Why is “support” considered an entry level, second rate, position?

It’s been on my mind since reading somewhere-on-line-and-now-I-cannot-locate-it (but if/when I do I will post a link) Joel Sposky comment about promoting folk into development positions from support. Earlier this month one of the Dice Bloggers asked the question is tech support a trap? I was impelled to comment, as were others.

Years ago, when 640K was loaded, I started out building PCs. Not long after that I began working as a Programmer. In the first position “support” was an integral part of my responsibilties. In the second my primary task was programming; a secondary role was support of persons with the title of “Service Associate”. That is, they were the liaison between the clients and the group in which I worked. In both roles I received the compliment of being told I possess great “soft skills” in addition to technical ability, and that I should strive to utilize those soft skills by not sitting in a corner/office/cubicle all day writing code.

Specifically, the first recognized my ability to teach. The second recognized that I remain calm either on the phone or in person while asking (without a script !) appropriate fact-finding and information gathering questions which I used to determine the problem, or the cause of the error. A related ability is being able to examine crashed-code, determine the cause of an error, correct the code, and rerun the program so data can be processed.

Rather than re-type the comment I left on Dice, I am pasting it here:

“This I never understood: why technical (and I’ll include software) support is viewed as an entry level position. Building a network, administering a system. and writing code according to specifications are “easy”; determining the cause of a user-reported error requires a completely different skill set and talent. It’s been my experience that a minority of technically gifted folk have the necessary soft skills to excel at supporting end users. That is, they have no patience, find it difficult to speak in layman’s terms and have no idea how to ask appropriate and probing questions that get to the actual problem. It’s time for “IT” (and business in general) to stop treating support as purgatory, and promote it as a valid and valued career path in its own right.”

I weclome any comments from readers.


About R Michael Small

My experience ranges from PCs (and Apples/Macs) to mainframes, but I do not own an Xbox, or Gameboy, and I am "Wii-free". I've held tech programming, networking, administrative, support and leadership positions, and am a substitute teacher. I have two business degrees, and several years experience in law enforcement as a Patrolman/Training Officer concurrent to my IT experience. My brand is technology as a tool, not a life. Avocational interests include Scotland (all of it), inventing and modifying SCUBA gear, writing, and photography.
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