Meet Liam Shea, Manager of Customer Support

Liam SheaAs a kid, Liam Shea always liked playing with computers—“seeing what I could do, seeing how I could make it run faster,” he said.

Even while he was in college studying for a career in criminal justice, he found himself pulled toward technology, working for an IT outsourcing company to put himself through school. Four years ago, he came to, where he’s now manager of customer support, and he has no plans to do anything else.

Liam’s work involves overseeing the company’s help desk and making sure that customer IT issues are always resolved within 30 minutes. That requires not just strong technical skills but also the ability to work with busy businesspeople so that technological problems don’t interfere with their work.

Beyond that, Liam meets regularly with ComputerSupport’s clients to strategize about ways they can improve their information systems. Using tickets that have been put in as guidelines, he’s able to make recommendations about areas for improvement within a given company—“how we can be proactive and kind of cut down the ticket volume,” he said.

Liam’s also responsible for making sure ComputerSupport employees who are stationed at clients’ offices stay in the loop with their coworkers at the main office. The company has daily meetings that the remote workers call in to, which help everyone learn from the work that others are doing. But, since the company tries to be a friendly place to work, Liam admitted the meetings usually involve some talk about the Celtics or the new blockbuster movie that everyone saw over the weekend.

Liam said one of the things that drew him to the company was the chance to get in on the ground floor of a fast-growing enterprise—“kind of experience the benefits, as well as the pains of a small start-up company,” he said.

When Liam’s not in the office, you can find him spending time with his nearly four-year-old son, talking superheroes, playing with action figures or heading off to the zoo.

“We’re never sitting still,” he said. “When I’m not here, that’s where my time is usually being allocated.”

The Camera Phone and the Citizen Journalist

The Law has always lagged behind technology. For example, there was no need for automobile safety standards until the automobile came into common use. This was the case for Simon Glik. He was arrested for filming Boston police officers when they were making an arrest of their own. Glik used his cellphone to capture the whole event. The police claimed that Glik broke a law that prohibited audio taping without consent. They further claimed that in doing so would place police officers in danger, that it would give them pause in life threatening situations. There is also the case of Allen Haywood being attacked on the subway by a group of teenagers in a crowd of people who did nothing but film the entire incident. Camera phone technology is ubiquitous nowadays. The ease at which information can be captured and disseminated seems to be changing our attitudes in both positive and negative ways.

Simon Glik recently won a court case against the Boston Police Department which awarded him 170,000 dollars. The courts ruled that citizens have the right to film agents of the government while they are in public. A right they claim is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The government does not have the right to suppress free speech or the press. With a cell phone camera, anyone can become a citizen journalist. Glik filmed the police because he thought they were using excessive force against a fellow citizen. He was peacefully protesting their behavior, another right protected by the First Amendment. Technology, like the cellphone camera and the internet, has been used to empower people. From the Middle East, to America and beyond, people are filming injustices and sharing their ideals in a way that was not possible a decade ago. There is a time for building awareness, however, there is also a time for action.

Allen Haywood was reading a book while he waited for his train when he was approached by a teenage boy and girl. For no known reason they began attacking him. Quickly, a group of about seven teens surrounded him and pummeled him. According to reports, the only actions taken by the other subway goers were taking out their cellphone cameras to film the attack and people using another passage to avoid the situation. It should be noted that one should always attempt to avoid physically intervening. Yet, no one, even those with cellphones, called 911 and no one went to alert the Metro police who were only a short run away. One can argue that filming an incident is doing something, but it does seem apathetic, even taking into account the diffusion of responsibility.

IT consultants will tell you that this trend of the citizen journalist will only grow. Thus, there will be more Glik and Haywood-like situations. The main difference between them I believe is that Glik was capturing images of the police, the people your supposed to call when you see something bad happening. For Glik there was no civil authority to immediately contact. The Metro police were hop and skip away from Haywood. It would also be easy to call the police and then film the altercation. I don’t know how I would have reacted in either situation. I can say with a degree of certainty that my first instinct wouldn’t have been to take out my cell phone and start filming. The Law has always lagged behind technology, but so has society. We will have to wait and see how society adapts to the large influx of citizen journalists.

Legalizing Crowdfunding

Say you’ve come up with the next big thing. A new social media platform that will put Pinterest to shame. An innovative IT outsourcing concept. A better mousetrap.

How do you get it funded?

Traditionally, the answer might have been a venture capital firm or a rich uncle. Now, thanks to a provision of the recently passed federal JOBS Act, it could be a thousand strangers on the Internet.

Crowdfunding is a relatively new way to gather startup capital for a new venture. Essentially, anyone with an idea can post it on their own website or the site of an intermediary company and ask for cash.

The most prominent example of the model so far has been Kickstarter, a site that’s funded a huge variety of creative projects, from video games to theater productions. But people who give to Kickstarter projects generally do so more out of enthusiasm than self-interest. The groups seeking funding offer rewards like backstage passes to their plays or signed copies of their novels, not a share of their profits.

Now, the JOBS Act makes it possible for ventures like these to offer an equity stake to the funders. Venture capitalist Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners told the New York Times there’s good reason to be enthusiastic about the concept.

“We’ve watched every other industry become democratized by the Internet, so there’s no reason that finance can’t be, too,” he said.

But others are more cynical, worrying that the new rules could allow for the creation of modern-day “boiler rooms” where scammers use high-pressure sales to fleece unsophisticated investors, and let small public companies remain too secretive in their activities. contributor Tim Worstall takes on that line of reasoning, arguing that it’s impossible to regulate against all opportunities for scammers without completely stifling innovation.

Worstall points to British site Crowdcube, which allows small investors to buy a piece of startup companies, though it’s not open to U.S. funders. Where Kickstarter features mostly artistic endeavors, Crowdcube is full of plans to harvest seaweed, produce biofuels and develop new online payment systems. And where Kickstarter participants typically seek a few thousand dollars, Crowdcube companies’ goals are more likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Under the JOBS Act, companies would be able to crowdfund up to $1 million a year, or $2 million if they can provide audited financial statements. There would also be limits on how much any individual investor can put up.

The New York Times story reports that many people in the finance industry question how widely applicable the crowdfunding model will be. It seems likely to be best suited to startups with a lively, interesting story that can attract regular people, not just professional investors. Of course, those are also the sorts of stories that scam artists are fantastic at dreaming up.