Computer Support Specialists

Summary

computer support specialists image
Some computer support specialists, called help-desk technicians, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.
Quick Facts: Computer Support Specialists
2014 Median Pay $50,380 per year
$24.22 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 766,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 88,800

What Computer Support Specialists Do

Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.

Work Environment

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, many support specialists must be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

How to Become a Computer Support Specialist

Because of the wide range of skills used in different computer support jobs, there are many paths into the occupation. A bachelor’s degree is required for some computer support specialist positions, but an associate’s degree or postsecondary classes may be enough for others.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer support specialists was $50,380 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer support specialists is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. More support services will be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for computer support specialists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of computer support specialists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about computer support specialists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Computer Support Specialists Do

Computer support specialists
Help-desk technicians provide assistance to computer users.

Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.

Duties

Computer network support specialists typically do the following:

  • Test and evaluate existing network systems
  • Perform regular maintenance to ensure that networks operate correctly
  • Troubleshoot local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet systems

Computer network support specialists, also called technical support specialists, usually work in their organization’s IT department. They help IT staff analyze, troubleshoot, and evaluate computer network problems. They play an important role in the routine maintenance of their organization’s networks such as performing file backups on the network. Maintenance can be performed daily, weekly, or monthly and is important to an organization’s disaster recovery efforts. Solving an IT problem promptly is important because organizations depend on their network systems. Network support specialists may assist the organization’s computer users through phone, email, or in-person visits. They often work under network and computer systems administrators, who handle more complex tasks.

Computer user support specialists typically do the following:

  • Pay attention to customers’ descriptions of their computer problems
  • Ask customers questions to properly diagnose the problem
  • Walk customers through the recommended problem-solving steps
  • Set up or repair computer equipment and related devices
  • Train users to work with new computer hardware or software, such as printers, word-processing software, and email
  • Provide other team members and managers in the organization with information about what gives customers the most trouble and about other concerns customers have

Computer user support specialists, also called help-desk technicians, usually provide technical help to non-IT computer users. They respond to phone and email requests for help. They can usually help users remotely, but they also may make site visits so that they can solve a problem in person.

Help-desk technicians may solve a range of problems that vary with the industry and the particular firm. Some technicians work for large software companies or for support service firms and must give instructions to business customers on how to use business-specific programs such as an electronic health records program used in hospitals or physicians’ offices. Sometimes they work with other technicians to resolve problems.

Other help-desk technicians work in call centers, answering simpler questions from non-business customers. They may walk customers through basic steps in re-establishing an Internet connection or troubleshooting household IT products such as a Wi-Fi router.

Work Environment

Computer support specialists
Computer support specialists work for a variety of industries.

Computer support specialists held about 766,900 jobs in 2014. They work in many different industries, including information technology (IT), education, finance, healthcare, and telecommunication. Many help-desk technicians work for outside support service firms on a contract basis and provide help to a range of businesses and consumers. 

The industries that employed the most computer user support specialists in 2014 were as follows: 

Computer systems design and related services 20%
Educational services; state, local, and private 13
Information 11
Administrative and support services 9
Wholesale trade 7

The industries that employed the most computer network support specialists in 2014 were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 20%
Wired telecommunications carriers 10
Finance and insurance 9
Educational services; state, local, and private 8
Wholesale trade 6

Faster computer networks are making it possible for some support specialists, particularly help-desk technicians, to work from a home office. However, a few specialized help-desk technicians may have to travel to a client’s location to solve a problem.

Work Schedules

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, support specialists must be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

How to Become a Computer Support Specialist

Computer support specialists
Speaking skills are important for computer support specialists.

Because of the wide range of skills used in different computer support jobs, there are many paths into the occupation. A bachelor’s degree is required for some computer support specialist positions, but an associate’s degree or postsecondary classes may be enough for others.

Education

Education requirements for computer support specialists vary. Computer user support specialist jobs require some computer knowledge, but not necessarily a postsecondary degree. Applicants who have taken some computer-related classes are often qualified. For computer network support specialists, many employers accept applicants with an associate’s degree, although some prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

Large software companies that provide support to business users who buy their products or services often require a bachelor’s degree. Positions that are more technical are likely to require a degree in a field such as computer science, engineering, or information science, but for others, the applicant’s field of study is less important.

To keep up with changes in technology, many computer support specialists continue their education throughout their careers.

Certification

Certification programs are generally offered by vendors or from vendor-neutral certification providers. Certification validates the knowledge of and best practices required by computer support specialists. Companies may require their computer support specialists to hold certifications in the products the companies use.

Advancement

Many computer support specialists advance to other information technology positions, such as network and computer systems administrators and software developers. Some become managers in the computer support services department. Some organizations provide paths for support specialists to move into other parts of the organization, such as sales. For more information, see the profiles on network and computer systems administrators and software developers.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Computer support specialists must be patient and sympathetic. They must often help people who are frustrated with the software or hardware they are trying to use.

