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The majority of IT advisors do not have a background in computer science, and the technical skills are relatively simple to teach.

Credit: Greg Boyek

Despite the name, a background in IT isn’t the most important part of being an IT advisor. What is? Customer service.

“We’re not really looking for in-depth knowledge … because we can always teach that,” said Engineering sophomore Veer Pandya, who works as an ITA manager at Kings Court English College House. ITA managers, along with senior staff at College House Computing, handle the recruitment and hiring of new ITAs.

“[Customer service skills] we normally we put a lot more weight on, because it’s harder to teach that. It’s much easier to just teach technical knowledge,” Pandya said.

College junior Joel Unzain, an ITA manager in Riepe College House, agreed.

“You could have somebody who loves technology and knows a lot about technology, but also doesn’t have the patience to help people,” Unzain said. “Our main goal is hiring people who have a lot of patience and who have that customer experience — the customer service skills that we need.”

Students can currently apply to become an ITA through the College House Computing website, but the bulk of ITA recruitment occurs at the end of the school year, from May through July. Selected students must attend a training session prior to the start of New Student Orientation. Most of the training workshops cover common troubleshooting requests, but not all of them are tech-related: One workshop, taught by Counseling and Psychological Services, is meant to teach ITAs how to deal with stressed students who come to them for help.

“Sometimes we do need some guidance on how to handle certain situations,” Unzain said. “If your computer stops working right before you have to submit your writing portfolio or something, and everything gets deleted, of course the customer gets really upset.”

While some ITAs have backgrounds in computer science, many do not. ITAs and ITA managers are predominantly from the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, but their majors range from electrical engineering to visual studies.

One result of College House Computing’s relative lack of focus on deep technical ability, however, is that ITAs may be unable to help with more thorny issues.

“I had tried to download a textbook onto my computer, and I didn’t realize that it was a corrupt file,” said College sophomore Sarah Holland. “And it crashed my computer to the point where it wouldn’t turn on. So that was fun.”

Holland, a resident of Harrison College House, initially went to the Harrison ITA on duty for help.

“They had no clue what to do,” she said. The ITA recommended that Holland go to the main College House Computing help desk, which was able to restart the computer and restore Holland’s files.

Holland said that she would likely turn to the main help desk again in the case of another serious technological problem.

“I’m not sure I would take [a serious problem] to the Harrison [ITA] people, because I’ve only had success with them helping me if it’s a printing problem or if my phone lost Wi-Fi,” she said.

Nevertheless, she did appreciate their willingness to help. “A lot of other services, people might get frustrated with you, or if they can’t solve the problem they won’t help you. I’ve been to places where they’ll just be like, ‘I don’t know what to do with that,’” she said. “But here they were like, ‘Oh, I guess you should just call the main IT service,’ and they were very polite and kind.”

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