Cashing In on Computer Skills

For years, Cynthia Pruitt's friends and family members called her every time they got a new computer. Pruitt, a self-taught computer buff who works for the Loudoun County Department of Social Services, helped them learn new programs, surf the Internet or sometimes just plug the things in.

Eventually, Pruitt decided to cash in on her skill. Last summer she started Computer Cap, a door-to-door training company that she runs part time from her home in Round Hill. For $75, Pruitt--the company's only employee so far--will spend two hours with "first-timers" or computer novices, teaching them the basics.

One elderly client called Pruitt to help her unpack the computer and turn it on. "She was that afraid," Pruitt said. The two of them then spent the afternoon designing greeting cards at the client's request.

Other clients want to learn how to use Microsoft Word so they can write books, or how to navigate the World Wide Web, and they come in all stripes. "I've had professionals who have called me," she said--folks who have climbed the corporate ladder with secretaries to take care of all things electronic. As soon as they realize their bluff might be called, they get nervous, she said, "and now they're almost embarrassed."

Leesburg Consultant to Lead Group

Robert W. Swezey, president of InterScience America, a research and consulting firm in Leesburg, was elected president of the Society of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology.

InterScience, on East Market Street, performs research on "human performance in complex systems," Swezey said. He and his three employees have studied airline crews' behavior in the cockpit, as well as how aircraft controllers perform. They also have done research on older truck drivers to determine how their performance changes with age.

Some of InterScience's clients include the Federal Aviation Administration, major airlines and the American Automobile Association.

InterScience has been in Loudoun County since 1990 and in Leesburg, where Swezey lives, since 1994.

Bank Firm in Investment Alliance

Independent Community Bankshares Inc., of Middleburg, which operates Middleburg Bank and Tredegar Trust Co., has signed an affiliation agreement with a new company, Gilkison & Patterson Investment Advisors Inc., of Alexandria. An eventual merger is planned.

Investment advisers Robert C. Gilkison and James H. Patterson have purchased Kahn Brothers Investment Management Co. in Alexandria and begin operating as Gilkison & Patterson today. They will operate in Alexandria and, through Tredegar Trust, in Loudoun.

Under the agreement, Independent Community Bankshares has the option to complete a merger in mid-2001.

Please fax items for Thursday's business page to Sarah Schafer at 703-777-8437, or send them by mail to 305 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg, Va. 20175, or by e-mail to schafers@washpost.com.