Listening skills. Support workers must be able to understand the problems that their customers are describing and know when to ask questions to clarify the situation.

Problem-solving skills. Support workers must identify both simple and complex computer problems, analyze them, and solve them.

Speaking skills. Support workers must describe the solutions to computer problems in a way that a nontechnical person can understand.

Writing skills. Strong writing skills are useful for preparing instructions and email responses for employees and customers, as well as real-time web chat interactions.

Pay

Computer Support Specialists

Median annual wages, May 2014

Computer occupations

$79,390

Computer network support specialists

$61,830

Computer support specialists

$50,380

Computer user support specialists

$47,610

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for computer user support specialists was $47,610 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,180.

The median annual wage for computer network support specialists was $61,830 in May 2014. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,010.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for computer user support specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $50,730
Information 49,050
Computer systems design and related services 47,940
Educational services; state, local, and private 44,670
Administrative and support services 43,780

In May 2014, median annual wages for computer network support specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wired telecommunications carriers $71,950
Finance and insurance 67,260
Wholesale trade 63,460
Computer systems design and related services 63,200
Educational services; state, local, and private 51,940

Most computer support specialists have full-time work schedules; however, many do not work typical 9-to-5 jobs. Because computer support is important for businesses, support specialists must be available 24 hours a day. As a result, many support specialists must work nights or weekends.

Job Outlook

Computer Support Specialists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Computer user support specialists

13%

Computer occupations

12%

Computer support specialists

12%

Computer network support specialists

8%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of computer support specialists is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. More support services will be needed as organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software. Computer support staff will be needed to respond to the installation and repair requirements of increasingly complex computer equipment and software. However, a rise in cloud computing could increase the productivity of computer support specialists, slowing their growth at many firms. Smaller businesses that do not have information technology (IT) departments will contract services from IT consulting firms and increase the demand computer support specialists in those firms. Employment of support specialists in computer systems design and related firms is projected to grow 31 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Employment growth may also come from increasing demand for IT support services from healthcare industries. This field is expected to greatly increase its use of IT, and support services will be crucial to keep everything running properly.

Some lower level tech support jobs, commonly found in call centers, may be sent to countries that have lower wage rates. However, a recent trend to move jobs to lower cost regions of the United States may offset some loss of jobs to other countries.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable. There are usually clear advancement possibilities for computer support specialists, creating new job openings. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a strong technical background should have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for computer support specialists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Computer support specialists

15-1150 766,900 855,700 12 88,800 [XLSX]

Computer user support specialists

15-1151 585,900 661,000 13 75,100 [XLSX]

Computer network support specialists

15-1152 181,000 194,600 8 13,600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of computer support specialists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Computer and information systems managers

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, often called information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals.

Bachelor's degree $127,640
computer network architects image

Computer Network Architects

Computer network architects design and build data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. These networks range from small connections between two offices to next-generation networking capabilities such as a cloud infrastructure that serves multiple customers.

Bachelor's degree $98,430
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor's degree $77,550
Computer systems analysts

Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts study an organization’s current computer systems and procedures and design information systems solutions to help the organization operate more efficiently and effectively. They bring business and information technology (IT) together by understanding the needs and limitations of both.

Bachelor's degree $82,710
Customer service representatives

Customer Service Representatives

Customer service representatives interact with customers to handle complaints, process orders, and provide information about an organization’s products and services.

High school diploma or equivalent $31,200
Database administrators

Database Administrators

Database administrators (DBAs) use specialized software to store and organize data, such as financial information and customer shipping records. They make sure that data are available to users and are secure from unauthorized access.

Bachelor's degree $80,280
Network and computer systems administrators

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Computer networks are critical parts of almost every organization. Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of these networks.

Bachelor's degree $75,790
Information security analysts

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. Their responsibilities are continually expanding as the number of cyberattacks increases.

Bachelor's degree $88,890
Software developers

Software Developers

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or another device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control networks.

Bachelor's degree $97,990
Web developers

Web Developers

Web developers design and create websites. They are responsible for the look of the site. They are also responsible for the site’s technical aspects, such as its performance and capacity, which are measures of a website’s speed and how much traffic the site can handle. In addition, web developers may create content for the site.

Associate's degree $63,490

Contacts for More Information

For more information about computer support specialists, visit

Technology Services Industry Association

Help Desk Institute (HDI)

Association of Support Professionals

For more information about computer careers, visit

Association for Computing Machinery

IEEE Computer Society

Computing Research Association

For information about opportunities for women pursuing information technology careers, visit

National Center for Women & Information Technology

O*NET

Computer Network Support Specialists

Computer User Support Specialists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Computer Support Specialists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm (visited February 10, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015