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I’ve had a long-term discussion/debate with a few people about the market reality of a full-time profession for computer help in the home.  Sure there are Geek Squads and FireDogs now associated with big-box stores, but will there be room for a “profession” for computer help in the home.

I say yes.  This week Apple announced two new “appliances” for the home – the “Time Capsule” (home server) and “Apple TV” (2).  Essentially these are two devices you need never really “see” you just “use” them.  Like the already announced Microsoft Home Server, the market is realizing that people are amassing large amounts of important digital files (e.g. digital pictures, media, tax forms, etc.) and need to back them up.  The other is basically a device to watch/listen to your media (oh and “rent” digital movies, and watch hi-def movies without having to choose HD-DVD or Blue-Ray (and who wants to store physical discs and cases anyway?)).

A large portion of the population “needs” to do backups and watch TV/movies/audio.  But a large portion of them is not technically capable of setting things up or, in increasing numbers, simply wants “someone else” to help them out.

In the “olden-days” personal computers were built by hobbyists, and the Internet was something a handful of geeks and researchers did over a slow modem connection.  Now PCs (and more often laptops) are as common as TVs, and homes are built pre-wired (or wireless) for Internet connections.  More importantly computers (and servers/appliances) need to be setup and configured in the home, and they need to be maintained.  This is evidenced by the “pain” I have witnessed in poor individuals who have lost their Internet connection for “almost a week” or had one (or more) hard drives die on their computers.  These people can feel quite helpless, as if their pipes have burst.

So now I am thinking there are at least two public professions ready for talented individuals.  Since the computer industry often borrows terms from “real” professions (e.g. Architects, Engineers, etc.) why not call them “Handyman” and “Plumber”. 

The “Handyman” is the creative proactive role – help people with their dream house – set up a wireless network with great coverage of all their property, wire up the Internet connection, set up the “server closet”, set up the entertainment center in all its glory, maybe even configure the universal remote (home automation?).  This would be a lot of fun, and everyone would be happy – there is good money in happy.

But then things also go wrong – you need a “Plumber”.  Hard drives fail (all do eventually, if you’ve got >3-4 years on one, you are on borrowed time), viruses and other malware are common, upgrades are necessary or desired, Internet connections fail (and foreign tech support is rarely helpful), and bad things happen at the worst time.  Sometimes it is a simple fix and people are back up and running.  Other times the sad truth needs to be spoken and drastic measures have to be taken – there is good money in desperate drastic measures.

Man.  I do “computer stuff” every day, have built 4-5 of computers from parts, and seemingly install an operating system on a computer every few weeks.  But, even in writing this, I wish I knew a good Handyman or Plumber to call on when I am at the end of my rope.

I also know I am neither of these people (so this isn’t an announcement or advertisement) – I love software and development too much.  But watch and see how this develops (some will say it is already here).