Technicians are the
Real Engineers

I like to peruse the jobs section of the Sunday papers, more out of an interest to see what the market is doing and where skills are needed. One thing that stands out every time is how prospective employers offer such poor pay when advertising for technical support people, or technicians as they were once called.

It's not surprising that the term 'technician' has been dropped in favour of 'technical support' as it was often shortened to 'techie' and the connotation was often derogatory. Hey, when I started out I was also a 'techie' and rather proud of the fact. It leaves one with a great feeling when people call up and ask for you by name because they know you'll be able to sort the problem out.

When one asks the question "why does the term 'techie' carry with it negative thoughts?" the response is usually "well, you should see some I've had to deal with!". Ok, agreed. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

However, this last statement has a hidden message. If one analyses this, the quality of techie employed clearly indicates the quality of management of a company. Techies, like receptionists, are the actual frontline of a company i.e. those that the customer will see first, long before any salesman crosses their path. The advertising may say "we're the best", yet the technical support yells out "don't touch us".

We've shown that the quality of management is reflected in their techies, but there is one mitigating factor in their defence. No one teaches what make a good techie. Even the basics are forgotten such as the words 'technical' and 'technician' are both formed from the same root word. So it comes as no surprise when companies keep employing 'repairmen' yet think they are getting technicians (and please note we are not stating that such persons may not be the better looking gender!).

To the uninitiated these appear as the same thing. This is not the case. Repairmen are extremely capable of locating faults by means of guides or charts and then affecting the repair such that the machinery is again operational. One could say he operates by a set of rules. Diagnostic flow charts (what a contradiction in terms!) can turn many into very capable repairmen. "if X does not happen, replace component Y". With such simple instructions the only requirement is to recognize 'condition X' and where to find 'component Y'.

Before we move onto the techie, lets investigate the modus operandi of the engineer. He too works by rules. "To have a signal amplified by a certain amount, as well as being able to deliver a certain level of signal, I need a transistor of X rating.....". Now c'mon, is that not a rule!? Nowadays there seems to be an even more fundamental rule, "if there's a published circuit that can do the job then incorporate it in the design"!

We can even move onto the computer programmer. He too works in a world of rules. If the program line "IF A=B then C" is not a rule, then what is? Even in systems where constants are updated (which means they are no longer constant!) such that the program 'tunes' itself still means the program works by a set of rules.

So what about the techie?

There is one thing this individual has which makes him good in his job. The true techie is an analyst. He can walk into almost any situation and solve the issues at hand. It may sound simple but when given a little thought it is soon realized that the techie, in order to get started, has to actually understand how and why the engineer designed the product the way he did.

As if not bad enough having to "get inside the mind" of the designer in order to understand what he did, to have such an understanding requires that the techie have an excellent broad-range knowledge base. Without this he won't be able to affect his task of technical support efficiently. This knowledge is also often used in improving the design which leads to improved product credibility and through that reduced technical support levels.

It is not only the designer's head the techie has to get inside, it is also the customer's. There are many occasions when the techie has to dig deep and deliberately ask leading questions so as to ensure the real fault is found, and that it is not a perceived one. This can take real detective work and the piecing together of many bits of a puzzle.

But there is another individual the techie has to deal with. This character sits in between the designer and client - commonly known as "The Salesman" - and they pull some very clever stunts of their own!

Salesmen, eager to keep the customer sweet, have been known to inadvertently 'bend the rules' although there are occasions when this is deliberate. They usually achieve little more than cornering both the client and themselves with things like bad interpretation of a technical specification. This situation is especially true if the activity is questionable such as the free use of licensed software. In situations like this the techie's role becomes dual-edged by separating sales-talk from the technical truth for the client, and offering the salesman an escape route.


The techie is a mind reader. Ok, not really, but, shucks!, it's close! His talents usually end at this point as anything more would be tantamount to working a miracle! (and the last miracles worked by men was in Acts).

The next time you hear an engineer call up Technical Support, maybe you should lean over and say "you mean the Engineer's Help-Desk" and smile as you know he's just had to ask for help from someone who can work beyond the rules.

Marc Dekenah

© 01.06.02