Business Person of the Month: Bret Funk

Bret Funk

Manager/Senior Technician

Rent-A-Nerd Inc. of Baton Rouge

7970 Jefferson Highway, Suite B Baton Rouge, LA 70809

Tel.225.706.NERD (6373)

Bret Funk - Manager, Senior Technician Rent A Nerd computer Servicese “Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want? This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.”
-Bill Gates, February 21, 2000

Rent-A-Nerd is a computer repair and network design company, offering onsite and in-house services to home and business users. Rent-A-Nerd, a locally owned and operated company, has been serving southeastern Louisiana since 1997 from its original Metairie location, but in the aftermath of Katrina, a second shop opened in the Baton Rouge area. In addition to regular repair services, Rent-A-Nerd offers maintenance and full service contracts to customers with multiple computers, and priority and remote assistance services for those issues that must be taken care of immediately. “Whether you have one computer or one hundred, Rent-A-Nerd is ready and able to help you.”

Bret earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Chemistry at Tulane and a Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology from Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. When he failed to make it into Medical school and couldn’t find a fulfilling job in his degreed fields, he took a position at Rent-A-Nerd (he had worked as a computer technician in high school.) He considered it just a stop gap job while he pondered his options, but then he saw how miserable his friends in med school were. “I decided that being a computer doctor was just as fulfilling and required far less insurance.”

An A+ Certified Computer Technician and a Microsoft Certified System Engineer with Messaging Specialty, Bret earned these certifications subsequent to joining Rent-A-Nerd in early 2003. The company policy is to constantly improve abilities and learn the “proper” way to do things. Prior to Rent-A-Nerd, Bret says he saw no need for certifications. “They impress clients more than employers. Memorizing the answers that Microsoft, CompTIA, or Cisco want you to give isn’t the same as being able to fix a problem you’ve never encountered before.” Bret finds the ever-changing nature of this job its most satisfying aspect. Though he may spend most of his time removing viruses and spyware from systems, he relishes new experiences, exposure to some new piece of hardware or software, and new puzzles to solve. “By constantly challenging myself, I’m able to make myself a better technician, which ultimately benefits my customers and leads me to even more difficult challenges.”

Born and raised in southern New Jersey and ready to experience someplace different after high school, Brett applied to colleges in Boston, Los Angles and New Orleans. Tulane was a major draw, but the city contributed somewhat. He knew little about New Orleans other than its reputation and even less about the state of Louisiana when he moved here over 12 years ago. He remembers some culture shock when he ventured out of uptown and into the “wilds” of New Orleans, but “Tulane itself was almost an island of northern-ness in the great sea of the south. I met more people there who grew up within 200 miles of my home in NJ than I did from Louisiana.” He did meet and marry a local girl and has since found no compelling reason to leave Louisiana.

His wife was seven months pregnant when they evacuated ahead of Katrina, leaving their home and most possessions to fate. Their son Nicholas was born October 30, 2005. “Due to inefficiencies and lost records at the Office of Vital Records, we only received his birth certificate last week.” Bret expressed two regrets about the evacuation: that they took so few items of sentimental value because they’d evacuated before without need and the time he spent moving boxes from the garage to the kitchen (“In the end it meant our stuff was under 6 feet of water instead of 8.5 feet.”)

Rent-A-Nerd in Metairie survived the storm with minimal damage and missed the flooding by about a quarter mile. The store was operating in a limited fashion within three weeks of Katrina though half of the employees were permanently displaced. Though not yet generating as much revenue as prior to Katrina, Metairie has almost reached its pre-storm level of employees and workload. Bret manages the Baton Rouge location while the owner of the company, Darrin Piotrowski, splits his time between the two locations. As business increases and more technicians are hired, Darrin plans to return to the original shop full time.

The Baton Rouge shop has shown a steady increase in business since it opened last year. “If things continue at their present rate of growth, I suspect that Baton Rouge will have a Nerd presence for quite some time.” When asked if computers that were in the flood or closed up in hot, moldy environments could be salvaged, Bret said though the machines themselves were a loss, data on the hard drives could sometimes be retrieved. “But in our post-Katrina experience, the success rate on recovery was less than 20%.”

Happy with the work he’s doing, Bret claims not to have “the patience or charm to climb the ladder in yet another field of work.” He has no plans for a career change unless his writing reaches a point where he doesn’t need other work to “support the habit.” Bret started writing while in graduate school when he found the course load not particularly challenging. He co-founded an independent press to help promote and produce quality speculative fiction. Tyrannosaurus Press sponsors writing contests; offers a free monthly ezine, the Illuminata; and has published a short story anthology, Beacons of Tomorrow, featuring undiscovered authors. Library Journal has reviewed his three books favorably, and as a result, libraries across the country have added his work to their collections. “As a science fiction and fantasy author of very limited fame, public libraries represent the largest fraction of my customer base.” Path of Glory (2002), Sword of Honor (2003), and Jewel of Truth (2006) are available at most branches of our library. “I would need a few tens of thousand more devoted fans before I could shelve the day job entirely and switch careers to professional writer.”

Bret considers libraries an invaluable resource for the community and says the library can open up whole new worlds to people. Personally, he uses the library to gain exposure to new authors. “I’m a book collector, so the library’s insistence that I return the books I borrow limits me.” When he finds authors he likes, he tends to buy their books rather than borrow. Bret reads mostly science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels, but also dabbles in mysteries and other genres, even the occasional nonfiction book if the subject interests him. He declined to name a favorite author, saying “there are too many whose works have substantially affected me to select one or to even narrow down the list.”

Bret feels that Baton Rouge is in a unique position at the moment. “The tragedies of Katrina and Rita have swelled the population, and large numbers of the new arrivals (like myself) will not be leaving. If the parish reacts wisely over the next few years, making appropriate changes in infrastructure and public services in anticipation of the needs of the next decade (and not just trying to address the problems left over from the last one), then this city and parish stands poised to become the most important in the state, and perhaps one of the most important in the entire region. This is a great opportunity for us to show how progressive and forward thinking we are, to build a community that shines as an example of what a greater metropolitan area should be. I’d like to think that we, as a people, will make the right choices over the next few years, but I’m old enough now (and experienced enough with our political system) to harbor a certain amount of cynicism over the quality of decisions made by politicians of any party.”

While he doesn’t know the context of the scary quote he chose for the introduction to his profile, Bret assumes it was made tongue-in-cheek. “Relating the quote to my own work, I generally say that while we will be unable to stop the evolution of free-thinking machines, as priests and prophets worshipping at the Alter of Technology, Rent-A-Nerd’s technicians are in the perfect position to keep you and your business in the good graces of the Binary Gods.”

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