05/02/20

First Level IT Support – Career gateway

By Ian Davies

I have been involved in IT for over 20 years. The last 15 of those I’ve been building and leading support teams. Here are my thoughts on why I love working with first level teams and some of the things I do which I have found worked well for me in building high performing and fun to be a part of teams.

Hiring people early in their career

Typically, the roles I hire for are filled with people who either are looking for their first job or transitioning to their first job in IT. I really love being able to give someone the opportunity to grow in both these circumstances.

When I hire, I’m looking for passionate people. This can be either technically, a joy for playing with things, or really good people people. People who know how to interact genuinely with others and that care about delivering a quality service.

In both cases I look for “nice” people, call it team fit or aligned to our values, just don’t be one of “those people”. I have found it is easy to train technical skills to most people, but teaching people to be nice is much, much harder and usually always fails.

You have to be able to laugh in support roles, it is fast-paced, stressful and frustrating. Being able to laugh it off and have fun whilst doing this role I think is crucial to having both a group of people pulling in the same direction and not burning out.

Maybe my style of management works better with this approach, but it is something I really enjoy, being able to come to the office and not have to be serious every minute of every day.

First Level life-cycle

I can’t remember where I picked up the term (shout me if it was you so I can credit you) but I see my function as a bit of a sausage machine… I’ve been told not to say this before, but I think it’s funny and true so… we bring in the fresh meat, squeeze it through our little sausage machine, molding, and shaping, and then, out pop these perfect little sausages ready for consumption!

When I bring someone into the team I work with them around an 18-month timescale. The first six months are about learning the current business we are working in. Understanding who is who, what tools we use, what processes we follow etc. I think in most organizations this is the same only varying slightly depending on complexity and size.

The second six months are spent mastering the current role, picking up or honing some hard and soft skills and starting to identify particular areas of interest within IT or the wider organization. Once a specific area of interest is found, another six months is spent trying to find projects, tasks, and other opportunities to build experience in those areas.

After about 18 months of a person being in a first-level role, I generally find they are ready to move on to their next role. This depends also on the amount of experience that person is bringing in to the role, and their natural talent to learn and drive their career, so it can be shorter or longer, but 18 months is usually a good guide for me. If longer is spent in the team, and that is OK as I won’t kick them out(!), we’re usually repeating the last 6 months, looking for further opportunities in an area, or looking for other areas which might interest the person to experience.

This can lead to really well rounded technical people, who can operate across multiple technologies or towers. People graduating from the team get to learn the importance of operating in the grey, which is one of the most valuable skills in today’s fast-moving environments. Opportunity is a keyword when looking for that next role, my advice is if there is an offer, jump at it, be flexible, you never know where it may take you.

Knowing the business

When people move on out of my teams, it’s not always into another IT-focused role. Sure, we have people head off to the Networking team, to Security, DevOps, etc., but I also see people move into HR, Customer support and many other types of non-IT roles.

One of the benefits of working in a 1st level support role is that you get to build a really good understanding of the organization. You get to interact with lots of different people in different roles across the business and develop solid relationships with them. The types of systems they are using, their processes, are in most cases dependent on IT in some way, and when they break, you are usually one of the first people they call.

I think that gives my people the ability to be exposed to many different career paths, and one of those might really resonate with them. It’s also handy for us as an IT team to move our people into these non-IT teams, as they also become great advocates for IT, and can really help us build that closeness to the business we talk about that seems to be missing in many organizations.

My role

Overall I see my job as a facilitator of a small part of people’s careers, and it’s very satisfying to see them moving on and being successful. I think it is true, that you should try and build a team which should do you out of a job. I surround myself with good people, who in many cases are much better at doing what they do than me. It helps me move forward and provide value too.

My job is to support them in being the best they can be by opening doors for them (and in some cases pushing them through) as well as removing roadblocks for them to go faster. I really try to ensure that all my team has the best possible time they can whilst at work.

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