I began my career in user support, where I discovered my true love and vocation: the information technology field.
Supporting end users is one of the best ways to meet your colleagues and learn about what they do in the organization. It allows you to sharpen your problem-solving skills. Most importantly, it teaches you to deal with people with all kinds of personalities. Some will have egos and attitudes; some may even have rude tempers. You will also meet some nice people and discover your organization's best leaders.
Working in user support tends to be highly stressful, and people can experience rapid burnout. That's why it is best to rotate out of a full-time user support role into a mixed project/user support role as your career progresses. It's also why most user support organizations are tiered. At the first level, you may have a call center, which initiates a trouble ticket and solves routine problems and issues. This is usually treated as an entry-level position and can be staffed with newcomers. For most IT organizations, user support jobs are low-risk positions that can be used to vet and groom workers. This level is perfect for interns who are smart and curious and crave opportunities to experience the business world. Students from any major can be successful in this role if they enjoy meeting people and solving puzzles. After all, user support is an endless supply of puzzles to solve.
Since the primary focus of user support is customer service, you will learn that customer negotiations are an integral part of delivering great service. Customer service is, after all, a matter of managing expectations. This is because every user support professional has limited time and several problems to solve simultaneously. Everyone wants their problems solved first, and this is impossible, so you must assess the problem's impact and negotiate a timeframe which the customer can accept and a schedule you can meet. Ultimately, this is one of the key factors in determining how satisfied the end user is. Customer perception is paramount.
Listening is another important skill. How accurately and precisely you collect information about the problem will be critical in solving the problem quickly. The solution you provide must address the problem without creating a new one. You must learn to stay calm and positive. Your attitude is likely to influence the person you are interacting with and will help you collect better information. Staying calm can often help an agitated customer become less agitated.
The art of follow-up -- asking the customer if the solution solved the problem -- is critical, too. This is your opportunity to establish credibility and rapport with the customer. These are important assets that you will be able to bank for future negotiating advantage. If customers have been happy with your solutions and follow through in the past, they are more likely to give you a generous timetable with the next problem, because they have more faith in your ability to deliver.
You will also learn how to leverage the various resources at your disposal effectively -- such as other team members, knowledge bases, and Internet resources such as vendor sites and support forums. No matter how far you rise, the lessons you learned in user support will follow you throughout your career. Granted, you may have fewer or larger problems to solve, but if you are in the field of IT, you will always be supporting your customers.
Mansur Hasib has served in CIO/CISO and other leadership roles in the public, private, and education sectors.