How to Move and Grow Out of the I.T. Helpdesk Rabbit Hole

How to Move and Grow Out of the I.T. Helpdesk Rabbit Hole
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Before we get started, let’s first dive in on why we are not going to cover any actual technical material. Sometimes there’s a perception that if you learn this specific coding language, or if you learn a specific technology, that this will be your key out of a service desk role. Although learning a specific subset of technologies is critical to your success long term, it’s not the key to your success.

There isn’t a clear answer on what technical attributes you should be looking at because every single individual has a different set interests. Some people excel in Infrastructure, while other excel in programming languages. What I can say, is that among every single talented technical person I’ve met in my career, there was an attribute everyone had in common, and that was desire! The desire to learn and grow is what allows most individuals to grow into higher paid roles.

Let’s keep this in mind as progress further…

Topic 1: How most people get into Helpdesk/IT Support /Service Desk.

There is nothing wrong with being on the service desk team, this can often be a very fulfilling role…for the right individual. The perspective of this being a “pitfall” role would be for those technical people who have the desire to do something more or have a specific passion for a particular technology. Let’s first dive in on why people get started in service desk to begin with.

Too often, I see people trying to get into I.T., and rightfully so, many people often start out as very handy technicians in their own right. Especially those who love to tinker with technology. Naturally, those same passionate individuals at some point come to the realization that a field in Information Technology is the path for them. Don’t count out also those who decide to make a career change in their lives and also come to the same conclusion.

What ends up happening, is that for a large portion of those individuals, a service desk role is often what I like to call “a stepping stone” to success. You may not like the role but you do need this….experience! Part of that experience is trying to get exposure to as many different technologies, processes, troubleshooting techniques, and connections to individuals who are already doing work that you are interested in.

The problem starts to arrive with the lack of vision and worst of all, people often become comfortable. As I mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with being on the service desk team, as long as you feel that you are fulfilled. But if you are someone who has the desire to do more, then it’s time to take action. This is where I’m stepping in to help you.

Topic 2: Getting out of your comfort zone

I believe that in order to be effective in communicating the end result, we need to be clear and transparent. With that comes some honestly towards yourself.

“Have you taken the steps necessary for personal growth?”

It’s a tough pill to swallow and we often get comfortable doing the same work day in and day out, especially when you become very familiar working on issues you already know how to fix. Now, I’m not asking you to start volunteering to do more work at your existing job to stand out, this could actually hurt you in the short term.

We need to first, get over any objections you might have, for example:

I can’t afford to take those expensive classes…
I don’t have enough time to study….
I don’t have a lab or any equipment to work with…
These are objections I often hear when people have the beginning aspirations to do something but have reasons to take the next step. I wouldn’t consider this as lazy but just misguided. I won’t get into this now but this is why it’s crucial to build a network and relationships with people who are in a place you currently want to be in. Let’s dive in on how we can get over these objections and actually get started.

Taking expense online classes….

There is merit to this objection and I’ll explain why. If you put yourself in the shoes of someone who is fairly new to information technology, we are flooded and overwhelmed with the amount of information we have to learn. This causes individuals to google and search for the best place to consume the information, and of course people want the information from an established “professional”.

Through marketing campaigns, people are often presented with bootcamps and online courses from perceived “Gurus”.

I have somewhat of a negative perceptions of bootcamps courses mostly due to the very high sign up costs, and I don’t believe you will be able to effectively consume the majority of the information within the timeframe provided.

I’ve heard of these online classes costing up to 10k in started fees, and some people going as far as taking a small loan to be able to take the course.

I have no affiliation with any courses and actually don’t have any myself, so my recommendations are completely unbiased and meant to provide you a cost effective way to learn to learn the material.

I would start small with online courses from places such as Udemy and Stackskills. Again, I don’t have any affiliation from either site but if you do your research, you will find some very good golden nugget courses at a very good effective cost.

Take for example, if you are interested in learning cloud technology such as AWS, you will find the courses from “A Cloud Guru” on Udemy, for as cheap as $9.99 when on sale. This is the same course that helped me become AWS Certified.

Just as a quick tip, what I usually do on Udemy to find the best course is seeing the star rank of the course and how many students are actually enrolled in the course. I also add very high points when courses have a preview of their course. This gives me a sneak peak if the instructor is someone who explains himself with clear distinction.

As a follow-up article, I’ll try to get a culmination of the recommended courses I would take depending on the technical specialty you are interested in.

