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March 10, 2009


Common positions for recent grads

Entry-level network employees

Desktop support or customer service workers do the most basic network maintenance. These workers sit at their desks, receiving phone calls or e-mails from people who need help using any of the company's software or hardware. Specifically in the network capacity, they provide end user support for network-based applications and perform routine network repairs. Desktop support workers who work exclusively with network matters may be referred to as LAN support workers, or network maintenance workers. These support workers only deal with client machines and cables; they do not touch the server.

If people phone in and report network problems (example: an employee's client computer can no longer communicate with the network), the desktop or LAN support worker recommends solutions to the problem over the phone, such as reconfiguring the client operating system to detect the network. If that does not help, the support worker schedules and performs repairs on the client hardware and software. Such repairs can include: tightening loose network cables attached to the client machines, installing more RAM on client machines or reinstalling client application software. They also go all around the office configuring the individual client computers to communicate with the network.

Entry-level network employees usually work regular workweeks, although they must work after hours or weekends if the network requires maintenance or repairs at those times. These workers should know the common concepts and procedures of network repair and upkeep, but they usually rely on existing guidelines and instructions, reporting to a project leader or more senior LAN support worker. In time, which can be as short as a year, the support worker can prove enough network competence and knowledge to become a junior network or systems administrator.

Junior administrators

Junior administrators are task-oriented employees who do basic server work. They do not research, gather data from managers or make planning decisions. Instead, they perform specific tasks given to them by senior admins. However, although they are junior, these admins do not usually tool with end-user applications or client machine operating systems. Those duties still belong to desktop support personnel. At the junior level, there's a lot of overlap on network and systems duties.

Junior network administrators do basic network configuration and basic network maintenance, such as opening or closing server ports as needed. They also do a lot of the network monitoring. The computer programs that monitor networks produce warning messages if network problems arise, so junior administrators must watch for these messages.

"The junior sys admin also does basic configuration and maintenance," says Greg Land, a junior systems administrator. "If there's some kind of network problem, they might replace server memory modules, or replace server CPUs." Also, if the senior system administrator determines that a certain number of server resources need to be allocated for something like company e-mail, the junior system administrator configures the server software accordingly.

With experience and demonstrated competence, comes seniority. Within about two to four years, junior administrators can attain senior ranks. Both salary and responsibilities increase substantially here. While junior administrators are task-oriented, senior admins are project-oriented.

Junior software engineers

A recent graduate with little experience can often get a job as a junior software engineer. Inexperienced software engineers usually start off supporting existing software. They review and analyse the results of software tests, and they help to implement software by installing the programs or applications. They also debug and modify programs according to the direction of senior engineers.

They sit at their desks, in cubicles or in rooms of several engineers, typing on computer screens that are full of text windows. They use various utilities to map out program designs graphically, and they use many purely text interfaces to install or modify their software projects. Rather than developing entire software packages, they create small dependency programs or functions that the main programs use.

Good analytical and problem-solving skills are necessary for success here. One of their biggest assets is programming know-how. There are a lot of parts to the job, all of which involve sitting in front of a computer screen: aiding with small portions of program design, debugging existing portions of software, installing programs or dependencies, documenting and mapping programs, and more. These engineers spend most of their time on text screens and cavorting with other like-minded engineers. Deadlines can be insanely demanding, and software engineers often work on weekends.

Support specialists

Computer support specialists, or technical support specialists/workers, or customer service representatives, or helpdesk workers/technicians provide technical assistance to users over the phone or via e-mail. Using diagnostic programs, they help customers or fellow employees troubleshoot and repair their hardware or software. Support specialists also help users install hardware and software.

These types of workers sit at their desks taking calls and answering e-mails all day from people who are having problems using company hardware or software. More technically trained workers go around the office helping users install or repair their client computers. Other experienced ones may take more complicated technical calls from customers. Helpdesk positions also help technical people get used to dealing with customers and building professional relationships. "It's helpful for people entering IT to have experience in helpdesk, because it gives them exposure to a wide variety of issues on any level of an IT product," says Anthony Dickerson, a technical support worker from a proprietary banking software company.

Support specialists must often help people who do not know much about computers, and they must typically answer questions that the product manuals often do not. Thus, specialists must communicate carefully with users to diagnose problems and walk the users through solutions. Good communication skills are paramount to advancement here, and strong analytical and problem-solving skills are also essential.


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