CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, I.S.P.
The foremost hardware expert
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Scott Mueller, considered the most authoritative and trusted hardware voice with a highly respected international reputation. As president of Mueller Technical Research, he spends upwards of 25-weeks on the road each year, as a noted training expert in PC hardware, operating systems, and data-recovery techniques.
Scott is a world renowned author, teacher and speaker. His book Upgrading and Repairing PCs is an international best seller with more than 2.3 million copies sold—a figure rare in the computing publishing field, making his book the highest selling essential guide in the history of hardware publishing. His latest edition is now available. Scott’s other recent works include: Upgrading and Repairing Laptops, Repairing PCs Video Training Course, and Upgrading and Repairing Servers.
Scott has taught hardware repair in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe for Fortune 500 corporations, agencies, governments, entrepreneurs, PC repair professionals, and major hardware/software corporations. His numerous articles have appeared in many publications including Forbes, Investors Business Daily. Together with TechTV, he is frequently called upon by the national media as an industry expert.
Q: Scott, with your incredible schedule and many demands on your unique expertise, we are most fortunate to have you taking time out to do this interview.
A: Thanks for asking, I am honored by the request!
Q: On a lighter note, how are your ‘fun’ projects coming along: Harley upgrade and Grand Cherokee?
A: I've got one more round of modifications to the Grand Cherokee, I will be installing a new Mopar Performance (Chrysler engineered performance parts) single plane high-flow intake manifold, a set of 1.7 ratio roller rockers, and upgraded valve springs with lightweight titanium retainers. I'm hoping for another 20 to 30 HP with these modifications. It runs 14.9 @ 90mph in the quarter mile (in full street trim and in 4-wheel drive!) now, and these modifications should drop my ET by a few more tenths and add a few more mph as well.
The bike is still a work-in-progress, and progress is stalled until later this winter, when hopefully we'll have moved into a new house with a very nice garage. For the future I have my eyes on a 2005 Mustang Cobra, as well as possibly "restifying" a '69 Camaro RS/SS, or building a Shelby Cobra type kit car.
Q: Can you talk about your personal history and what led you to get into computing; the various chapters in your life and the life experiences you found valuable?
A: I got involved in computer training back in 1982, first teaching VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet program, you can see it at <http://www.bricklin.com>) on the Apple ][+. VisiCalc was the first "killer app" I saw that moved personal computers into the business world. At the time I was also installing, supporting, and training on Z-80 processor based hardware running CP/M and applications such as dBASE II as well. I switched to The IBM PC platform after Lotus 123 was introduced in 1983, which was the killer app that replaced VisiCalc. At the time I also started teaching hardware courses, which led to the development of my own PC hardware course books. After working with Que publishing as a technical editor on "The PS/2 Handbook" in 1987, I was able to persuade Que to publish my own PC hardware book as the first edition of "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" in 1988. Since then I've re-written that book virtually every year, with the 15th anniversary edition coming out just a few weeks ago (August of 2003)
Q: Why do you do what you do? What was the attraction to writing, how did you get into writing? Do you have any tips to pass onto aspiring authors?
A: The reason I started writing initially was to develop manuals for the seminars I was teaching. This led to not only my "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" series, but also a book on Data Recovery and several other titles. I've always been insanely curious, and love to research technical topics. Now I write because I simply love to do it, and it gives me a reason to justify all of the research and study I perform.
My main tip for authors is to take an idea, develop an outline, and write the material, before contacting a publisher. The more work you have done in advance, the more likely you will be published. Ideas are easy, finished books are hard!
Q: Can you elaborate on new editions and books forthcoming for the future? Please share some important lessons, tips, “best practices,” and shortcuts?
A: I release a new version of my main book "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" every year. This is because the technology changes so fast and I want the book to remain accurate and up to date. The 15th edition was released just recently, along with the 4th edition of "Upgrading and Repairing Networks" as well.
The next new book will be "Upgrading and Repairing Laptops", which will be out by the end of this year. The timing for a book like this is perfect, since laptop/notebook computers now represent the largest growing class of computers, and they are not as easy to upgrade or repair as desktops. Also coming next spring is "Upgrading and Repairing Servers", which will be ideal for companies or individuals who either build or maintain their own servers. Finally I have a video package available that is called the "Upgrading and Repairing PCs Video Training Course". The video training course is a 6-hour seminar with very in-depth and intensive presentations for those who can't afford my 4-day long live seminars.
Q: There are no other authors as successful as you with your hardware series. What’s behind the magic that makes you stand out and dominate the industry?
