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An Ideal PC Technician

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Aspiring or active IT professionals who work as PC technicians can benefit from an improved understanding of what current and prospective employers want from those interested in such work. In this article, you'll take a look at relevant certifications, technical skills and knowledge, and subject matter expertise of greatest interest to employers of PC technicians.
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The nearly exponential growth of technology, coupled with a new affordability, has revolutionized the PC industry. More than at any other time in the past, our lives are wired (and also wireless). Whether in the home or office, and even on the go, PCs are here to stay; and the future demand for qualified people to support, maintain, and provide other services for these PCs remains modest but ongoing.

Employers are always on the lookout for savvy PC technicians to help them not only support their users and to maintain custom in-house systems and applications as well, but also to provide outward-facing customer repair depot and support services.

So, what are employers looking for in an "ideal" PC technician? While the individual requirements will vary from company to company and job to job, we compiled a list of highly desirable characteristics and skillsets that most employers would like to see in an "ideal"—or "perfect"—PC technician candidate.

This checklist should give you a good idea of the kinds of things that prospective employers are not only looking for but also expect to find in their PC technicians. While none of us can claim total perfection, you can get close to walking-on-water status if your skills meet or exceed everything outlined below.

  • Hardware: PC technicians need to have a thorough understanding of PC hardware, including motherboards, CPUs, RAM, interface cards, and hard disks. PC technicians are also frequently called upon to assist with various peripheral devices such as removable media, keyboards, mice or other pointing devices (especially touchpads), display devices; and printers, including installation, troubleshooting, and repair.
  • Drivers: A complete understanding of device drivers is essential. PC technicians should know how to locate, download, install, troubleshoot, and replace a variety of device drivers. They also need to understand how these drivers work with software, as well as how to detect and resolve hardware conflicts.
  • Familiarity with all the key vendor sites (for individual devices in some cases, and for platform support from companies such as Dell, HP, Lenovo, and so forth in other cases) is also a must.

  • Operating Systems: PC technicians are likely to encounter multiple operating systems. The ability to install, configure, patch, upgrade, and troubleshoot various operating system software and services is a key skill.
  • In general, PC technicians should have an understanding of common PC platforms and operating systems, including multiple versions of Windows (such as XP, Vista, and Windows 7 for desktops and notebooks at a minimum, and also Windows Server 2003 and 2008 for servers, plus the 2003-based Windows Home Server platform), Linux (especially major distributions including Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, and Mandrake), and Mac OS (recent OS X versions at a minimum).

  • Technical Toolbox: PC technicians must be familiar with basic diagnostics tools and key firmware analysis and management tools and techniques (especially as it regards flashing or manipulating PC BIOS firmware). They should also be familiar with vendor and third-party utilities for diagnosing and managing storage (especially hard and solid state disks), displays (especially for setting color balance, overscan/underscan, brightness, contrast, and so forth), and other key system components.
  • Likewise, familiarity with OS and third-party utilities for managing system resources (registry, memory, disk defragmentation, file system clean-up, and so on) and system health is also essential.

  • Applications: A PC technician must have a complete understanding of PC applications and common productivity applications such as email, graphics, Web browsers, and other everyday software components.
  • An ideal PC technician will not only be able to manage these applications—including installation, configuring, and ongoing upgrades—but will also understand how to plan, implement, and deploy software using automated tools.

  • Communication and Customer Facing Skills: More than any other non-managerial IT position, PC technicians are frequently called upon to interface with customers, both internal and external, who are suffering some level of distress because they are having difficulties with the PC, hardware or applications, and so forth. As a result, PC technicians must have excellent communication and customer support skills, including such things as listening skills, the ability to replicate problems, the ability to provide solutions, and strong people skills.
  • The very best PC technicians will not only help users solve whatever problems they may be facing at any given moment; they will also teach users how to avoid or work around such problems in the future.

  • Certification: Appropriate certification is always desirable for those seeking to establish themselves as qualified and competent PC technicians, and to maintain their currency and competency over time. Obtaining certification communicates that you've invested the time and effort in the field to ensure that you possess the required technical skills. It also implies that you're likely to stay on top of the game by continuing to hone your skills as new technologies emerge.

For most PC technicians, the CompTIA A+ Certification is the most obvious and likely credential they will pursue. Starting with the new year in 2011, in fact, those who earn the A+ certification will subsequently have to renew their credentials every three years thereafter, either by meeting ongoing continuing education requirements or by re-taking the latest exam.

Those who earn an A+ before December 31, 2010, get to remain certified for life, but even they must recognize that keeping current is not an option, but rather a vital necessity, given the rapid pace and high frequency of technology changes in the PC world.

Other certifications worth considering for individuals interested in PC technician jobs include Microsoft's Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), its Certified Desktop Support Specialist (the MCTS program offers credentials on Business Desktop Deployment, and on Windows Vista and Windows 7 configuration), and its Certified IT Professional (relevant MCITP credentials include the Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7, Consumer Support Technician, and Enterprise Support Technician).

The LPI (Linux Professional Institute) offers a basic certification (LPIC 1) of interest to those who work with Linux, and Apple also offers a Certified Support Professional credential likely to be of value to those who work with Macintosh PCs.

As you face off with prospective employers in search of a PC technician job (or perhaps a raise or promotion if you're already working in this field), be sure to address your skills, knowledge, and accomplishments in these areas as you work through the interview process.

Although your resume should call attention to these things, your ability to talk about them clearly and coherently, and to explain how what you know and what you can do can benefit your employer (or prospective employer), is also important for getting the results you desire.

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