The Nemo Memo – Interview with CompUSA

When CompUSA opened its doors in Tucson in June, sparks started to fly. The sales floor was mobbed with lookers, gawkers, and a few buyers. The selection was vast, prices were competitive, and the Mac-store was well-stocked.

Inside the store-within-a-store is CompUSA’s school-within-a-store, the Training Center. Here in Tucson, the manager is Michael Lupien.

A few days after the new store opened, Mike came to our monthly TMUG meeting and generously donated several Mac classes to our raffle. He reappeared at the July and August meetings, and continued to promote CompUSA’s Training Center with free classes and user group discounts, including the new iMac.

Mike is a Mac man through and through. His eyes light up when he discusses his experience with the Macintosh.

Nemo caught up with him for a few intense conversations during the summer months. What follows is a play-by-play of Mike’s background, and his articulate perspective on computer training within the retail environment.


John: Hello, Mike. Thanks for supporting our user group. Say “hi” to the readers of My Mac Magazine.

Mike: Thank you, John. I look forward to working with you and all the Macintosh enthusiasts. Where do you want to start?

John: How about your background?

Mike: Certainly. I grew up in New England and attended the University of Massachusetts. I received a double degree in business administration and computer science.

John: Impressive. Did that lead to your first job?

Mike: Yes. Out of college I worked for Digital Equipment installing a business inventory system (MRPII). After three years I was hired by the software company, Computer Associates, as a national trainer.

John: Meaning lots of travel?

Mike: Tons. I flew to companies and conducted week-long training/ consulting sessions with such corporations as Alcoa, Digital, Dow Chemical, EDS, and Silicon Graphics.

John: Mainframes, I expect. Where did the Macintosh fit in?

Mike: I started using the Mac to write up reports during this time, in 1986. Computer Associates transferred me to Silicon Valley as a marketing manager, where I used the Mac exclusively to write all my project specifications, even though we had a complete Unix system.

John: One of the original “think different” evangelists. Good for you. What next?

Mike: In 1988 Acer offered me a great job directing a software relations program. I was in charge of an entire channel of sales, including advertising, direct marketing, manuals, collateral, you name it. All my output was created on Macs.

John: What did the execs think of you, Mr. Renegade?

Mike: My department saved a tremendous amount of money by self-creating without an ad agency. Much of my material is still used by my successors.

John: Did that lead to a job in desktop publishing or public relations?

Mike: Hardly. In 1992, I was tired of all the travel, so I entered consulting.

John: Big time or small scale?

Mike: Big, very big. I did a number of large jobs for Oracle, HP, Acer, and Wick Communications, who own the local Arizona publications “Inside Tucson Business” and the “Daily Territorial.” Wick owns 40 newspapers country-wide.

John: Was your work focused on specific sorts of tasks?

Mike: Just the opposite. I created every possible type of document during this time, from business cards and marketing materials to annual reports and multimedia!

John: Am I correct to think you are shifting over to the Internet?

Mike: Exactly. I have been focusing mainly on website work since 1994. I moved to Tucson in 1997 to do some large projects for Wick.

John: Just a sec. It’s a long way from being a corporate consultant to being a corporate employee.

Mike: I was ready for another major change. CompUSA is my first corporate job in six years.

John: Our readers can’t wait to hear the reason why.

Mike: I chose to go back because of the opportunity to help people integrate the computer into daily life. There is still a tremendous amount of computer fear. I have been helping people overcome this fear since 1984. What motivates me is the feeling I get when a person learns a skill that makes their life easier, and gets over the fear. It’s the proverbial light bulb going off.

John: Is it fair to call you a “realist altruist,” Mike? I admire your point-of-view, and your action in support of it. How does the Mac fit into the picture?

Mike: I am dedicated to the Mac platform. I specifically made it a point to have a Macintosh curriculum here at the CompUSA Training Center. When we show people the power of Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter, and the other versatile applications, they are amazed.

John: Are the courses successful in accomplishing your goals?

Mike: When you compare our courses to college-based training, I believe that intensive learning works better for computer skills. People have to perform a procedure over and over to lock in into their brains. By investing one to three days with our classes, the participants are productive, with new skills.

John: You are quite passionate, Mike. Let’s have a summary of your thoughts up to this point, please.

Mike: Mac training is alive and well. My business motto is “Pride Through Performance.” I live by it.


Nemo TextJohn: Let’s get physical, Mike. Please describe the arrangement at Tucson CompUSA.

Mike: With pleasure. CompUSA Training has three networked classrooms with 44 Windows NT workstations, all communicating over an NT 4.0 LAN (Local Area Network).

John: Do you have Internet access from the store?

Mike: We have a T1 Internet connection for our Internet services. All machines can access the Net because they are served by a proxy server, “a road cop” which tells the LAN whether something should go to the server-hard drive or to the Net.

John: Where are the Macs?

Mike: I have added eight Apple stations to this network thus far, each having a G3/233MHz tower, with 64Mb of memory and a 2-gig hard drive.

PowerMac Picture

John: I can live with that ratio, for now. What does the
teacher use?

