Things I wish I’d known before taking on running a service desk

As I’m coming up to two years managing the desk, I’ve been reflecting on how I felt stepping into the role and the things that I wish I’d known.

I’m Clair Hillier and I’m the service desk manager within the Bespoke development department. I’ve been in the role for around two years now and it’s pretty good, to be honest.

Most of the Waterstons' Bespoke developers rotate through the service desk so I get to work with nearly all the team, which is lovely. We have a large range of clients with a massively diverse product range which means that we support lots of different software: from a small system that creates work permits to allow workers to do their jobs on oilrigs, to a colossal, all-encompassing system that tracks public opinion that the government use to steer their decisions. I’m really inquisitive (read: nosey) so it’s great for me. I’ve learned so much about all the industries we work with and how they operate since I started at Waterstons and I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of it all.

As I’m coming up to two years managing the desk, I’ve been reflecting on how I felt stepping into the role and the things that I wish I’d known.

How varied our customers’ procedures are

We work to complement our customers’ internal procedures. Some customers have a really relaxed regime to which we might add some rigour and others already have a full change management and release setup. In reality, for every customer we have there is a different way of working. Most of the team know everyone’s procedures like the backs of their hands but it took me a lot of reading and questioning to learn them all. I’m grateful every day of the comprehensive knowledge base we maintain on each of our clients.

How varied our customers’ needs are

We have some clients where we are their only port of call while for others we supplement their own in-house development and support teams. This means we can get the simplest of requests like advice on using a product, to challenging issues which have managed to stump our clients’ developers for weeks before being handed over to Waterstons. The team are grateful for the variety that the different challenges bring.

How amazing the Waterstons' team is

The department spirit (read: banter) is central to the atmosphere and, in my opinion, is the reason that everyone works so well together. We have a good time getting on with the work, learning new things and the great mix of personalities and how they interact with each other is the key to success for the team. From the person who everyone knows is a little grumpy on a Monday morning to the geek who can’t be stopped from buying every new piece of ‘shiny’ that hits the market; they are all unique. So it’s with some trepidation that I write that the team are amazing; I’ll deny this if anyone asks though with ‘yeah, I meant except you’.

They are amazing. They want to know about everything and they put serious time in finding out as much as they can squeeze into their heads. They know so much about our customers and their businesses, their goals, their processes and how they work, their busy days and their staff, and… it goes on and on.

Technologies are another place where they can’t find out enough. They don’t just care what they need to know for their jobs, these people study this stuff in their spare time! We have a hack day once a quarter and the team get the chance to invest some time into learning something new. They are genuinely disappointed if they can’t make the day and we have even had people come in when they’re on holiday to do it. Our people aren’t happy just playing around; they need to be creative and want to produce the most creative and astonishing thing. Everyone needs a hand-engineered integrated glockenspiel that’s powered via Twitter, right?

The solutions that they produce are great. I’ve worked with developers who do that tooth-sucking thing that stereotypical mechanics do when they’re trying to brace you for a whooper bill, in an effort to put you off something because it’s a bit complex for them. It doesn’t happen at Waterstons; granted they’ll tell you if the return on investment isn’t worth the job but they love working through a challenge and getting something done that needs a bit of brain power.

I’m fascinated by how fast they work too. I’ve been freaked out by someone reading through code so quickly that it looked like the opening credits of The Matrix. He might have just been messing with my head and pretending he was reading it but actually already knew that he needed line 500; but then how did he blooming know that?

Looking back

I wish that for the month after I took up the role that I’d not been so worried. I wish I’d known then how amazing the team were and that I’d relaxed a bit and just enjoyed the experience. In hindsight, I had so much to learn but I had the team behind me with their experience and knowledge so everything was going to be alright, even if they do know a slightly scary amount about delivering great software.

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27 October 2020

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