As previously noted, I've been working on/with computers for quite some time.
These days, my main interest is in computer networking — designing web pages/sites, setting up various kinds of network servers (Web, email, DNS, etc), and firewalls. However, I still do computer service for those that are referred to me (or me to them, as the case may be).
Since I do computer service as something of a sideline, I don't have any reluctance to help people solve problems themselves: one recent caller had a problem with a computer that was still under warranty; I simply provided him with the toll-free number for the manufacturer, and that was the end of it.
For customers and computers that actually need my help, I generally charge a flat rate of $50/hour — but if a job runs longer than I think it should, I'll waive part of the charges. If someone needs something done, and isn't in any hurry, I'll also quote a (very reasonable) flat rate for a job, since I'll be able to 'multitask' it among all the other things I'm involved in. In either case, I warrant MY work for 90 days: if something I did doesn't work right, I'll keep at it until the customer is satisfied.
I don't normally sell or provide any parts needed to service or repair a system, for a number of reasons. First, buying computer parts is like buying a car: from the moment you take ownership, the price (value) starts going down — by the time I found a customer that needed a particular part, the price I had to charge for it would be higher than the then-current price. Second, by not routinely providing parts, the customer can be reasonably confident that I'm telling them what's really wrong with their computer, and not just trying to make money by selling them something they don't need. Finally, if a computer does need a part, I can tell the customer what their options are in enough detail that they can decide for themselves how much they want to spend to correct the problem: if their 20G drive is bad, it's their choice whether to spend the a little money to get a 40G, more for an 80G, or to go high-end and buy a 200G to replace it. I'll offer suggestions as to where they can get the part, and let them choose whether to get it themselves, or pay me a small charge to do it for them — it's their choice, with no pressure from me.
I'm also perfectly willing to explain to customers — in plain English, not computer-speak — what any problems are, and WHY something is a problem. I'm also quite happy to teach people some of what I know, so that they aren't at the mercy of someone else that isn't willing to deal with customers as fairly and honestly as I am — and I encourage people to verify what I tell them, and learn for themselves. Something I tell all of my customers is that I welcome their questions; I really do believe that a knowledgeable individual is my best customer.
I got my start in electronics and computers after I joined the Navy at 17 (after getting my GED my first pass at taking the test). In its Infinite Wisdom, the Navy decided that I'd make a tolerably good electronics tech -- and more specifically, Aviation Electronics -- despite the fact that the only electronics I knew when I enlisted was how to change the channels on the TV.
After boot camp, I got run through a basic aviation equipment school (introduction to the ground support equipment, like auxiliary generators and the like), then basic electronics. Since there was a need for additional techs, I got volunteered to go through a "fast-track" version of the normal 20-week course, completing it in 14 weeks. From there, I was sent off for additional training on specific pieces of gear, such as the ARC-94 HF (High Frequency) radio, ARC-101 VHF radio, ARN-52 Glide Slope/ILS (Instrument Landing System) receiver, and ARN-58 TACAN (TACtical Air Navigation). THEN it was off to sunny Ft. Lauderdale for a factory school on the Bendix RDR-1E/ED (military APS-121) weather radar.
Only then was it judged that I was okay to be shipped off to my first full-time duty station: Fleet Tactical Support Squadron Fifty (VRC-50), at Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines. I was there for two years, and got the chance to do a fair amount of travelling. I got to the Philippines just a couple of months after Marcos declared martial law in that country -- which was NOT fun for anybody, I assure you.
After my tour in the Philippines, it was off to another school -- Test Equipment Calibration and Repair -- before my last duty assignment got back: the USS Enterprise, CVAN-65. I was ship's company (versus one of the "squadron groupies" that came and went with their planes), and duly assigned to the calibration lab. At the time I was aboard, the Enterprise had an enlisted crew (when we left for our Western Pacific cruise) of 7,000. When we were in port, a lot of ship's company people got volunteered to serve as tour guides for when civilians turned up and wanted to see what their taxes were paying for; as a result, I learned a number of facts about my gray steel home -- 4.47 acres of flight deck, made up of 67,000 tons of steel, had a displacement of 96,000 tons, just a few feet short of a quarter-mile long, could launch an airplane ever 15 seconds, each individual link in the anchor chain weighed 360 pounds, and so on. People used to ask if I ever got lost, and I'd take the time to explain the rather sensible system the Navy uses to address where places are on a ship:
Another question I got asked was if I ever got seasick. Well, with something the size of the Enterprise, that normally isn't a problem: it's just too bleeping BIG. While there is some motion, it isn't anywhere near as bad as on a smaller ship -- though we did have a guy in the Cal Lab that would get a little seasick every time we left port.