Systems setup specialists are responsible for installing new computer systems and upgrading existing ones to meet the specifications of the client. They install hardware, such as memory, sound cards, fax/modems, fans, microprocessors, and systems boards. They also load software and configure the hard drive appropriately. Some systems setup specialists install computer systems at the client’s location. Installation might include normal hard drive or network server configurations as well as connecting peripherals such as printers, phones, fax machines, modems, and numerous terminals. They might also be involved with technical support in providing initial training to users. Systems setup specialists are employed by computer manufacturing companies or computer service companies nationwide, or may be employed as part of the technical support department of many businesses. Systems setup specialists are sometimes called technical support technicians, desktop analyst/specialists, and PC setup specialists.
History of Systems Setup Specialist Career
Several big companies like IBM, Apple, Microsoft, and Intel have been the driving force behind various stages of the computer revolution. As technology advances, however, increasingly new companies spring up to compete with them. For example, IBM’s first competitive challenge came when other companies decided to produce IBM-compatible PC clones. Today, the market for computers is saturated with different brands offering similar features. As a result, many companies are attempting to distinguish themselves from the competition by providing extra service to clients. Offering customized hardware and software is one way for them to do this. Systems setup specialists, therefore, are very important to sales. They ensure that clients receive exactly what they need and want. If the computer system is not set up correctly to begin with, clients might take their business elsewhere. As competition in the computer industry grows even fiercer, the customer service roles of systems setup specialists will become even more important.
The Job of Systems Setup Specialists
Most businesses and organizations use computers on a daily basis. In fact, it is very difficult to find an office or store that does not use computer technology to help them with at least one business task. One thing is certain: There are so many different ways in which a business or individual can use computer technology that it would be impossible to count them. The wide variety could translate into big problems for computer companies if they tried to sell identical computer systems to every client. For example, a freelance writer would probably not be interested in a math card used for advanced mathematical calculations on personal computers. Likewise, a bank or insurance company has different database needs than a law firm.
In order to meet clients’ various needs, many computer manufacturers, retailers, and service centers offer to customize commercial hardware and software for each client. Systems might differ by quantity of random access memory (RAM), speed and type of fax/modem, networking capabilities, and software packages. Systems setup specialists are responsible for installing new computer systems and upgrading existing ones to meet the specifications of the client. The main differences among setup specialists are their clients (individuals or businesses) and the level of systems they are qualified to work on.
Some specialists work in-house for large computer manufacturers, retailers, or service centers. Their clients are typically individuals buying for home use as well as small- to medium-sized businesses with minimal computing needs.
In the setup lab, specialists receive orders that list system specifications. Then, they follow instructions on how to set up the computer properly. They install hardware, such as memory chips, sound cards, fax/modems, fans, microprocessors, and system boards. They also install any software packages requested by the client. Next, they configure the hard drive so it knows exactly what hardware and software is connected to it. Finally, they run diagnostic tests on the system to make sure everything is running well.
The main goal is to eliminate the need for clients to do any setup work on the computer once they receive it. Clients should be able to plug it in, turn it on, and get it to work right away. In some cases, specialists even at this level will be sent to a client’s location to install the system and provide some initial training on how to use it.
Other systems setup specialists work for companies that sell predominately to medium- and large-sized businesses. These specialists split their time between the employer’s setup lab and the client’s location. In the lab, they make initial preparations for installation. Some of the computer equipment might come from other manufacturers or suppliers, and so they have to verify that it is free of defects. They also check that they have all the necessary hardware parts, software packages, etc., before going to the client’s location.
Depending on the size and complexity of the system to be installed, they might travel to the client’s location one or more times before installation in order to map out the required wiring, communications lines, and space. It is very important to plan these details carefully. If wires are hard to reach, for example, future repairs and upgrade will be difficult. If the system is very large, setup specialists might recommend and build a raised floor in the client’s computer center. The paneled floor allows easy access to the complex electrical and communications wiring.
