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What is a field service technician?
Just as people get sick, car engines develop knocks, and clothes washers leak, computer systems and other sophisticated business and scientific equipment occasionally break down. Repair of such systems is performed by the field service representative, who may be known as the field engineer, customer engineer, computer service technician, service representative, or "that gal/guy who fixes these things." The "things" that get fixed may be any part of the equipment such as, in the case of a data processing system, the computer itself or any number of related devices including magnetic tape and disc drives for memory storage, plotters for graphic representation, copiers and printers, and terminals that allow the operator to talk to the computer via a typewriter keyboard or TV screen. When the equipment breaks down, it is cheaper and easier to bring the technician to the site rather than transporting the unit to a repair center. The field service representative is thus a "doctor" who makes "house calls"; she diagnoses the problem and performs necessary repairs and adjustments. Installation of new equipment, modifications, updates, and routine preventive maintenance are also part of the job.
What makes a good field service technician?
A good field service technician must have two important skills. The first is technical knowledge. This would consist of a good base in electronics technology and the ability to think logically for troubleshooting problems. The electronics part is critical. You must have a good understanding of basic electronics theories, the proper use of measuring equipment, and the safe handling of electronic devices. The use of troubleshooting techniques and flow charts is also necessary. These are skills that can be acquired fairly easily by taking an electronics course at a vocational-technical school or college.
The second and equally important skill for a field service technician is customer relations. You will be going on-site to many different locations, with many different types of customers. Some are upset that their equipment broke down, and others are angry at you and your company. You must be able to handle both types. It is difficult not to throw anger right back at the customer; after all, you were not responsible for the breakdown of the equipment. You have to be able to listen to the customer's concerns and complaints while remaining calm. It takes a strong individual to take charge of a situation like this and to take the opportunity to turn an angry customer into a happy one. A customer skills workshop or course can help develop this ability.
What is life as a field service technician like?
There is no "typical" day in the life of a field service technician. You do not go to an office at 8:00 a.m., sit at a desk or bench, take a lunch at noon, and leave at 5:00 p.m. The field service technician's job is different every day. One day might be spent at one customer site repairing one piece of equipment, and the next day a lot of travel may be involved, depending on the size of the territory for which you are responsible. Some techs may travel three or four hours and work on one piece of equipment, while others may work in just one city. Some techs are flown all over the country!
You could spend a day counting and restocking your parts inventory. Many companies have a lot of technical data to keep abreast of, so several hours a week may be spent on studying technical literature. The company also must keep you trained on new equipment, so you may spend a week in a formal classroom setting. The field service technician is rarely bored with the same old thing every day.
How do I become a field service technician?
There is no one path to follow, but a field service technician typically has two or more years of electronics technology. This may be acquired at a vocational-technical school, a community college, or a university. A two-year certificate or associate degree is common. You will have an easier time acquiring these if you buckle down in high school and take as much math and physical science as you can. Some of the math in electronics can be difficult without a good solid base of algebra for starters. It is also a good idea to have computer skills. Most electronic equipment today is computer-controlled, or it is hooked up to a computer. So, attain a working knowledge of a PC. You don't have to be an expert at the use of hand tools, but you must be able to learn their use. A tech's tool kit will contain screwdrivers, pliers, cutters, wire strippers, soldering irons, etc. All of these tools will be used in your electronics training, so you can build your skills from there. Some field service techs start out as bench technicians. A bench tech works at a location where customers bring in broken equipment, and the tech repairs it at a repair depot. This allows you to develop your troubleshooting skills without a customer breathing down you neck. You can then move into the world of field service. There are many ways to get into field service, but the first step is always gaining technical knowledge.
If you are a girl who likes math and science, and you enjoy people, field service might be for you. Just because it seems like a man's job, it does not mean that you would not do well at it. Women can have a real advantage in this field. Their natural nurturing skills may come in handy when a customer is disappointed in piece of equipment. You can listen intently and show concern more easily than some men. If you approach it right, you can also have a calming effect on an angry customer. Women tend to be more thorough and patient. This will help you fix the problem right and prevent possible future problems. You also have a smaller build and smaller hands than a man, which will allow you to get to smaller parts without being "all thumbs." You may feel disadvantage where strength is concerned, but women are more likely to get help in lifting something without even asking for it. These may seem like small advantages, but they are real. Any woman who thinks she might like this type of career should not be afraid to enter this "man's field."
Who knows where that next service call might take you...
What/where are the jobs?
There are many different types of field service jobs. The U.S. is full of them since we have a service economy, meaning many corporations are based on providing a service. Some techs will go to people's homes to repair washing machines, TVs, and VCRs. Others might work on exercise equipment in gyms. Some will repair high-tech printers and plotters in offices. You might specialize in the repair of industrial equipment like conveyors, presses, or assemblers. Some companies do only field service work. They send their techs to many different training classes to allow them to work on many types of equipment. As you can see, there is about any type of work environment you might desire in field service.
A personal note
I was an honor student in school. I took many advanced math and science classes. When representatives from the area vocational-technical school came to talk to ninth and tenth graders, I decided to take electronics over the next two years. I was discouraged by teachers and counselors alike. They all said that I would do much better in regular classes. That just made me want it more! I took the two years of vocational-technical classes and was the only girl in my class of 35 students. It felt a little weird at first, but I really enjoyed it and I rose to the top of that class of boys. My efforts paid off with a college scholarship to a University's two-year program for an associate degree in electronics. I again encountered the same boy-to-girl ratio, but I remained confident. I graduated with honors, and I haven't looked back since. I have been working in field service since I was 20 yrs. old; I am now 31. I have more than doubled my salary in that time, and I am confident that I am one of the best field service technicians that my company has on staff. The moral to this story is not my accomplishments, but my determination. Had I listened to the counselors and teachers that told me not to take that first step into electronics, I would not have the satisfying career that I have today. Don't be afraid to take a path less traveled by women.
Christy Rixman, Field Service Specialist
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