Many support engineers think that having the best technical knowledge is everything they need to get going in their business life. Are they so wrong? At a first glance, maybe not. Take a look at the job description for an average support engineer: server deployment, e-mail/proxy administration, virtualization, monitoring and maintaining servers and network, troubleshooting problems etc.. Similar list goes on for a support technician. But is it really the tech issues that matter? Is it only the tech wizardry? What about the qualities? What makes a support engineer an excellent support engineer?
The first quality that I will count is respect; respect for all the people that the support engineer works with. Although this seems very obvious, I have seen many times where people fail to show proper respect. Nobody never ever shall show disrespect to anyone for his lack of knowledge and so the support person. The user can be angry, frustrated or stressed out for a trivial task. It doesn’t matter. Failing to show proper respect results in less communicative users, loss of faith in tech and inevitably the IT department. Seems exaggerated? Well, then you haven’t yet seen a company shutting down its IT services and outsourcing them completely.
A respectful person is also a good communicator. The support engineer is the one whose input is human-ese, process is tech-ese and the output is human-ese. He has to listen to the users, understand their problems, matches them with his technical knowledge to analyze issues, solves the problems and explains the solutions in a way that the end user can understand.
The support engineer also has to share his knowledge. Since we do not know everything and ask people for advice, for opinion, for knowledge, we must do the same to others (if you would ask me just one thing that I love about IT, I would say “sharing knowledge.” Just look at the personal blogs, there is no industry that shares information that much.) The era of keeping knowledge just for the sake of job security is long gone. Now it’s just the opposite, employers are willing to get rid of such employees because of the vulnerability they create. And the employers are willing to pay the price.
The support engineer also educates the users. He trains them to effectively use their equipment, the applications, shows them tricks that they will find useful in their everyday lives and explain them how to describe their problems for a faster problem resolution.
IT is a service for the business. Therefore IT has to understand how the business works and their priorities. Understanding the nature of the business and the roles in the company is essential for the support engineer to define his priorities. The support engineer could not prioritize his tasks in his first weeks but after some time he has to be able to do it on his own.
Self-discipline is a must for every person and the support engineer is no exception. Setting and sticking to schedules, respecting deadlines, delivering solutions/tasks before the promised time, informing people well in advance if the promised time could not be met, not marking the task complete until it is really complete are some of the characteristics that every support engineer has to own. These characteristics make the support engineer more reliable, more punctual and yes, more responsible and respected.
Dedication is another trait of a support engineer. From the time the engineer assigns the support ticket to himself he has to dedicate his efforts to the solution until the end user confirms that the problem is solved. Throughout the steps the engineer has to pay attention the every detail, determine the cause, fix it, document it and make sure that the user is up and running again. Of course the solution must comply with the company policies and preferably a permanent one. Unfortunately there are the support engineers who go on with workarounds or with “covering the problem” but this is not an acceptable work habit. There are many cases where there is only the workaround, in this case the support engineer has to communicate the situation clearly.
The support engineer should also be a logical thinker, a consistent methodologist and able to apply his knowledge to new situations. These traits cannot be separated from each other. There are the knowledgebases, the colleagues, the consultants and other sources of information. The resolution steps apply in many cases without any issues. What if a new situation comes up which nobody ever seen before? The support engineer should at least apply his logical thinking, apply his methodologies to try to isolate the problem and come up with possible solutions. Adapting to new environments is extremely important; it is impossible to train engineers for every possible scenario.
Finally, I believe the support engineer to have an interest in technology. A couple of years ago, we could argue about this. But with the consumerization of IT and the bring your own device revolution, the support engineers do not have the luxury to not know about the effects of the tablets and smartphones on their data centers. In fact, the support engineers need to follow the developments in the consumer space more than ever, nobody knows when the VP will ask the IT to see his meetings on his shiny new smartwatch. OK, it is impossible for the support engineer to know how to operate every device, but he can sure take a time to read the news about the development in the gadget space.