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I have always looked at all of the technical positions in IT as pretty much equivalent from an image and recruiting standpoint, so to say. All of them are important in their own way and have a specific goal. Whether you are a software engineer, a tech support guy, a field services guy or a QA analyst, all have always looked equally "prestigious" to me.

Now, in the last few weeks, I have had at least three conversations with people who let a different situation transpire:

  • During a phone interview, the interviewer asked me if I saw my move from professional services to technical support as a deterioration of my professional situation
  • A recruiter asked me if I am looking at "upgrading" to another type of technical position in the future
  • A friend asked me whether I would be interested in a professional services position as an improvement

Honestly, all of these remarks kind of surprised me. Again, I have worked in professional services in the past and I don't understand this. At the end of the day, both technical support and professional services work on the same products/issues, the only difference being that professional services agents are required to go on site and travel more often. Besides, I am not even sure if this is a money thing, as I have never earned as much money as I am doing now in technical support.

Are there cultural/historical/professional reasons why technical support seems to be considered less prestigious than professional services? I would also be interested in opinions from recruiters as why this may be.

Note Just to clarify, I am talking about advanced, level 3 tech support in IT areas such as networking, security and the like. I know people that work in tier 3 support that are like CCNPs or something. I am obviously not talking about the "have you tried turning it off and on again" type of support.

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    Different areas of IT are certainly not seen as equal, from personal experience. Even with my previous experience in Java EE, recruiters often comment that I am ineligible to apply, because my current position as a B2B integration developer is a mismatch to more traditional programming jobs (C#, Java, etc.), even though this job also includes a lot of programming. – Juha Untinen Feb 19 '15 at 12:09
  • Lots of reasons this exists. One of the biggest that it is a whole different level of skill level to be onsite doing install/config/repair with the client looking over your shoulder than to be in "your own turf" back at the office with all the tools, resources, and colleagues available. It's essentially the difference between a touring musician in an artist's backup band vs. someone who plays guitar for friends in a local bar/restaurant. – Wesley Long Feb 19 '15 at 16:59
  • Another important distinction is that internal IT support costs the company money. Professional Services should be bring in money for the company. – mkennedy Feb 19 '15 at 18:09
  • I realize you've done both, but can you provide a more common definition of these two terms? Recruiters may not realize that in your case the duties were the same. Maybe you should ask them what's the difference? – user8365 Feb 19 '15 at 19:20
  • @JeffO in short: professional services is the team that does the actual deployments in the customer environment if the customer requests so; technical support is what assists customers that want to do the deployment themselves, who could also do it via remote support in lieu of professional services. – user1301428 Feb 19 '15 at 19:28
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This all depends.

I used to manage a huge tech support desk. Here is the breakdown of the groups I managed:

1st Level

  • Tech Support (CSRs)
  • Data Analysts (CSRs)

2nd Level

  • Server Management
  • Escalations group
  • Open Systems (Unix/Linux Support)
  • Operations - Management of internal systems/software

3rd Level

  • Network Operations (NOC - in charge of physical circuits)
  • TAC - configure physical circuits and make changes to major WAN/LAN devices
  • Operations II- escalation to Operations and required to make major configuration changes to internal systems

4th Level

  • NOC II - Create optimal configurations with telcos and support NOC
  • TAC II - mainly working on overall routing tables and high level configuration

This is just an example but a fairly standard one. Many of these groups had their own management systems and some had support of development and other tactical groups so if I gave you the full layout there might be 6-7 levels. I might have been considered 5th level.

My point is that as you move up these levels there is vastly different skill sets and experience required. The term "Technical Support" is just too vague. Anyone in my first 3 levels could be said to do Technical Support because they took phone calls.

My first level people basically did some Windows/network troubleshooting, did a ton of software troubleshooting, and had some scripted work. But if they did their jobs well they were pretty technical. Said company tried to establish these jobs "overseas" and quickly found that it took too much technical ability and was unable to be fully scripted.

My second level positions definitely required a very competent technical person in that area. Quite often these people went into Professional Services and I guess the move was thought of as a progression but it was almost lateral. It was a progression to my employees because the PS group would bump them up 10% in pay.

Overall my 3rd and 4th level were way better than the PS group. When I hired from our PS group I might put an all-star in the 3rd level but an average person would be 2nd level.

So my answer is that it all depends on what you call Technical Support. I have had friends work as managers at Enterprise and Mastercard and Microsoft in their technical support centers. These jobs required you to be a little technical but were just scripts. My helpdesk was not simplified and literally there were millions of dollars hedged on how a server was configured/not.

You need to define exactly what you are doing at your job so that others can properly identify your skill level and current position. Professional Services is an upgrade over a basic helpdesk job but there are many "technical support" positions where it is not.

  • Very interesting answer. I think you are right, it really depends on the type of position. It was especially interesting to see that from your experience, professional services people would be below level 3 support guys. – user1301428 Feb 19 '15 at 17:18
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There absolutely is a hierarchy in IT. The progression that I've seen in most places is - from bottom to top:

Tech Support I - Usually filled with people that have the least amount of computer knowledge. They can cover the basics of "is it plugged in?", read from a script, reset passwords and record trouble tickets in a support system.

Tech Support II (or above) - General troubleshooters. Can usually determine that the latest video driver you installed is the reason why the computer no longer boots. Often involved in cleaning malware / viruses from systems and generally just dealing with computer health issues.

QA - Likely a similar level of knowledge of a TS I. Good at breaking things and recording exactly what they did. Natural progression for the less technically inclined who still likes working in IT.

