Jim Nichols, owner of Hampton Roads Computer Company Inc., was introduced to computers and electronics in the U.S. Navy in the 1970s. “In the Navy, I was an electronics technician, which was initially called electronics surveillance measures. Computers, or personal computers anyway, were not yet a big thing.”
When Nichols was discharged in 1977, he went to work for Atlantic Communications in Newport News. “I was doing mostly printer repairs when I started with that company. One day I went to the boss and suggested that he could start selling a lot of other products to his customers. The boss said, ‘Okay great, starting this Monday you’ll be doing sales.’ So in 1983, I got my start with personal computers. which were just then becoming popular.”
Nichols admits that computers have changed so much over the years — and continue to change every day — that it can be a challenge to keep up. When he first began, the Internet didn’t even exist, but these days he couldn’t operate his business without it.
“Most of what I do I do remotely. My typical customer is a small business owner who has a file server, Microsoft Windows server, or an exchange server. I can access those servers remotely through the Internet and run a backup of their system to protect the system and all of that business’s data. That’s why I work strange hours like 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., I work after the business owners have gone home for the day, when I can do maintenance and updates on their machines.”
Computer crime is such a widespread problem that software companies have to constantly update their product, which keeps Nichols very busy. “The bad guys are always trying to find holes in the software, a place where they can sneak in and steal crucial information. So the good guys spend their lives trying to patch those holes. It’s a game of ‘cat and mouse’ really, and people depend on me to keep their computers safe. I work on systems as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina.”
Even with an expert like Nichols on one’s side, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the threat from hackers, prompting him to focus heavily on backup. “I can’t stop everything, which is why nightly backups of 100 percent of a client’s data is a must. That way, if something does happen, all I have to do is load a disc and I can return the client’s computer to the state it was in a few hours ago.”
Nichols says that Google is an excellent resource. “Even I have to look for an answer to a problem on Google sometimes. It’s great, I tell people that Google is the smartest man in the world,” he says. For Nichols, the greatest gift that computers have brought to modern life is the freedom of communication and ease of accessing information. “To me, it’s amazing that the President can communicate directly to the people in real-time.”
Nichols predicts that the power of computers will continue to grow, and he is especially interested in the advancement of battery technology. “I think you’re going to see some big industries like fossil fuel get shaken up in the near future; the quality of batteries is getting better and better,” he says.
While Nichols loves to see how technology is changing the world for the better, he admits that he won’t go near something until it’s been on the market for at least six months. “It takes a while for all the kinks and the bugs to get worked out of a new piece of technology.”
When Nichols isn’t working, he enjoys playing golf and softball. For years, Hampton Roads Computer Company sponsored an adult softball team that competed at the state level.
TO THE POINT:
Hampton Roads Computer Company Inc.
Address: 11822 Canon Blvd.,
Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Jim Nichols, owner