2

I am in Technical Support, or User Services as we call it. I'm very grateful for my job. I work at a top-tier research university, on a government grant, and I get to help researchers who are trying to use an enormous cloud infrastructure my team has built, that supports cancer research and is part of the cancer moonshot project. The job is aligned with my interests, it pays enough, I enjoy doing it, and I find it meaningful. I do not want to leave, and I don't think I will want to leave, ever. I have two systems administrators on my team who feel the same way about their jobs.

We've been looking for people to add to our team. I'm not the hiring manager; I am not the recruiter (we are using one); I am a team member. It's been a very frustrating process for me to interview people. Because there seems to be a prevailing attitude in tech (supported by some of the comments on this question), that tech support is just a stepping stone to a development or sysadmin position. Our interviewees do not seem to want to stay in tech support. Others see it as a dead-end job.

The people I have interviewed have the following three characteristics which make it impossible for me to recommend them to be hired:

  1. Wrong emphasis: interviewees have been more interested in building things and fixing problems than interacting with users and learning about their problems, and taking their feedback and feeding it back into development plans for the product.

  2. Poor emotional intelligence: they are not passing the empathy-oriented part of the interview.

  3. Lack of interest: when given the opportunity, they ask, essentially "how long do I have to be on your team and how soon can I get out and do something else that I would rather be doing?".

I'm trying to help my team find the right candidate because the candidates we've seen so far have not been even close, and we are getting desperate for help.

What can I, or my team, do to find the right tech support candidate? Should we be looking someplace in particular?

Is the job title wrong? We've changed titles from Tech Support Analyst to Tech Support Engineer. That has only seemed to attract more people who would rather be system administrators.

What is important to put in the job description? Should we say that we are looking for someone who wants to stay in tech support and enjoys interacting with people? Should we downplay the technical skills and hope they can pick them up? The job is supposed to be fairly generalist, it will focus on IT but may bleed over into questions regarding our data and bioinformatics systems.

Maybe when people think Tech Support they think help desk and helping people fix their printers? How can we convey that this is less hardware-focused and more software- and people-focused?

EDIT: This question was put on hold because it was too broad. I edited it, and received only one person's feedback on the updates. Neither that person nor the others removed their flag; and their complaints about the question still say that it doesn't have an answer. I am sure it does. I think there is a better answer out there than "go out there and find people who don't like to be inquisitive". Because Tech Support is inquisitive. It's not just inquisitive about computers. It's also inquisitive about people and their needs. I think way too many people in the tech community are blind to that. Perhaps it's because they've been burned by help desk experiences that were run by scripts, or by co-workers who did not want to be there. But there are people who enjoy tech support. And they are not stupid, or dumb, or enjoy the mundane. To me, building and configuring computers all day is mundane. Mundane is in the eye of the beholder. And there are organizations out there that do tech support right.

Every user that flagged my post and provided no feedback or response on the modifications, even after I asked them for feedback, is a Software Developer according to their profile. Maybe they were too busy or forgot. But I am getting the feeling that they just don't like my question. I have a feeling that they just don't see why anyone in their right mind would want to stay in technical support. Why would anyone in their right mind stay a developer all their life? Or a sys admin? I think there are very good answers to these questions. And there is a good answer to my question. It's just not one of these two.

closed as off-topic by Chris E, paparazzo, Philip Kendall, Lilienthal, AndreiROM Mar 23 '16 at 18:51

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Chris E, paparazzo, Philip Kendall, Lilienthal, AndreiROM
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • @GiveLove I've edited your question to cut down on length and identify some core questions that I believe can be answered properly here and voted to reopen your question. If you disagree with my edits and revert it, please see what else you can do to cut down on length or narrow the scope as even with my edit this is a pretty long post. – Lilienthal Mar 24 '16 at 7:29
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 24 '16 at 10:22
  • @Lilienthal: Thank you for editing. I've cut it down further. Yeah I think I put a lot because I was so frustrated with people looking at my job as mindless grunt work, that I felt I needed to explain myself and I why I don't think that it is. But you are right, it's not really relevant to the question. – Give Love Mar 24 '16 at 16:28
  • Based on what you are describing I would avoid analyst or engineer in the job title. "IT Support Technician" will draw fewer people who want to move towards an engineer or analyst position. You can convey the focus is on software and people in the responsibilities section. You could mention little about hardware and more about working with users to understand their goals and assist in achieving them. I think you are looking for a unicorn but wish you well in your search. – Myles Mar 24 '16 at 16:52
  • Regarding the last two paragraphs - your question was closed by getting 5 close votes from users with 3k+ reputation. For it to be reopened, 3k+ people will have to vote to reopen it. I genuinely respect all the work you've put in to improving it (I did remove a DV I cast early on), but I suspect it'll fall into the category of "asking for advice" which is also off-topic. Either way, you might want to pop into chat and ask them for more feedback/reopen votes. – HPierce Mar 29 '16 at 20:33
1

You are not looking for a tech support person only but someone who is happy with mundane. A very though-sell. People who do techie stuff, do it because they are hungry for learning. Unfortunately, in the tech-support help desk, fast learning stops about 3 months or 6 months after the hire. You get to answer the same phone calls, about someone forgetting their password or not being able to connect to the network, etc issues. For an inquisitive mind, this is a flashing light, telling them get out and GET-OUT-NOW ! For those who will take this as a career path, are not the techie types in general. I suggest you find these people, doing some other mundane job, like flipping burgers at the local fast food joint and train them. Then pay them much better than their short order cook salaries. They will be happy to stay with you, doing the same thing over and again. Yes, training these people will take much longer term than a tech enthusiast, but at least the will not look into becoming developers or sysadmins and jump ship when opportunity arises.

