IT technical support officers monitor and maintain the computer systems and networks of an organisation
As an IT technical support officer, you'll install and configure computer systems, diagnose hardware and software faults and solve technical and application problems, either over the phone or in person.
You'll cover one or more areas of expertise, depending on the size of the organisation you work for. It's common practice for a technical IT support team to be divided into first and second-line support, with the second-line support staff handling the more specialised queries that the first-line support could not deal with.
The work is as much about understanding how information systems are used as applying technical knowledge related to computer hardware or software.
Alternative job titles include applications support specialist, help desk operator, maintenance engineer and technician.
Types of IT technical support
- computer networks - installing, configuring and maintaining computers in large organisations
- desktop support - providing direct user assistance
- contract hardware maintenance - working for a business with contracts to maintain and repair computer hardware
- vertical software applications - working for a supplier of a software application for a specific business sector, such as retail, travel or pharmaceuticals
- managed hosting providers - ensuring clients websites and applications stay up and running and offering technical support.
Individual tasks vary depending on the type of technical support you are providing, but in general, you'll need to:
- keep computer systems running smoothly and ensure users get the maximum benefit from them
- install and configure computer hardware operating systems and applications
- monitor and maintain computer systems and networks
- talk staff or clients through a series of actions, either face-to-face or over the phone, to help set up systems or resolve issues
- troubleshoot system and network problems, diagnosing and solving hardware or software faults
- replace parts as required
- provide support, including procedural documentation and relevant reports
- follow diagrams and written instructions to repair a fault or set up a system
- support the roll-out of new applications
- set up new users' accounts and profiles and deal with password issues
- respond within agreed time limits to call-outs
- work continuously on a task until completion (or referral to third parties, if appropriate)
- prioritise and manage many open cases at one time
- rapidly establish a good working relationship with customers and other professionals, such as software developers
- test and evaluate new technology
- conduct electrical safety checks on computer equipment.
- Starting salaries in IT support range from £17,000 to £23,000.
- After gaining experience, it's possible to progress to earnings of around £26,000 to £35,000.
- Technical support managers can earn over £40,000.
The salaries for IT support work vary greatly depending on the level of the job, previous experience and size of employer.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Due to the nature of the work, you may be expected to work shifts or be on call and it may be necessary to work extra hours to finish a job.
Opportunities for part-time work are not common, given the working hours in many large organisations, but it may be possible in some smaller companies. There are opportunities for self-employment in handling repairs and upgrades for home consumers or small businesses, although this market is shrinking.
Career breaks are rare because of the need to keep up to date with ever-changing software and operating systems.
What to expect
- There is often a pressure to work as fast as possible to deal with problems and achieve immediate results in all situations, either to ensure the minimum loss of manufacturing or customer-contact time or to enable members of staff to use their computer again.
- Considerable client contact is usually required.
- If you have responsibility for hardware or networks, you may have to lift and carry equipment and stretch to access items in awkward places.
- Travel within a working day is sometimes needed and may be required at short notice, with possible occasional overnight absence from home.
- This is currently a male-dominated profession, but steps are being taken to redress the balance. For information and jobs for women who want to work in technology, visit Women in Technology.
- The IT industry is constantly changing so there is a need to keep up with developments.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates and those with an HND or foundation degree, the following subjects may improve your chances:
- business information technology
- business systems engineering
- computer networking and hardware
- computer science
- computer software development
- information technology
- internet engineering
- software engineering.
Qualifications are not always required for this work if you can evidence enough skills and experience, although some employers do prefer a degree or IT-related qualification.
Employers often look for in-depth knowledge of the programs and applications they use, typically Microsoft, Linux and Cisco technologies.
A postgraduate qualification is not necessary for entry. However, Microsoft certification may give you an advantage. There are similarly recognised courses for Linux, Unix and Cisco. These are currently the most widely recognised technical certifications in the industry and are available at further education colleges and commercial training centres. Learn more about IT courses.
You'll need to show evidence of the following:
- the ability to think logically
- a good memory of how software and operating systems work
- excellent listening and questioning skills, combined with the ability to interact confidently with clients to establish what the problem is and explain the solution
- the ability to work well in a team
- problem-solving skills
- a strong customer focus
- the ability to prioritise your workload
- attention to detail.
Gaining as much practical work experience during your degree is extremely beneficial and summer placements or internships are highly recommended. For local placements, check with your university careers service or apply speculatively to local businesses. For overseas work placements, try the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE).
Part-time or temporary work in a relevant area will be useful, as will experience of customer service roles as this demonstrates that you have the desired communication and people skills.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
IT technical support officers work for a variety of organisations, in both the public and private sector, including:
- software and equipment suppliers, including application service providers (APS)
- IT maintenance companies
- call centres
- retailing chains
- financial institutions
- education (schools, colleges, universities)
- local government
- health trusts.
There are positions in any organisation that depends on computer systems.
Look for job vacancies at:
You'll undertake a combination of on-the-job learning and short training courses. Accredited certification courses are mainly offered by IT specialist training companies who are approved by IT vendors such as:
- Microsoft (for Windows)
- Cisco (for networking)
- Oracle (for databases)
These courses enable you to target specific technologies and develop in-depth knowledge and expertise in those areas.
Technologies change rapidly and it's essential that you stay up to date with any developments in hardware and software, or specific systems applications. Continuing professional development (CPD) is therefore very important. A range of professional qualifications and supported CPD activities are offered by:
You can also carry out self-directed learning, which may include reading manuals and guides, studying online help screens and working things out from logical principles.
Large companies with an extensive technical infrastructure may have separate teams dealing with different areas of their business. With experience, a move to a specialist area dealing with more complex technical environments is possible.
Another option is to take on the role of team or section leader. This involves supervising the work of a team of support staff, planning regular maintenance schedules and, eventually, managing the complete operational support throughout the business.
Self-employment is possibly an option, providing contract services to large organisations, but it’s not an easy route as it would require you to keep skills up to date in so many different areas of IT.
A reference model of the range of professional skills needed by people working in IT has been produced by the SFIA Foundation (Skills Framework for the Information Age) and may help with planning your career development.