Making a Help-ier Help Desk: Is This the List?

Your comments in a previous blog post were a huge help in identifying some of the areas where you think incoming entry-level help desk job candidates need education. My basic question is, “what should a new help desk job candidate know on day 1?”

Communication skills was a common item on many lists, and although that’s certainly a difficult topic to teach, it’s included in the below attachment. I’m calling that one out specifically because… well, there’s a lot of personality involved that just can’t be taught easily. Some people are just naturally more patient than others, whether by genetics or by upbringing. But, there’s no doubt that it’s important to cover.

Anyway, have a look at the attached. Ignoring Linux and Mac for the moment (not that they aren’t important, just that they’re not where I started), let me know if this draft list seems to be missing anything major.

Keep in mind that we’d all love for new job candidates to show up fully educated and ready to roll – but we mostly know that doesn’t happen. That’s why they’re called ‘entry-level’ jobs, of course! So I’m trying to not make this list comprehensive, but rather include just the things that a brand-new, young IT person could be expected to know their first day on a new job.

If there’s anything missing, drop it in the comments. I know some of these don’t have a super-ton of detail, so if there’s a majorly important detail that you think might be missing, feel free to leave that also.

Audience-wise, I’d love for this material to be available to high schoolers, anyone considering a two-year career college (in IT administration, of course, not other tracks), and so on. So I’m trying to keep the material at that kind of level. Not that a high schooler is dumb, but I’m not going to hit them with the full ITIL right out of the gate, either.

I’m not trying to target the material to someone who’s merely enthusiastic about computers, but not necessarily considering a job in them. This is for someone who’s goal is to get a job in the IT department of a company or other organization.

Technology Fundamentals Draft

Changing the Conversation on Classroom Training

One of my personal interests is how we educate our kids and prepare them for the workforce. In general, I think we do a poor job. There’s an enormous emphasis on getting a college degree, driven both by the high-margin world of academia and by businesses who make a 4-year degree a “minimum entry level” for almost every job. It’s insane – we’re taking kids at the most vulnerable point in their lives, as they make the transition to full adulthood, and throwing them into massive debt. We’re forcing them through a program that simply wasn’t ever meant for every kid or every job.

As someone without a college degree, but who completed a four-year formal apprenticeship, I’m keenly aware of how many great-paying jobs there are that don’t really need a college education. The problem is that apprenticeships, especially in “white collar” jobs, are pretty much dead, and primary education simply doesn’t focus on preparing kids for those jobs.

When I think of what you need to know, for example, to be an entry-level IT help desk worker… it isn’t an insurmountable list of knowledge. Yet those jobs average $36k per year in the US, which is a great entry-level position. They also tend to offer growth opportunities, and almost by definition they support on-the-job learning. But kids simply can’t get the needed pre-req skills in K-12, almost forcing them to go to college. Where, by the way, they won’t learn what businesses need them to know, either. Instead, they’ll come out of college at which point a $36k job ain’t much, given their newly acquired student debt.

That’s why I’d like you to consider voting for Aaron Skonnard’s SXSWedu presentation. Aaron’s the CEO of my company, and a bunch of us at Pluralsight would love to change the conversation on IT education. We truly believe that quality IT education is something that should be available everywhere, to everyone, for an affordable price. I personally believe that a motivated high school student could, with the right supplementary training (probably done on their own), move right from Senior year into an entry-level IT job and excel. I’m personally agitating to produce more of the entry-level training those kids would need, because I think it solves a number of huge problems: the difficulty finding entry-level IT workers, the need to keep kids from going neck-deep in debt before they’ve even had a chance to live, and so on.

You’ll have to create an account to vote, but votes count for 30% of the selection process, so if you have a moment to do so, it’d be a big vote of confidence. And, expect to hear more from me on this topic in the coming year – it’s definitely something I feel strongly about. I’d love to see more kids going straight into IT after school, and I’d love to see more businesses feel confident in hiring them for those entry-level positions. There’s no reason IT can’t become more of an apprenticeship-style career path, with an emphasis on continuous on-the-job learning supplemented by timely, up-to-date formal training. 

(I’ll acknowledge, to my non-US readers, that many countries have different systems for higher education, many of which lack the disadvantages of the US system; I live in the US, and so my perspective is driven by what I see around me.)