A local school district invited me to come speak to their 9th grade class on careers in technology. The coordinators are looking for business members in the Lake Wylie community to come and share the path they took to their current profession. Since my website design clients often ask how I got started in this business I thought I would take this opportunity to share my story. At the end of this article is a comments section. I’d love to hear how you got started in your business, too.
Website Design in College
As a kid I loved business and finance but through a need to learn how real products were actually made, 1996 found me enrolled in Dual Ocean & Aerospace engineering major at Virginia Tech. I have a passion for the ocean and learning how to build ships appealed to my. Another hobby I’ve had my entire life is writing fiction. The mid 90′s was arguably the beginning of the Internet age and I saw websites as a great way to deliver content in new and interesting ways. If nothing else, a website was a great way to ‘staple’ pictures and all sorts of writing notes together in one place. The ability to link to other documents was great for pinning thoughts together. Eventually I taught myself basic HTML websites for my side writing.I would build websites around my fiction to establish the back stories of characters, track timelines, etc. These were very simple sites written by hand in Notepad and FTP’ed to my student account on the main server. It was lots of fun. I still find websites to be wonderful tools for creating and sharing content.
One of the extracurricular clubs I joined at Virginia Tech was an magazine called the Engineers’ Forum. There I acted as a writer and a managing editors. I enjoyed the combined challenge of running the business, writing about technical fields for not-necessarily technical folks and the exposure to new technology I received while on assignment.
I switched majors to Computer Science in 1999 after several summer internships in civil & structural engineering. I realized that the primary employers of aerospace and ocean engineers were either various governments or companies that primarily contracted to them. The Dot Com boom was in full swing and employers trying to recruit bright young engineers were driving my magazine ad rates through the roof. I also helped run the engineering employment fairs and was introduced to many companies that way. Software and business intrigued me so I went in that direction.
Through my efforts on the engineering magazine I got another internship working for Computer Associates and learned about large scale enterprise software, mainframes, and applied artificial intelligence. Google had just been starting to gain serious traction at this time and some of my fellow interns were working on search software, others in artificial intelligence. I really just loved the business of building great, useful software and focused my studies on operating systems, client-server technology. I ultimately built a host of great projects that explored the underpinnings of the Internet.
First Job & Master of Science
My senior year I interviewed with many companies and decided to accept an offer from a large financial company in Charlotte as a web technologies developer, which I took after graduating in May of 2001. That company sent me to graduate school at night and over the next 4 years I received a post graduate certificate in IT Management, IT Security, and ultimately earned a Master of Science in Information Technology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I saw this degree as another opportunity to bridge the divide between my engineering foundation and business aspirations. My final classes offered me the chance to explore how Google’s algorithm really worked, how Amazon was able to provide all of these incredible technologies to other IT firms – if you only know of Amazon as a book & DVD seller, you are really missing out!
Working building complex transactional web sites for financial companies through the day from 40 to 80 hours a week fills up your time pretty quickly. Once you start taking graduate classes at night you can add another 20 hours of work per week on top of it. By 2005 my patience was wearing thin so when one of my capstone class professors challenged me to choose a topic project for a project I replied that my project was to learn “how people make money out of this !@#$ing degree!” Fortunately for me my professor had more patience that I had so he directed me to the underpinnings of e-commerce. I graduated in May 2005 with a sound theoretical basis and years of work experience.
The Accidental Company
The Housing Bubble followed the Internet Bubble and like many other people out of college I bought a house. My home is in Lake Wylie, a resort-like bedroom community of Charlotte, North Carolina just over the boarder in South Carolina. My house had not been lived in for years and required a lot of work. One of the first contractors I hired needed a website and talked me into building one for him. I quoted him an insanely low price that came out to less than a dollar an hour for the work that needed to be done but I got it complete on time and on budget! My entrepreneurial nerve was struck and incorporated shortly there after in 2005.
I experimented with PayPal, with Amazon’s auto-delivery services and built several E-commerce stores. I designed and built websites for friends and family. I discovered Blogging and used Google’s Blogger to build several more websites. Eventually I heard about WordPress and saw how easy it was to build great websites that performed using that technology – such a difference from writing every last piece of code by hand in NotePad!
From then on I would build websites for all sorts of companies and professionals. Most come from Charlotte and the surrounding area. Other companies find me from other parts of the country like Green Bay, DC and elsewhere. I still work full time for that large financial company that brought me to Charlotte and run my website development business after hours and during the weekends.
I sincerely love learning about other businesses and then determining what I can do to help make them more profitable using the web. I still do a great deal of writing – most of it as articles written to help my clients and the small business community at large.
So that’s how I got my start. How did you start your business?