Business Analyst - May or may not have any in depth tech knowledge. Great communication skills. Usually comes from other areas of the company due to domain knowledge.

Project Manager - Similar to a BA in that they might have zero clue on how to operate anything beyond MS Project. Strong organization skills required. A few organizations conflate this position with Programming Manager or even Lead Programmer. However they are not the same thing. That said, corp politics is often a determining factor in where this person sits. Sometimes Development, QA and BA's report to them. Sometimes they are just there to make sure meetings go well and everyone knows what to do in more of a non-managerial role.

At this point we have two major branches Operations and Development. Some organizations place a higher priority on one branch over the other but it varies.

Operations:
Dedicated Server Managers - Not a real title, more of a classification. Sharepoint admins, Exchange/Email admins, Web server admins, etc fall into this. They usually have strong skills in a very particular technology. Usually seen only in the larger organizations. Way Back When these were the lower paid people that just watched the green screens to make sure nightly batch jobs worked. Due to specialization and the plethora of complicated off the shelf products they've evolved into respectable careers.

Network Administrators - Slightly higher rating than a Dedicated Server Manager (DSM) simply because they are the work horses for keeping a company's network going while also performing the same roles as a DSM in medium to smaller organizations. They might even be utilized for TS II. The next step for a network admin is CTO / IT director.

Development:
Jr Programmers - Usually fresh out of college although there are other entry points. May end up causing as many problems as they help solve, but they exist because you have to "start somewhere" on this path.

Sr. Programmer / Lead Developer - Things become a bit murky here. Some places have enough Sr's that only one is the actual Lead. Lead is a step towards being a Programming Manager, or may even be the Programming Manager. Sometimes it's only a differentiation due to pay scale. Either way, these people ought to know exactly what they are doing with code. In environments without BA's they are often the ones who speak with the end users.

Programming Manager - Usually coordinates programmers, BA's and QA to produce a finished product. Sometimes BA/QA people report to them, sometimes not. Company politics plays a big part in their job - both in getting this position as well as the level of control they have. Next step is CTO / IT director.

IT Director / CTO / CIO - The face of IT outside of the department. Really it's just all their fault, but at least they are paid well for taking the fall.

I left out a few roles such as Network Security. These are just higher specializations in the above. That said, pay scale is often (not always) along the above lines.

The above list is an attempt to rank the jobs the OP mentioned in terms of money, power and prestige within an organization from lowest to highest. Positions in IT are NOT roughly equivalent; not by a long shot.

Rather that "prestige" is based on the level of difficulty in filling the positions which is roughly equivalent to the level of technical knowledge required. For example, even though a basic support person is usually required for any size business there are far more people "qualified" to handle that role than you'll ever find who can be a solid network admin. Because of that, saying you are in Tech Support doesn't bring along the same level of "prestige".

Now, if you look at @blankip's answer, you'll see that "Support" can be broken down and specialized much further. If a business's "product" is in providing "support" services then their job titles are going to be quite a bit different than what I've listed.

  • You have Project Managers at the wrong level in a hierarchy. Project Managers (while not having necessarily significant technical skill) will often be placed well above even senior developers and would be parallel to programming managers. Similarly, BA and QA have their own progressions similar to development (from junior to senior) and require different levels of skill. All are still well above tech support though. – Joel Etherton Feb 19 '15 at 15:34
  • @JoelEtherton: Interesting. Most places I've been at, the BA's were more of an attachment to the dev team - kind of outside but still within IT. Their pay structure was less than even a Jr. Programmer but often above what you'd pay for tech support people; which is why I put them where I did on the list. – NotMe Feb 19 '15 at 15:36
  • I've seen it in several different arrangements. In the majority though, the BAs had different payscales (usually below developers, but not by much) based on experience, product knowledge, technical skill, etc. There are usually BA 1/2/3. I don't think I've ever seen a "lead" BA though, so that's something that definitely differs. – Joel Etherton Feb 19 '15 at 15:38
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    @JoelEtherton - based on my experience, it depends on the place. In some places, PMs are manager level people who make schedules and tell people how to hit them. In others, PMs are BA-level sorts who communicate the progress upwards and help communication between engineering and business. And they're both paid as such. Honestly, the latter has worked much better in practice. – Telastyn Feb 19 '15 at 15:51
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    Love this answer. Going to use it as a guide outside the scope of this question. Yes, the "Pecking Order" varies between organizations, but a good reference. – Wesley Long Feb 19 '15 at 16:55
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There tends to be more than one level of technical support and just one level of professional services.

First level of tech support takes calls from both the customer professional services. Tech support has the luxury of routing the call and getting help from others. First level support deals with specific issues.

Profession services is typically called in for on site diagnosis when the specific cause is not know. Profession services is required to perform more general analysis. Once specific problem(s) are isolated then professional services will fix the problems. Professional services may use first level tech support.

Professional servers needs to deal with more issues than first level support and they are in front of the customer. Professional services is typically a level up from first level support.

This is when it get more complex. A product bug that requires a patch. The typical process is first level support must first reproduce the bug. Professional services must work with first level support to reproduce the bug. If it is indeed a bug it will get bumped to second level support. Second level support will have authority to make code changes or they will have access to engineering for code changes. Second level support is typically a level up from professional services. Profession services will then apply the patch and perform testing. It may be on a live system. If the customer cannot accept a live patch then must backup and restore and demonstrate the patch is safe. Some times professional services is allowed to make code changes in the field. Where first level support is rarely allowed to make code changes.

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