Collecting Cameras

Lessons learned selling old cameras

Over the last few years I’ve sold many cameras from my collection. It’s been a surprising adventure. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

I can list a camera so much faster on my blog’s For Sale page than I can on eBay. Really, listing on eBay is kind of a hassle.

Kodak Six-20
Sold!

I’ve had several bad buyers on eBay, but I’ve had zero problems with people who’ve bought gear through my blog. I’m sure that day will come, but so far everyone has been personable and cheerful about buying from me via my For Sale page.

Sometimes buyers send me very nice emails sharing about their own collections and why they are so excited to receive the camera they bought from me. I enjoy getting those emails and responding to them. It makes the whole experience much more personal, I think for both me and buyers, than is possible on eBay.

Shipping supplies cost money, but I’ve found ways to manage the cost. Amazon A3 boxes are just right for nearly every camera-shipping situation at 10″ x 7″ x 5.25″. More than half of the stuff we buy from Amazon comes in A3 boxes.

I do run out of A3 boxes from time to time. The CVS around the corner keeps 8″ x 8″ x 8″ boxes stocked at about a buck and half each and they’re almost as good as those A3s. I’ve even resorted to buying boxes on Amazon. You can buy any size you can imagine, in bulk. They usually put them into a box to ship them — a shipping box shipping shipping boxes.

Bubble wrap is expensive, but I’ve found no alternative for wrapping cameras. It’s cheapest at Walmart. To fill in the rest of the box I use packing peanuts or sealed-air packs. I get plenty of that stuff in the shipments my family gets all the time.

Always buy the 3M packaging tape. Everything else is junk — the dispensers don’t work well, the tape is thin and hard to work with, or both.

I always want to pay for shipping via PayPal, since that’s where I keep my funds from these sales (and from blog ad revenue and book sales). You can pay for shipping and print USPS labels directly from PayPal here. And now the USPS offers PayPal payment online, too, at Click-N-Ship here.

My wife owns a good kitchen scale that goes up to six pounds. It’s been a godsend. Before marrying her I used to weigh packages by stepping on my bathroom scale with and without the box in my hands, and subtracting. A couple times a buyer contacted me to say my bathroom-scale method resulted in postage due. D’oh! I cheerfully sent them the postage cost with my apology.

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Essay

Hiring managers and recruiters: tell the candidates you didn’t select that they didn’t get the job

As I start my new job today I am going to vent a little about how few companies got back to me after any conversation about, or even my application for, a position they had available.

Closed

There was one shining exception, a small and privately held software company. My interviewers there included the CEO, who is from a prominent family in my city. He called me a few days after our interview. “I’m sorry to say that you are our number two candidate,” he began. “I’m sure this is not the news you want to hear. But I’m calling you personally to say that you impressed us all. It’s just that the fellow we hired has direct experience building integrations to a couple of our customers’ systems, and we need that in the short term much more than we need leadership like you offer. It was a tough call. But I can imagine all sorts of places I could plug you in later, if you’re open to me calling you back when the time is right. And now you have my personal number, so if you ever think I can help you with anything, please call me.”

What a class act. A quick email would have done the job but this CEO didn’t lose the opportunity to make a fan out of me.

The only other company to officially tell me “thanks, but no thanks” was a mid-sized medical services company with a large internal software-development team. Seven weeks after my interview their recruiter emailed me to say they had chosen another candidate. He admitted that the holidays had delayed their decision process, at least.

No outlet

A colleague referred me for a job at his company. He and I and the hiring manager all worked together at the same company several years ago. I thought the interview went great and I was excited about the opportunity. But then I heard nothing for a few weeks. I reached out. The manager said that he was pursuing a couple other candidates but that I wasn’t out of the running. I never heard back from him or his recruiter again. It’s been almost two months since then. Certainly they chose one of the other candidates.

No other company with which I had interviews followed up with me at all.

I applied to a dozen or so jobs where I did not get an interview. Only one communicated with me at all about my status as a candidate.

