Mining Grey IT Community

A generation is struggling with IT, but there's one-on-one help, John Gascoigne writes.

Fourteen-hour working days, and sitting for endless hours in airport lounges en route to teaching your boss's technology "solutions", can set a person to thinking ... Is this what I really want?

The thinker, Lisa Du, recalls how she would arrive home tired, her mind filled with details of technology, to her mother's cooking, then to be amused and slightly disappointed upon hearing that her dad, cash in hand, was still paying his bills at the counter.

"Dad" is Nghe-Ban Du, a boat person, of the '70s Vietnam variety, a grouping very different from the less-welcomed asylum seekers and refugees from the 21st century's hot spots. The teenage Du's flight from his Malaysian camp was paid for by the Fraser government; an allowance awaited him, and his family soon found work at a relative's bakery in Springvale.

But Du and his wife My-Le struggled with the emerging technologies of their new and affluent home.

Du's daughter, Lisa, 25, has become a bridge into the 21st century for her parents and for Melbourne's baby boomers who struggle with the products of IT.

As co-founder of technology-teaching company Readytechgo, Du is performing what is still a niche service in Melbourne - filling an expanding void between the emergence of virtually one new IT gizmo a week and the long-heralded ageing population.

Stepping in to grab the obvious opportunity are Du and her business partner and lifelong "tech wonk" Brad Donnini, 38.

They share the IT teaching for a clientele likely to be feeling left behind in the technology age. Their client base, mostly in possession of Seniors cards, is expanding rapidly. Du and Donnini are beginning to teach at the clubs seniors inhabit.

Gratifyingly, a dozen of their clients have been company founders and managing directors, a pair of chief executives of large corporations, solicitors and small-business owners.

Their talents are complementary. Donnini is more "back office", accessing, for both of them, the mass of material, mostly web-born, that reveals and explains the new devices they will soon be teaching.

Du has taken on administration tasks and updating their website, one of whose graphics depicts a grey-haired granddad tapping on his laptop beside his 10-year-old grandson immersed in a newspaper.

The workings of iPads, iPhones, eBooks, mobiles, cameras, even

old-fashioned TVs and radios are their grist.

Du and Donnini worked until last year in a milieu of Third World dust and the hard labour of industrial mines. Their Richmond-based employer, Optalert, sent each of them around the world to market fatigue-detecting spectacles invented by the company's founder, sleep researcher Murray Johns.

In 1994, Dr Johns, founder of the Epworth Sleep Centre, devised his glasses aimed at long-haul, long-shift drivers. Du mostly handled mine sites around Australia and Papua New Guinea; Donnini also worked in South America.

"We were both full-time at Optalert," says Du. "I'd wake at 3am to catch a flight to Perth to demonstrate on mine sites far from the city, and I wouldn't get to sleep till 1am the next day. It was getting to be exhausting.

"Brad and I were sitting in the crib room of a mine site in PNG one day talking about this fatigue management and what amazing technology might be yet to come when we stumbled across the topic of our parents.

"I told Brad my dad still insisted on withdrawing cash from a bank teller and refused to get a credit or debit card.

"Brad said whenever he had one foot in the door at his parents' house, his mum would have a list of IT issues to answer before he could sit down to dinner.

"So we thought, more and more businesses are forcing us to adapt to technology, but if you don't grow up with it where do you get the training?

"Sure, there are classes. But we hear all the time that people attend group classes and come home and are just as confused. The technology they used in the training could be different to the technology they have at home. That's when the light bulb went on, and we thought: one-on-one, in-home technology training; that's the key to it."

The pair told a colleague at Optalert of their plans. And he, in turn, mentioned their new service, over glasses of wine, to a businessman who was having trouble navigating his way around a new MacBook. "He was our first customer, in August last year, after we'd resigned from Optalert then formed our company four months earlier."

Du was always fascinated with technology. "I enjoyed video games and on my first day of prep I turned up with Legos and all the other girls had Barbies. I've always had that tech interest and was always trying to set things up myself before I asked for help."

And she's a fearless spruiker. "I was parking my car at the Richmond Convent in January and noticed the parking attendant had a Rotary badge. I told him, 'I'm with a company that shows seniors how to use technology and I wonder if you could put me in contact with someone so I could speak to your members'. I got a call from the club president the next day."

Soon after, Du and Donnini fronted the club for a 20-minute power-point presentation. The question-time forest of raised hands took the meeting 20 minutes over time, and the pair had no doubt of an inexhaustible demand for their services. That meeting gained them three regular clients, five more Rotary clubs and a Probus club.

"It was hard in the early days as we didn't have money for marketing and had to rely heavily on word of mouth," Du says. "It's still hard. But in the past six months, we can see momentum building." While pitching its services to seniors, Readytechgo occasionally takes on the children of adult clients. Donnini recently taught a 16-year-old girl in Watsonia how to install apps and music on her new iPhone and iPod, while Du is helping 96-year-old Ron Millar and his wife Barbara, 88, of Bundoora, how to use the iPad their granddaughter bought them.

This writer, still wedded emotionally to the typewriter, is a client - one who can now provide commentary over moving film recorded on his mobile then store it on his PC and TV. And send SMS's of voice-recognition text. And look up Spanish words and hear their pronunciation for his language learning.

An hour's tutoring costs $80. Ouch, but then Du mentions time and petrol, and she names the provider of a similar service in Sydney who charges $150 an hour. The "ouch", on reflection, speaks to a pricing closer to the time of the Remington than the AppleMac.


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