Your Everyday, Run-of-the-Mill,
“Spy Turns Dad, Turns Teacher,
Turns Radio Director,
Turns Web Developer” Story
The Wondrous Life of Tom Morine
At Newtek, we believe what makes us different is our people — from engineering to customer support. As an on-going, occasional series, we’re sharing the personal stories of Newtekers, like Tom Morine, who are not only talented, hardworking professionals, but also interesting people outside the office.
Somewhere, tucked away amongst forgotten catacombs of microfiche records or otherwise saved to an archaic, bulky model of database storage hardware – one could still likely uncover the front page of a particular 1998 issue of Spencer, Iowa’s Daily Reporter – one that was clearly dated Wesnesday [sic]. It was a blunder that few, if any, readers missed – if calls to the paper that day were any indication. Yep, Newtek front-end developer Tom Morine takes full responsibility. He laughs, “Missed that one,” and concedes the ineffable gaffe was likely his adult working life’s most egregious. “Let’s just say I took my share of crap for that one.”
Of course, a one year stop in Iowa with his primary attention given to family (while working as a typesetter for a local paper), represents but a mere blink in the fascinating career path taken by the former U.S. Army Electronic Warfare Signals Intelligence Analyst.
Let’s just say that while printing “Wesnesday” was an undeniable misstep, Tom remembers it far more fondly than some of the communiqués he decoded/“listened to” during his top secret spy days preceding the demolition of the Berlin wall. Of course, we asked him to share.
“That is one thing I can’t talk about,” he admits – not in the pop culture “but then I’d have to kill you” iteration of the cliché, but rather with every bit of matter-of-fact loyalty, coupled with the “hope that this will be the last time you’ll ask because the answer will be the same” discomfort, that resonates from deep within service veterans.
While his current 6’5”, former WWF championesque-stature and physique may not immediately align with your preconception of what an enlisted man-turned-spy should look like, the gentle mannered techie-by-choice did offer, “In the world of international politics, there is no such thing as clean hands. But I also learned that people still mattered, so I wanted to find a way to help on an individual basis.”
So Tom’s time with the Army ended a bit earlier than had been originally planned – due to Russia’s withdrawal from E. Berlin, making obsolete his specialization and furthered by some ‘military downsizing’ back home – and he found himself back in the job market, wondering which way he wanted to go.
“While I was in the service, it was common knowledge that my level of clearance might be valuable to companies, but as one might imagine, despite the clearance, most organizations in the public or private sectors don’t have the need for a decorated linguistic code buster, clearance or not,” he shared. Then with an impromptu twinkle in his eye, adds, “So I took a job as a Computer Warehouse manager.”
Looking back, Tom will tell you that the long hours managing the daily operations of a retail outfit was not his idea of career fulfillment. That being said, there was one perk that was keeping him in the game.
“All of the major software companies used to include evaluation/demo copies of their products. That way we could see them, experience them, and could do a better job of moving their new releases off of our shelves. I would get my hands on new versions of Adobe, QuarkXPress, you name it. Not only did I find I had some gumption for learning how to maneuver through these programs, I fell in love with design and development,” he recalled. In no time, Tom was designing banners, flyers, and all sorts of collateral for his store as well as some things for their corporate office.
“I decided I wanted to do it professionally, so I enrolled in school,” he said. But when he got there, he realized the endless hours he had spent on the clock, experimenting with the latest software offerings, had given him a slightly more expansive foundation than the typical freshman. When his teachers realized his breadth of knowledge, he was given some TA positions to earn some extra money while he finished up his degree.
Just after school, Tom left Arizona and moved to Iowa for a short while, to attend to some personal/familial matters. During his time there, Tom worked as a pagination specialist for the Daily Reporter where he finally learned how to spell, “Wednesday.” In just a year’s time, the young man and his family returned to Arizona. He was ready to jumpstart his burgeoning career.
“My college had a great outplacement department for graduates,” he remembered. “One of my first days back in Arizona, I headed down to give them my resume and to see if they had any solid corporate leads. While I was there, the lady at the desk asked me, ‘you can do all this? Wait here.’
“When she returned, it was with the Dean of Faculty by her side. He shook my hand and asked if I had time for an interview. I looked down at my shorts and flip flops and said, ‘if you don’t mind, I don’t mind,’” he recalled, adding, “I started my new position as a design instructor the very next day.”
Two years later, despite inspiring relationships and watching the development of his students, Tom realized he still yearned to work in his craft, not just impart his knowledge to others. Again, it was time to evolve.
He soon took a position with AZ Sites, the progenitors of 944 Magazine. During his time, he was assigned to a special project with Clear Channel where he worked directly with their Internet Resources Director. It wasn’t long before the radio conglomerate made him an offer.
“As Sr. Web Developer and Photographer, I really loved the radio environment. My job was a whole lot of fun. I worked with great people, and I got to meet countless celebrities who came by for interviews and guest appearances,” he shares.