I could have followed up with these companies myself. But one company made an offer, a good one. As I tried to read the tea leaves of my active opportunities I could see nobody else was going to offer me anything better before my family’s finances got rough. I accepted and moved on.

Wash out

I’m not upset that I wasn’t chosen for the other jobs. Every job search involves hearing “no thanks” a number of times before hearing “you’re hired.” Even though I know I could have done well in each job for which I interviewed, there could have been candidates in the running that offered something valuable that I didn’t.

But I wanted to hear the “no thanks” and have the loop closed. I hated having so many balls in the air. It would have let me move on cleanly as I continued to pursue other opportunities. And, daggone it, it’s just professional to do so.

From now on, whenever I fill a position on a team I lead, I will either personally write the “thanks, but no thanks” notes, or confirm that my recruiter did.

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Personal

Day one

I start my new job today, as a manager of engineers in a large software company.

I’m happy to be going back to work. It was nice in a way to have the last month off, unpaid as it was. I needed some serious downtime and I got it. But I felt unmoored. I like to work.

The job search was challenging for a number of reasons. First, in the last couple months of the year many companies just push off hiring to January. I heard it over and over: we could use someone like you during the first quarter of next year. Awesome, but I’ll be homeless by then.

Second, I began looking while I was still reeling from getting the sack. I was fired after a crazy difficult ten months under new executive leadership. I think I did an exceptional job leading the engineers through a chaotic time, and I had been praised for my work. To find myself no longer wanted was deeply confusing and upsetting.

Everyone asked why I was let go, and I struggled to tell the story. As the days stretched into weeks, I kept unpacking what happened and it changed how I told it. No two people heard the same story, though everything I said to everyone was true. Also, I was still angry and really wanted to say some things that, while true, put some people at my past company in an unflattering light. That never goes over well, so I avoided it. But that left gaps in my story, which led to questions I couldn’t answer well.

One way to Lucas Oil

Third, despite my successes I had a weak story to tell about being a leader of engineers. I just hadn’t been doing it long enough — only 16 months. I had been in QA (software testing) leadership for the previous 18 years.

I was fortunate to shift into engineering, as changes in my industry are leading to fewer QA leadership roles. And I was ready for new mountains to climb — I’d done everything I ever wanted to do in QA.

I have a great story to tell about delivering a very good quality “version 1.0” software product in a short time. It impressed everyone who heard it. But as people asked questions that would reveal my depth, I had to lean on my QA experience, which didn’t connect with them.

Fourth, my technical skills kept being a concern to interviewers. I’m far more technical than the average person, but I lack a deep understanding of the technologies my last few employers used. I am convinced that it’s a rare unicorn who can be deeply good both in technology and in leadership. Becoming the leader I am has required my full attention over the last 10 years and it meant letting my technical skills go stale. But I feel certain that the leader who had focused on technology would not have had the same success I did building leadership alignment on direction, and bringing my engineers through that startup’s “version 1.0” delivery as well as through the chaotic, difficult months that followed. 

Yet nearly everyone I spoke to had some level of concern — dare I call it bias? — that I’d need to be a committed technologist to be able to lead engineers. It’s bunk. Here’s a great article that explains how your VP (or Director) of Engineering is different from your Chief Architect or Chief Technology Officer. Search Google for “VP Engineering vs CTO” — you’ll find many similar articles. I’m a classic Director of Engineering, with strong people and process skills, and enough technical skills to get by.

Still, there’s no way to escape that I did not spend enough time in the technology at my last company. I took a JavaScript course online and read a book on functional programming so I could understand the approach and language the engineers were using. But I can’t draw you an architectural diagram of that application, can’t tell you much about how the application is configured on the server, and know little about the state of the codebase and what challenges lie ahead in it. I needed to know those things as Director of Engineering. There were just so many challenges I needed to solve at that company with straight-up leadership that I kept deferring getting into the tech. I will not make that mistake again.

