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Maximizing Your Digital Devices during the Pandemic

A Tech Whiz Tells All


Matt Nadelson on the case in midtown Manhattan in his pandemic gear

Matt Nadelson has been interested in computers and technology for as long as he can remember. “As a child, I enjoyed playing with electronics kits and would get excited by something as simple as connecting a few wires to a battery to make a motor spin or a light go off. I even had a CB (citizen’s band) radio. It was a useless gadget for a young child but I was mesmerized by it and would turn it on just to listen to the truck drivers talk to each other. I also loved playing video games.”

That childhood enthusiasm led Nadelson to become a teenage computer whiz and later the founder and president of Computer Camaraderie Corp. in New York City. The Insider talked with Nadelson, 37, about his life as a computer prodigy and his advice to Insider readers about getting maximum mileage and utility out of their digital devices during the pandemic.


The Insider:

How did you make the jump from electronic gadgets to computers?

Matt Nadelson:

When I was 7, my curiosity about electronics spread to the world of computers, and I just knew I had to have one. However, my parents were not doing well financially during my formative years, plus the price of the average computer in the early 90's was over $2,000--more like $4,000 in today's dollars. So instead of purchasing a new system, my parents bought me an old used Commodore 64 from a neighbor in our apartment building. It was about $65.

I didn't know it at the time, but starting out with an obsolete machine was one of the best things that ever happened to me. While most of the other nine-year-olds spent their free time playing video games on their computers, I was creating databases and learning how to code in BASIC. It wasn't because I loved to do those things, but because it was all my antique computer could do! Those experiences both stimulated my intellectual curiosity and gave me a better understanding of how computers function. So by the time I got my first state-of-the-art computer at age 14, I already had a great foundation and a problem-solving mindset that still carries over to all of my work today.

The Insider:

How did you start your computer business?.

Matt Nadelson:

My computer business began as a happy accident right around when I started high school. My aunt, Judge Eileen Nadelson, who always inspired me, decided that I had a talent that should not be ignored. So she convinced me to come to her office and give her computer lessons on a regular basis. At the time, she was an attorney in private practice in New York City. I would spend an hour or so per week answering all of her computer-related questions and teaching her how to use her software programs more efficiently. These programs included WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, and TimeSlips. I was learning all of them on the fly as I went along, and mainly saw it as a way to spend some quality time with her. I never for a moment thought it was the beginning of a career. However, my aunt insisted on paying me for our sessions.

A short time later, she recommended me to her elderly neighbor. The neighbor had been using a computer tutoring service, and offered to pay me the same amount she was paying them for one-on-one training. And just like that, I had my first real client. By the time I went away to college in 2001, I had at least four or five more. I would assist these clients when I came back to the city on weekends. It was rewarding and lucrative as a part-time gig, but I didn’t fully see the potential of the business until the summer after I graduated from college.

I was working part-time at the New York County Lawyer’s Association and began getting more and more calls while at work from current and new prospective clients. It became more and more difficult to juggle the two responsibilities. By the end of the summer, NYCLA offered to promote me to a full-time position. The problem was that the full-time position was more of an administrative one and only minimally related to computers. So I realized I had a big decision to make. Do I take the safe entry-level paycheck in an unrelated field, or take a risk to do what I really loved? I was still living with my parents, so I knew that it was probably the best--and potentially last--time I could afford to devote myself fully to an endeavor that might take years to become financially rewarding. Thankfully, I made the right call, and I am thrilled with how it all turned out. Computer Camaraderie Corp. was “officially” born in 2008.

Completing a lengthy project at a Manhattan hedge fund

The Insider:

What sorts of services do you provide at Computer Camaraderie?

Matt Nadelson:

We specialize in IT support, management, and web design for individuals and small businesses. I like to think of us as all-around technology problem solvers. Some of the more common needs our clients have include setting up new devices, configuring home or office networks, improving Wi-Fi speeds, fixing printer issues, and setting up smart devices such as smart TVs. We also provide security, proactive monitoring, and cloud backup services on a monthly membership basis.

The Insider:

What percentage of your business was remote before the pandemic?

Matt Nadelson:

About 5% or less. On-site service has always been our specialty, so we generally did not encourage clients to utilize remote support except when absolutely necessary. Scheduling remote sessions was also logistically more challenging when the entirety of most of our days were spent traveling to different locations.

The Insider:

What percentage of your business has been remote during the pandemic?

Matt Nadelson:

From the beginning of the pandemic until mid-June, 100% of it was remote. It was a big adjustment for me. Initially I really missed some of the aspects of my work that I love the most, like the personal interaction and the novelty of working in varied environments. Remote support felt less personal and less engaging. Also, my wife was working from home at the same time. Despite how well we got along and the great perks she spoiled me with, such as homemade lunches, it was still tougher for me to focus when there wasn't a clear separation between work life and home life. But eventually I got used to it and began to appreciate its many advantages. Remote work can be done more efficiently since there is no travel time involved. It also allows me to answer calls and emails comfortably during the course of the workday, which normally would have to be answered while I am on the run.

In the end, both our clients and I were pleasantly surprised by just how much could be accomplished during remote sessions. The fact that my physical presence was not an option made many people more willing to go out of their comfort zones to perform troubleshooting steps. That willingness made a huge difference in what was possible -- especially in cases where remote control of the device was not an option. So if there is any silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it has forced everyone to be more adventurous with their technology.

The Insider:

When did you start making in-person visits again?

Matt Nadelson:

We started doing in-person visits again in mid-June. We only schedule a few on-site appointments per day so that we can allow extra time for the logistics of moving around the city and for taking all the necessary precautions. For every appointment, I wear both a mask and a face shield. I also carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which I use as soon as I enter a location and as soon as I leave. Most of our clients also wear masks for the duration of the session. Sometimes that part is tricky, because there may be other family members present in an apartment while we are there. But we make an effort to socially distance from anyone we don't absolutely have to be near to accomplish the task at hand.

