If you’re on any social networking site, and in particular on Facebook, you’ll almost certainly have seen a meme that periodically does the rounds in one form or other. It affirmatively declares something like:
I always knew I wasn’t a coder. Not a dedicated one, anyway. My preteen joy of doggedly typing out the 3000 line BASIC program that was printed across four issues of Sinclair User magazine was short-lived. I got my older sister – a trained secretary and quick typist – to come and try to thump out some of the code for me, but she got rather frustrated at the lack of natural-linguistic fluidity and the keyword-laden keyboard. So, it was up to me…
10 REM ***amaaaazing snake game *** 20 FOR I=0 TO 7 30 READ bits 40 POKE USR "L"+i,bits 50 NEXT I 60 FOR I=0 TO 7 … 380 IFINKEY$="q" AND dy=0 THEN LET dx=0: LET dy=-1 390 IFINKEY$="a" AND dy=0 THEN LET dx=0: LET dy=1 400 IFINKEY$="o" AND dx=0 THEN LET dx=-1: LET dy=0 410 IFINKEY$="p" AND dx=0 THEN LET dx=1: LET dy=0 420 REM ***bored now****
I loved my early computer, though. And I was always fascinated when I got it to do something new.
The problem with these listings was there was often a mistake. Or my impatient 10-year-old fingers would soon introduce one where there was none before. And so followed several frustrating eons of debugging, renumbering and crosschecking.
When I finally got it working, I loved playing the games. But the satisfaction of a problem solved was immense. Off I’d go, seeking a parent who understood precious little about what I’d just achieved, to tell them how I’d fixed it.
I realise, with hindsight, that was the best bit. I wasn’t too interested in crafting huge and complex algorithms to build the prettiest fractal or make the best games. I’d seen how much darned typing was involved. No, I liked fixing the problems and moving on to another.
By the time I hit secondary school here in the Britain, aged 11, I was already aiming for a career in front of a computer. But at an all-girls school in the 80s, opportunities to get heavily into tech were relatively limited. So I made what I could of them. There were six or so computers in the library. So I volunteered to work the desk whenever I could, just to give me a little access.
When I was 14, I started a little computer club, and got a bunch of girls from earlier years to come along for a half hour or so every day, poking around in all sorts of art programs and educational games. I was still subscribing to magazines at home, and eventually brought my own disks of freeware and shareware in to install. During those club times I stepped away from the keyboard and just walked around helping the younger girls out with whatever they were trying to do.
This was my first foray into a sort of technical support. I was fixing, helping and coaching. Still am.
I ran that computer club until my last week at school. By then, those six computers had made way for a whole room of 24. I filled that room every lunch time. And I got a big thank you from staff and girls alike when I left.
Of course, I went on to study computing at 18, and all the while I kept my hand in. I volunteered to help out with labs, and loved those subjects where I could rinse and repeat my identify, solve, guide, fix habit. I realised I loved databases, and that’s what I threw most of my eductional efforts into.
My third year at uni was a placement year. Thirteen months on a data help desk at Exxon. This was real technical support, in its very truest sense. And I felt completely at home, solving and solving and solving all day long.
I graduated, and it seemed obvious to me that this was my place, my tribe. All that career advice at school that seemed to settle firmly on placing me as a “Systems Analyst”, and the damp winter days spent miserably coding my various projects all fell away. I wanted to be a Supporter!
At the last minute, I got in under the wire on the Oracle graduate program. I loved every minute of it.
Every day in tech support is different. Sometimes every hour is different. Every case is different. Every customer is different. And you learn, All The Time. You help and interact with people and get potentially hundreds of little successes every day. It can be a role filled with frustrations, but it’s also immensely fulfilling.
That’s why I’m so pleased that, at long last, tech support is now beginning to be recognised as a practice in its own right. Ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a community or non-technical certification or conference dedicated to technical support. Now I can name at least three of each.
And on the back of that recognition – indeed maybe a driving factor for it – is the industry realisation that your support and customer service departments are where companies now can succeed or fail to retain customers. And so succeed or fail to grow the business. Technical support and customer care are stepping out of the shadows. Those roles are no longer a stepping stone to other areas of the organisation. They are business-critical operations on every level.
Businesses which invest and recognise their support teams grow.
They are support driven.
This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications in October 2018
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