Here is my belief on the topic as pertains to a typical IT shop with roughly 2 to 4 people:
(I do understand that I'm about to generalize things a bit. I'm sure there are special cases where my surmising is wrong. However, in gerneal, I believe what I'm about to say is true.)
SysAdmins should expect to do helpdesk work occasionally, especially trouble tickets that might be caused by deeper issues that only a systems person would know about. But sometimes, as much as we hate it, we've got to show someone custom views in Outlook or how to create a new menu item in Gnome. However, if an admin is consistently doing helpdesk duties, it's probably a sign of deeper problems. The three most likely culprits are:
- The admin himself isn't doing a thorough enough job
- There is a lack of backing by corporate leadership to implement best practices and mandate that people follow them.
- The primary helpdesk person is a slacker and needs training, electroshock therapy or a pink slip
Another problem that I won't address here is that some IT departments simply have more users and systems to manage than 2 to 4 people can prudently handle. For info on that topic, check out the ServerFault thread "What is your IT-department to staff ratio?"
If you're an admin and find yourself consistently doing helpdesk tasks, ask yourself three questions:
- Am I the cause of this? Are their centralized, streamlining systems that I can put in place to relieve this workload?
- If you have to pitch in to image a fleet of new PCs... why isn't there a centralized image managment system in place that could take care of it in just a few minutes? (FOG, for example) An admin's job should include putting a system like that in place... not cleaning up the mess caused by a lack of said system.
- Don't whine that you don't have enough budget to implement Mega-Manage-App-2015-Premium. Yes, Tivoli or SCCM or whatever-else-you're-pining-for would roxor your soxors, but you can't have it so get over it. pstools and some batch scripts can still work surprising wonders on a Windows network. The same and much more can be said for equivalent free tools on a *NIX network.
- Is management aware of this problem and are they interested in addressing it?
- If you find yourself consistently having to restore files from backup, when the user as an agent on his PC that allows self-service file restoration -- but he disabled it, then management should make stronger demands for compliance. That also includes mandating a lack of administrator privileges on the PC so this couldn't happen in the first place.
- As much as it may not seem like it, this potential problem can also be handled to a limited extent by you (or the head of IT if you're not it). Gather data, present your case in a calm and respectful manner and offer clear, concise solutions with the benefits clearly laid out. If at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking 'till you do suck seed (can't resist a good Three Stooges reference). Don't quit too early... but of course don't be a total pain in the posterior.
- Can I teach people to fish instead of handing them baked salmon fillet?
- If your help desk is constantly passing the buck up to you, take that help desker under your wing and teach him Zen and the art of motorcycle repair. Play Sherlock to his Watson (sans the cocaine and keeping shag tobacco in a slipper). If they show no signs of improvement, move to have them dismissed.
To summarize, Systems Administrators / Engineers / Architects (or whatever fancy title you've managed to snag =) ) have high-level, expensive skillsets. What good does it do your company if they have a $90K a year help desk technician? None whatsoever.