At age 43, with a master's and a law degree under his belt, Phil Marcus took a job selling computers from a storefront.
Sure, he could have gotten a fancier job - after all, he had been practicing law for more than a decade and had experience teaching at Towson University. But Marcus wanted to be in the computer business, and a storefront job was one way to do it.
Today, Marcus has his own computer business, TTG Services. Run from an office in his Columbia home, the 11-year-old company develops new databases and rebuilds old ones.
"What these things are," Marcus explained, "are computerized ways of capturing information."
One system he developed tracks invoices and purchases and processes sales orders and book lists for Eastern Medical Publishers Inc., a Delaware company that sells medical books for 15 publishers.
RoxAnn Fritsch, of Eastern Medical Publishers, said Marcus was able to swiftly develop the system two years ago and still helps the company enhance it as needed. "He speaks to you in English, not computer talk, so that you understand what he's talking about," she said.
Marcus, 58, has about a dozen clients, for whom he is either designing or enhancing database systems.
Originally from New York, he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965 with a master's degree in electrical engineering. During college, Marcus took one computer class and despised it so much that he swore off computers for a quarter of a century.
After college, he moved to Maryland, where he taught physical science at Towson, then earned a law degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore and became a lawyer for 12 years.
Marcus' move into the computer industry came in 1985, when a former client asked him to head the engineering department of a Columbia-based PC manufacturer. But that company went under, and Marcus went on to a variety of jobs, starting with the computer sales positions from a storefront and moving on to work for other companies in technical support and management.
As he immersed himself in the industry, Marcus formulated a plan to get some on-the-job training and then start his own company. "You've got to pay your dues," Marcus said. "You can't take a 10-hour course in computers and suddenly you're a computer expert."
By 1989, Marcus was ready to start his computer-training business. "By that time, I had seen ... all three levels of the industry: manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer."
Companies that sold computer systems would hire Marcus to travel to their customers and teach them how to use their new systems. But in 1991, he also got into building and rebuilding databases, and when the travel of the training business wore thin in 1995, Marcus shifted the focus of his company.
Today, he goes into other companies or agencies, learns about their business and what they need to run it, and rebuilds their databases or builds them a new one to meet their needs.
"You have to really get to the point where you understand that company's business," he said.