Ode to Flickr

Over the last 9 years, I’ve had a few things in my life that have benefited me both professionally and personally that have all tied back to Flickr.

In 2003, Canon had released the first sub-$1000 digital SLR camera, the Canon EOS 300D aka the EOS Digital Rebel. The 300D paved the way for entry level consumers to get involved with the world of digital SLRs, previously the cheapest option was the Canon 10D, available at $2,000. You could now learn photography with full control over your camera and have instant feedback without burning through rolls of film.

I joined Flickr in June of 2005. I was checking the site everyday for months prior, viewing the explore page and wondering how people were taking such incredible photos. How were people getting that “blur” in the background of their photos, and why couldn’t I get that effect with my Nikon Coolpix 2500 camera I had at the time? Researching what made the backgrounds “blurry” (which I later learned is called bokeh, and is related to aperture size), I was introduced into the world of DSLRs.

Each day I would check Flickr and I was realizing my current camera was not going to cut it for taking the types of photos I wanted. Not being able to control the ISO, shutter speed or aperture on my camera was holding me back from learning more about photography. I began researching cameras like crazy on dpreview, reading about Nikon vs Canon. Canon and Nikon both had just released followups to their first DSLRs the 350D and the D70s. I decided I really wanted the 350D and began saving all the money I could, combined with some money I got from my 21st birthday, I was able to finally purchase my first “real” camera in June of 2005.

I joined the original “Delete Me” group and took part in getting my photos torn apart with no filter on the critiques. I loved all the sub-communities Flickr had created from the groups and would spend hours reading discussions and browsing photos in them. I learned about famous photographers and started to begin to appreciate what made their work special. I fell in love with street photography even though to this day I still can’t get over being comfortable taking a strangers photo.

After a year of uploading photos I was fortunate enough that people started reaching out to me for permission to use some of my photos. Small things at first, a Christmas music album cover and marketing materials . My first “big” break came in February 2010, CBS Sunday Morning news contacted me to use a photo I took of Joe Ades, a street salesmen who sold peelers in Union Square. He had passed away and they were doing a feature on him, I granted them the rights to use my photo in the story and it aired on CBS.

A year later, the High Line park in NYC would contact me to ask for my photo to be used for their annual fundraising gala. It was used as the background for the official invitation and was blown up to cover the walls behind the bars at the event. They granted me two tickets in exchange for the photo. It was an amazing feeling to see a photo I took on display like that. Fast forward a year later, the High Line contacted me again to use my photo in a book that was being written about the High Line, during this time, they also separately were having a contest for a photo be chosen for sale in their store with proceeds of the sale going towards the maintenance of the park. That same photo eventually won the contest and is still available for sale on the High Line today (although my mom and girlfriend just bought up all the copies at the park store during our Mother’s day visit).

After graduating college in 2006 I briefly toyed with the idea of moving out to San Francisco to try and get a job working at Flickr, possibly doing web development. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to take my Computer Science degree. Instead I stayed in NY, and started working as a Systems Administrator. In 2009, I came across a talk from John Allspaw and Paul Hammond, who were then the head of the Operations and Engineering group at Flickr. The talk was at O’Reilly’s Velocity conference and was about how Flickr’s operation’s and engineering teams worked together. I had no idea a community existed of operations folks, nor did I know there were even conferences dedicated to what I did for a living. Watching that talk completely changed my outlook on my job as a system’s administrator. I realized there was so much more I could be doing to make myself better at my job and to help those around me at work. That talk was my first view into the web operations community and from there I started reading about what other people were doing in my field and how they were solving problems. Several years later I got to attend my first Velocity conference out in Santa Clara and it was awesome. So thank you John and Paul for doing your talk. In 2012, Paul did another great talk on “Infrastructure for Startups” , that again, completely resonated with me.

A couple years after John and Paul gave their talk at Velocity, John moved out to NY to take a job at Etsy as the VP of Operations.

While working at Bitly a couple of years ago, we hired Matthew Rothenberg aka “mroth” who was previously the head of product at Flickr. I think he spent the first couple of weeks at Bitly just answering my fan-boy questions about Flickr. He even got my account hooked up with a beta feature at the time. Mroth introduced me to John who was nice enough to grab lunch with me at Etsy and give me some great career advice along with Mike Rembetsy (One of the people responsible for hiring me at my first job out of college).

Flickr gave me a hobby I may not have ever enjoyed as much as I do now and provided a platform that led to others to be able to enjoy my work. The lessons shared by the people working at Flickr made me better at my job and introduced me to a community I didn’t know existed at the time.