The Insider:

For the person now working at home for the first time, what adjustments might they have to make on their computer and other digital devices?

Matt Nadelson:

The biggest challenge for everyone working from home right now is Internet speed and reliability. As dependent as we all are on the Internet, most people are not accustomed to depending on a home Internet connection to perform work-related functions all day long. Many are discovering for the first time that their connections just aren't good enough. Sometimes that is due to the Wi-Fi signal not being strong enough to adequately cover the entire apartment or house, and other times it is due to the provider being overloaded and/or unable to fix issues in a timely manner.

There is an unprecedented amount of Internet usage all over the world right now, and we have seen that many providers have a hard time keeping up. Plus, residential Internet providers do not contractually guarantee uptime the way business internet providers generally do. Uptime is the percentage of time that a provider’s Internet service is operational. Most good business providers will promise at least 99.9%, but residential providers generally do not make any such assurance.

The other big challenge now is obtaining the right hardware for video conferencing services like Zoom and Facetime. Most laptops, tablets and smartphones have built in webcams and microphones, but desktop computers do not. Since COVID-19 began, there has been a worldwide shortage of webcams. It is severe, and unlike the toilet paper shortage, it still hasn't ended. This has forced many people to either buy new equipment that has a webcam built in, or pay exorbitant prices for what are usually subpar webcams.


The Insider:

How can a person learn to use Zoom or FaceTime?

Matt Nadelson:

The best way to learn Zoom or FaceTime is by doing. Most people just starting out on these conferencing applications only need to learn how to join other people's meetings, rather than hosting their own. So my recommendation is to keep things simple and focus on that first. We find that doing a quick test meeting or two with our clients is enough to bring most people up to speed on the basics. There are of course many more features and functions available in video-conferencing platforms, but most of them are necessary only for the meeting's host. One of those functions is screen sharing, which is usually used to share a PowerPoint presentation during a meeting. There are some helpful demonstration videos available on YouTube as well.

The Insider:

Any advice about getting free customer service assistance if you need it?

Matt Nadelson:

Most tech support departments are overloaded these days, so you can expect a long wait whenever you call on the phone. However, many companies offer live chat as an option for tech support and that is often is a faster route. Plus, you can get your work done on the computer while waiting for a representative to get on the chat, as opposed to waiting on hold.

The Insider:

Is cable TV service affected by the pandemic somehow? It seems as though service is worse.

Matt Nadelson:

Like Internet service, Cable TV service has also suffered during the pandemic. Most cable TV providers are high-speed internet providers as well, and they use a lot of the same wiring infrastructure to provide both services. The increased demand has spread their resources very thin and led to delays in fixing wiring, signal, and cable box issues. For example, after tropical storm Isaias hit the area, many people still had lingering problems even several weeks later. In addition, more and more cable TV content, such as channel guides and on-demand shows, are now being delivered via the Internet. So the likelihood that an Internet outage will also disrupt the TV in some way has only increased.

The Insider:

For people sheltering at home, what kind of services can be performed remotely?

Matt Nadelson:

Remote support is generally best suited for resolving software-related issues on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Some examples would be cleaning malware infections and other security threats providing training, updating programs, troubleshooting strange messages that pop up on the screen, or even setting up a new device. We use screen-sharing technology which allows us to see or operate these devices as if we were physically there. All that is needed is for them to have a functioning Internet connection. In some cases, we'll also use video-conferencing to be able to "see" a device that cannot be accessed via screen sharing, such as a printer or scanner.

The Insider:

What kinds of computer service can NOT be performed remotely?


Matt Nadelson:

Remote support is generally not suitable for resolving hardware issues or Internet issues. Some examples include clearing a paper jam from a printer, installing a memory upgrade or other hardware upgrade on a computer, or replacing a faulty router. All of these issues require an extensive amount of physical manipulation. Even with video direction, a client would have to have a degree of expertise to get on the floor and deal with wires, covers, or the innards of the equipment.

The Insider:

What is the silliest computer or technology problem you have ever come across?

Matt Nadelson:

I always say there are no silly questions, but sometimes there are silly answers. Several years back I got a call from a client who reported that her computer was typing on its own as if it were possessed by a ghost. Believe it or not, it was not the first time I had encountered this problem. But I was fully unprepared for what I was about to discover. After spending about 15-20 minutes running all sorts of diagnostic tests -- all which reported nothing unusual -- I started to suspect that there might have been another keyboard connected to it. It was the only remaining plausible explanation. The current keyboard looked perfectly fine, yet the screen kept typing the same letter repeatedly, as if a key were jammed or stuck. I searched and searched in the vicinity of the computer for another keyboard, but one was not present.


So I asked my client if she had ever owned another one in the past. She hesitated at first, but then said yes. She walked me over to her closet, opened the door, and pointed towards a shelf on top. Inside was a wireless keyboard, with several books stacked on top of it. As soon as we removed the keyboard from the closet, the “ghost” in her computer was gone. Turns out that when she stored it away, she left it powered on and also left the little wireless dongle in the computer, so it was still able to send keystrokes from afar. We shared a great laugh about it but also a sense of relief that it was not something more serious. Moral of the story – never trust your old wireless gadgets when they say goodbye!





Matt Nadelson is the founder and president of Computer Camaraderie Corp., a full-service IT support firm based in New York City that specializes in the unique needs of home and small-business users. 


212-734-2225

Email: matthew@ccc4me.com


Facebook: @CCC4MENOW

Website: http://www.ccc4me.com

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