Mike: In each classroom the instructor’s desktop is
projected upon a white screen so all the students can follow
every move of the instructor.

John: What about written material and software?

Mike: Each course has a lesson book with practice floppy disks. Students are encouraged to load the same material on their home computers to go back through exactly what they learned during the class.

John: How do you determine the proficiency-level of the students?

Mike: Potential students initially receive a free consultation from our staff where we develop course road maps with them, called “tracks of learning.” We get to know a person’s desires, and direct them into certain classes which provide the skills they seek. I have added new subjects to the schedule based on the needs of the people. For example, we created a class dedicated to scanners and digital cameras, covering how to configure them and use them for best results.

John: That is called “needs-based curriculum,” and is very dynamic. Do the students take more than one course from you?

Mike: Most people join us as members, paying what I call a semester fee. This allows them to take as many classes as they wish and pay one low fee.

John: With no limit?

Mike: None during the prepaid time period. When a person tells us they would like to get a job as an Internet designer, for example, we develop a specific curriculum of class dates and times. All this training, if taken over three months, is only $495.

John: That is great. What are the demographics of your students?

Mike: Our Mac courses are designed for three types of users. The first category, “new computer purchasers,” are people who have just bought their first or first-in-a-while computer. These people require operating system experience.

John: How do you get them up to speed?

Mike: The goal initially is to teach software basics quickly, eliminating the frustrations that happen during self-learning. We offer introductory classes in Macintosh OS 8.1, Claris Works, Internet Basics, Internet Researching, Quicken, and Microsoft Office.

John: Who is the second group?

Mike: The “desktop publishing and small business” crowd.

John: Long may they thrive.

Mike: The Mac has always been the premiere printing and publishing computer system. Adobe developed most of their software originally for the Macintosh. People requiring these skills are usually either artists, graphic designers, or small business owners looking to produce their individual marketing materials. We teach them Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker, QuarkXPress, QuickBooks, and Painter.

John: That brings us to group three, who are?

Mike: The “Internet Website Design” students. Here is where my personal, professional background really pays dividends. I have used my Mac to design websites since 1994. Every day the Net becomes more integral to our lives. In this area we teach everything from “what is the Net” to “how do I conduct business and make money?”

John: Do you go deeper, with this Internet curriculum?

Mike: Yes. In the courses we thoroughly plan a site, learning HTML and WYSIWYG tools like FrontPage, PageMill, Claris HomePage, and NetObjects Fusion. Additionally, students learn about designing Web graphics, including JavaScript and animation. If appropriate, courses cover adding e-commerce solutions to a site.

John: Very ambitious. What is the diploma?

Mike: Upon completion of a class, the students receive a certificate of accomplishment, but more important is that they have real skills they can apply the very next day.

John: Can we switch gears, Mike, and talk a bit about your school-within -a-store concept?

Mike: With pleasure. CompUSA has a total of 241 Training Super Centers, after the recent buyout of Computer City. With such a large number of schools to support, CompUSA made a minority investment into a design and printing firm called Infosource, in Florida.

John: Who creates the classroom material?

Mike: In some cases we use third-party materials from Ziff-Davis, but for most courses we use our own creations. We have a course project team in our Dallas corporate office dedicated to project manage any new topic. They work with Infosource to produce the product using CompUSA’s template of design. Our manuals use extensive screen shots. This allows the student to see and mirror every step that the instructor does for them during the class.

John: I have seen these workbooks. The couple sitting next to me at the TMUG meeting have just finished taking every beginner Mac course offered. They’re waiting for the iMac price to do down, and then take the plunge.

iMac Picture

Mike: Elise and Ernie, a great couple. They’re really
getting their money’s worth out of our semester
payment scheme.

John: Who writes your software floppy tutorials?

Mike: Infosource also creates CBTs for us (Computer Based Training Disks). These are animated multimedia programs that exactly mirror the same materials as the instructor-led classes, providing a home study option for the student. They are so good I use them to learn any new subject myself!

John: Where do you get your teachers?

Mike: Finding and certifying new instructors is my favorite part of the job. Many people have come to me and inquired about teaching for us. I encourage this because the desire to share one’s expertise is what makes a good instructor to me. Personally, I use group meetings like TMUG to meet new, friendly, talented people. I look for sincerity, follow-through, patience, and communication skills. Good instructors can feel where the student is and help them grow.

John: Are they skilled before they go on the payroll?

Mike: All of our instructors are tested on each class they want to teach, and then certified in their ability to instruct, convey their knowledge, carry an audience, and learn new skills themselves. We have perfected this system over the past 12 years and fine-tuned it in over 150 locations.

John: And the ultimate satisfaction for you is…?

Mike: We are confident that in six hours we can make a student productive.

John: Mike, this has been a pleasure. Save one of those G3s for me, next time I itch to learn a new piece of software.

Mike: With a bit of luck, John, you will win a free class at the September TMUG meeting. Best wishes to you and your readers.

See you next month. Thanks for reading Nemo Memo!

John Nemerovski

Websites mentioned:

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