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Words Left Unsaid


At the end of October I made my first career change in almost a decade. Way back in 2002 I started working for at a helpdesk for one of New Zealand’s bigger internet providers. Back then my role was mainly taking calls from customers with dialup connections, but after a while I was also dealing with broadband. I was working for a third-party who held the contract to run the helpdesk, not the company itself, but after a year a group of us moved across to set up a ‘in house’ helpdesk. There was less than 40 of us in the beginning, but we quickly grew in number until the helpdesk was 300+ strong.

Over the years I moved around a little. I spent some time providing support for my fellow reps, a couple of years in a slightly more advanced team (not quite tier 2, more tier 1.5), and I even spent three years working the graveyard shift. One thing remained constant over all those roles, however, I spent most of my day with a headset on my head, ready and waiting for the next call to come through. There were busy times were you didn’t have to wait. As soon as you finished your current call, another was waiting. You quickly learned to appreciate the quiet times, but it was still a surprisingly stressful job.

All that changed last year, however. I moved into a seconded role elsewhere within the company, helping Online Team migrate one of our internal knowledge bases from one platform to another. What was originally  a six-week role kept getting extended, to the point where I was still with the Online Team a year later. All this changed once I got back from my honeymoon. The helpdesk had become exceedingly busy over the winter and they needed me back. It was something of a culture shock going back, but it also strengthened my resolve to get out of the helpdesk once and for all.

My chance came a couple of months later when one of my former team members announced he was pulling up stakes and moving his family to Australia. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and applied for the vacancy his departure had created. An interview or two and a couple of weeks later I got the role. I had finally escaped. The stress lifted from my shoulders and I felt elated. Only one task remained, writing my leaving email.

I’d long considered what I would say should I ever leave the helpdesk. I’d seen so much during my time, it would be hard to put it all in to words. Others had mentioned specific people in their leaving emails, but I wanted to avoid that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because a lot of the people I’d worked with over the years had already moved on, and those who remained I could always talk to in person. Ultimately I never got around to writing my email, but I’m going to try to do so here. It isn’t exactly what I wanted to say, but it should convey the message well enough.

Hey everybody,

Today is my final day here at the helpdesk and I just wanted to put together a few words about my time here, as is the custom on occasions such as this. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure if I should even write this email. I’ve been here for some time, and referred to as furniture on more than one occasion. Also I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

I started taking calls way back in 2002. Back then we were based in the 277 building in Newmarket and mainly took dialup calls. Over the intervening years there have been a great number of changes, both in the products we support as well as how we support them. To name a few, I remember when Windows XP was the ‘next big thing’ and we were still using Windows NT at work, when we used to rent DSL modems to customers (some of which are still working a decade later), when 256Kbit was considered a good speed, when we still had Friday night drinks, when we were struggling to get 250,000 customers, when 2Mbit was considered a good speed, when hosting a dozen or more customers off a single 2Mbit connection was considered acceptable, when we had a 16-year-old Harry Potter look-alike taking calls, and finally when many of your team leaders were taking calls.

That’s right, at one point many of the current team leaders were reps, just like you. Not all of them, of course. Some appeared, fully formed, at the helpdesk one day in their current form. I won’t name names, but they know who they are. This does bear remembering, however. Just because I was on the front line for almost 10 years it doesn’t mean you have to. If you have career aspirations, tell your team leader. It’s part of their role to help you with career development, even if it seems like they don’t want to. If they genuinely don’t want to help you succeed, find one who does. Request a transfer into their team, or see if they can help you in some other way. The worst thing you can do is keep plodding along. Doing the same thing, day after day. Trust me, it’s not worth it in the long run.

In the end, nobody’s going to thank you for turning up to work each day and taking phone calls. You might get the occasional compliment from a customer (but don’t ask for them, that’s just sad), but unless you can fart rainbows and make the sun rise in the west, that’s pretty much all you’ll get. Sure, you might get to occasionally ‘spin the wheel’. Trust me when I say that a Mars bar or mini-tube of Pringle’s is nothing when compared to actual recognition for a job well done. Don’t get suckered into thinking that going through the motions is in some way a reward. When you see how we treat people elsewhere in the company, you’ll come to realise why they keep the helpdesk away from the rest of the business.

This may all sound a bit dire, but it’s the truth. Don’t think of this job as some glamorous role. Sure, you may get to talk to the occasional famous person, but then you realise that they’re just another caller with the same problems as everyone else. What you need to do is look past all of this and see the job for what it really is, a springboard to getting a better role either elsewhere within the company, or with another company altogether. Oh, and by ‘elsewhere within the company’ I don’t mean moving to a Tier 2 role. The way things are going, Tier 2 will end up just like the front line, only with slightly more responsibility. The best thing about moving up there is that it does open up your options a little more.

To sum this all up, I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t be me. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Find a direction for yourself, and start following it. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a job is leave.

Now, here’s a cat:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. D4DarkstarTOR permalink
    30/12/2011 09:06

    Really good post ADSL cat. Use Helpdesk as a stepping stone, it has been pidgeon holed as a career in itself. I took far too long myself :).


  2. Minitrol permalink
    31/12/2011 11:07

    I work in a similar industry and you are 100% right. Tell me in the ISP works does it seem like your marketing department is always supping from the pimp cup of kool aid in their ivory tower and just once you wish they’d ask someone (anyone) else to read over their dribble before it is released to the public?

    • 31/12/2011 13:02

      It wasn’t like that for us. We had more issues with finding out about the latest products and deals. It wasn’t any one person or group’s fault, just lots of different failures. Thankfully, things have improved now.

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