A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Computer Support Specialist
Computer support specialists are professionals who solve problems with hardware, software, computers, printers and other related devices. They spend their days performing repairs, installing upgrades and troubleshooting problems, either virtually or in person. People working in this field may also be referred to as “technical support specialists.” To get started on the path to becoming a computer support specialist, interested students should consult the information below.
What is the Job Like?
Computer support specialists exist to help clients resolve issues they are experiencing with their computer equipment or network. These professionals may also assist clients in improving the overall function and efficiency of computer systems that are already working properly. During a typical day on the job, a computer specialist may:
- Talk to clients or employers about problems with computer equipment.
- Evaluate computer equipment or software.
- Perform repairs.
- Install upgrades, new equipment or new software.
The working environment for someone with a career as a computer support specialist will vary based on the nature of the employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most computer support specialists work full time. They may work during regular business hours and/or on nights and weekends. Some computer support specialists work directly with a company’s customers, while others offer in-house support for their employer’s own computer systems.
Working as a computer support specialist is not physically demanding. However, professionals in this field often spend a significant amount of time in a seated position. To be successful as a computer support specialist, individuals should be able to interact with customers professionally, think critically and work as a member of a team when necessary.
The BLS reports that, during 2012 (most recent statistics), professionals working as computer support specialists earned an average annual salary of $59,090. Salaries earned by computer support specialists vary according to the employer, level of responsibility, hours worked, location and various other factors. The computer support specialists earning the highest salaries in 2012 were working in the telecommunications industry.
Education and training requirements for computer support specialists vary considerably based on the position and the employer’s preferences. While some jobs may require a bachelor’s degree or even higher, many jobs require only an associate’s degree or certificate. Many employers will require certification as a computer support specialist regardless of degree.
Choosing a Program
For most computer support specialist positions, formal education will be required. When choosing a program, students should consider the following factors.
Tuition and Fees
One of the first issues many people consider when thinking about postsecondary education is the cost. Tuition and fees for computer support specialist training will vary by institution and program. When comparing costs, students should remember to include the cost of required materials, such as books, into calculations. Tuition costs may change from one year to the next, so students should obtain updated information when possible.
Financial Aid/Payment Options
Some computer support specialist programs may offer financial aid to qualifying students, such as scholarships, grants or student loans. For students who cannot pay for their schooling out-of-pocket, these resources can be very beneficial. Some schools may also offer payment plans for students who cannot afford to pay their balance upfront.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of a computer support specialist training program is the program’s curriculum. The best programs will teach students everything they need to know in order to work independently as computer support specialists. If possible, students should find a program that covers all of the following topics:
- Basic computer network technologies
- Mobile devices
- Computer hardware
- Help desk environments
- Windows operating systems
- Microsoft Office
Programs should also teach students to work with software, communicate with customers and colleagues, develop problem-solving skills and engage in continuing education.
The length of educational programs in this field range from as little as a few months, to as long as four years, for a bachelor’s degree. For individuals who plan to begin their career in an entry-level position, such as a Help Desk Specialist or IT Support professional, a computer support specialist degree can typically be obtained in 19 months if courses are taken as prescribed. However, programs may take longer to complete if students enroll part time. When comparing program length, students should remember to take the amount of material included in the program into consideration.
Amount of Hands-On Training
Classroom instruction is essential for students who are preparing for a career as a computer support specialist. However, hands-on training is just as important to ensure success. When choosing a program, students should try to find an option that offers a combination of lecture and real-world experience.
Evaluating a program’s effectiveness is an excellent way to determine whether the program is a good choice. To evaluate the effectiveness of a computer support specialist program, prospective students should inquire about the percentage of students that are able to find gainful employment in the field after graduation. If possible, students should also find out how many graduates are still working in the field after five years.
Reviews from Previous Students
Finally, before enrolling in a program, prospective students should learn about the experiences of people who have attended the program in the past. This information may be available online in the form of reviews, or prospective students may need to seek out graduates in person. When reading online reviews, students should look for reviews from unbiased sources when possible.
Preparing for Success as a Computer Support Specialist
For individuals who have an aptitude for problem solving, working as a computer support specialist can be rewarding. To maximize the chances of building a strong career in this field, students should be committed to the education process. The most successful students are those that listen carefully in class, participate in hands-on activities, take notes and ask questions when they are confused. Graduates of computer support specialist programs should also make an effort to continue their education and stay on top of new developments even after landing a job.