or email. In their daily work they typically do the following:
- Diagnose computer problems and determine the cause
- Guide customers through problem-solving steps to a solution
- Document calls and customer interactions
- Install or update computer equipment and related devices
- Train users on new devices or computer programs
- Inform managers of major problems and recurring concerns
Computer network support specialists are responsible for maintaining computer networks. They work under the direction of network and computer systems administrators.
Computer network support specialists generally:
- Analyze and troubleshoot computer network problems
- Test and evaluate network systems
- Perform regular maintenance
- Ensure that networks operate correctly
- Troubleshoot local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs)
Many IT support specialists work for large software companies or support service firms and specialize in specific programs or devices. They may teach customers how to use business-specific programs, such as electronic health records programs. Or they might work in call centers and spend their day on the phone walking customers through common problems with household devices such as WiFi routers.
Most computer support specialists work full time. Some companies require IT support specialists to work on site, but teleworking is increasingly common. Because some companies offer computer support services 24 hours a day, some specialists work nights or weekends. With the right company, you can conform your work schedule to your needs and work from home.
Even working from home, you’ll likely be tied to a computer, but you can set up a more ergonomic work environment. You can decrease strain on your eyes by looking out the window while listening to customers, and you can set up a standing work station to decrease the time that you spend stuck in a chair. You may even be able to take calls on a headset while walking in nature, though this will depend on the company and exact nature of your work.
How to Become an IT Support Specialist
You don’t necessarily need a degree in order to become an IT support specialist, but some level of education in information technology will help you land a good job. You may need an associate’s degree to begin work as a network support specialist, whereas it’s easier to find work as a user support specialist without any degree at all. Certifications will help, and we’ll explain that in more detail below.
If you want to work in information technology, it goes without saying that you should be comfortable working with computers. If you love technology and often find yourself helping friends and family with their phones and computers, working as an IT support specialist might suit you perfectly.
Here are some other important qualities to foster:
- Communication skills: You’ll need to be able to clearly convey information, both when speaking and when writing, in order to describe solutions to computer problems in ways that new users can understand.
- Customer-service skills: Your work will require you to be patient and sympathetic while you help people who are frustrated trying to use software or hardware.
- Listening skills: You must be able to understand problems that customers are describing and know when to ask questions for clarification.
- Problem-solving skills: You’ll need to be able to identify computer problems and then analyze and solve them.
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Whether or not you want to earn a degree in information technology, getting some college courses under your belt can go a long way towards building your resume and landing a good job in IT support. Consider taking classes in networking, server administration, and/or information security online or at your local community college.
If you do want to earn a degree, there are several options. Relevant degrees include Computer Science, Computer and Information Systems, Information Sciences, and Computer Administration. An Associate’s Degree in Computer Science may help you to land a higher-paying job in IT support.
Here are some options for good Computer Science Associate Degree programs that allow you to earn a degree online. If there are two figures listed for a single college, the numbers shown are in-state tuition followed by out-of-state tuition. Tuition is yearly unless otherwise noted, and these programs generally require two years to complete.
- Itawamba Community College $2,900 / $5,100
- CUNY LaGuardia Community College $4,800 / 7,680
- Georgia Military College $6,165
- Texas State Technical College $5,877 / 10,191
- CUNY Queensborough Community College $4,800 / 7,680
- Lincoln Land Community College $6,168
- South Texas College $1,174
- Laramie County Community College $6,000
- University of the People $2,400 total (24 months)
Classes that you can expect to take include:
- Programming Fundamentals
- Communications and Networking
- Web Programming
- Operating Systems
- Software Engineering
If you want to become a user support specialist without first earning a degree, the right certification will help. CompTIA A+ is the industry standard for establishing a career in IT. This certification covers nine vital skills:
- HARDWARE: Broad knowledge about different devices to support the remote workforce
- OPERATING SYSTEMS: System configuration imaging and troubleshooting
- SOFTWARE TROUBLESHOOTING: PC and mobile device issues including common OS, malware and security issues.
- NETWORKING: Networks and connections including TCP/IP, WIFI and SOHO
- TROUBLESHOOTING: Troubleshoot real-world device and network issues quickly and efficiently
- SECURITY: Security vulnerabilities for devices and their network connections
- MOBILE DEVICES: Installation, configuration, and support to ensure connectivity for users
- VIRTUALIZATION & CLOUD COMPUTING: Cloud computing concepts and client-side virtualization
- OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES: Best practices for safety, environmental impacts, and communication and professionalism
The complete learning bundle is available on the CompTIA website for $1441 – payment plans are available starting at $131 per month. This self-paced course contains everything that you’ll need to ace the exam, earn your certification, and launch a career in IT support.
How Long Does It Take to Become an IT Support Specialist?
It may take no time at all, or it may take up to two years. If you’re already familiar with technology, you may be able to land a job immediately. If you need to learn more, then studying for the CompTIA or taking some preliminary courses may require a few months. If you decide to pursue an associate’s degree, that will require roughly two years of study.
Career Outlook for IT Support Specialists
The job outlook for computer support specialists is slightly above average. Overall employment is projected to grow six percent in the coming decade, with an estimated 75,000 openings for computer support specialists expected each year.
The projected growth for all computer occupations is a whopping fifteen percent, meaning that your career outlook in this industry is excellent if you decide to keep studying and move on to other jobs in the industry after getting started in IT support.
How Much Do IT Support Specialists Make?
The median annual wage for computer support specialists in May 2021 was $57,910. That’s over ten thousand dollars per year more than the median annual wage for all occupations, which was $45,760 that same year.
Computer network support specialists earn more on average than IT support specialists who are dedicated to supporting individual people. The median annual wage for computer network support specialists in May 2021 was $62,760, while the median annual wage for computer user support specialists was $49,770 that year.
The top-paying states for computer network support specialists are New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The annual mean wages in these states are close to ninety thousand dollars.
Here are the median annual wages for computer network support specialists in the top industries in which they worked that year:
Finance and insurance $74,920
Management of companies and enterprises $66,500
Data processing, hosting, and related services $62,460
Computer systems design and related services $61,390
And here are the top-industry wages for computer user support specialists:
Software publishers $59,830
Management of companies and enterprises $58,430
Computer systems design and related services $48,540
Educational services; state, local, and private $48,530
Temporary help services $46,680
Top-paying states for computer user support specialists include California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York. The top wages for computer user support specialists in these states are still considerably lower than wages for computer network support specialists, roughly seventy thousand a year compared to ninety thousand.
Working as an IT Support Specialist: An Overview
Working as a support specialist is a great way to get started in the industry. You can earn a living wage while continuing to learn more about the subjects in the industry that most interest you, paving the way for future advancement and more lucrative careers in the IT field.
Here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Average pay is significantly more than the national average for all occupations
- You can advance to more lucrative jobs in the same industry
- Starting positions may not require a college degree
- Certain jobs may allow you to work from home
- Pays less than most other computer and information technology occupations
- Dealing with confused or irate customers all day can be exhausting
- Sedentary job with days spent staring at a screen
- Relatively low job satisfaction
Overall, working as an IT support specialist is a career worth considering for anyone who’s tech-savvy and enjoys helping other people. If you enjoy walking people through computer troubles or teaching them how to use new software, this might be the perfect career for you. Steady job growth and abundant opportunities in similar fields makes this a very promising career indeed, particularly if you use your work in IT support as a stepping stone on the way to other jobs in the IT industry.
If you’re interested in this profession, consider contacting IT support specialists in your area to ask about the possibility of shadowing them to learn more about this line of work.