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Learning computers the hard way

Local businessman started with zero knowledge

By Bryan Richardson

Everyone has to start somewhere, and Jeff Hoover started at the bottom when it came to computer knowledge.

“I was 40 years old,” he said. “I didn’t know where the ‘on’ button was on a computer.”

That was back in 1999, a time when Hoover was a long way from becoming owner of Manhattan Computer Hospital.

“I got into it because I saw the potential for communication ,” he said. “In time it has become very evident.”

Hoover was right.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of households with at least one computer grew from 48.2 percent in 2000 to 75.6 percent in 2008.

Hoover figured out the trend, but he still had to learn about computers. That required quite a bit of trial and error.

“I got an old computer and, of course, immediately broke it,” he said. “I had some friends who knew just a little bit more than I did, and together we fixed it. That let me know what not to do the next time.”

He began working for USD 383 in 2001, putting him in charge of about 600 computers.

“That was a great learning experience, having that many computers with problems I could solve,” he said.

Hoover, who mostly taught himself, gained knowledge in a short period of time by getting to online forums – talking with others and learning. He said his experience as a mechanic with engines on his dirt bikes carried over to his computer work.

“I was always good with my hands,” he said. “I’ve been an avid dirt bike rider and racer since the early ‘70s.”

Whether it’s an engine or a hard drive, Hoover said it comes down to troubleshooting and diagnostics.

“Computers, as mysterious as they may be to some folks, are basically just machines,” he said. “They’re just parts.”

Hoover was born and raised mostly in Manhattan, getting a GED in 1977.

“I was young and dumb and should’ve stayed in school but didn’t,” he said. “I got the GED, so I could head into the workplace and make money.”

Hoover started his working career in oil exploration, traveling around the U.S. and Canada until he married his wife, Robin, in 1984.

After that, Hoover spent five years as a service manager at Elkins Motor Company and six more years with PrimeStar, installing some of the first satellite dishes in Kansas.

Hoover also attended K-State for two years in the late 1980s. He said he actually did well, making the dean’s list with a 3.84 GPA.

“At the time, I had a child and another on the way,” he said. “I had a family to support and it became too difficult to continue with school. So, I dropped again and tried to do whatever I could to support my family.”

The desire to make a living finally led him to start working for himself in 2005.

Hoover said he was unable to get a full-time position with USD 383, so he started his own company, PC Doc. “We make house calls” was the company’s tagline.

After years of visiting customers, Hoover said it became clear that things could be more efficient if he had a store.

“We had inheritance money from when my wife’s father passed that we needed to invest,” he said. “I felt like that was the best way to invest in us as a family, creating a family business that will endure after I’m gone.”

Manhattan Computer Hospital officially launched in October 2010 at the Plaza West Shopping Center.

Hoover said there are a lot of responsibilities as business owner that can sometimes lead to “waking up in cold sweat.”

“Three o’clock in the morning, bolting out of bed, scared to death,” he said. “Did I pay this bill? Is this part on the way? Is everything that I promised folks going to materialize?”

Hoover said his previous jobs taught him how to provide good customer service, which he aims to do at the shop.

“I like to say we’re your friend in the computer business,” he said. “Advice is always free here.”

The shop recently relocated to 525 Richards Drive next to Westside Market – a celebration of three years in business.

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