Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tech support at the small company

When I first start with a new company I can usually count on my day always being busy. No, hectic is a better word for it. I have always worked for small companies that either did not previously have a tech support guy or that fired the previous support person due to incompetence or an unwillingness to do things the company way. That’s not a good way to treat an employer.

When the employees find out that there is someone on the payroll that knows what they are doing with computers, it’s as if the floodgates open. All the pent-up frustrations of not knowing how to do something with the computer or the network come to the surface and I am deluged with unending calls and requests for meetings to discuss their issues and solve their problems.

The small company mentality

Small companies are interesting to work for. They are quite a different animal from the large corporate environment where there are department and inter-departmental politics. Sure, some of that exists in the small company but for the most part, when you are supporting less than 100 computers, you can count on wearing multiple hats and having to be the expert in all of them.

For example, in addition to the approximately 100 computers including all kinds of laptops, I support a dozen servers in several locations, the LAN at each location, the WAN, the routers, firewalls, switches, fiber connections between hangars at the airport where I work, the email system, the SQL server database, the website, the intranet and all the phone and FAX systems.

Need more than tech skills

When you are the sole tech support guy, there are a multitude of soft skills that are needed to survive in the small business environment. Number one on the list is the ability to relate well to people. Most people don’t care about technology. Computers do not fascinate them. To them, the stuff we work on is nothing more than a tool. They could care less about how it really works.

Your success in helping a frustrated co-worker deal with some problem on their computer is in direct relation to how well you can deflect abuse or blame. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or have had implied, “It’s your fault that it’s not working.” It’s a real talent to be able to accept that responsibility without taking offense. “No problem – we’ll get it working soon.”

Dealing with executives

The favorite part of my job is dealing with the upper level CEOs and Vice Presidents. For the most part, they are completely helpless when it comes to technology and they hate that feeling of being powerless. If you want to experience some real stress, try taking the call from the CEO when he can’t get the video projector working in front of several multi-million dollar clients.

Executives travel and don’t do well with remote connections. Although it has become easier in the last few years with wireless in the hotel rooms, leave it to the travelling VP to always find some way of messing something up with his Outlook client. A simple change in the view from 100% to 200% can cause a major freak-out with claims that they didn’t do anything. Fix that!

Benefits of small company work

In spite of all the stressful aspects of doing tech support at a small company, there are some major advantages that you won’t find in the big companies. Even though I am a Microsoft certified systems engineer, I enjoy the company understanding and support of a regular budget for outside consulting with other engineers when working on major infrastructure changes.

And, almost always, after a year or two, I am able to convince the boss to allow me to train a junior assistant to take over the day-to-day helpdesk issues. It usually ends up being the son of one of the owners or executives, but that works out just fine. I can then focus on network and server support, concentrating on long-range planning for anticipated growth or disaster recovery.

Summary and conclusion

After nearly thirty years of working for small companies providing tech support, I can endorse the career choice completely. Sure, there is a limit to how much you can earn, but there is also a much lower level of expectation and almost always a higher level of appreciation from those who run the company. The small business is usually run with a very family-friendly atmosphere.

Maybe my experiences with tech support in the small business world have been unique or maybe I have just been blessed, but I no longer miss the idea of working for the huge IT department in corporate America, especially with all the economic concern that we live with today. No job is completely secure, but being the only computer guy for a small company is a pretty good gig.


Unknown said...

This is a very interesting post about tech support at the small company, I have posted a similar posting about the 5 statistics every IT manager should know http://realitsolutionsinc.com/realblog/?p=7

Joana Leighmoore said...

"A simple change in the view from 100% to 200% can cause a major freak-out with claims that they didn’t do anything." - Now that really cracked me up! Though seriously, we just can't avoid helping out those with relatively simple issues just because they really need it. It's more like creating a website for a startup business, isn't it? Lots of variables and sudden changes here and there, but it's just as rewarding.