Topic 3: The clear path….enough study time

In order for us to have clear direction, let’s first diagnose some of the things we do with our time. Let me give you some context, I’ve seen multitude of people who have kids / families, work full time jobs, have large commute times, etc.

Regardless, you will be able to find time to study. The first step to remove this objection is to make a commitment to yourself that you will find the time study. But studying isn’t enough, you also need to put the studying into practice by creating a lab environment to show off your work.

Coming from someone who loves watching movies and games, that was one of my sacrifices I had to make. There are times when I make a decision to learn new tech or get new certs, and that typically comes up as a sacrifice and not spend time with my different forms of digital entertainment.

Another recommendation I do recommend is to try to identify the golden nuggets of time. I remember when my son was born and scratching my head, how I was going to find the time to study while being in college. With time, I learned to identify those golden nuggets of time such as:

Waking up earlier than usual and studying.
Studying while the baby takes his naps.
Studying while the baby was watching his TV shows.
Listening to audio books of what I’m studying during my commute to work.
My personal favorite is staying up late while the whole family is already asleep. There is a certain peace and quiet I enjoy at night. It creates a distraction free environment that I usually can’t get in the morning with everyone in the process of waking up, and creating noise with getting ready to start their day.

Lab and Equipment

I do have a good piece of news when it comes to creating lab environments. The process has become more easier than ever before.

Let me give you some context, about a decade ago, when I first started my role as an I.T. Administrator. I had my first exposure to VMWare. It was clear, that for my new role, I needed to learn everything I needed to know to maintain and provide updates to the environment.

When working in I.T., it’s not good practice to make you production environment you learning environment. The worst case scenario that can happen is making a detrimental change to the environment:

You didn’t know what change you made.
You don’t fully understand the cause behind your change.
Once I was hired on, I realized that I needed to learn the environment, and fast. In this specific case, we had a mixture of network switches, SANS, and Hosts. In easy terms, these pieces of hardware were the foundation to keeping the technology environment up and running. All our servers and services were living in these pieces of hardware.

At the time, cloud technology wasn’t a thing yet as it is today. What I ended up having to do was make a personal investment and buy old server equipment to learn how to work with EXSi and VMWare.

Thankfully, one of my uncles at the time was working at a datacenter and had offered to sell me some equipment his company was selling at a very cheap and affordable price.

I spent about $200, on two server blades and installed a slightly older version of EXSi to start getting familiar with the platform. This was easier said than done, my apartment at the time was an older building in Chicago. When I plugged in the servers, I ended up causing a power outage to the whole building. That, along with my air conditioning, caused the whole building to power down.

My second best option was to take the two servers to my mothers house, where the power was stable. I had them connected in the basement and up and away I went.

Short story, you don’t have to experience this pain that I had to learn and grow within infrastructure. Nowadays, you can easily create a free account with either Amazon, Google, or Azure to learn the newest cloud platform.

Once you have your free account created, you will need to enter a credit card and be mindful of the services you are using. Thankfully, there are free options to spin up services to help you learn the newest services. It’s important to spend time and start getting familiar with the environment, with guidance of course. Invest in a course that will start to teach how to master each environment.

That of course, only covers cloud technology, but what about if your growth involves working with physical hardware. There is always an answer thankfully. I mentioned earlier that I got used hardware from a datacenter to start my learning and growth path. If that isn’t an option, check online for any non for profit organizations that work with the public, that sells used hardware. For example, here in Chicago, we have an organization called “Free Geek”, this place has tons of equipment available at very affordable prices.

Surprisingly enough, eBay has some decent options too when it comes to I.T. hardware and I’ll explain. Unlike other hardware that’s always constantly in demand such as your favorite video game console like the PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch. Used enterprise equipment, especially equipment not being the current standard, becomes extremely cheap than it’s original MSRP price.

Finally: Growing and growing….

As you continue to grow to outside of your helpdesk role, the fundamental rules have continued to help me in different avenues, such as management, infrastructure, and now more recently Devops. Continue to have the desire and commitment to continue learning and keep growing.

I often hear, that people get into I.T. because they want to make a lot of money, only to be disappointed in the long run. That isn’t to say that those individuals don’t exist but to get there, requires a strong desire to keep pushing yourself to grow in the latest technologies, where you can offer your value to earn a higher income.

So with that, keep pushing forward tech gurus…!