Managers from Hell: Interview with A Computer Support Manager
Hiring Managers from Hell:
Interview with an Arrogant Supervisor of Computer Technicians
Interview conducted by Resumes from Hell co-author Jon Reed
Jon Reed: Joe, thanks for joining us for this informative chat on hiring computer professionals and PC technicians. What's the latest advice on how to not only obtain an interview, but actually get what you want out of it? Do you recommend breaking the ice with an off-color joke?
Joe "P" Computer: Generally, I like a pro-active interviewee. I can't stand passive people who wait to be asked questions like they're taking an oral exam. The most important thing to me in hiring people who will be involved in troubleshooting is that they come out and tell me a story about something they've fixed. And I don't care if it has anything to do with computer technology. I don't even care if they broke it themselves.
JR: Why is this so important to you?
Joe PC: That's a legitimate question. If I could fix things myself, I wouldn't be looking for this ability. I believe that many computer candidates are basically untrainable, because they lack the ability to ascertain where the problem lies. This could be failing to ask the people they are supporting what the problem is, or simply talking while the customer is trying to get a word in.
JR: Is the "untrainable" aspect due to poor communication skills or inadequate technical knowledge?
Joe PC: Both. I would put part of the blame on our educational system, starting in elementary school, where children are taught to parrot, and fail to develop problem-solving skills. It's like anything else - fluency is much easier to acquire when you're a child. Of course, if you're after a lot of crackers, or a corner office, Polly better learn how to parrot.
JR: So you've never seen someone develop better problem-solving skills through better training?
Joe PC: No. It's a difficult process, and if you threaten a new tech in an attempt to speed it along, they just run crying to the state. I'm not interested in making training computer professionals more of a challenge than it needs to be.
JR: In the technical fields I'm used to, hiring managers do their first screen based solely on technical proficiency. Anyone who doesn't have the basic technical requirements for the position is automatically eliminated.
Joe PC: I like the sound of that. I only wish I could do the same. I wouldn't hire a service manager or a network security specialist based on their ability to jump start a car. However, the majority of hiring that I've done is at, or near, entry level, since most of the "dumb customer" problems we encounter are shockingly basic. You know that phrase "the customer is always right?" For the computer technician, "the customer is an idiot." A new PC technician with no formal training can be making useful service calls for many issues after a couple of hours of training. Keep in mind that the majority of service calls are caused by unplugged modems, Instant Messenger, printers being out of paper, etc.
JR: So you expect no basic technical proficiencies at all when you hire service technicians?
Joe PC: They have to be able to wield a screwdriver without hurting anyone.
JR: No PC literacy at all?
Joe PC: It's difficult to find someone without a degree of PC literacy who is foolish enough to apply for a technician job, but it's not all that necessary. The average PC is assembled from between ten to fifteen distinct parts, and the average high school graduate can still count that high as far as I know.
JR: Do you expect to see any degrees? Would you prefer someone with a master's in computer science over the aforementioned high school grad?
Joe PC: No, absolutely not. In fact, during the recession in the early 90s, I frequently received resumes from PhD-level scientists hoping to maintain their immigration status. I hate having to tell somebody they're overqualified, but being a PC technician doesn't require a graduate education. Basically, we're looking for someone who can get to the tenth level of Doom.
JR: What about A+ and other types of certifications?
Joe PC: I don't use certifications as a guide to what a person knows, as most of them are granted for passing multiple choice tests that can be scammed. They test short-term memory more than any problem-solving ability. However, the stuffed shirts whose hardware we sell require a certain number of certified employees to be on your staff before your company can act as a vendor for their products or do warranty service on their hardware.
JR: So certification, while not a must-have, is definitely a plus in this field.
Joe PC: Yes. It depends entirely on the environment the technician is applying for a job in. In a neighborhood shop, it's irrelevant. In a chain store, or a stifling corporate environment, it may be a requirement. The bottom line is: if you can't pass the test, you can buy the certification online. Just keep an eye on your spam for good educational offers.
JR: Besides problem-solving skills, what are the key personality traits of a successful PC technician?
Joe PC: The ability to put up with an enormous amount of bullshit. Frequently, a technician has to slog through a large number of perceived problems on the part of the user. If, for example, a customer's Internet connection is unreliable, they might start by telling a technician "my email doesn't work." It all depends on your perspective. An experienced technician will ask, "Can you still view your favorite online porn site?" There are an infinite number of ways that you can alter the functionality of a computer without breaking it or fixing it.
JR: What is the "career advancement path" for a computer service technician? Is there one?
Joe PC: No. There are, however, three career lifeboats for a computer technician. One is management, i.e. bossing around other PC technicians. Another is advancement into the broader IT market through specialization in networking, applications - learning everything about nothing - in detail. The third option is starting your own business, i.e. collecting unemployment.
JR: When you interview aspiring computer technicians, do you ask them about their long-term goals?
Joe PC: No. You never know when you may need to promote somebody into management, and not everybody wants to be a manager. I once went in as a consultant to a mid-size computer services company that was in severe disarray, and one of the first things the service manager said to me was "I just want somebody to tell me what to do." Somebody should have investigated his desire to be a manager before they promoted him.
JR: There's been a lot of talk on the news about the ongoing slowdown in corporate IT spending. When you combine that with increases in global IT outsourcing, do you still see the computer field as a promising career path, or are there some major bumps in the road ahead?
Joe PC: I think there will always be jobs for people who are willing to do the dirty work. When it comes to thankless, low-paying jobs, such as cabling networks, setting up workstations, and swapping failed components, there will always be entry-level opportunities.
JR: So this field is somewhat recession-proof, with salary constraints being the major potential drawback.
Joe PC: At some point, maybe five years from now, maybe less, I believe that computers will become appliances, in the sense that televisions are today. Do you remember all the T.V. repair shops twenty years ago? When computers do, in fact, become appliances, the only work I foresee will be depot service and the "cable guy."
JR: I guess what you're saying then, is, "strike while the iron is hot." Get your skills and keep pushing on.
Joe PC: That's a good point. Just keep in mind that whether you work for yourself or somebody else in the computer field, someone is always going to be yelling at you. If you reach the point that you just get sick of resetting somebody's password, it's time to consider a career change - perhaps something in the public sector.
JR: Well put. Joe, thank you for enlightening us on what it takes to succeed in this low-profile field.
Joe PC: You're welcome.
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