For Tom McGarry, personal growth and career development go hand-in-hand. That’s what took him from programming and writing code to founding what would become a sought-after, publicly-traded digital marketing company.
Now as the new Chief Technology Officer of Second Nature, a role he landed through AboveBoard, McGarry credits this next chapter of his career to a willingness to embrace challenges, evolve, and collaborate with others. Through each stage of his career—including roles as Senior Software Group Manager at The Adrenaline Group, Inc., Senior Vice President of Technology at EverCommerce, and Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Market Hardware, Inc.—McGarry says honing both technical and social skills has been essential to his success.
Ahead, we’ll chat with McGarry about his career journey, how to leave an impact, and what it takes to grow and develop as a leader.
To begin, can you walk us through your professional background and experience?
When I first started out the market was ripe for any engineers that were coming on board because the internet was growing so quickly. I was able to quickly move and change, pivot my journey. I started with desktop programming from 1996-1998 and then slowly adjusted and changed into web application programming. Around 2000, I joined an agency in DC where we would build startups as fast as we could. And that was really what launched my career to what it is now.
We were heavily open source driven. We called it a West Coast development style; we would take ideas and work with venture capitalists, private equity firms, and entrepreneurs. It was basically get their idea and launch them within three months, get them on the market. That’s what everybody wanted back then. I was able to really immerse myself in that culture, which I loved. I really wanted to build good things, move fast, and help people.
In 2003, we started Market Hardware, Inc. with several alumni from The Adrenaline Group, Inc. Our mission was to create a full suite of digital marketing solutions for small businesses. It was a market that’s still actually primed for opportunity. We grew the company from zero, from nothing, in 2009 to 2,500 clients. We were acquired in 2009 by IAC, an internet property management group. And then we grew from 2,500 clients to 35,000 clients within eight months. That experience in itself was a feat of strength. Eventually, we had an opportunity to take the company back into our own hands, and later on we sold it again to a private equity firm where it assimilated into EverCommerce.
How did you create a long lasting impact at all of those different points in your career?
As a developer, you tend to be more introverted. You don’t want to step out; it’s hard to step out of your shell. But at The Adrenaline Group, you had to become “the game show host” of developers, interfacing with clients and bringing solutions to the table. You had to present the solution, and you had to be polished. I learned this in that particular part of my life, which was extremely valuable because most developers don’t get that opportunity. They typically just sit and type, solve puzzles, things like that.
I realized after that journey that I could come to the table with not only a skillset to deeply solve a solution, but also knowing my being trained in research is really, really valuable too. If I don’t know the answer to the problem, I can deep dive into it, and then there’s the social aspect of it, the social engineering aspect of it, as we used to call it. That’s where you have to bring other people in.
"If I don’t have the solution, I like to surround myself with people that have the solution. It was a collaborative approach."
Light touch management is what I like to call it. It’s bringing people on board, having some of the answers but also asking other folks to participate in that journey with me as well.
How did you learn about AboveBoard, and what ultimately led you to join?
I started on LinkedIn, and it’s almost like firing mortars into the Grand Canyon. It became so non-productive that I would just “easy apply” and “easy apply,” and it’s just volume play. What I was trying to do was meet folks, practice my story, and see what’s out there. I found AboveBoard on LinkedIn and signed up. I liked the way the job recommendations were presented. It was easy enough to sign up to get more information about opportunities. And then, it was easy to express interest. Honestly, expressing interest was great. It’s very low touch.
I got a bunch of hits and got a few cold meetings from that. But then AboveBoard partner True Search came in and things changed a lot. The LinkedIn game I was playing didn’t really get me too far, but I was approached by True Search on two different occasions. One was for a position in Australia with a company called Fluent Commerce and the second was in relation to Second Nature.
One thing led to another, and I met the folks at Second Nature and had good connections with them. Overall, AboveBoard was the easiest and most effective executive search tool. I was able to connect really quickly. I didn’t feel like I was lost in the mix.
What advice do you have for upcoming executives looking to build careers as fruitful as yours?
There are two avenues. There’s either going down the learning route on a specific topic, concentrating on one thing and that becomes your story. Over the past few years, my story’s become data and data strategy, not data science per se. So, pick a story, and learn about it. Try to get yourself anchored in that.
But then there’s the other side of being able to interface with humans. You have to work the circuit somehow. You just can’t sit and be complacent in your cubicle or wherever you are in your awesome remote office and just fire away code. Get yourself involved somehow within your organization or outside of your organization. There are a lot of different groups, from virtual groups to in-person, that you can join to at least socialize a lot of your ideas.