Isaac Moan is the founder and primary web developer at Web Symphonies LLC. He has been offering his excellent web design and development services to startups, small business owners and medium-sized businesses in North Carolina for over 15 years. Isaac is very proud that Web Symphonies is a local, eco-friendly web design company proudly operating with a low carbon footprint. He’s especially known for being friendly, knowledgeable, grateful and incredibly helpful to the businesses he works with, many of whom are good friends as well.
We recently asked Isaac about his experiences growing his web development business and got his insight for other IT pros on ensuring a lasting and lucrative career in technology. Here’s what he shared:
Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? How did you become interested in IT?
From an early age, I was fascinated with computers and loved tinkering around with DOS and Windows 3.1. At age 13 I used some Bar Mitzvah money to order and assemble the parts of my first computer, which was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced. It made me fall in love with technology and computers.
From there, I became a power user of Windows 95, installing games and using software such as Wordstar. In high school, I was heavily involved in yearbook and learned how to use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Pagemaker. I also attended a technology-based high school, Zebulon B Vance High in Charlotte, and took specialized classes in Novell networking.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I took computer programming classes, and ended up creating my own custom Bachelor of Arts interdisciplinary studies major in Network Administration and Web Development. Through my connections at UNC, I found an internship working at IBM where I cut my teeth in IT and network administration. I also took classes at the School of Journalism to learn Adobe Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator and Photography. Through the Journalism school, I had the good fortune to travel to both South Africa and Chile to work on web development projects highlighting post-apartheid South Africa and pre-commercial development Chiloe Island. Through my various journeys, I discovered a passion for web design, IT and web development.
Tell us about Web Symphonies. When and why did you start your business? What is your mission?
Web Symphonies was started in January of 2005. After moving in with a close friend, Sean Busher, who had started his own photography business several years prior, he mentored me and suggested that I start my own business as well. He was one of my first clients. My mission is to deliver superb, concierge web design and development services to local entrepreneurs, start-ups and mid-sized businesses to help them grow and achieve success in their business goals.
What have been the most important lessons you’ve had to learn about navigating a career in IT?
Being primarily self-taught, one big lesson I’ve learned is that most of the knowledge you need can be obtained by a determined pursuit and rigorous practice of your craft. Hours and hours of plugging away at a coding problem, or trying many different angles of attack on a stubborn computer issue, has taught me that in the IT world, there are usually many ways of fixing a problem, but that there are only a few ways of fixing the problem correctly so that it doesn’t recur.
Too often, technical people look for shortcuts and just try to fix the surface level issue without fixing the root of the problem. All too often, fixing issues can be done hastily and without a true understanding of the root cause. This inevitably leads to problems resurfacing, but if done correctly, most tasks might take longer to fix but will be done with lasting solvency. Almost any issue can be fixed by having a determined resolve. The willingness to fix things “the right way” is an important characteristic to have for someone in the IT world who wants lasting success in the industry. I build my websites to withstand the test of time, to be upgrade friendly and with the satisfaction that they are a streamlined work of art.
What career experiences do you believe have had the biggest impact on where you are today?
About seven years ago, I got a few big projects, got over-confident and started to expand too rapidly. I started investing into the company too heavily without a steady revenue stream and my resources were quickly tapped out. After bringing on a few staff and renting an expensive office, I realized that I could still be successful with a more slimmed-down operation without needing so much overhead. So instead of the expensive office, I started working from a home office and began building my network of trusted consultants, designers and developers. With a leaner operation, I can still offer a superior product without a ton of overhead, and this allowed me to keep my prices reasonable while maintaining respectable margins.
What advice can you offer new IT professionals about negotiating a salary? What are the do’s and don’ts you’ve learned from your own experience?
In my earlier days, I found myself in situations where I was offering my services at highly reduced rates and was willing to take on work without charging what my services were really worth (or least what the industry average was). Over time, I realized that taking on projects and clients at highly discounted rates only ended up leaving me with clients with slanted expectations of high-quality work at highly discounted rates. This left me burnt out, uninspired and with a few bad clients.
Eventually, as I gained more confidence in my product and myself, I raised my prices and realized that when you ask to be paid what you’re worth, you feel better about delivering a high-quality product and clients feel better about paying for a valuable product. So I would say don’t be afraid to lean in, ask for more when negotiating, have confidence in yourself, and don’t under-charge—you’re hurting yourself and undercutting the industry.
How can IT professionals make themselves more valuable to their employers? What skills or training should they seek out?
IT professionals can make themselves more valuable to their employers by focusing on communication, empathy and team-building. Many IT professionals have the technical knowledge, but they lack the ability to clearly communicate with non-tech personnel, or aren’t strong at maintaining deadlines and following up with people. I would suggest IT professionals strive to be good communicators and to check-in often to make sure goals and expectations are clearly being met. In terms of skills and training, that’s always an ever-expanding field and can often be a moving target. But in my field, knowing both server-side maintenance and the inner workings of wordpress have been very helpful to my field.
What are the most common mistakes you see young IT professionals making as they start their career? What affect can this have on their future earning potential?
The most common mistakes I see are that other young professionals in my field over-promise and under deliver. They promise a lot, but then end up missing deadlines because they were chasing other projects, or charging so little that it doesn’t make the task worth their hard spent time. I see many young web developers take on projects that they can’t finish due to poor time management or lack of fundamental skills to get the project done. So time management and learning not to over-promise can make all the difference in meeting deadlines. If you can deliver a good product in a timely manner, this will affect your future earning potential positively because you will quickly build up a client base.
What types of qualities and professional experiences would you love to see more job candidates have when you are hiring?
I like to see candidates have an eagerness to learn, a willingness not to take shortcuts, and to communicate effectively about progress and deadlines. That, combined with a certain level of professionalism in emails and on the phone can make a world of difference.
What’s one final piece of advice you can offer to IT professionals who are hoping to advance their careers and earning potential?
Be friendly and professional and learn to develop a wide knowledge in many different areas with a few specialty skillsets that are top tier. And if you combine this with networking within your industry, then eventually if you stay long enough in the industry, you will succeed, you will move up the professional ladder, and you will achieve lasting success.
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