When you work in information technology (IT), most positions require the same fundamental, technical understanding of the computer systems that are generally used in organizations, regardless of industry. Where each role differs is its area of specialization and the type of soft skills required to undertake day-to-day duties.
First, a quick summary of the three careers we will be looking at. A Network Systems Administrator designs and implements an organization’s computer network. The Computer Network Support Technician will ensure that this system is running smoothly and answer any technical questions other IT staff have. A Computer User Support Technician is the front-facing staff member, working with non-IT employees to support their use of the organization’s computers and network.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine which role would suit you best.
Which do you prefer: people or machines?
All three positions require similar technical skills; it’s just the focus of these skills on-the-job that differs. While Computer User Support Technicians focus on the user and the individual devices they use to access an organization’s computer network, Network Support Specialists and Systems Administrators focus on the bigger picture: the entire organizational computer network.
If you prefer tinkering with electronics to talking to people, then the Network positions would be more your style than User Support where your primary responsibility is talking to, and helping, other people. While these positions all require a thorough knowledge of computers and electronics, understanding telecommunication networks and having a practical understanding of engineering and technology is much more important for people who work in Network-focussed positions.
Can you clearly communicate instructions?
When you are supporting computer systems for an organization, you will need to be able to communicate with co-workers, management, and clients who all have different levels of technical knowledge. Fortunately, not all positions require the same amount of communication skills so you can adapt your IT career to match your personal preferences.
Every day, Computer User Support Specialists work with computer users who have limited IT knowledge. It is essential that you are able to provide clear and simple step-by-step instructions and remain patient at all times. You’ll definitely have to get used to saying “Have you tried turning it off and then on again?”. You will also need to employ effective active listening skills as well.
If you find it difficult to talk to people that do not have the same technical knowledge as you, a Network Support Specialist role may be more your style. In these roles you do have to communicate and work with others, you will primarily deal with other IT staff who will have a basic understanding of networking fundamentals.
As a Network Administrator, you will be the bridge between management and the IT department. You’ll need to be able to explain your design to both IT staff and management, but you won’t often need to deal with company employees. Customer service skills are vital for Computer User Support Specialists but not as important for those in Network Support or Administration who only really have to deal with others who are IT-proficient.
What type of problems do you like to solve?
Problem-solving and critical thinking are essential skills for all three positions, but it is the type of problems that need to be solved that differ. Computer User and Network Support roles solve problems as they occur, and take steps to prevent them occurring in the future. Contrastingly, Network Administrators need to use their logic to determine all the possible problems that could occur within the computer network and consider solutions for both within the network and amongst users.
Are you a good teacher?
If you don’t like teaching people how to do things, then a Support position probably wouldn’t suit you. Computer User and Network Support Technicians not only need to help users solve problems, they also need to educate users so that they do not encounter the same problem again.
This is especially important in Computer User Support. While it might be obvious to you that that suspicious link will download malware, these users don’t have the same level of understanding. So you will need to teach them safe online behavior. While Network Administrators may have to explain aspects of the system to management and IT staff, actual staff education would usually fall to the support positions.
Are you more interested in computers or the systems that run them?
If you work in Computer User Support, your primary focus will be on the hardware and software that are being used by individuals within an organization. So while you need to have a basic understanding of computer networks it will be more important that you have a thorough understanding of security protocols, as well as operating systems such as Microsoft and Linux.
Systems Administrators design and implement an organization’s computer and telecommunications network while Network Support Technicians maintain the system and support its users. The focus here is on how an organization uses its computer systems, rather than how it is used by individual employees. This means that while you’ll have a good understanding of operating systems and software used within the organization, your main area of expertise will involve the networks, servers, and hardware that drive the system itself.
For more information on the various IT roles and the qualifications you need to get them, visit CCI Training Center and fill out the form.