This is where I work.

You know you're in a bad line of work when you've been here for a week and they already refer to you as an old-timer.

Help desk people are generally male, while the people that call are generally not. This leads to funny (ha-ha only serious) situations like "Why are you asking for my phone number," and the famous "Are you some kind of stalker?" You can almost smell the rejection perfume they are undoubtedly wearing when you ask for their number. That kind of thing makes me glad that I am not single, because I have a fragile little ego.

Unfortunately, there is little learning occurring at the help desk. This is kind of my own fault, I imagine. How, exactly, I am unsure, but it is my fault.

I suppose it could be worse. I have speakers, I can play NetHack, I can node, but otherwise I am devoid of hope.

Today I worked an 8-hour shift with no breaks, this includes my full-time college attendance. This is also the first year that I've had a job at the same time I've gone to school. I hope that this doesn't affect my grade, and I don't think it will, but it makes me appreciate weekends more and more. When you're unemployed, weekends don't mean quite so much.

I've answered plenty of mundane questions, and the lesson that I've learned in my first week of help desk work is that "There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who won't look up the answers to questions when they are right under their nose." Technology is not there to be feared, it is there to be used.

Thank god most people think we close at 5pm.


In a business enterprise, a help desk is a place that a user of information technology can call to get help with a problem. In many companies, a help desk is simply one person with a phone number and a more or less organized idea of how to handle the problems that come in. In larger companies, a help desk may consist of a group of experts using software to help track the status of problems and other special software to help analyze problems (for example, the status of a company's telecommunications network).
Typically, the term is used for centralized help to users within an enterprise. A related term is call center, a place that customers call to place orders, track shipments, get help with products, and so forth.

The World Wide Web offers the possibility of a new, relatively inexpensive, and effectively standard user interface to help desks (as well as to call centers) and appears to be encouraging more automation in help desk service.

Some common names for a help desk include: Computer Support Center, IT Response Center, Customer Support Center, IT Solutions Center, Resource Center, Information Center, and Technical Support Center.

The IT help desk is often an area of ridicule (just see some of the other writeups in this node to get an idea of the regard many help desks are held in). Many computer users consider calling the help desk a last resort when a problem arises, preferring to try to fix the problem themselves, or enlist the aid of another computer literate friend / colleague.

Unfortunately, this is more often than not caused by the structure of the help desk. Many times, the first contact a customer has with the help desk results in no solution to the problem. The person answering the phone, your 1st level support person, is many times qualified to answer the phone, obtain the necessary information to pass the job onto a 2nd level support person, and log the call. So instead of an answer, and the ability to fix the problem and keep on working, the customer is left with a job number, and the promise of a call back.

Another contributing factor can be the quest for stats. In recent years, a lot of business' help desks have become staffed by outsourced companies. To retain their contract with that business, they need to produce figures that show how efficient they are. Many times, these statistics are based on how quickly the customer receives first level support. So, the Level 1 support officer will have a matter of minutes to spend with a customer. If they're unable to solve the problem within this time, they must escalate the job to the next level of support. Unless the problem is very straight forward, and familiar to the help desk operator, there's no chance of resolution after the first phone call.

Fortunately, not all help desks operate in this manner. The help desk I work on, provides a service to an Australian Government department. We support departmental staff, at locations all over the country. Some of our staff are centered in major cities, and some are located in more remote areas. Many of our offices are not part of the department's WAN, and rely on dial-up connections to access network resources. Like many help desks, the vast majority of our support is provided over the telephone.

The help desk does, however, have an excellent reputation with staff. I wish I could take credit for the reputation it has, but I've only been there for a little under two months. However I have seen some things, that give me a clue as to why it is almost universally loved.

A small team, and an excellent work atmosphere.

There are four staff answering the phones in the help desk, and all of us get along well. Well, we spend a good portion of the day bagging the shit out of each other...but it leads to a really good feeling. If you're happy with your colleagues, you're more likely to be happy on the phone with a customer.

Team continuity

Apart from myself, the help desk staff have been working together for a couple of years. I think this is a fairly rare happening in this line of work. What makes it more unusual, is that we're all contractors. So there is a lot of corporate knowledge tied up in the help desk staff. It also helps that we can be fairly sure that even though we're on contracts, our jobs are fairly secure.

