Your Tech Support Career and the Best Certifications for the Job

Woman providing network support

Technical support is a central job role to literally every aspect of the information technology (IT) industry. What I tell people is that most businesses rely on IT to do business, and rely on technical support professionals to keep business running smoothly.


In this article you'll learn what's involved in choosing technical support as a full-time career. Next we'll discuss the top five tech support certifications that you may consider to expand your employment prospects. Let's get to work!


Technical Support as a Profession


Broadly speaking, a technical support analyst is a person who is paid to provide customers with technology-related assistance. The specific scope of work depends entirely on the industry. For example, you might work as a technical support analyst in any of the following representative capacities:


? Helping customers solve their problems with a particular piece of line of business (LOB) software
? Helping customers set up and get started with newly purchased or leased technology equipment
? Helping customers maintain daily operations via remote server and/or network support


This last use case is particularly interesting. Nowadays we are in the age of cloud service, in which businesses virtualize some or all of their data centers in a service provider's cloud. That being the case, your technical support work may be entirely remote.


In the right remote support situation, you could even work from home in your pajamas! By contrast, some managed service providers (MSPs) send tech support professionals on-site to customer premises, in order to provide a local point of contact for the client.


You may be a part of a corporate "help desk." In that seeing you could potentially spend some of your time on the phone, some of your time using the corporate support ticketing system, and some time on your feet performing so-called "sneakernet" support. It truly depends on the company.


Some people make the mistake of thinking that to be an effective technical support analyst means only that you have great technical knowledge and troubleshooting skills. This is a grossly incomplete picture.


In point of fact, technical support is every bit as much about good old fashioned customer service as it is "get your hands dirty" technical know-how. You may actually spend your workdays walking customers through technical procedures over the telephone. In these cases, it's crucial that you display high professionalism — and patience.


Next let's turn our attention to five technical support certifications that you may want to look into, especially if you're new to the IT industry.


CompTIA A+


In my experience, IT newcomers gravitate naturally to the CompTIA A+ certification. Number one, this computer hardware and software support credential has been around for many years. Number two, CompTIA in general and the A+ cert in particular both have high industry visibility.


CompTIA certifications are all vendor-neutral. This means that you're not beholden to any particular vendor, like Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, and so forth. To earn your A+, you need to pass two exams:


? 220-901: Computer hardware support
? 220-902: Computer software support


Sprinkled throughout both exams is coverage of communication skills, troubleshooting theory, and general knowledge of IT industry trends. Moreover, you'll have questions concerning Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux, and mobile devices and operating systems as well. The A+ is truly a worthwhile certification!


All this having been said, don't make the error of assuming that because the CompTIA A+ is an "entry level" tech support certification, that the exams are easy. They are difficult, as a matter of fact, chiefly because the skill set they encompass is so broad (but not necessarily too deep).


CompTIA Network+


Male tech support professional

I've always considered the CompTIA Network+ certification to be a close sibling of the A+. Whereas in A+ we deal with computer support, in Network+ we concern ourselves with the "care and feeding" of Ethernet networks.


To earn your Network+ credential, you'll need to pass a single exam (Exam N10-006). Something to keep in mind for both the Network+ and A+ titles is that the certs have a three-year expiration. What's cool is that you can renew your A+ by passing the latest version of the Network+, and vice versa.


Honestly, the A+ and the Network+ form a winning combination for any prospective help desk professional. Their skill sets firmly ground you in contemporary industry trends, and their vendor-neutral nature means you're not silo-ing your abilities too much with a single technology vendor.


As your career progresses, you'll need to decide whether to specialize or be an IT generalist. Personally, I've always favored the latter approach.


HDI Support Center Analyst (HDI-SCA)


The Help Desk Institute is a professional organization whose certification portfolio revolves entirely around technical support. The HDI Support Center Analyst (HDI-SCA) is their entry-level title that best fits today's topic.


Specifically, passing the HDI-SCA exam requires mastery of HDI's certification standards. So in a sense this is a vendor-specific skill set, inasmuch as you qualify your knowledge of the HDI technical support paradigm.


While we're on the subject, you may be interested in the HDI Desktop Support Technician (HDI-DST) credential as well. Whereas the SCA title covers more of the "soft skills" side of help desk work (particularly troubleshooting methodology and customer service), the DST assumes that you're performing "boots on the ground," in-person hardware and software support.


Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP)


In my experience, Apple desktop and laptop computers are used mainly in K-12 educational environments. From a corporate perspective, I see much more bring-your-own-device (BYOD) support situations involving Apple mobile hardware (iPhones, iPads, etc.).


Apple has a title called Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP), but sadly it's skewed entirely towards supporting their OS X operating system running on Apple computers.


Something to keep in mind, not only with Apple but for any original equipment manufacturer (OEM), is that you'll oftentimes be required to certify in order to perform in-warranty repair on their systems. I know that's the case with businesses who want to become Apple-authorized self-service repair shops.


For Apple mobile repair, the rules for certification are super-strict and not accessible to most individuals. This is because Apple mobile devices are built to be replaced and not repaired. Sad, but true.


Microsoft Specialist


By passing any single Microsoft technology exam, you become a Microsoft specialist in that technology. Microsoft certifications have historically held good industry visibility and value. The question for you to consider is whether you want to qualify on the Windows client side or the Windows Server side.


Unless you're working for an MSP, a good starting point is the support cert for the latest Windows client version (Windows 10 as of this writing). Since Microsoft still has an enormous footprint in the business realm, there's a good chance that some knowledge of Microsoft products will be required just about anywhere you end up.


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About the Author
Tim Warner

Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.