What is something about a career in support that not many people know or realize?
This question is prompt number 4 of the Support Driven autumn writing challenge.
I’ve always been frustrated by the all-too-common attitude that tech support is not a career in its own right. In my experience, many people just starting out in their professional-technical life view support as a stepping stone. You start there to learn about the product before you transition to engineering. Or you start there to learn about the customers before you move to a consulting role. Or, even, you start there to learn about the basics before you move into training.
These prevailing opinions have historically damaged the reputation of support. It’s seen as entry-level and a cost centre. A necessary burden full of the unglamorous or unambitious. An organisational backwater.
But those thinkers are oh-so-wrong.
So here’s what I say to them:
- Technical support folk are, in my experience, some of the smartest, most technically adept people I’ve ever met. Their minds need to be agile, up to the challenge of constant learning, and able to task-switch on a dime.
- In support, you need to know how to relate to other people. Whatever certifications or qualifications or product knowledge you have, you need to also embody huge empathy skills and have the patience of a saint. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of another human and understand how they perceive your actions, and those of your organisation.
- If you are pursuing this in the early stages of your career, it is actually a great entry level role. You’ll be surrounded by people willing to help, and will, in fact, quite quickly get to a level of self-sufficiency that means you can get some quick wins. For most roles, the learning curve to the first stage is relatively low.
- Having said that, the growth opportunities can be limited, unless you place yourself in an organisation that places value in support. I’m happy to say this is becoming increasingly commonplace. Companies who put the customer first, will also put their support team front and centre. Find a decent company, and you’ll get significant personal investment and growth opportunities. Challenges beyond the traditional call centre ‘catch and dispatch’ roles are abundant if you’re willing to grab every technical opportunity that comes your way.
- Career opportunities are wide open beyond your first role. If your first step was into engineering, the chances are that you’ll remain in some sort of product development. But in support, if you’re intentional and creative, you can pretty much decide what direction you want to take. A support career can lead to a role as a technical or product guru, an operations specialist, customer success and account management, training, technical writing, development and engineering, consultancy, knowledge management, change management or, of course, leadership. You choose!
- Support is stepping out of the shadows. Organisations who fail to shine the limelight on an enthusiastic, well compensated and empathic front line will be overshadowed by those companies who have already realised that support is the key to their business growth.
I’ve been in support and leading support teams for more than 20 years. The day I walked in to my first role, I knew it was the place for me. And here I plan to stay.
Would you consider making it your career?
This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications in December 2018