No level structure, no time limits on calls

Just about any problem that comes into the help desk, will be resolved by the help desk officer that answers the phone. Unless it's related to a specific area of expertise, that is looked after elsewhere in the IT area, we're it. So our customers know that they'll be dealing with the one person, from the time they call, to when their problem's solved. We also don't put a time limit on the resolution of a problem - I've personally been on the phone for an hour with someone, fixing things. If the client is happy for us to keep on working, so are we. Our target resolution is three hours, from the time of receipt, to the problem, or task, being no more. We meet that over 90% of the time.

The other major advantage of a structure like this, is that we are constantly learning. If something comes up, that we don't know how to fix, we have to find the answer. We have non-helpdesk staff, in areas such as network management, and Lotus Notes, who we are able to go to for specific advice. However even then, the help desk officer is normally expected to actually carry out the work required. So it never feels like a job with no future. We're actually gaining skills, that will improve our career prospects down the track.

So the helpdesk doesn't always have to be somewhere approached with a sense of dread. It's a great introduction into work in IT, and can actually lead somewhere. My help desk has gained a reputation for the work it does - this job on my resume will be an asset to me.

And if you're lucky, you can actually gain that help you were calling for!

Help Desk is also the title of an online comic strip, by Christopher B. Wright (The Internet's Most Dangerous Cartoonist). Running since 1995 (with a brief hiatus covering.. er.. most of 1998) the storyline follows, more or less, the trials and tribulations of a large software company Ubersoft Do you see my clever joke? Do you?. Past storylines include a run-in with the DOJ over Unholy Business Practices, a tale of woe and decrepitude with leaked software (also a crossover with the excellent GPF Comics), and plenty of scathing political commentary. Ignore the cartoonist's self-confessed bad art, and you've got a lovely piece of reading material on your hands/monitor/whatever. Following is a list of characters, in no particular order.

  • Alex: The long-suffering main character, Alex is good at his job, intelligent enough to know not to seek promotion, and an expert in not giving out advice to callers. Brother to Alice.
  • Mr Bunny, the Hoppy Computer Guy: The eponymous Dark Lord of Ubersoft. What Mr. Gates wishes he was in his wettest dreams. Seeks only to bring toil and torment to humanity, and to that end started a software company. We could all learn a lesson here, folks.
  • Phil: Lead programmer for Ubersoft, he was responsible for leaking the Nifty Doorways source code to Fooker, starting the Ubersoft/GPF crossover. Creator of Binky.
  • Binky: A paperclip. An animated paperclip. An animated paperclip with an overwhelming and homicidal desire to assist you type a letter. Run. Faster.
  • Scott: The permanent trainee at Ubersoft, on his first day he broke down, confessing "It's all a scam!" to all callers. He was permanently placed on the training programme, but has since quit Ubersoft at his mother's request.
  • The Lawyer: Any time lucre and sleaziness is involved, the lawyer is likely to be there. Wears a lot of sunblock, doesn't own a single mirror, and tends to be nocturnal.
  • Mark: The token product documentation writer, only hired as a result of the DOJ's investigation into Ubersoft. What's worse is that he knows this.
  • And all the other characters: Lots of other characters appear every so often, such as the UberThugs, Bart and King, Deep Grey, Brian, Alice, Monk. Not much is known about them, so they will languish in the realms of "and supporting cast" forever. Natch.

Help Desk can be found at Hosted by Keenspot, so you know what that means.

Working at a helpdesk can be either a rewarding experience or a drudgery of the worst kind. Sometimes you're in a good department, other times everybody's generally feeling pretty shitty. Both sides of the spectrum are frequently parodied or in some other way turned into generally dry humor, as in the show The IT crowd. There are a number of webcomics that also make reference to the general workings of a helpdesk, including the one by that very name as mentioned in the above writeup by Dregan.

Working at a helpdesk isn't unlike working at any other given job where you're asked questions, asked to fix something, or asked to work on something. Once you have a knack for it everyone else's problems seem entirely boring and not worth your time, hence the stereotype of the bored/impatient IT employee. Admittedly I sometimes fall into this category as well, and have more than once thought "that was easy, why are they wasting my time with this?". I then remember the median age of the company I work at is double my age, so the ratio of tech savvy/tech challenged users is severely imbalanced toward the less knowledgeable end of the spectrum. In any case I generally give a sigh, talk them through the solution (or work through it using a remote access client), close my ticket, and find something else to do, like read everything2 or play nethack. Some days here get so mind-numbingly boring that I wind up pulling my smartphone from my pocket and just watching youtube or listen to internet radio.

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