Career Switch: Getting to grips with IT support
An interview with Ben Simpson
What does your job involve?
I’m a senior support engineer at an IT support consultancy called Microbyte. We’re based in Peterborough, with a second office in Basingstoke, and we work with a variety of small and medium-sized businesses. I handle daily support requests from these companies; my jobs might range from sorting out printing issues to setting up Wi-Fi and internet access, as well as more complicated tasks such as configuring guest networks, provisioning broadband lines and VoIP services, and even building new servers and migrating data across from older systems.
What does a typical day look like?
Approximate starting salary: £16k
The first thing I do when I get into the office is look at my tasks for the day: we use a bespoke call-management system to assign tasks to specific engineers. We have a chap in-house who develops and does all the programming for that, so if we need to fix or change something, we can make that happen. It’s a good way to work; if you use out-of-the-box software, you’ll still need to pay for training, and if it doesn’t perfectly fit your needs, it might not be possible to go back to the creator to get it changed. Most of the machines we support have remote-access software installed, so I can often complete my tasks from the office. Sometimes, though, you need to visit a customer’s premises: I’d say I spend approximately five hours a week on site, excluding travel time. Outside of office hours, I might also be on call, so – for example – if any requests come in between midnight and 8am, I can deal with them right away.
Is there much out-of-hours work?
If you want to work a 40-hour week it’s possible;if you want to get stuck in, then there’s an opportunity to put in 18 hours a day too. Everybody’s so passionate here that there’s plenty of out-of-hours work going on, even when there’s no extra pay going for it. There are many occasions when you turn up to the office at 9am to find your colleagues have been there for two hours already. It’s a committed environment – there are nine of us working in the same room, so everybody’s really engaged with everything that’s going on.
How did you get started in IT support?
Number of permanent IT support roles: 2,898 (itjobswatch.co.uk)
I’ve always had an interest in PCs and networked systems. Since the age of 12 or 13, I used to build computers at home, and made myself little networks. At college I gained a BTEC National Diploma in Multimedia, so that tied into my interest in technology, although it probably isn’t directly relevant to how I ended up in this role. On my return after some time spent travelling, I found that a friend was already working here. He knew I was the sort of person who often stayed up until the early hours playing with PCs just for personal interest, so he suggested I apply for a job, and it all worked out. I started off as a junior support engineer – everyone here begins with simple work such as call logging, and taking care of small jobs such as resetting passwords and setting up basic profiles. At six months, an evaluation follows where they see if you’ve shown commitment and dedication, and whether you can deal with all the different types of job that come in. If all goes well, you can then move up to a senior position, take on more responsibility and start doing regular out-of-hours work.
What advice would you give to someone interested in working in IT support?
Obviously you need a degree of technical expertise, and the ability to keep up with the technologies being used by your customers. You also need to be good on the phone – an effective support engineer needs excellent questioning skills, and also an ability to think laterally to work out what the customer actually means, rather than what they’re telling you. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of trying to get to the bottom of what’s causing the customer’s problem.
What’s the pay like?
Average earnings: £31k
Around here, junior staff tend to come in at around £16,000. Seniors such as myself go up into the £20,000 region, and once you get further involved in big projects, you might be looking at £40,000 or more. There’s also the potential to generate work off your own back – you might land a contract with a customer to carry out a specific project, and receive a bonus for that, or the opportunity to earn some overtime. That can apply even if it’s something we don’t normally deal with: recently, for example, a colleague was talking about the possibility of putting up dishes on a radio mast to extend the range of a wireless network. Two days later, it’s in the office being configured. So if you have an idea, or there’s something you hear about, we have the opportunity to give these things a go.
Interested? Here’s where to get started
1. Microsoft Exam References: learn not just the how, but also the why.
2. CBT Nuggets: extensive online video training for system admins, DevOps, network engineers, developers, and more.
3. Always keep your ear to the ground on technology blog sites for the latest developments and reviews.