Working as a computer repair technician and support specialist
Computer support specialists provide help for computer users either at a help desk or over the phone. Since some computer issues can be diagnosed or even repaired remotely, computer support specialists can work with computer repair professionals remotely.
Increasingly, it may not be uncommon to find repair requests for appliances. Many new models of refrigerators, ovens, coffee makers and TVs have Wi-Fi cards, computer circuit boards or even LCD monitors. When a refrigerator won't connect to the home network, owners can call a computer service specialist, not the appliance company.
Modern technology has lowered the cost and increased the effectiveness of Wi-Fi access and computer integration. These intelligent appliances allow refrigerators to display nutritional information about foods, ovens to be remotely programmed, or in the case of modern TVs, tablets or computers to stream video directly onto the screen.
Though these intelligent appliances are still appliances and can involve heating elements, compressors, air pumps and liquid plasma displays, computer repair and support specialists may find themselves responsible for connecting a TV to a home network, replacing a screen on a refrigerator or troubleshooting a coffee pot. Also, the line between a modern television and a computer monitor has blurred to the point where repairing someone's computer now might actually entail repairing someone's TV.
For computer repair and support technicians who want to demonstrate their experience or expand their skills, certifications are available from both third-party institutions such as CompTIA (who offer the A+ certification) or from product providers such as Oracle or Microsoft. Requirements for certification will vary by provider, so you will want to check.
Education for computer repairers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer repair and service technicians commonly have a postsecondary degree or certificate (BLS.gov, 2012). Some technicians with limited knowledge or experience can receive on-the-job training by working with diagnostic tools and software. For computer repair technicians who complete a computer repair training course, topics of study can include electronics, diagnostic software and tools, and customer service.
Some positions, such as computer support specialist, may require a bachelor's degree (BLS.gov, 2012). However, the degree does not necessarily need to be in a computer-related field. Specialized training for computer support specialists is often completed while on the job. Some advanced positions may require a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field. Courses that may be covered in these programs can include mathematics, communications, computer theory and computer programming.
Computer repair and support specialists with degrees in computer-related subjects such as information systems or computer science can advance to support positions that deal with issues of increased complexity, or even administrative roles (BLS.gov, 2012). Having a degree in a computer-related subject can also open the door to other careers such as computer programmer, software developer or database management.
Computer repairer and support technician tools and technologies
Depending on what device the technician will be working on, computer components can either be sensitive to the slightest static discharges or possibly store a dangerous amount of electricity. Computer and printer power supplies, cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors and other internal components dealing with a computer's power supply rely upon capacitors and transformers that can hold a dangerous amount of electricity -- up to 40,000 volts -- even when unplugged. Conversely, computer circuit boards and microchips can be damaged by static shocks the technician may not even feel.
As a result, precautions must be taken by technicians to minimize harm to both the computer and themselves. Technicians working on a computer's circuit boards can use anti-static tools to reduce the risk of damaging the computer, while technicians working on monitors and power supplies can use isolation transformers to minimize the risk of a fatal shock.
In addition to personal and equipment safety tools, computer repair technicians typically also use the following tools and diagnostic software:
- Milliammeters - measure the current of a power supplying wire
- Screw grabbers - used for grabbing small screws or other components
- Compressed air - used for cleaning dust and other debris from the inside of computers
- Zip Ties - used for keeping a computer's internal cords safely out of the way
- Anti-static tools - can include wristbands, mats or sprays that reduce the risk of static charge
- Boot CDs - Boot CDs, such as Ultimate Boot CD or Ubuntu Live, provide a controlled environment for repair technicians to perform software tests without being tied to a possibly faulty operating system
- Data recovery software - data recovery programs, such as Test Disk or Recuva, can recall data that have been deleted or lost due to a hard drive failure
- Memory and hard drive diagnostic software - programs such as HDDHealth track the "health" of memory or hard drives and can aid in the hardware diagnostic process
Computer support specialists can also use remote access software to perform diagnostics on a client's computer remotely.
Computer repair technicians may also be required to lift heavy computer monitors, printers or computers. Technicians may also need to work in uncomfortable positions. In light of this, the BLS has reported that computer repair technicians who have manual dexterity, analytical skills, and knowledge of information technology may excel in the profession (BLS.gov, 2012).
Employment opportunities for computer repair techs and support specialists
According to the BLS, the employment opportunity outlook for computer repair technicians, which is included with office equipment repairers and ATM repairers, is expected to grow up to 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, nationally, as companies replace and maintain their computer equipment (BLS.gov, 2012). Computer support specialists are projected to experience an employment opportunity growth of up to 18 percent, nationally, during the same period (BLS.gov, 2012). As of May 2011, the median annual wage of computer, ATM and office repairers was $36,360, nationally (BLS.gov, 2012). Computer support specialists earned a median annual wage of $47,660, nationally, during the same year (BLS.gov, 2012).
Sources and further reading:
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Repairer
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Support Specialists
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, Computer Repairer
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, Computer Support Specialists
CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association