Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Palantir - To the Future and Beyond?

Recently, my good friend John Carrino stopped by Seattle to do some recruiting for Palantir, his new company (John used to work for Amazon, even on the team that I recently joined, but left this last June). It was really great to see John again, and evidently Palo Alto is treating him and Robin (his girlfriend) well. While he was in Seattle, he mentioned that his company was doing a recruiting event, so I decided to attend.

I've never been to a startup recruiting event before, but this one was pretty jazzy. It sorta felt like like dot-com late 90s. The event was held at an expensive downtown hotel (Hotel 1000), and it was very posh. The event was catered and had an open bar (I think they won over about half the people with just that fact). Josh (another former Amazonian) was also there, and it was great to have a very nice meal with both of them (as well as Catherine, one of Josh's BillMonk colleges). The niceness of the setting aside, the presentation was extremely compelling.

They started by talking about the development of one of their two products, the government application (I believe called simply Palantir). This is a program for government analysts, to try to make sense of large amounts of data to spot suspicious behavior. Very big brother, but awesome nonetheless. Just the interface alone was extremely cool. Evidently its all done in swing (java), but you really can't tell by looking at it. Everything was done up with images, slick opening and closing. But the real meat of the presentation was how powerfully they are able to work with the data. Every time we thought we had seen everything, they blew our minds again with a whole additional set of functionality, with a clear and compelling interface. The collaboration tools and the abstraction of work with metaphors familiar to the user is a really really powerful concept. It was extremely exciting, compelling.

After that they talked a little bit about the company life. They definitely have the excitement factor down. They also seem to be playing to the creature comfort desires of programmers. Two catered meals a day, great office space, a game room.. All the hallmarks of a fun startup.

After this they went on to the financial software. It used similar abstraction techniques to the government application, but was fairly obviously a less polished product. That's not a real knock, I believe its been in development for a lot less time, and the functionality looked incredible, once again, it was just that the shine wasn't quite there.

One thing that became quite clear to me was that their software was extremely focused. It seems obvious to me that without experience in the two target demographics, I would not be able to make the best use of the software, not even close. This lead me to wondering about the future of programming. Are we all going to have an extremely targeted application custom built for our field of work? I think we might, because a really compelling interface can be the greatest thing ever for productivity and general happiness.

I'm convinced that both products, and the company in general, is going to make it fairly big. If they can parley all their great talent into software useful for other areas (programming?? please!), I think they could be huge. John is in for an exciting ride :).


Joe Kull said...

Wow, what a great name for a product like that.

Ben said...

yeah, very cool name... Very cool product as well. Check out their blog for some screenshots of their awesome UI... you won't believe that its implemented in swing!