Get started by reviewing how you got started. Most of you made a decision at some point to pursue a career in IT. Perhaps you’re a recent high school or college graduate. Or maybe you’re a professional from another field who has decided to switch careers. In either case, we’ll assume you started with no professional IT experience, knowledge or training. Getting started for you probably means working toward a job at a Help Desk. For most, all it takes to land a Help Desk job is some basic computer training and maybe a CompTIA A+ certification. At your first Help Desk position it may seem like you’re stuck at the bottom, but you’re gaining valuable experience and credentials you need to move forward and become a Network Admin.
Help Desk Technician
In your role as a Help Desk technician, you’ll be performing “Level One” Help Desk support. Your day will be spent fielding phone calls and support tickets for common computing problems. You may be servicing the needs for your company’s customers or for people within your organization. Your responses and tasks will be heavily scripted without much room or need for independent problem solving. Any challenging or unique problems will be escalated to more experienced Help Desk techs. In your extra time you should continue your training and earning certifications and credentials. Video training is the most popular way to learn for people at this career level because it’s convenient, easy-to-use and effective. Use this time to finish off your CompTIA A+ certification if you haven’t already. There are two exams to pass to earn this credential: A+ Essentials (220-801) and A+ Practical Application (220-802).
As your confidence and experience grow, start checking online job boards and websites for Level Two Help Desk technician positions. This is the next higher level, with a greater level of responsibility and a more extensive set of skills required. The positive side to having a career path is that you can proactively look ahead for positions. A site like Monster is an excellent source for jobs, but you may have better luck finding IT work on networking sites such as LinkedIn or IT-specific job sites like DICE. Now let’s go ahead and fast forward about a year or so to your next position as a Level Two Help Desk Technician.
Level Two Help Desk Technician
As a Level Two Help Desk Tech, you’ll have more responsibility responding to more sophisticated and challenging problems. You’ll be required to “interview” customers to identify the symptoms of their tech problems and to deliver solutions. “Soft Skills” will become more important to you professionally. Soft skills include the interpersonal skills that aren’t always associated with technology roles. As a higher level Help Desk pro, patience and communication will be required as you spend more time solving problems for frustrated customers. You will probably want to review the soft skills training sections of your CompTIA A+ training. Don’t feel as if you’re taking a step backward when you review your training. Effective professionals refer to their knowledge base frequently. Start pursuing your CompTIA Network+ certification. Actually, your Network+ training should begin as soon as you get home from taking your A+ exams. The Network+ certification is a perfect credential for you at this point of your career. Some people may ask “shouldn’t I get my CCNA after my A+?” We recommend the Network+ at this stage for a couple of reasons. The first is that the training is more relevant to your career now. At the Second Level Help Desk position, you’ll have more involvement with networking tickets and questions. By training for your Network+, you’ll learn valuable info about network topologies and protocols, IP addressing, DHCP and secure encryption. These are topics you’ll see every day. The other reason is that your Network+ training, combined with your work experience will make you a stronger candidate for your CCNA and will make it easier to pass your CCNA exam.
The next step in your career is to move to the top of the “food chain” in the Help Desk technician world. This can mean becoming a “Level Three” Help Desk tech, or a Help Desk Supervisor or Manager. Not all companies or organizations have a formal third level of Help Desk techs, so you will see lots of variations in the titles and listings for jobs of this caliber. Keep an eye out for job descriptions that involve escalated, complex problem solving and troubleshooting as well as some management and training responsibilities. At this level you’ll also begin to see differences in the management style and work atmosphere from company to company, so consider those elements as your job search continues. And of course don’t rule out advancement within your own company. You don’t necessarily have to look elsewhere for your next job opportunity.
Help Desk Supervisor/Manager
As the Help Desk Supervisor, you’ll be responsible for developing and maintaining many of the procedures and scripts you used as an entry-level tech. Your previous experience will be vital to your success and advancement in this role. Having answered thousands of tickets and reqs over the past few years, you’ll thoroughly understand your customers’ needs and the answers to their problems. You’ll be asked to keep records and do research to develop new answers to increasingly frequent questions. Escalation issues will become your responsibility and you’ll need a greater command of interpersonal soft skills. Your skills will be required to provide training and mentoring to new techs and for new deployments. You can expect to earn a bigger paycheck, enjoy a little more freedom and start seeing the sun on the horizon for your career as a Network Admin. An important thing to do is to keep up on the trends in the industry. Be the first to know about new technology and what’s hot in the industry. Being in a supervisory position will help keep you in the know, but you should also keep up on trade publications, message boards, blogs and journals related to your profession. When new technology like VMWare starts to gain heat, make sure that you’re conversant (even if you’re not an expert). Continuing your training now is very important. Since you’ve had a taste of being in the front office, you may be tempted to rest on your laurels. Resist that temptation! You’ll probably be in the Help Desk Supervisor position longer than you were in the other Help Desk roles, so you’ll want to accomplish more in your down time. Finish up your Cisco CCNA Certification and build a strong foundation of routing and switching skills. Understand shared networking, WAN and LAN concepts and router security and setup. You’ll also want to pursue your Microsoft MCSE certifications. Windows Server 2008 is currently the leading server operating system. In the next 24-36 months it will be replaced by Server 2012. Companies around the globe need people who are certified to run these new systems. Earning an MCSE certification is the measure of the most up-to-date and advanced Microsoft professionals. The MCSE certification can be earned in about 18 months, possibly faster. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you train and focus one exam at a time you should do fine. The MCSE certification demonstrates your skills in Windows infrastructure design for job roles such as: enterprise systems administrator, IT systems manager, enterprise security administrator; systems architect and network administrator.
Your Resume Looks Pretty Good Now!
With some diligence and direction, you’ve built an impressive resume of work experience and IT certifications. You can demonstrate proficiency with hardware, software and networking as well as Cisco and Microsoft technologies. You can also show management, supervisory and soft skill mastery. A person with a resume like that is a very attractive candidate for a Network Admin position and a $60,000 to $70,000 annual salary.
When searching for a Network Admin role, make sure to consider your personal interests. Where do you want to live? If there aren’t many openings in your area, are you willing to relocate? More Network Admin positions are available in larger Metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. You may even want to consider going overseas. Your skills and certifications translate very well in countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as many other nations across Europe and Asia. Using your online resources searching for jobs in these locales is just as easy as searching at home (although the drive to the interview may be a little longer.) When you do interview for a position, make sure to clearly show what you can do. State facts about yourself and support these facts with experience. Don’t just state “I have an A+, Network+, CCNA and I am an MCSE.” Instead, tell your interviewer “I have extensive experience in networking, as shown by my Help Desk experience and my A+, CCNA and MCSE certifications.” Employers have a need for a person who can perform a number of tasks. They can tell you’re a person when you walk in the door. It’s your job to prove you can perform the tasks. With the knowledge you‘ve gained and the experience you’ll have accumulated you’ll be able to put up a strong case to even the most demanding HR specialists and hiring managers.