In fall 2019, it was early in my second year at Stanford, and I didn’t really know what a software job would look like. I was eager to find a software-related internship to learn more. In particular, I wasn’t sure if the things I loved about academic programming — delving deep into the complexity of programming, building my knowledge piece-by-piece — would translate to a setting where results are valued over exploration and knowledge acquisition.

On top of that, I knew the reality of my chances to thrive in tech. It is no secret that Hispanics are underrepresented in tech. I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, and only a handful of my high-school peers have continued to thrive in their college education. Many have opted out of their technical pursuits; others have dropped out of college entirely. For many of my peers, working at technical companies was so farfetched that it could only be thought of as a dream. We weren’t blessed with technical opportunities or mentors. Many of us were unfamiliar with technical interviews. We were pioneering in uncharted territory, finding our own guidance, charting our own maps.

I knew I needed to figure something out. Not only did I want to figure out what industry was truly about, but I wanted to prove to myself that someone like me could thrive in the space.

That’s when I found Palantir Path. It seemed to be the perfect blend for me: an internship geared towards developing computer scientists that still emphasized a need for impact on customers. I remember being absolutely allured as I was presented Palantir’s flagship Foundry and Gotham platforms during the interview. I felt as if I’d jumped 20 years into the future — the technology that I was seeing felt like something I could only see on the next episode of NCIS — yet they were real platforms being used by customers across the globe. Perhaps this was where I could find interest in my work’s application, while still developing as a technologist.

Then, March happened. Lockdowns. Remote-learning. Zoom. Webex. Six feet away. Masks.

Remote internship.

The reality of a remote internship

But now, my mentor was reduced to a moving Webex picture and Slack messages. My exploration of a new city became quarantining in one of the most heavily infected states in America — my home in New York. Team dinners felt unlikely.

Above all, I began to think about how I would be able to produce valuable work from such a situation. Would I get the mentorship I felt I needed? Could I contribute without having ever met my team? Could I even feel a part of the Palantir community?

My first week echoed the fears trapped in my mind. The intricacies of Palantir’s products were daunting. During my first week, I watched countless videos. I scribbled notes, whispering to myself the concepts in an attempt to cement them as quickly as possible. I didn’t want a remote internship to be an excuse, but I was overwhelmed by the number of concepts I had to pick up — some of which, as I predicted, was never even mentioned at university.

To add to my fears, Palantir is one of the few companies that, to my knowledge, treat their interns like full-time engineers. There was no “intern project“ that I needed to complete over the summer. I was a member of my team. Everyone viewed me that way and expected that I would contribute in some way to our overall goals. This was exciting, yet I couldn’t help envisioning one of my code changes causing devastating errors.

Finally, I couldn’t forget my Brooklyn roots. I was, and still am, the trailblazer for people at home. My family, watching me type away all day, was intrigued by my work, but unfamiliar with the world, I was entering. They believed in me, even though the numbers told them that they shouldn’t. Knowing that I was one of the few made me want to show everyone what I could do so that I could continue to widen the door for others to follow. I didn’t see my internship as just an experience for myself, but rather, an opportunity for me to show others what's possible with relentless effort. So as the concepts continued to confuse me, I grew more afraid.

Working through fear

“I’m afraid of trying really hard on figuring this stuff out, but being unable to put it all together when it counts.”

I’m not sure what I expected by revealing this, but I was pleasantly surprised by the response. I wasn’t given baseless reassurances like “You’ll be fine!” or “It’s only your first week.” Rather, my lead took a serious interest in what I had to say and gave me a frame of mind to transition into.

“Palantir values hard work. The people who don’t do well here are the people who don’t work hard.”

That sentence has stuck with me. It’s not just a statement about Palantir, but life in general. To expect mastery in a field without prior experience is pointless and unrealistic. The true metric for growth should be the strategies one is employing to improve, and the work that they’re putting in to achieve their goals.

The next few weeks of the internship were just as confusing as the first. I still had a shaky understanding of our services, was still learning Java for the first time, and was navigating communicating remotely with a team that I hadn’t met before. None of those hardships were magically lifted by the conversation with my lead.

