Last month, I spoke at an event for NCWIT, a terrific organization that supports encouraging women in high-tech. I was asked to present an award to Caterina Fake, the talented entrepreneur who brought the world Flickr, Hunch, and Findery. I was humbled by the opportunity and my only disappointment was that Caterina fell ill and was forced to miss the ceremony, so I didn’t have a chance to meet her personally. Caterina did send two great people as her proxies and, after I made my presentation, I promised them that I would write up my remarks so that Caterina could read them. They also offered to have me visit and actually meet her once my schedule calms down a bit (twist my arm). But while I thought I was just paying homage to Caterina’s indirect impact on my life, I was overwhelmed with the positive reaction to what I said and how it hit home with so many of the attendees. As I finally got around to documenting my speech, I realized that there’s some value in sharing it with the world. As the discussion of women in the workplace heats up with Sheryl Sandberg’s (excellent) book “Lean In”, understanding and empathizing with the challenges of women in the workplace becomes all the more important and I feel the need to increase my awareness as someone with two daughters. So I thought I’d share my comments here on the blog to help people understand why entrepreneurs like Caterina are so important to fathers like me that have high aspirations for their girls…
NCWIT Symons Award Presentation, February 21, 2013, Menlo Park, CA
I am not the original person that was supposed to deliver this award as I am filling in for my manager. So when I was asked to present an award, I immediately thought, “Oh geez, I don’t care about giving anyone an award.” I usually really dislike these sorts of events and was wondering if I could pawn it off on someone else. I was then told the award was going to Caterina Fake and my concern changed. Suddenly, I thought, “Oh geez, I’m not worthy to give an award to such an amazing woman.” Of course, that quickly gave way to the excitement of finally meeting her, which is unfortunate since she couldn’t make it today. Still, I was excited to be a part of this event. I asked the NCWIT folks if I could share some personal anecdotes about Caterina and they thought that’d be great. Now that may seem strange since I never actually met her. But as with many people in this room, the work Caterina has done has affected us in ways that don’t require meeting her. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share two stories of why Caterina’s work has meant so much to me. The first part will probably be similar to experiences of many people in this room. The second is a bit more unique, but so important to why we’re here today.
October 13, 2005 was probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, day of my life. That’s when my beautiful daughter Iris came into the world and everything changed. As with most new fathers, I instantly became an amateur photographer. Thanks to Microsoft, which gives paternity leave to its new fathers, I was able to spend four glorious weeks getting to know my new daughter. And rarely were any of those moments undocumented. But after a while, I had all these pictures and anxious grandparents asking me to send them everything. I was getting tired of being a slave to every request. That’s when one of my team members at Microsoft asked me if I had heard about Flickr. He said, “It’s great, you can post all your pictures up there and tag them with whatever you want so that it can be organized easily.” I tried it and was instantly hooked. I was tagging everything from “IrisCrawling” to “IrisSleeping” to “IrisPooping” (well, I’m not sure about that one but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did). As with millions of people, Flickr became this great social experiment and my father and my wife’s parents absolutely loved it as did so many of our friends. Then I found out that Flickr had an API. Wow, even better! The developer in me decided to hack together my own site, which I of course titled “FlickIris” and described as “grandparent-proof”. A smaller set of checkmarkable tags with specific people and actions and quick filtering, so if Grandma wanted all pictures of her with Iris, there they were. I have to say it was pretty cool.
So that’s the first story and I’m sure many of you in this room enjoyed similar experiences in how you fell in love with Flickr and used it to bring your community together. But it’s the second story that it far more unique and appropriate for why we’re here today.
Years later, long after I had lost the account with the FlickIris server, I was going through an old desktop with a local copy of the app. As I was playing with it, I thought it would be cool to share with Iris, who was now much older and might be able to appreciate it more. So I pulled it up to show her what her father had done in her honor. As I clicked through on some of the pictures to the Flickr website, she asked “Did you do that too?” I said “no, those were two other people. Stewart and Caterina.” A look came over my daughter’s face and it’s as if she didn’t hear the first name. With a huge grin on her face, she coyly asked “Cat-e-riiii-na?”, elongating the third syllable as if the name was musical. I was happy to report that, yes, a girl had made this site. She was so excited that for weeks afterwards, any time I was near a computer, she would ask “Can I see Caterina’s site again?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Hey, your dad built a pretty cool site too! Don’t you want to see that?” But it was too late. She found her muse. A GIRL built this site! And such a beautiful name to boot!
Months later, we were watching President Obama’s State of the Union (because, yes, I am one of those parents that makes my kid watch the State of the Union). Out of nowhere, my daughter asks “Daddy, can a girl become President?” I responded, “Of course and I can’t wait until you do it.” We went back to watching the address when I became a little sad that my daughter didn’t have an example I could point to for that aspiration. While some of us are holding out hope for Hillary in 2016, we still haven’t had a female POTUS. Iris didn’t have what so many young African-Americans gained in President Obama. And then I thought of Caterina and what her accomplishments meant for young girls and how my daughter didn’t even need to ask the question about working in tech or starting a company. To understand why this award is so appropriate, you only need to think of my daughter and other little girls who will never doubt it can be done because they’ll have woman like Caterina to look to. As a father, I am forever grateful.
And so it is with great honor that I present the 2013 NCWIT Symons Innovator Award to Caterina Fake.