Long term career choice

A question we were discussing around the help desk the other day. Is working on a help desk a long term career choice? My own opinion is that there’s about a 5 year shelf life. After 5 years, you simple have to do something besides spend your entire day answering user calls/emails and closing tickets. Much like working in a call center, whether it be tech or other customer service position, I believe there is very high burnout rate, and there are very, very few people who can do it long term.

I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half, and while I’m not burned out now, I know that I’ve only got a couple more years in me before I’m too cynical to be any good at it any longer.

So, if you’re managing a help desk, do your long term plans include having to turnover all of your positions every 5 years, or finding some way to keep good talent by transitioning them to another position? Or am I just completely off base here?

Tags: HelpDesk, careers

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  1. I have to agree with you about the timeframe for doing a help desk job. There might be a few people, maybe 1 in a 1000 that can find a zen-like path in help desk work and happily do it for years. Most others, though, “spoil” after about 2-3 years. There is certainly a “freshness date” on help desk positions. They tend to grind you up after a while.

    Most people simply need more challenges as they grow in their careers and are more suited for an environment where you can work to develop elegant solutions instead of quick fixes. We all want to do our best work and often the help desk is not necessarily the best environment for that.

    If I were a manager of a help desk operation, I would try to actively develop a career path that allows help desk employees to graduate up the ranks, acting as advisors and mentors to front line personnel. In this way, you don’t lose the talent you have created, you establish a career path for anyone coming into the operation and you develop a new level of employee who is proactively seeking answers for the users instead of waiting for the “bell to ring” with the next problem.

    That said, I think it is also individuals responsibility to develop their own skills and career path ideas and not rely on their management for an answer that might never come. Prepare yourself. You may never need to implement your plans, but you will be all the better for having developed them.

    Great post!

  2. I did enterprise-level network support (via phone and various electronic methods) for eight years before I ‘burned out,’ but I was able to change technical areas every now and then. DOS/Windows/Mac networking to Unix to NT, that sort of thing. I know folks who’ve been doing it much longer than that, but most of them are working in technologies that are fairly narrow and it’s real hard to find new people to take their place, so they’re paid well and well-respected by their peers.

    For “helpdesk” support, you’re probably right – I think our consumer-level support and certainly the helpdesk support folks see a turnover well under 24 months.

  3. Interesting blog entry. Helpdesk is often seen as entry level but it is really the most important thing any IT group does. In my Firm’s IT group (3 techs and 3 application support/trainers) we don’t have people dedicated to help desk – it’s part of everyone’s job. We all do other admin, setup, and development work which constantly change with the Firm’s needs. The model provides great support by making experienced, knowledgeable people available to everyone in the Firm. Will this setup work forever? Likely not. Do I keep people beyond the five years you mention? Yes.

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