However, I viewed my challenges differently. Each new challenge was an opportunity for me to become that much better at my work. An opportunity to learn a new programming paradigm, analyze a debugging strategy, or practice communicating. And though the challenges were foreign, the strategy for success was familiar. Work hard. Ask questions. Experiment. Fail. Keep trying.

Equipped with this mindset, I devised some steps I continue to follow vigorously to this day. I realized quickly that a remote internship brings the same struggles as an in-person internship, only amplified. But with my new paradigms and rules, I found my role as a Palantirian.

Rules for success

Communicate often

Similarly, every time I am stumped by a problem, I detail to my mentor my thought processes and approaches towards solving it. I don’t immediately ask for direct help or an answer to my questions, but rather, briefly summarize my headspace. “This service is erroring on permissions, and right now I’m currently suspecting that it might be a configuration mistake that I’m looking into.” This has been crucial, as I can have my ideas validated and get pointers on where my thinking could be fine-tuned, giving me more to learn and master. I am delving deeper into what it means to be an engineer at Palantir.

In the remote world especially, constant communication is the quickest way to create relationships with your team and allies.

Keep a log

One of my biggest development points was finding the confidence to succeed in an internship. I began to realize that my perspective of myself was flawed: I was focusing more on finding my weaknesses as opposed to realizing my strengths. By keeping a log, I was creating a pile of evidence against the insecurities in my head by documenting all the progress I was making. I would highlight completed tasks in green and would look on Friday evening at all the green that colored the page. It reminds me of the work I’m putting in and allows me to condense all of my findings in one place to keep me growing in the weeks ahead.

Find internal community

I knew that I couldn’t be the only intern feeling apprehensive. I also knew I was far from the only Latino at Palantir. I was bound to find other Palantirians just like myself — and I did by joining Palamigos, Palantir’s internal affinity group for Latinx/Hispanic community members. As part of Palamigos, I’ve joined monthly community syncs, paired myself with a Palamigos mentor, and contributed to recruiting events led by the group. I’ve heard from people who shared similar stories, backgrounds, and experiences and shared my own thoughts and feelings about working as an intern here.

Despite all events being remote, I feel that Palamigos, along with the greater Palantir community, has my best interests in mind, and I wouldn’t have realized this had I not explored the communities available to me. In addition to affinity groups, a Slack message is a great way to meet anyone you’re interested in meeting!

Stay balanced
When working from home, I’ve had the urge to continue working for hours past 5 PM to crack down on the bug that’s been haunting me all day. “I can’t just leave this unfixed today — they’ll think I’m not doing a good job, and I’ll prove that their belief in me was a mistake.” I knew though, that working for too many hours would quickly burn me out.

I’ve made a rule to really assess the state of my work at 5 PM. Would there be any customer harm if I left the problem until tomorrow? Did I make an effort to solve the bug? Did I learn something new? By asking myself these three simple questions, I quickly realized how fruitful the day had been and made peace with closing my laptop — or chose to continue working for the right reasons.

This was by far the hardest change for me to implement. It feels good to solve issues and prove to yourself that you are worth it. However, it is unrealistic to base progress on deliverables every day. There will be days where the bug is too grand or beyond your scope, but that doesn’t make you any less of an engineer. When basing success on the effort you’ve given each day, you’ll find no shortage in your overall deliverables, and your mental health will thank you for it.

“A remarkable experience in its own right”

Palantir saw that opportunity in me from the day I interviewed. I’m glad I’m finally seeing what they did.

Of course, there are days where I feel like I could be doing better: producing faster, or writing better code, or making fewer mistakes. Of course, I wish for the day when I can meet my team in person, and have the quintessential internship experience.

But what I have landed on instead has been a remarkable experience in its own right — one in which any aspiring, determined engineer can thrive. I’m excited to close out what has been a fulfilling, thought-provoking experience during the most uncertain time in our country. For that, I am incredibly grateful and hopeful for what is to come.

Author