The computer repair field is filled with a dynamic variety of personalities, all with their own particular skills & traits. However, something must be said for a technician that performs all of his hardware repairs by way of guidance to his wife. I had the opportunity to sit down with the truly inspirational Kevin Berg, owner of CompuPane LLC based in Auburn, Washington (USA). Kevin’s story is one of perseverance, dedication, and a natural love of computers – in light of being diagnosed with the physically debilitating condition cerebral palsy as a child.
Kevin’s story was first published in a lengthy Seattle Times article late last year, and we thought it would be great to hear from him directly. He was very candid about his life story and how he manages being a computer repair technician by day under his current circumstances. Kevin even shared with us some of his favorite apps and tools that he couldn’t function without.
The below interview originally took place on January 18, 2012 and has been edited for grammar and brevity.
Derrick Wlodarz: When were you diagnosed with cerebral palsy?
Kevin Berg: I was about a year old. My parents knew something was wrong before that but the doctors kept telling them that babies develop at different rates.
Derrick: What kind of challenges has the condition placed upon you?
Kevin: Since there is a wide-range of severity in C.P., I can say I have moderately-severe C.P. affecting the clarity of my speech, limb control, etc. In other words, I can’t walk, feed myself, dress myself, groom myself, have trouble talking… I type with a pointer sticking out from my forehead basically. The doctors predicted much worse, though, so I’m grateful!
Derrick: The Seattle Times article went into your unique computer setup at home. Could we get a photo of the setup? Could you describe to us how it works, the parts, software, etc? I’m sure the techies out there are dying to know.
Kevin: Sure, but I’ve simplified things a lot recently. I now do nearly everything from my iPad 2 (bought it last month), though I use my Xoom with 4G if I’m out.
Derrick: Which apps on your tablets get the most usage? Are there any which you would not be able to function without?
Kevin: My primary software/app for remote support is LogMeIn (the paid iPad version just rocks) and I have a whole host of Windows tools I use for support. The utility I can’t live without now is D7! (D7 has made me a LOT of money because of its power!) The “app” I couldn’t live without is TouchAssist built into iOS 5.
Kevin: In case you’re wondering, TouchAssist makes multi-touch gestures possible with one “finger.”
Derrick: What kind of educational background do you have? Did that route in life bring about your desire to work in the computer industry?
Kevin: I have a B.S. in computer science but that’s more the theory behind programming. I found that I hate programming, but I’ve been fixing computers since high school. After I got married, I taught my wife enough about it to be my “hands” for hardware issues and my interpreter for calls. Then I went into business!
Derrick: I’m going to take a short guess that your tenure at N2H2 wasn’t the most appealing?
Kevin: I’ve just always had the knack for problem-solving. Actually, when I WAS a programmer at N2H2, I helped build a search engine, so now I can find answers on Google (when needed) very fast because I can build effective queries.
Derrick: You said you began repairing computers in high school. Did a love for computers come before you had this skill, or afterwards?
Kevin: I would have started fixing them earlier but that is when I got my first real PC…a 286! My first computer was a Commodore 64 when I was 8 and I took right to it. It was just a natural match & passion. I can’t even claim that repairing them is a skill for me but more of an instinct. It is weird.
Derrick: How do you handle onsite service for customers (if you do)?
Kevin: If a location is wheelchair-accessible, I might go, but I often send my wife and guide her over the phone to make the fix. Of course, I’ve found that many of the tasks techs think requires onsite support I can do remotely.
Derrick: Your wife has been quoted as being an integral part of your computer repair process. Would you be able to operate your company today without her assistance?
Kevin: No, at least not immediately, but I also wouldn’t WANT to.
Derrick: Good call Kevin; you two sound like a real great duo!
Kevin: I fix computers because I love it; I charge money to support my family.
Derrick: Where do you see both yourself and your business in 5-10-15 years?
Kevin: There’s a loaded question! My personal 15-year goal is to have no debt whatsoever (including mortgage), a nice retirement fund, and enough investments to be self-insured because I can’t get life insurance anywhere because (don’t ask me why) every carrier puts C.P. in the same class as Stage 4 Cancer.
Kevin: For business, my 15-year goal is to have 25 team members and 10-15 vehicles for onsite work.
Derrick: What do you see as the single biggest change that will affect the computer repair industry in the next 3 years?
Kevin: Contrary to most techs I have met, I think tablets are here to stay and will become peoples’ main device in a couple years. I’m already providing support and advice for them, so I think techs need to start learning the mobile operating systems inside & out.
Derrick: You mentioned to me before the interview that you provide assistance & advice to local techs. Is there anything you can offer to the Technibble community along these lines?
Kevin: It is kind of a case-by-case advice thing. Most of the time it deals with rogue malware & desktop hijackers because I have great success in removing these (even remotely) without reformatting (I hate reformatting). My best advice is using D7 and keeping it updated at least weekly.
Derrick: So if there was one tool you would recommend to every tech out there, it seems as if that would be D7? You have praised it a few times during our interview.
Kevin: Fortunately, D7 is too daunting for non-techies so the average user won’t use it on their own, yet it does 50% of my tune-up process and 90% of my malware removal. It is free and yet I charge flat-fees of $200 for processes that I use it in. You can’t beat that!
Kevin: I AM, however, going to pay for a key so I can brand my copy.
Derrick: One last question Kevin: are there any final words you have for aspiring computer repair technicians who want to follow in your footsteps?
Kevin: Only do it if you’d be doing it for free anyway. That passion will overshadow the amount on your bill, making sure you get repeat clients no matter what you charge them.
Derrick: Kevin, that’s some excellent advice. Thank you for your time today. It really was a pleasure to speak with the man behind the wand!
Kevin: No problem! Haha.
Feel free to reach out to Kevin directly via email at CompuPane[at]CompuPane.net or visit his website at http://www.compupane.net.