With more than one billion monthly users, Instagram is the world’s top photo-sharing mobile app, capturing life’s moments in photos and videos for an online audience. Instagram has become a household name with the help of TU alumnus Philip McAllister (BS ’04).
The eighth original employee, McAllister joined Instagram on the ground floor when it resided in a tiny office space in San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood. McAllister previously worked at another social networking start-up,
Gowalla Inc., which allowed users to check in and share their location with friends. Valuable experience as an Android engineer groomed him for his upcoming important role at Instagram.
“I saw a lot of potential because Instagram didn’t have an Android app,” McAllister said. “It was a huge opportunity to accelerate the business.”
About a week after Instagram launched the Android app, Facebook announced it would acquire the company. Instagram boomed in nearly every aspect of its business, and McAllister transitioned from an individual engineer to eventually managing the mobile engineering department.
“Our company is constantly scaling and changing,” he said. “My largest responsibility now is helping build a team that makes sure Instagram is the place you visit to see the world’s moments — to ensure it’s a well-engineered, fast, high-quality app.”
McAllister never dreamed he would one day work in an office located at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, but he has paid his dues. Before joining Instagram four years ago, he worked at several other Silicon Valley start-ups where he felt comfortable in small team environments. It reminded him of TU and his collaborations with Professors John Hale and Sujeet Shenoi.
“Because I went to TU and worked in an engineering lab, I was attracted to start-ups,” McAllister said. “Large companies felt foreign to me.”
A native Tulsan, McAllister graduated from Jenks High School. After hearing about the quality of TU’s engineering programs and with encouragement from his grandfather, McAllister pursued a degree in computer science. His fascination with the liberal arts led to a brief stint as a history major in TU’s Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, but McAllister soon realized his academic strengths were best suited for the engineering college.
“My dad bought a computer for me when I was really young, and I picked up books from the library about programming,” he said. “I highly encourage everyone to get at least some exposure to computer science education.”
McAllister graduated from TU’s nationally recognized Cyber Corps program and worked two years at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Career stops in California, parts of Asia and Austin, Texas, led him back to Silicon Valley where he continues to keep in touch with several of his TU classmates. The computer science class of 2004 has proven to be an exceptional group of professionals, including St. Louis oncologist Jesse Keller, Intel software engineer Todd Kosloff, cybersecurity engineering manager Tony Meehan, TU Assistant Professor Tyler Moore and Silicon Valley attorney Jon Novotny.
“They all went on to do really incredible things,” McAllister said. “The caliber of students I studied with at TU can stand toe-to-toe with the professionals of Silicon Valley’s top technology companies.”
Instagram’s popularity and functions continue evolving, but McAllister said his TU degree prepared him for such an innovative role.
“I received a truly well-rounded education,” he said. “It was tremendous for me.”