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November 10, 2010 / TechFemme

Caterina Fake, Building And Growing One Successful Tech Company After Another

Caterina Fake, Co-Founder, Flickr and Hunch

I’m pretty sure I would have been too nervous to actually speak regularly to Caterina Fake, on the phone.  Although I spend lots of time speaking with amazing women in tech and am impressed by all of them, Caterina’s has been a long-time idol of mine.  Any one of her many well-documented accomplishments would constitute a wildly successful career on its own, yet she keeps putting them out there, one after the other.  Caterina co-founded Flickr, one of the most popular photo-sharing and management applications out there as well as Hunch, a website that personalizes the internet by learning what you like and then recommending other things you’ll like.  If Hunch sounds incredible and ambitious, that’s because it is.  Its recommendations for me were so specific and appropriate, it was almost eerie.

I’ve sent out many profile requests for TechFemme and not everyone responds quickly, if they respond at all.  Caterina responded almost immediately, even after I accidentally addressed her by another name (note: must not multitask when writing to potential TechFemme profiles). In order to save time and simplify the process, Caterina recommended that I send her a few questions by email.  I was slightly relieved at this suggestion – I’m almost certain I would have been too excited and to conduct a normal interview over the phone, even though her emails were always light and very friendly.  Here are her insights:

How did your career in tech get started?

I was always on computers as a child, and had one starting when I was a teenager – now many or even most teenagers in the US have one, but at the time it was something fairly nerdy. But I never thought of it as anything other than an interesting hobby til years later and I sought to parlay my aesthetic talents in painting and art into web design.

How was Flickr born?  Where did the idea come from?  How did you build  it?

It’s a misconception that web sites are born or that the ideas come fully formed in Eureka! type moments. The way software gets designed is a process and involves many people; they come from inspiration more than ideas springing fully formed. Flickr evolved over many months, even years to become what it is today, but its initial idea was a
chat into which you could drag and drop photos. We later called it Flickr Live, but that was the original idea. We shut it down after 9 months or so, I don’t remember exactly when.

What’s your role in tech at Etsy?  Are there other female developers and engineers at Etsy as well?

I am on the board of directors at Etsy, so not involved in the operations of Etsy. There are dozens of women at Etsy!

Where did the idea for Hunch come from?

Again, it evolved rather than emerged as a fully formed idea.

You’ve been involved in numerous tech startups. What would you say to women that want to do the same?  How would you advise them to start?

I would say, jump right in, just start building something! If you don’t know how to code, partner with someone who does; or start learning! Apprentice yourself at an existing startup, learn all you can, and get cracking!

It’s no secret that there aren’t many women in tech careers – how would  you recommend we get girls interested in tech careers at a young age?

It’s great, for example, you’re publishing this blog for women in tech. The women in tech that are visible and representing, the more women in tech we’ll see in the future.

You can imagine my blushing happiness at Caterina’s compliment  of my blog.  Every time I speak to a TechFemme profile interviewee or get an email from one of you congratulating/praising/thanking me for this blog, it further reinforces my mission.  Let’s keep getting the word out about all the wonderful women working in technology to build, create, and change things.  Whether you’re reading your first How-To-Program book (eg. many of us) or building one successful tech company after another (eg. Caterina), profiling you will show girls of all ages the multitude of fabulous options for a career in technology.  And that’s where it starts.

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