  • 3
    I'm not sure where that idea is coming from, that tech support is mundane. There is a lot of learning in tech support. Learning about users needs, learning how others are using our system, passing this on to developers, helping us guide how our future development work. I get to participate in deciding how our system is built, at a high level. I see that many of the devs and sys admins are very siloed; they don't know what other parts of the organization are doing. I get to have a generalist, broad view of our operation. I really enjoy that. – Give Love Mar 23 '16 at 18:17
  • 2
    Believe me. I have been there. I did tech support about 2 years and wanted to drill my brains out after about 3 months. The pipeline may change and you may need to learn new things but not as fast as a developer or systems engineer has to. And technology enthusiasts thrive on information overload. – MelBurslan Mar 23 '16 at 18:22
  • 1
    I kinda resent this answer saying that Tech support is not for techie types. Although I am not doing it now tech support can be a great career. My first support job a 100 years ago sent me to a one week class on transact SQL and since then every job I have had involved me doing DBA work. Unless you are working in a organization where you follow a script there is always a change to learn new things and get better at your job. And the reason I left my last support job? Because the focus was on ticket closing without caring if the problem was solved and the user satisfied. – JasonJ Mar 23 '16 at 18:50
  • 7
    @JasonJanowitz my point exactly. Tech support is and will always be the stepping stone for the techie types, not a career path. And yes as most tech support jobs focus on the metric and the metric is how many tickets you closed in a day/week/month. I have had short lived positions that you were expected to close X number of tickets every week, otherwise considered as under-performing. No the way to treat someone whose main focus is problem solving and complex ones at that. – MelBurslan Mar 23 '16 at 19:57
  • 1
    @GiveLove, how long have you done Tech Support and how long do you intend to do that job? Most big companies prefer people to have career paths and move on to higher level jobs. Look up the Peter Principle if you need a reference on where this can go wrong yet I suspect more than a few companies apply that principle in some form or other. – JB King Mar 23 '16 at 23:39
4

Let's twist the question--how can you make a tech support job a more attractive long-term career path? What opportunities do you offer for career growth? Training? Do you have a path where someone can eventually take on more responsibilities? How do you foster the tech support community? Do you host meetups or participate in conventions?

Or ... do you offer flexible work arrangements? Exceptional benefits? Work from home?

There are plenty of people who are interested in jobs that offer security, decent wages and comfort. I've personally worked with people who were happy to bus tables in a casino until they retired. The casino offered decent wages and union protection--both very attractive if you don't have a easily marketable skill.

You can find people in all the usual places IF the job has some redeeming qualities. It sounds like you're having trouble finding someone to take a job that doesn't offer much.

  • 4
    How much of that is obvious from the outside? Silos, teams and project are things you get to know when you're on the inside, and those are very subjective (not to mention corporate). What attracts your average guy who just wants a paycheck and no hassles? Great pension? Job guarantees? – jimm101 Mar 23 '16 at 18:32
  • 2
    @GiveLove - most likely you are getting people who are interested in tech support as a stepping stone in their career, which is something you seem to look down on. I'm sorry, but very few technical people are happy to be stuck in a rut, even if you don't seem to view it as such. You're making the mistake of trying to make the world make sense within your own narrow definition, and getting frustrated that others will not meet your expectations. Instead, accept the world for what it is and try to find the best fit according to those realities (like the fact that ppl will not be as passionate) – AndreiROM Mar 23 '16 at 18:54
  • 1
    It seems like all of these issues--generating enthusiasm in the interview, finding where to post--are about knowing your target audience. Give people a title they can feel proud about ("customer support supervisor"?), and a few breadcrumbs along the path to show progress toward a goal. Or some unbeatable benefit that makes other people turn a little green. Sell those in the adverts & interview. I'd advertise in the local papers and cragi's list--somewhere you can get a lot of responses. No one is staying in a job that doesn't make their chest swell a little when they discuss it. – jimm101 Mar 23 '16 at 19:18
  • 3
    "Technical" scares off people without programming/admin skills, and sounds too low level for someone who wants a technical role, which you're seeing. It is a tough balancing act, but a title that isn't technical and a job description that requires tech skills might work. The market for tech is really strong right now, so this won't be easy. Maybe even offering a path up and out makes sense. – jimm101 Mar 23 '16 at 19:30
  • 1
    Analogously, it almost feels like you're asking for where to find people who are passionate about working in retail. (high turn-over, lower educational requirements, stepping stone, not really most people's dream job, etc.) I really don't think comparing it to "what if you hired a dev that wanted to be a PM asap" is fair. – Cat'r'pillar Mar 23 '16 at 21:17

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.