External vs. Internal IT Help Desk Jobs

By Tyler Regas

IT is such a complex field that even the career directions you can choose from are complicated! Help desk jobs can take you in different directions. Take the Red Pill, and you are magically transported to the external help desk. Take the Blue Pill, and you inexplicably appear on the internal help desk. While both these paths are all about engineers helping users with technical stuff, they are fundamentally different from each other.

External help desk

Your company, MacroFirm Systems, makes CompuFriend, an application that turns users’ computers into best friends. The help desk here is provided as a resource to users of CompuFriend. The users you assist will not be located in your office, so you will spend most of your time helping people by using a phone, a ticketing system, email, online chat, or even remote access.

Aside from the work‐a‐day tasks you perform assisting users with CompuFriend over the phone or in online chat, all the while updating support tickets, you fulfill other job requirements. You may be tasked with combing through old tickets to find helpful solutions to add to the knowledge base. You may investigate problems with software license piracy.

Internal help desk

Your company, Swanky Media Partners, is an advertising agency that creates campaigns for a number of important clients. This help desk is available only for the use of company employees of SMP. The users you assist will be located in the Swanky offices and a few satellite locations that are securely connected to the home office.

When you help users, you will sometimes answer questions over the phone or through email, but you will mostly assist them at their desks. Some companies use some form of service ticket management system, but they will mostly be seen only by the engineers who create them on behalf of the users. Aside from dealing with user problems or questions, you may also manage servers, update passwords, test and install application patches, create accounts and configure systems for new users, and manage company assets, among many other possible tasks.

The difference

In this example, the external help desk is outward facing and is generally dedicated to CompuFriend’s users. In fact, MacroFirm even has its own internal IT help desk that deals only with internal systems. Engineers who work the external help desk help only users of the software that MacroFirm makes but not users inside MacroFirm. External help desk engineers spend the majority of their time supporting users of the product.

Swanky’s internal help desk’s engineers wear a number of different hats and perform a number of different jobs during the typical day. Swanky, as an advertising agency, has users that use Windows for administration, HR, and in IT, but it also has lots of Mac OS X systems for all of the creative people and to handle creative asset pipeline management. Swanky even has a small A/V (audio/visual) studio in its home office, all of which runs on Mac OS X.