This reminds me of 18 years ago when I pivoted from technical writing into QA. I’d been a technical writer for a long time, and I’d done all I cared to do in the field. I liked to joke that if I had to write open the File menu and choose Print one more time I was gonna go postal. The company I worked for offered me a QA role, leading a test-automation team and building a lab of testing hardware. I did that job for barely two years, during which time the dot-com bubble burst and September 11 happened. Software companies everywhere went into tailspins. The one where I worked went through waves of layoffs. I got caught in one of them.

After three months of unemployment I got picked up by a large health-insurance company. I was to be a QA engineer, testing software applications for them. My QA story was weak; I had not done it long enough. I think they liked that they could pick me up for cheap. I’m glad they did as it kept the wolves from the door. 

It was both a difficult place to work because of its top-down control culture, and an easy place to work because the expectations weren’t high. On that job I built solid experience as a tester, and then as a manager of testers. And then in the craziest thing that ever happened to me in my career, I was fired and un-fired from that company. Read that story here. I eventually left on my own, my QA cred well established. I had zero trouble getting jobs, and had great success building QA practices from scratch at several other software companies.

I hope I’m in a similar place in this job that begins today: about to build deeper experience and credibility as an engineering leader. I’m going to rest on my leadership skills as they are and switch back to learning technology. I will know how the product is architected, will understand what headwinds we face in the codebase, will know how it is deployed to and configured on the servers that run it, and will learn how to do at least basic things in the programming language they use (Java). I was able to do all of these things early in my career, and I know I can learn it all again in these modern technologies. That will set me up well for the rest of my career, wherever it leads.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Woohoo, here’s the new year’s first set of the best blog posts I read all week!

💻 Thinking about publishing your own photographic blog or Web site? EM from Emulsive has solid advice for you this week. Read How to Build a photography web site in 2019…what you need to know

Snowy pine
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Agfa APX 100 (x-7/98), 2018.

💻 I enjoy the financial advice of Mr. Money Mustache and was saddened to read in his post last week that his marriage didn’t make it. But he shares a model for how divorce doesn’t have to be financially devastating. It does depend on your soon-to-be-ex cooperating with you, which isn’t always possible. Read The Economics of Divorce

💻 I’ve started to look at photographs by accomplished photographers to see what I can learn from them. Andrew Tonn agrees: the best way to learn is to study the masters. Read How to Be a Better Photographer: Study Greatness

📷 Mark O’Brien offers a history of Fuji’s early SLRs and a solid review of a Fuji SLR from the late 1970s. Read The Fujica STX-1 SLR

📷 Peggy Anne bought a Canon IV SB2, had it CLA’d, and fell in love. Read Canon IV SB2

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Photography, Preservation

Welcome to Chinatown

Chinatown, Chicago

Our visit to Chicago included a ride on the L down to Chinatown. We just wanted to see it.

Chinatown Metra stop, Chicago

Our view of it began as we exited the train. It stretches out right there before you.

Chinatown, Chicago

Our visit consisted mostly of walking down and back up Chinatown’s main drag, Wentworth Avenue. We were surprised by how varied the buildings’ facades were.

Chinatown, Chicago
Chinatown, Chicago
Chinatown, Chicago

Ours were the only Caucasian faces out and about here this Sunday morning. While nobody appeared to give us a second glance as we walked and made photographs, I had a distinct feeling of not belonging.

Chinatown, Chicago

At least the Chinese Christian Union Church had a very kind word for everyone, emblazoned on the side of their building.

Chinatown, Chicago

Canon PowerShot S95

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Cathedral

Turbaned man passing a Catholic church by
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

Have you ever made a photograph and then, later, you noticed something in it that made the image? This is one of those times for me.

Margaret and I happened upon St. Peter’s Church, on W. Madison St. in the Loop in Chicago. It’s such a stunning structure that we had to pause for photographs. Madison St. is relatively narrow, and I couldn’t back up enough to capture the whole building. So I looked for interesting framing within what I could capture.

The building’s symmetry appealed to me — my goodness, but do I love symmetry — so I went for that. Then today, while reviewing these images, I noticed the man in the turban passing by. What a joyful juxtaposition!

Photography

single frame: Turbaned man passing a Catholic church by

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Image