Professional development

Tips to Help You Move Beyond a Help Desk Role

Claudio Dodt
February 25, 2019 by
Claudio Dodt

Climbing the professional ladder is not an easy task, and this can seem especially scary when you are a newcomer at an entry-level position. In truth, taking into consideration today’s global market, there are many exceptional career tracks. With proper preparation, a little bit of planning and the will to win, it is likely that any professional can find amazing career opportunities and move from a junior position towards the top. It’s only a matter of time until you find that dream job which offers not just a great salary, but also the satisfaction of succeeding in a quite competitive field.

A common mistake is putting your career planning on hold until you have acquired some experience and already taken your first steps into the corporate world. This approach can cause you to miss out on many interesting opportunities.

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To avoid this problem today, we’ll look at your opportunities when coming from a very common entry position: the help desk role.

1. Understanding the Help Desk Role

The help desk role is often an entry-level or junior position in most organizations. However, its importance to the business cannot be ignored. Within the ITIL life cycle, the help desk role is a part of the Service Operation phase, meaning you are effectively working to ensure that IT services operate as expected by the company. Help desk employees are often working side-by-side with critical business processes and even identifying severe incidents, including those relating to cybersecurity issues.

If you already landed a help desk position, understand that this is the time to create a solid foundation for your career. After all, you will have contact with most of the company's systems, interactions with users in different departments and the opportunity to start creating a network of relationships. Remember that people can be just as important to your career as technical knowledge and practical expertise. The help desk role offers you the opportunity to build all these three points simultaneously!

2. Develop Your Technical Knowledge

This point is quite simple: There is little chance of advancing in any type of IT career without creating a solid technical base first. So if you want to move beyond the help desk role, this is the time to choose what sort of knowledge you will want to work on.

Information security is a rare case where there are more job opportunities than qualified professionals. For years, this cyberskills gap has posed a challenge for companies looking to hire. This is a fantastic opportunity and there is a lot about cybersecurity you can learn and put into practice while working at a help desk position.

For example: Due to the creation of regulations such as the GDPR, there is a huge demand in 2019 for professionals with data protection and privacy skills. Similarly, AI (Artificial Intelligence) is becoming increasingly relevant to cybersecurity, especially in cases where it can be applied to automatically detect and respond to threats. This may seem contradictory, since many people still believe that AI is going to be used to replace human workers; in fact, it creates a new field, and there are far more vacancies than there are qualified people.

Other information security-related areas that will be in the spotlight for the next few years include (unsurprisingly) cloud computing and blockchain. If companies are moving to the cloud, it is only natural that security controls should do the same. Therefore, professionals with the skills to ensure data protection in the cloud are in high demand. Blockchain is, of course, commonly associated with cryptocurrency, but the technology itself is becoming an integral part of many security systems that are still being developed.

Obviously, other traditional information security areas will continue to offer many working opportunities. For instance, professionals with expertise in digital forensics, security audits, risk analysis, vulnerability assessments and penetration testing will continue to be in high demand.

With this wide array of options, it's all just a matter of discovering an area you have affinity for and focus on developing your technical skills. The results will come much faster than you may expect!

3. Don’t Overlook the Value of Soft Skills

Professionals who just started working at the help desk usually have a stronger emphasis on technical skills, not paying much attention to soft skills. If that is your case, you should correct it as soon as possible.

In a survey conducted last year by LinkedIn, senior business managers pointed out the non-technical skills that are in high demand in 2019. Needless to say, investing in these points is a significant step towards moving beyond the help desk role.

For example, we have just mentioned that Artificial Intelligence is on the rise. After all, robots are a great tool for optimizing old ideas. Since an AI singularity is still a few decades (probably a couple of centuries) away, organizations still depend on humans to create truly innovative solutions, so creativity is a fundamental skill for many security positions.

Persuasion is another fundamental skill. Understand that having a great product, platform or idea is only half the journey; you still need to convince people to buy your product or embrace your idea. This ability is also essential for professionals who want to become leaders or manage large teams.

Another key point is knowing how to work collaboratively. This is often one of the most important aspects of a complex project, and it is certainly something that makes a professional stand out in the market. Adaptability and time management are essential skills that even some experienced professionals fail to master. Lastly, knowing how to communicate clearly, especially when it is necessary to deal with a non-technical audience, is an extremely relevant soft skill which can help you reach even top-level positions!

Developing soft skills is often a great challenge for professionals in a notoriously technical field but remember that this a fundamental step. There are also a number of learning options (e.g., online/classroom training, books and hands-on activities) and this can be the great differential to put you ahead of the competition.

4. Consider Getting Some Certifications While You Gain Hands-on experience

It goes without saying that professional certifications will greatly help your career, especially when you do not have much practical experience and need to demonstrate knowledge and expertise. The key to success is focusing certifications by trustworthy institutions that already have a strong market appeal.

For example, an excellent first choice for anyone entering the information security area is the CompTIA Security+ certification. It is an exam focused on practical skills used on a daily basis by security professionals and does not have prerequisites. Of course, there are a number of equally interesting entry-level certifications, such as theSSCP - Systems Security Certified Practitioner, GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) and the EC-Council Certified Security Specialist (ECSS).

In many cases you may be eager to go straight to the top, so it's only natural that certifications such as ISC2’s CISSP or ISACA’s CISM seem like a better option. Well, if you already have the knowledge and meet the experience prerequisites, go for it! But if that is not your case, going straight to such complex and challenging certifications may not give the best of results. It's a good idea to use simpler certifications as a stepping stone to prepare for more complex challenges.

5. Develop Your Network of Contacts

This is a good tip for anyone working on the help desk. Your main activity will usually be to help people, either by answering questions or solving problems. The fact that this is your job does not mean that people can’t be grateful.

Creating a good network of contacts can start right away, even during your first day at work. And, as mentioned before, the help desk position allows you to contact the most diverse people at essentially every level of the company. Soft skills will help you a lot, but a few basic points like being polite, courteous, helpful and maintaining a positive attitude towards difficulties will help you a lot.

Of course, your professional network doesn’t need to be limited to your co-workers. There are a lot of social networks, groups and forums that you can participate to exchange experiences, get tips or even discover a job opportunity that has not even been posted yet.


Concluding Thoughts

Building a career is a challenge that every successful professional has to face, and success does not happen overnight. Keep in mind that you must to learn to walk before you think about running, so if you are eager to reach new horizons, take it easy, plan every step and define clear career objectives. And be sure to leave sufficient room for change so you will not miss out on a good, yet unexpected, opportunity.

What should you learn next?

What should you learn next?

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Remember that even the longest journey begins with a single step and try to have some fun along the way. After all, it is not the destination but the journey itself that will be your greatest reward.

Claudio Dodt
Claudio Dodt

Cláudio Dodt is an Information Security Evangelist, consultant, trainer, speaker and blogger. He has more than ten years worth of experience working with Information Security, IT Service Management, IT Corporate Governance and Risk Management.