Get Me The Geeks!

How Tricky Technology Is Giving Rise To The Geeks

This segment was originally broadcast on Jan. 28, 2007. It was updated on Dec. 30, 2007.

It's hard to say exactly when it happened, but sometime during the past ten years, most of us involuntarily surrendered a big chunk of our lives to computers, and to other networking devices that contain computer chips. We're talking laptops, desk tops, cell phones, BlackBerrys, PDAs, and remote controls -- anything that needs to be programmed, requires technical support, and can crash, die, or merely freeze.

As Steve Kroft reports, that always has a way of happening at the worst possible moment, and for most of us there is only one solution: get me the geeks!

We are becoming slaves to our own technology - addicted to and dependent upon all sorts of beeping, flashing gadgetry that is supposed to make our lives easier.

But it has become so complicated to set up, program and fix, that most of us don't know how to do it, giving rise to a multi-billion dollar service industry populated by the very people who used to be shunned in the high school cafeteria: geeks, like Robert Stephens.

"It takes time to read the manuals. I'm gonna save you that time cause I stay home on Saturday nights and read them for you," Stephens says, laughing.

"You and the rest of the geeks," Kroft remarks.

"There's millions of us out there across the country," Stephens says.

And 12,000 of them work for Stephens, the founder and chief inspector of "Geek Squad," the tech support company he founded 12 years ago while he was still in college and sold in 2002 to Best Buy.

Whether his geeks are making service calls in their Volkswagen Beetles or toiling over the 4,000 frozen, infected computers that pass through a facility near Louisville every day, they all wear the same uniform - white shirts, white sox and black clip on ties. It's a look Stephens borrowed from NASA engineers.

"It looks a little weird walking down the street, 'cuz people think we're gonna hand out bibles. But when you see like 20 of us walk into a bar and start you know ordering beers, it looks like an FBI raid," Stephens tells Kroft.

He says the biggest complaint about tech support people is rude, egotistical behavior and the uniform is designed to impart a dose of humility as they work their wizardry.

"I mean, there's usually some frantic civilian at the door pointing at some device in the corner that will not obey," he explains. "And we've gotta make sense of it. And, you know, hygiene provides bonus points if I don't smell bad. I mean, literally, that was my business plan. Just be nice and fix it."

Asked if people are grateful, Stephens says, "Oh, of course. If you look at like the focus groups or whatever, people will say, 'Savior,' and, 'They saved me,' and, 'They saved my data.'"

"This stuff's irreplaceable. Your master's thesis that you've been working on for six years that you, that you promised yourself you'll back up next week, we have saved more MBA degrees in this country than anybody," he adds.

Stephens says the company has become indispensable. "Because I don't think that the pace of innovation is going to slow. I don't think people realize the Internet revolution hasn't even really started yet," he explains.

A dozen years ago, when Stephens started the Geek Squad, most people used IBM computers, and primitive Microsoft software; the Internet was still a novelty. Today, thousands of products and providers allow you to watch TV shows, make phone calls, download music, print color photos, and dictate letters without leaving your desktop, if you have the time, the patience, the aptitude, and the available brain cells to master yet another software protocol.