From shrimp boats to the tech world, Terrebonne native finds niche

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Joby Dion was raised working on shrimp boats in Grand Caillou, although his main task seemed to be keeping electronic equipment, such as radar and plotters, working. Growing up, he saw the amount of labor required to be a commercial fisherman and decided he needed a formal education to avoid what became the physical fate of many men in his community.

What Dion did not know was that his plans of becoming a lawyer would be pushed aside as his technological expertise continued to increase and the doors of opportunity opened, making use of those skills.

Entering the first decade of the 21st century, plenty of retail outlets were selling computers, smartphones and other communication tools. So, in 2007, Dion opened a business in New Orleans dedicated to repairing devices that consumers had been given the impression could only be replaced when the equipment stopped working properly.

In 2011, Dion was ready to locate closer to home and moved his Uptown Computer business back to Terrebonne Parish where, again, he has found a market of opportunity. “It just made sense to come to Houma because it was growing,” he said.

A high percentage of Dion’s work involves troubleshooting and understanding what software downloads impact the function of equipment – whether they are Apple- or Windows-based computers.

“It’s not always the hardware that is the problem,” he said. “Although cracked screens or hinges on laptops are probably half of what we [repair].”

Owners not exercising common sense account for the majority of repairs needed to technological equipment. “Keyboard spills,” Dion said. “That’s the kinds of repairs we are talking about being typical. Just don’t eat or drink at your computer, and don’t leave them out in the humidity.”

Most software problems are hidden attachments that come with Internet downloads that most consumers will never see – although they take up hard drive space. They include toolbars, spyware and commands that track what websites are visited and how a computer is being used. Marketing agencies use this data.

When it comes to software, Dion said the most frustrating part for him is when a simple backup by the owner could have headed off any number of problems that prompt a loss of content in computers, smartphones and other devices.

“The bad part [of this job] has to be telling people they lost everything because they did not backup their files,” the repair professional said. “The good side of this business is being able to recover pictures, music and documents for people.”

Dion said he also becomes frustrated when big box stores tell consumers their products cannot be repaired or will cost $300-plus, when in reality it is not that expensive.

“[Electronic equipment] is not worth replacing if the repair is under $150,” he said. “[Big box] stores are in the business of selling computers, so they are not going to encourage repairs.”

Dion said his business has grown as people realize they can get equipment – including laptops and iPhones – repaired at an affordable price. Technological jargon often confuses people to the degree they feel they are at the mercy of presumed experts selling the equipment, he said.

“I had a couple of employees in New Orleans that had worked for a now out-of-business big box store,” Dion said. “They said [while working for that retailer] they had an ongoing bet as to who could come up with the most ridiculous word and have a customer believe them. That kind of stuff just eats at me. You have teenagers or young adults just messing with people who will believe what you are telling them.”

Dion said he makes a point to explain repair needs to customers in complete and understandable language before getting into the work.

The technology expert said much of the confusion held by the general public is the result of rapidly changing advancements in products during the past two decades. It is a situation, he contends, that allows many retailers and repair services an opportunity to take advantage of the general public, something he insists is against his principles.

In making his point, Dion is up front with his customers about not billing them to look at their equipment. “We do not charge a diagnostic fee,” he said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I know the common things for us to check.”

Product knowledge means identifying a problem in a matter of minutes. “It is not right to charge customers who will be paying for the work anyway,” Dion said.

Basic rates at Uptown Computer include in-shop labor at $85 an hour, which increases to $95 an hour if onsite work is needed at a business or residence. Hard-drive recovery ranges from $100 to $160 and flat rates are offered for spyware or virus removal ($165), system restoration ($205), system tune-up ($110) and DC jack repair ($145).

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Making good use of common sense is the best advice Dion said he offers users of technology. Most of the damage he sees results from people tossing smartphones on a table or letting small children play with laptops.

Hardware and software often add to the complexity associated with today’s technological equipment. Dion, however, said a fear of the tools and their systems need not be a factor.

“When people come in and their equipment is not working, they are upset,” Dion said. “So, a lot of this work has to do with making people feel comfortable and not having them freak out. We want to make it easy on them.”

Uptown Computer owner Joby Dion repairs what other businesses sell. He says most consumers are fooled into believing they should just buy a new computer or smartphone rather than getting the damaged tool repaired at a fraction of the cost.