Once thorough preparations have been made, setup specialists move the equipment to the clients’ location to begin installation. Their on-site work might include configuring hard drives or network servers. They also connect peripherals: printers, phones, fax machines, modems, and numerous networked terminals. When everything is in place, they run extensive diagnostic tests in order to ensure that the system is running well. Invariably, they encounter problems. One terminal may not be able to send files to another, for example. Another terminal might be unable to establish fax communications outside the company. Solving problems requires consulting flow charts, other computer professionals, and technical manuals. The next round of testing occurs when the users begin working on the system. Some clients might prefer to simulate normal use while setup specialists stand by to correct problems. Large business installations can take days or even weeks to complete.
Sometimes, setup specialists are involved with technical support in training client users on the new system. They have to be well-versed in the details of how to use the system properly and be able to explain it to individuals who might not know a lot about computers.
Systems Setup Specialist Career Requirements
If this industry interests you, try to take any mechanics and electronics classes that focus on understanding how complex machinery works. These classes will introduce you to the basics of reading flow charts and schematic drawings and understanding technical documents. The ability to read these documents efficiently and accurately is a prerequisite for computer setup work. Don’t forget to take computer classes, especially those that explain the basic functioning of computer technology. English and speech classes will also help you build your communication skills, which is another important quality because setup specialists often work closely with many different people. Finally, take business classes to familiarize yourself with practices of the business world. These classes will also be of help to you if you decide to advance by starting your own business.
A high school diploma is a minimum educational requirement for most systems setup specialist positions. However, the competitive nature of this industry is increasing the importance of postsecondary education, such as an associate’s degree. Computer technology is advancing so rapidly that without a solid understanding of the basics, setup specialists cannot keep up with the changes. Also, many aspiring computer professionals use system setup positions as a springboard to higher-level jobs in the company. Formal computer education, along with work experience, gives them a better chance for advancement.
Certification or Licensing
A number of companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco, offer certification programs in the use of their products. There are also independent companies that provide training programs leading to certification. Generally these certifications are voluntary. Some employers may pay for part or all of the training cost.
Do you work well with your hands? Manual work is performed on large and small scales. Sometimes thick cables and communications lines must be installed; other times tiny memory chips or microprocessors are needed. Therefore, you’ll need to demonstrate good manual dexterity.
You should also be curious about how things work. Systems setup specialists are typically the kind of people who tinker around the house on VCRs, televisions, small appliances, and computers. Genuine curiosity of this type is important because you’ll constantly be challenged to learn about new equipment and technologies. When things go wrong during installation, you will be called on to become an electronic and computer problem-solver and must be prepared with a solid understanding of the basics.
Exploring Systems Setup Specialist Career
There are several ways to obtain a better understanding of what it is like to be a setup specialist. One way is to try to organize a career day through school or friends and relatives. In this way, you could spend a day on the job with setup specialists and experience firsthand what the work entails.
You might also want to work part time for a computer repair shop. Repair shops usually do many upgrades that involve the installation of new hardware, like faster modems and microprocessors and more memory. Working in such a shop after school or on weekends will give you the opportunity to observe or practice the precision work of a setup specialist.
Depending on your level of computer knowledge, you may want to volunteer to setup new personal computers for friends or charitable organizations in your neighborhood. Try installing software or customizing some features of the operating system to better meet the needs of the user. To keep up to date on technology developments and get ideas for customizing, read computer magazines, such as Computerworld (http://www.computerworld.com/) and PC Magazine (http://www.pcmag.com/).
In the early days of the computer industry, many jobs were clustered around northern California, where many of the big computer companies were headquartered. This is no longer true. Many top computer companies are located throughout the United States, and with them come a number of employment opportunities. Some computer hardware powerhouses include Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. Many mid- to small-sized companies may not have the need for a specific department devoted to computer setup. In such situations, other computer professionals may be assigned setup duties besides their regular job descriptions.
A number of jobs may also be found with smaller companies that contract their services to retail stores or offer them directly to the public. Services may include hardware and software installation, upgrading, and repair.
Most positions in systems setup are considered entry level. If you plan to enter this field without a postsecondary education but with computer skills and experience, you will need to network with working computer professionals for potential employment opportunities. Jobs are advertised in the newspaper every week; in fact, many papers devote entire sections to computer-related positions. Also, don’t forget the benefits of working with employment agencies. Another job-hunting technique is to conduct online searches on the World Wide Web. Many computer companies post employment opportunities and accept resumes and applications online.