There are three names Tom gives that weren’t nearly the most visible of celebrities he met, but to him, inarguably the most memorable – two because they were the nicest people he’d ever met, and one for being quite the opposite. “Shirley MacLain was a huge diva, but slightly more intolerable,” he smiles, but “Cloris Leachman (Oscar Winner and oldest-ever Dancing with the Stars contestant) was charming and very, very funny, and Richard Kiel (7’2” Jaws from James Bond) was the most down-to-earth, unassuming man I have ever met. And that still holds true today.”
Seven years at Clear Channel were great for Tom, and his experience led directly to a similar position/promotion with Phoenix CBS radio. “On paper, it was a dream job. And really, by most intents and purposes, it was on a day to day basis. More of what I liked about Clear Channel, and more money. I suppose most would have been content.”
Of course, we would be remiss if we forgot to share Tom’s tale of Christmas past. He was seven years old and had just tore open the packaging of the iconic, Science Fair 65 in 1 Electronic Project Kit. “I loved that thing,” Tom insisted, and as he spoke you could see he had breached the space-time continuum, returning to his child-like imagination and perception, describing in detail every spring, transistor, and the myriad application possibilities, therewith. You could see why a guy like Tom would voluntarily part ways from an industry that had been so good to him and his family. Tom is a guy who was born to be immersed in technology. His ideal environment includes full immersion in his craft – a situation where he may be ever-surrounded by like-minded, passionate “technology-junkie leaders,” so he may deliver his special brand of expertise to the advancement of his chosen industry’s footprint – specifically as it relates to improving the lives of individuals and small businesses, so they may compete at the top of their respective competitive sets.
One year later, Tom knew what he wanted and decided he was going to find it come hell or high water. Of course, his search took another entire year. Sure, he could have headed to Silicon Valley or another more tech-centric city than Phoenix to ease his search. But, as a family guy, he knew he had to find his “work playground” right in the Valley of the Sun. “If I had been looking to be a golf course greens keeper or a hotel manager, the prospects out here would have been far more readily available.”
Then, the position opened at Newtek. “When I was first called in for an interview, I did my homework. I couldn’t believe how many incredible offerings the Company had for Small Business owners. Everything from SBA loans, to payroll services, insurance, web design, hosting – you name it, they did it.” Tom ran to tell his wife about the available position and was brimming with excitement. “Then it hit me,” he says.
Um, what hit you Tom?
The imaginative designer, who just returned moments ago from his trip down memory lane to youthful days spent building electronic masterpieces with his Science Fair 65 in 1 kit, was gone again. This time, he had transported back to the days just before his first interview with Newtek.
He described, “The most horrible thought hit me. What if I didn’t get the position? What if I was too nervous and botched the interview? What if someone in development didn’t like me or didn’t think I was an ideal cultural fit? What if I spilled coffee on my shirt on the way in? Should I skip coffee? What if I skip coffee and I am not as sharp …
“I didn’t really ever get that kind of nervous. Okay, well maybe a little, but nothing quite like that. Still, I just knew that Newtek was a perfect fit and I knew that the interview could mean the realization of a dream. I couldn’t screw it up, and that thought had me virtually paralyzed.”
So what happened, Tom?
“I went in,” he said, pausing to let the moment build (apparently some front end developers have a feel for drama and timing with regard to the spoken word.)
“And I nailed it! I nailed the interview. I got in, sat down, and was immediately comfortable. And I loved it. I had a great time and thought I did amazingly well. I went home and told my wife they were definitely going to call. This was it!”
Well, obviously they did, because here you are, right?
“Well,” he acknowledged by nodding his head, “Sort of.”
“I mean, they told me sometimes things took awhile with HR because Newtek is headquartered in New York.”
Tom clarified, “So, the next three weeks at my current job were the longest three weeks of my life.”
But then you were offered the position?
“Oh yeah. I have been here 3 years now and I am staying until they kick me out. And at my size, that would take a lot of kickin’” he laughs, and then qualifies, “I love my work, I love our clients, and I love our team. I am sorry it took me so long to find Newtek, but had it not – I would never have come to appreciate every single day like I do. I am so blessed to be a part of this team. It is really special here,” Tom offers with his gentle-giant sincerity.
And, if you need proof of Tom’s dedication, you can see a plaque hanging by the second floor employee break room. It has his name and just above that, it reads, “Newtek Chairman’s Club Award 2012.” It turns out, the kit-building, spy-turned-teacher, husband, parent, radio web manager/photographer, and super-developer is loved by Newtek as much as he loves it.
And other than disclosing that every day during lunch, the self-described videophile (that’s nothing gross, it just means he watches lots of videos) sits at his desk and watches a movie or TV show while he eats his lunch, I think that covers everything you would ever need to know about Tom Morine.
However, if this hefty dose of the developer extraordinaire has entertained you enough, that you would like to learn a bit more about what a guy like this does in his free time (particularly if you are interested in how to custom build a home computer powerful enough to run a whole country), I totally recommend you reading these two blogs (this one first – then this one) Tom contributed to Newtek Web Services’ Technology Blog. They are a bit nerdy in scope, but certainly interesting, and alright, kind of well-written too.