Story Behind Hackathon Photo

I’ve seen this photo on the internet, sometimes even billboards and posters. Maybe you’ve seen it too? Here’s the story behind it.

In 2017 I was working on React Native team. We were friends with all other developer experience teams around Facebook. One of them worked on Nuclide (RIP), a set of plugins for Atom editor turning it into multi-platform IDE. Nuclide struggled with adoption outside Facebook walls.

Around that time, Unsplash was becoming very popular. They were the first to provide high quality stock photos for free (very bold strategy for its time). Their photos were spreading like a wildfire.

So I had this “genius” idea: make a photo of MacBook Pro with Atom/Nuclide running on it, upload it to Unsplash and get programming blog posts use it as their cover photo (for free). People will notice a cool looking editor and will start asking “what is it?”, eventually finding Nuclide (now you know why I’m not working in marketing).

I took my old Canon 6D to the office and we did a photoshoot. I uploaded the picture (along with others from my Lightroom collection, to make it less sketchy).

Nuclide/Atom on MacBook Pro

The plan didn’t work. The image got some downloads, but not much. It was lost in a sea of similar pictures. A year later, Facebook gave up on Nuclide and marketing efforts became irrelevant.

However, one thing came out of this process I did not expect.

Together with the Nuclide photo, I uploaded a picture I took that year in Ukraine. I was a judge at DevChallenge hackathon in Kyiv, and during the break I snapped a few photos with a wide 24mm lens. I really liked how concentrated everyone was, staff members walking the rows, the uniformity, lighting, stickers on the notebooks. I don’t think the photo was very good by photography standards, but I loved the spirit of that place and wanted to capture it.

Other pictures from that hackathon in Kyiv

During the uploading process Unsplash asked if I wanted to submit my pictures to their first ever “Unsplash Awards” and I thought “sure why not?”.

I forgot about this for a while, until several months later I got an email from Unspash notifying me that I won “Unsplash Awards 2017” in “Tech and business”.

In a way, Alex’s photo captures a reflection of modern life: staring at a screen. Our lives, especially in our twenties, feels like a competition. From school, to university, to getting a job and progressing through our careers – it’s a never ending competition. The photo draws your eyes out across the rows of workers, all seemingly identical – but at the same time, showing small hints of color and personality from every worker that highlight and humanizes their unique history and personality. It makes me think of 20 years from now, what technology will be ubiquitous. – Niv Dror, ProductHunt/Angelist

They sent me a bunch of cool prizes: PeakDesign Messenger bag, straps and clips, Moment lens for iPhone, and even a printed version of my photo.

Now, looking at it, I do regret not processing the picture more: the horizon line is a bit tilted, you can spot chromatic abberation, the windows are overexposed.

Today that picture has 57 million views and used all over the internet. It even ended up on Hacker News with the classic “It looks like a sweatshop” and “exact type of workplace I wouldn’t want anyone to end up” comments.

Conclusions? None, I guess. I just love how a stream of random events brought this to life.

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I write about programming, software design and side projects Subscribe