If you plan to enter the field by completing an advanced degree (in computer technology, for example), work closely with your school’s placement office. Many firms looking for computer professionals inform schools first, since they are assured of meeting candidates with a certain level of proficiency in the field.
Within systems setup, there are several ways specialists can be promoted. One is by working on increasingly complex systems installations. Another is by having supervisory or managerial responsibility for the setup department. Other specialists choose to pursue promotion in different functional areas, such as technical support, computer engineering, or systems analysis.
When setup specialists demonstrate strong ability and drive, they are often assigned to larger and more complex installations. Instead of installing commercial software, for example, the specialist might now be responsible for constructing flow charts or other drawings as part of the overall installation plan. Also, a specialist who at first works on relatively small departmental networks might be asked to work on company-wide networks.
Computer professionals who use systems setup as a springboard to other positions usually have formal education in a certain field, such as software or hardware engineering. They seek promotion by keeping an eye on job openings within their respective fields.
If specialists show leadership ability, they might be promoted to supervisory and then managerial positions. These positions require more administrative duties and less hands-on work. For example, supervisors are usually in charge of scheduling installation jobs and assigning different jobs to various individuals, taking into account their level of expertise and experience. With more formal education, managers might be involved with the strategic planning of a computer company, deciding what level of service the company is willing to offer to clients.
Specialists may also decide to start their own computer business. Many office supply and electronic stores contract with area computer companies to provide customers with services such as setup and installation, upgrading, and technical support. Those who follow this career path should be familiar with the basics of operating a small business, such as doing accounting, marketing, and inventory.
According to the 2003 Technical Support Salary Survey conducted by the Association of Support Professionals, systems setup specialists with entry-level customer service responsibilities earned $24,000 annually at the low end and a median income of $31,200 annually; those working as support technicians had median annual earnings of $38,000. Senior support technicians, typically those with management responsibilities as well as experience and technical expertise, had a median annual salary of $50,000. In some areas of the country, salaries for those in management positions may be higher. Computer professionals typically earn more in areas where there are clusters of computer companies, such as in California and parts of the East Coast. However the high cost of living in these areas may offset the benefits of a higher salary.
Most full-time setup specialists work for companies that provide a full range of benefits, including health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation. In addition, many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to employees who successfully complete course work in the field. Setup specialists who operate their own businesses are responsible for providing their own benefits.
Systems setup specialists work primarily indoors, in a comfortable environment. This is not a desk job; specialists move around a lot either in the lab or at the client site. Travel to client locations is required for many setup specialists. The work also requires some lifting of heavy machinery, which can be avoided if an individual physically cannot perform this task. Given the nature of the work, dress is casual, although those who install systems at the client’s site must be dressed in presentable business attire.
Setup specialists usually work a regular 40-hour week. However, they might be asked to work overtime when big installations are reaching final phases. They might have to work during off-hours if the client requires installation to be done then.
Installation work can be tedious. There are many details involving wiring, communications, and configurations. Setup specialists must therefore be patient and thorough, which can be frustrating at times. When problems arise, they must work well under stress and be able to think clearly about how to resolve the issues. If setup specialists are also involved in user training, they must communicate clearly and be understanding of others’ problems.
Systems Setup Specialist Career Outlook
Industry experts predict that demand for systems setup specialists will grow faster than the average for all other occupations. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that computer systems analysts, engineers, and scientists are expected to be among the fastest growing jobs through 2014. This outlook, however, may be somewhat tempered by the economic fluctuations in the technology industry as a whole. Nevertheless, the outlook remains good for systems setup specialists.
The ability to network and share information within the company allows businesses to be productive and work more efficiently. As new technology is developed, companies may upgrade, or replace their systems altogether. Skilled workers will be in demand by companies to staff their technical support departments and provide services ranging from setup and installation to diagnostics.
Also, because of falling hardware and software prices, it has become more affordable for consumers to purchase home computer setups. Although advances in software technology have made program installation easy, computer companies will continue to offer installation services as a way to win customers from competitors. In addition, fierce competition will push companies to provide increasingly specialized service in terms of customization of computer systems. As computers become more sophisticated, highly trained setup specialists will be needed to install them correctly. It will therefore be very important for setup specialists to stay up to date with technological advances through continuing education, seminars, or work training.