The Unofficial Helpdesk: Get Into IT with a Little Help From Your Friends

Learn why you should fully embrace your unofficial tech support role when it comes to friends and family.

IT pro helping a friend that is having computer troubles.Years ago, I was sitting at my laptop happily writing away when everything went black – and it didn't come back. Having a small amount of patience for technology, I immediately panicked and called my husband (who's better at troubleshooting than I am). He talked me through a few solutions over the phone, but ultimately nothing recovered my work. Our next call was to our long-time friend Brant – a software company owner and expert on all things tech. He asked us to bring my laptop over to his house that evening so he could take a look. And guess what? He recovered everything, and I was back in business.

Does this sound familiar to you? Are you the person your friends and family members call when they have tech troubles? While there are many articles out there dedicated to getting out of helping friends with their tech woes – I'm here to offer a different perspective.

If a career in technology is in your future, logging practice hours when your friends run into roadblocks is one of the best ways to refine your hands-on skills and gain confidence. Read on to learn four reasons why you should say yes to helping out when needed and how to fully embrace your unofficial tech support role.

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4 Reasons You Should Give Tech Support to Your Friends and Family

1. Get Hands-on Experience

Regardless of your stature in the technology community, hands-on experience is always the best way to improve your technical skills, and you’re never too senior to learn new things. As a rookie, take on what you’re comfortable with, and ask for help when you need it. As you become more seasoned (and more busy), help out when you can on your free time.

While you may be thinking this only applies to technical skills – you're in for a startling realization. You can practice your professional skills too! As an IT professional you are not only tasked with solving tech problems, but also explaining solutions to the non-techies.

When you’re helping your friend recover her work, show them what you’ve doing and explain why you’re doing it. Should this happen again, you want your friend to be able to solve the problem themself next time. Or better yet, avoid the problem all together!

2. Gain Confidence

Trying something for the first time is bound to result in nerves – especially if you’re dealing with confidential data or a high-stakes scenario – like your certification exam. The best way to relieve some of that pressure is to practice.

Volunteering to help out friends and family in a variety of situations will most definitely pay off in the future when you come across something similar. The confidence gap does exist, and if you let it get too wide, it can damage your job outlook. The best way to bridge that gap is to broaden your horizons and try a little bit of everything.

3. Grow Your Network

Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and it is valuable in any stage of your IT career.

  • Just starting out and looking for a job? Help out a friend, and you never know what kind of connections they may have.
  • Veteran IT pro doing your cousin a favor? Give them your business card and ask for referrals.

When you help someone out in a time of need, they often want to reciprocate the favor. The best way to expand your network – both professionally and personally – is to connect and engage, and helping others out is one of the best ways to do just that.

4. Grant (and get) Favors

Doing your friend a favor is the straight up right thing to do – but when it comes to repeat offenders, think about what kind of deal you can strike up.

For example, say your friend owns a car wash, and they have unofficially recruited you to help set up a new system at the office. This is more than a one-time commitment, but you’re not being paid for your time. Ask if they’d be willing to trade services – your IT expertise for free car washes. Trading services is a great way to mutually benefit from an arrangement when payment isn’t an option.

Of course, lending the occasional helping hand doesn't mean you're obligated to spend all of your free time solving other people's problems. When the task at hand is too time consuming, it’s okay to say no. When your plate is a bit too full, respectfully decline, but try to suggest an alternative solution. Find the right balance for you so that you get the practice you need and help out your friends without letting it take over your life.

Validate your tech support skills with CompTIA A+. Download the exam objectives to see what’s covered, and start practicing!

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