A: I'd have to give two main reasons for the success of my books: One is that I was the first on the market with a comprehensive PC hardware book, especially one that covered upgrading and repairing, as well as all of the underlying technology. There have been many imitators since, but I had a head start and because of my annual releases, so far nobody else has been able to catch up. The second is that my books have benefited from years and years of being derived from and used as seminar training materials, and they are based on not only my experiences with hardware, but with explaining the technology to diverse groups of people over the years. Because of that, they are written in a manner that almost everybody can understand. Years and years of teaching experience gives me the ability to explain complex topics in easy-to-understand ways, yet without leaving out the technical details and accuracy, as is the case with many others. I'm very detail oriented, and like to study a subject totally, before figuring out a good way to explain it. I always feel you can explain a highly technical subject without having to over-simplify it to the point of inaccuracy. I pride myself on completeness as well as technical accuracy, as well as being able to appeal to both beginning and advanced users with information that is as broad as it is deep, written in a manner that is easy to comprehend.
Q: Would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
A: I'd have invested more money in the companies I've been following for so many years, and try harder to meet my deadlines.
Please share stories from your many training sessions—also a humorous experience? What lessons did you learn and what challenges did you face? What skills were the most valuable to you?
A: The effort I put into my classroom setups as well as simply being setup and ready on-time has become legendary for some of the companies I taught for. In one instance during the setup for my class I remember a particular hotel that was unwilling to turn off the lights in a ballroom ceiling, which were directly above my projection screens. After all efforts at reason failed, a few accurately thrown quarters (and a call to the maintenance department to clean up the glass) quickly solved the problem. In another seminar, a mistake in booking travel landed me over 200 miles from my destination, at midnight on a Sunday evening, with no rental cars available, and a class starting at 8am Monday morning. It took me an hour to find a cab driver willing to drive the distance. After stopping for gas (and to air up his severely under-inflated tires), I decided to try and get some sleep, only to awake after a short time by the sounds and feeling of the car spinning off the road, apparently on black ice. We ended up in the median unharmed and unhurt, but needless to say I could not manage any sleep for the rest of the ride. After finally arriving at my destination at just before 6am (the cab fare was over $220!), I quickly changed into my suit and setup all the equipment for the class, and was ready to go exactly on time. The stories I have from traveling and teaching are endless!
Q: Where do you see yourself in two, five, and ten years?
A: Successively doing more writing and less teaching. I really love to teach, but the travel is difficult, and writing can be done from any location.
Q: As an elite authority in hardware, operating systems, and data-recovery, what specific advice would you provide to businesses and IT professionals regarding future choices, and longer term trends? What should we be watching for? What should we avoid?
A: I like to watch trends and stick with hardware and software that is based on industry standards, is the most popular, and which has the best support (popularity and support often go hand in hand). I try to avoid technology that might be good, but which isn't or won't be widely supported, backwards and forwards compatible, and cost effective. I am a big believer in industry standardization, since standard hardware is always more upgradeable and repairable (and therefore much more cost effective), than proprietary hardware.
Q: What do you feel are the major challenges in hardware repair and data-recovery?
A: Keeping up with the additional complexity in modern hardware and software. There are more interfaces to choose from now than ever, and more choices in operating systems, file systems, utilities, and applications. For me, keeping up with all the changes is a full-time job!
Q: Can you provide additional predictions about the future of the various technologies you have worked on and about others where you have a deep interest? Who will be the winners and losers?
A: I don't like to get out my crystal ball, but I can see that mobile computing is reaching new levels of performance and usability, with large high-resolution screens, built-in wireless networking, much longer battery life (Pentium M aka Centrino), high capacity hard drives, recordable CD and DVD drives, and integrated USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces. I am especially impressed with Intel's Pentium M mobile technology. Also I can see 802.11a/b/g wireless and possibly Bluetooth becoming essential for all mobile devices, while desktop systems will have much less of an emphasis on such technologies. The mobile sector is growing, and as one who has used portable computers as my main systems for practically my whole computing career, it is exciting to see others finally realizing the benefits of portability.
Q: If you were new to computing and contemplating a career in the field, what would you study to ensure employability in the future? What reasons would you give?
A: I'd focus on networking, security, data recovery, or some other specific sector or niche in the industry. While I recommend specialization, I would also recommend attaining as much overall knowledge as possible so that if your particular niche were overcrowded you would be able to move into other areas.
Q: What do you see as the next “killer app” in hardware and operating systems?
A: Wireless connectivity, including 802.11 local area and 802.16 metropolitan area networks.
What do you feel are the top five hottest topics of interest to both businesses and IT professionals today?
A: Security, Wireless Networking, Laptops/Notebooks, Remote Manageability, and Self-Service and Repair.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what key questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: The same ones you are asking.
Q: Scott, thank you for sharing your considerable knowledge and experiences with our audience.
A: Thanks for the opportunity!