How Does the Help Desk Measure Up?
A reader who wrote in recently said the help-desk role was one of the most underrated in the IT industry. I couldn’t agree more. These patient, hard-working and knowledgeable professionals often don’t get respect from their peers, despite their capabilities. Although it’s hard to quantify respect, compensation and salary can indicate someone’s place in the pecking order of an industry.
How does the income of IT help-desk and support professionals stack up? Let’s start with Salary.com, which rates compensation across a plethora of industries and occupations. According to that site, the average salary for a typical help desk or support assistant in the United States is $36,637—not too bad, actually. But wait (as Ron Popeil might say), there’s more. At the intermediate level, that number gets bumped up to $42,829, and it rises even higher to $50,601 for senior help-desk support pros. Help-desk managers make a whopping $77,218 average annual income, the site’s Salary Wizard shows.
Salary.com doesn’t cover IT specifically, nor does it address professionals outside of the United States. Those who want a second opinion of help-desk and support professionals’ income also can consult Certification Magazine’s 2005 Salary Survey, which polled more than 35,000 IT professionals in 170 countries. Our findings show support professionals on average pull in $55,520 annually, hardware-support pros make $46,170, help-desk and applications specialists earn $41,190 and PC-hardware technicians bring in $36,910.
How does that stack up against the other job roles in IT? Well, I’ll be honest—it’s not that great. In fact, hardware-support pros, help-desk and applications specialists and PC-hardware technicians ranked in the bottom three. Security experts, number one on the CertMag Salary Survey’s list of specialties, rake in more than twice what help-desk and applications specialists do. But before you throw your hands in the air in frustration, consider a few things first.
Help-Desk and Support Jobs Are Often Starting Points
These are entry-level roles for the most part, so the individuals who fill them shouldn’t expect to make boatloads of money right away. Plus, many of the people in help desk and support have generalist knowledge of IT products and platforms. They haven’t found a professional niche such as wireless or storage yet, which is where the real money is at in IT.
I suggest you use your profession to get a feel for the industry and figure out which technologies and products interest you and are economically viable. Then, plan a path to expertise through experience, certification and training. Or, if you especially enjoy the help-desk role, build up your soft skills and management proficiency so you can eventually assume a leadership role. (That’s not a bad course of action for any field.)
This Field Compares Favorably to Others Outside IT
OK, so the help-desk and support vocations won’t be in the running for top dog in tech anytime soon. But compared to jobs in other areas, they’re not bad. Going back to Salary.com’s Salary Wizard, a nursing assistant in the United States earns a median income of $24,307, an entry-level secretary makes $29,431 and an ambulance driver receives $24,722. Compare those to the help desk or support assistant’s average salary of $36,637. Not bad, eh?
The IT help desk doesn’t look bad if you have the right perspective. These are mainly entry-level positions, and most entry-level employees in other industries don’t earn $36,637.Teachers don’t, bank tellers don’t, corrections officers don’t and— to use a personal example —journalists certainly don’t. When you get right down to it, help-desk professionals don’t have too much to worry about (except for offshore outsourcing perhaps, but that’s another article).
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org