Technology truly is everywhere. For individuals and organizations alike, computer systems are integral to the way we do business. Like all machines, computers do not always function correctly.

Private and public organizations employ an army of technical support professionals to ensure that the computer systems and networks on which they rely function as they should. Other technical support specialists work for software and hardware manufacturers and retailers, and help private and business clients resolve functionality issues with products they have purchased.

Computer support professionals can generally be divided into 2 categories: help desk technicians and technical support specialists. Help desk technicians generally field computer problems over the telephone or by email. Tech support specialists are often more highly trained, and either make in-person visits to clients or work for a larger company to ensure networks and systems are operating effectively.

Increasingly, technical support professionals are college-educated. To effectively resolve issues with cutting-edge business and personal software and hardware, it's important that prospective technical support professionals are well-versed in a wide array of technology. Effective online technical support degrees can ensure exactly that.

Technical Support Career Opportunities

Graduates of technical support programs or related computer science programs often look for jobs as computer support specialists, though they may be qualified for other IT positions.

Computer support specialists compose one of the largest groups of specialized technology workers in the United States; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 565,700 working computer support specialists in 2008. The field is expected to add 78,000 positions over 10 years, for a 2018 projected total of 643,700. That's a 14% growth rate; faster than the average for all occupations and significantly faster than the projected 8.2% expansion of the entire civilian workforce over the same time period.

Computer support specialists are expected to experience faster-than-average occupational growth from 2008 to 2018. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for qualified technical support professionals will be better than even that strong estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 234,600 job openings for qualified computer support specialists from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes the new jobs predicted by the BLS and existing positions vacated by retirement, career change, promotion, and early termination.

According to the BLS, opportunities will be best for candidates with technical support or other computer science bachelor's degrees, and for candidates with strong work histories.

Technical Support Earnings

Earnings for computer support specialists vary by industry, experience, and education, but are generally better than average.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer support specialists made median annual wages of $43,450 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field made between $33,680 and $55,990, while the bottom 10% earned less than $26,580 and the top 10% earned more than $70,750.

Earnings for Computer Support Specialists were better than national median wages in 2008. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Technical Support Educational Benefits

Employers increasingly expect computer support specialists to have formal postsecondary training of some kind, generally in the form of a bachelor's degree, an associate's degree, or professional or vendor certificate and strong work experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Information Network.

Remember, employers are considering more than just your technical acumen during the interview and hiring process, they want to be sure they have a reliable, responsible professional. Beyond the training, a degree grants credentials that employers value immensely.

According to the Occupational Information Network, 43% of computer support specialists aged 25-44 have a bachelor's degree or higher. 44% have some college, including tech support associate's degrees or partial completion of bachelor's degrees. Only 13% have no formal education beyond a high school diploma.

87% of tech support specialists have some college education. Source: Occupational Information Network

Coursework for technology support degrees generally includes a diverse array of computer science, customer service, communications, and liberal arts classes, along with specific instruction in computer hardware and software platforms.

Technical Support Programs Online

Because of the digital and distanced format, online computer and technical support programs may be more representative of the challenges faced in the professional workforce than programs at ground schools.

There are a growing number of online technical support degrees offered through online educators, and through the distance learning programs of traditional ground schools.

As with any serious educational decision, it is important to do your research when picking an online technical support degree: is the school accredited? Will earned credits transfer? (Transfer of credits is often a good rubric in determining the quality of an education: other educational institutions should recognize the viability of the training a particular course entails.) What is the school's job placement rate? What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically? What is the level of interactivity and software integration (an extremely important question, especially for technical support and other IT programs)?

You'll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on this Web site, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselors pointed questions.

Technical Support Skills and Abilities

Because of the sophisticated software and hardware with which they work, tech support professionals need to be detail-oriented. To quickly fix problems that arise, they should be strong troubleshooters, and have good deductive reasoning skills.

Technical support professionals interact extensively with clients, customers, and coworkers. They should have strong communications and active listening skills to identify a technical problem that may be described in nontechnical phrases.

Technical Support Qualifications and Advancement

Not all technical support positions require completion of college-level technical support or computer science degrees, but an increasing number of employers expect either an associate's or bachelor's degree for entry-level positions.

Help desk technicians can advance to technical support specialist positions; technical support specialists can advance to supervisorial positions, or into other technology-related positions like software engineers or computer systems analysts.

Additional Information

The National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies maintains a Web site at http://www.nwcet.org/.