Computer Support Specialists and Systems Administrators

Computers play an ever important role in school, work, business and just about every other settings. Most people utilizing computers at one time or another have encountered computer problems. Since computers are used in so many different settings, there is a need for experts to perform repairs, provide support services, and maintain computer networks.

Computer support specialists assist users and customers with their questions about computers and help them troubleshoot problems they may be having. Other professionals working in support are known as help desk technicians and technical support specialists. These experts diagnose problems and answer questions about computer equipment--usually for businesses and organizations. They frequently answer questions, determine problems, and provide troubleshooting advice over the phone, and sometimes in person. Support specialists are often employed by computer manufacturers or companies housing computer systems. Many support workers are employed by support companies providing their services to companies that contract with them.

Technical support specialists resolve the concerns of their companies' employees and setup programs that are automatically designed to detect and fix problems. They repair, alter, and setup a variety of software and hardware equipment and write technical books explaining how to use computer equipment. They also supervise software and systems to ensure efficient operation.

Help-desk technicians answer customer questions that cannot be answered with an owner's manual. They respond to customer concerns over the phone and through emails. When working with customers, they need to listen attentively, ask effective questions, and explain solutions in easy to follow steps.

Since help-desk technicians work on a one-on-one basis with customers, organizations rely on them to relay customers' reactions to them. Organizations consult with help-desk technicans to find out what problems customers are struggling with. Help-desk technicians usually begin their careers behind the help desk.

Computer system administrators and network administrators devise, setup, and supervise a company's local-area network (LAN), internet system, or whatever network it utilizes. They coordinate everyday support for employees using software in a variety of work settings, and they assess problems and oversee networks to ensure employees have access to it. Moreover, these administrators collect information and use it to assess networks and prevent problems before they arise. Some administrators are responsible for network security.

System administrators work in IT roles to ensure networks are working properly, so their companies are productive. To make this happen, system administrators link networks and other computer equipment to work in sync together. They frequently tweak networks and supervise them, so they can make educated decisions about future network changes. Administrators also address and fix network problems and advise management about strategies that could be used to improve networks.

Some companies hire computer security specialists to develop and setup their network security. They are responsible for teaching other employees about network security, setup protection software, supervise networks for security threats, react to these threats, and gather information that is used in computer hacker prosecutions. Their roles have increased because of the rise of cyber crime. Companies' concerns about cyber crime and increasing employment in network specialties signify more importance placed on support operations.

Work Environment
Computer support specialists and computer systems administrators usually work a typical 40 hour work week in well-lighted, comfortable offices, work spaces or computer labs. Depending on their responsibilities, they may be 'on call' adn required to work in the evening and on weekends.

While computer support specialists and administrators are primarily computer technicians, they're required to spend a lot of time talking with customers, employees and managers. They're also required to spend long hours typing on a keyboard and looking at a computer strain. Consequently, they're susceptible to eye, back and hand discomfort.

Some computer support specialists and system administrators work as consultants for outside firms and clients. Those who work as consultants may be required to travel and work remotely from client locations. However, computer networks continue to expand and internet communication technologies improve, more and more computer support specialists and systems administrators can contect to customer's network remotely, limiting the amount of travel required to fulfill their responsibilities as a consultant.

Education and Training
There is no one set path to becoming a computer support specialist or systems administrator. Due to the wide range of skills sets required for these careers, entry-level education requirement may be as minimal as on-the-job training or extensive as earning a master's degree in engineering. However, most employers prefer hiring someone with a college education. A bachelor's degree in computer science or related information technology discipline is the degree of choice among employers looking to hire computer specialists or systems administrators. A two-year associate's degree in a technical field is sufficient for a limited number of positions.

Anyone considering a career as a computer support specialist or systems administrators should have strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to work well with other people. Since these professionals are constantly interacting with customer, employees, and other computer personnel, they must have strong written and verbal communication skills.

Employment and Job Outlook
As of 2012, there were approximately 850,000 computer support specialists and system administrators employed in the United States. Of these, about 550,000 were computer support specialists and the remaining were computer systems administrators. Organizations that employ computer support specialists and systems administrators include administrative and support companies, government agencies, banks, technical service companies and IT firms, consulting firms, educational institutions, insurance companies and retail vendors. Many computer support specialists also work for manufacturers of computers, electrical equipment, electronic components, and semiconductors.

Computer support specialists and system administrators with a college degree or advanced training have the best job prospects. Professionals who are up to date with the latest skills and technologies will also be more in demand than professionals who aren't up to date. Due to the level of interaction that these careers require, well-developed oral and written communication skills are a must for computer specialists and administrators who want to obtain top positions.

The annual pay for computer support specialists is roughly $45,000 a year, with the lowest 10% of workings making less than $25,000 a year and the top 10% making over $75,000 a year. Earnings in the industries employing the most computer support specialists are shown in the table below.

Industry Annual Wage
Software publishing $46,000
Management of companies $44,000
Computer systems design $44,000
Higher education institutions $39,000
Elementary and secondary schools $37,000
The annual pay for computer systems administrators is roughly $65,000 a year, with the lowest 10% of workings making less than $39,000 a year and the top 10% making over $93,000 a year. Earnings in the industries employing the most computer systems administrators are shown in the table below.

Industry Annual Wage
Telecommunications $68,000
Computer systems design $63,600
Management $63,500
Elementary schools $55,000
Higher education institutions $55,700
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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