Busting Myths About Women In Tech: A Look At Palantir… Where Brains And Passion Trump Tech Degrees And Coding Skills

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Palantir Women In Technology
CareerSTEMTech Tuesday 4 Comments

Tucked above Manhattan’s hip Meat Packing District is something far cooler and much more impressive than any of the chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and glamazons that line the area’s cobblestone streets. It’s a tech wonderland where big data problems are solved and cyber-threat intelligence is deployed for some of the world’s most important institutions. Our favorite part… there are Women You Should Know doing this mind blowing work.

On a visit to the NY office of the Palo Alto, CA based computer software company Palantir Technologies, we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t “ooh and ahh” over the space itself. It takes up three loft-style floors in a luxe five-story building. Hovering below the extra high ceilings is a sea of very personalized work stations, some of which have hydraulic desks (sitting is slowly killing us all), stability balls in place of traditional chairs, and dog beds (you can bring your pet to work). There are also 3 fully stocked kitchens to keep the troops well hydrated and nourished, an outdoor terrace, a massage room (you can pop in at any time to de-stress), and several recharge-your-creative-juices areas equipped with things like giant bean bags, casterboards and table shuffleboard. Oh yeah… they also host weekly on-site Happy Hours.

When you pick your chin up off the floor compliments of your undeniable office envy, it drops once again when you learn just what goes on here.

We love engineers, but we love smartness of every kind. Even if you’ve never coded a day in your life, Palantir could be the right place for you.

Founded in 2004 by a handful of PayPal alumni and Stanford computer scientists, Palantir Technologies has doubled in size every year since. Their mission remains to revolutionize how groups working towards solving the hardest real world problems – combating terrorism, prosecuting crimes, fighting fraud, eliminating waste – analyze information. The goal… to help make them better data-driven decision makers and the world a better place.

For a tech-world novice, a luddite or a poor soul who didn’t have email at her first job, it’s easy to get tripped up by the company’s jargon – geospatial analysis, Pig and Hive scripting languages, Hercules forensic workflows – not to mention intimidated by their cyber-military sounding job titles – Deployment Strategist, Embedded Analyst, Mission Specialist, Forward Deployed Engineer.

But when you get to the heart of the matter, Palantir is simply this… a team of behind the scenes, knowledge management wizards who invent and deploy software platforms that let people analyze their own data more easily and thoroughly.

The company’s approach to its signature brand of engineering is efficient and effective problem solving: they ask the right questions, perform strategic analysis, employ creativity, and use sophisticated coding to cast their magical software spells. The result… groundbreaking technologies crafted from scratch that give human experts the power to interact with massive amounts of complex data and harness what they need with the click of a mouse. So an analyst’s query that might normally take days, months, years using traditional means, can spit back a tangible answer with useable and actionable information in mere seconds. WOW!

With their primary customers falling into the intelligence, defense, law enforcement and financial categories, Palantir’s products make vital orgs and institutions like JP Morgan Chase, the NYPD, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Government, and Citi run more efficiently and safely, while maximizing and protecting their core assets and intelligence. As the peripheral end users of the customers they service, even average citizens and mere mortals like us reap the amazing trickle down benefits of the extraordinary work that Palantir does.

To accomplish what they do so successfully, Palantir has rigorous hiring standards that value analytic capacity over tech capabilities, a refreshing philosophy that dispels the myth that you MUST have a computer science background or tech degree to work in tech. Another myth the company busts is that there are “no women in tech”.

Of the impressive number of female employees you’ll find across all of the company’s teams, we met three of Palantir’s Women You Should Know, none of whom have tech degrees and all of whom took very circuitous paths to get where they are today. While their gender could be used as an easy notch in Palantir’s EOE belt, each of these women proves that it was her brain power that most interested and impressed the tech leader to bring them on board.

They are the very examples of STEM rock stars and role models we love to celebrate. Meet them…


WYSK Melody Hildebrandt

Melody Hildebrandt Melody Hildebrandt is one of two founding females in Palantir’s New York office, and currently works as a Deployment Strategist, leading Palantir’s commercial cyber business. She works with some of the world’s largest financial institutions and commercial enterprises on diverse data analysis problems ranging from cyber security, fraud, compliance and insider threat to data breach investigations. She has been integral to building out Palantir’s commercial business and has seen the office grow to have a substantial female presence.

Degree: BA in Economics, Tufts University

Career Trajectory: Primary school teacher in France; intern for House of Representatives; associate at Booz Allen designing DOD wargames and simulations for the US and Singaporean governments

On being a woman in technology: “Just get out there and kill it and no one will likely even comment on you being a woman.”

Her advice to young women looking to get into the tech field: “Develop some technical skill, even if you don’t have a comp science degree, for example, understand major database technologies, learn a scripting language like Pig, or learn VBA and become an Excel whiz.”


WYSK Margaret York

Margaret YorkMargaret York is an Embedded Analyst at Palantir, tackling problems and growth on various Law Enforcement, City Government, and Healthcare deployments. She told WYSK that when she was younger she wanted to be everything from a ballerina to a firefighter and then planned to run her own hedge fund.

Degree: BA in Biology and Political Science, minor in Psych, UPenn

Career Trajectory: Science teacher in West Philly, research on Political Systems and Causes of War; financial and creative ops at hedge fund portfolio company; portfolio strategy at asset and wealth management firm

On being a woman in technology: “Every person has insecurities and flaws, just as every person faces prejudice and doubt. Working on the hardest problems in the world will dredge up these feelings regularly; blame your fancy human brain, not your gender. Instead, let what makes you different define you. If you decide your gender is what makes you different, you’re choosing to be as special as 50.8% of the population.”

Her advice to young women looking to get into the tech field: “If you’re straight out of college, decide what job you want, identify two experiences you would need to get there, and then go out and get that first experience as soon as possible. Know it’s just the beginning of your path. Don’t fall into the ‘special snowflake’ trap of believing you’re owed your dream job right away because you’re a smart girl and you work hard. Try scary things, make mistakes, forgive yourself, and level up as soon as you stop learning. You’re the only one responsible for hammering the rungs into your ladder up.”


WYSK Katie Laidlaw

Katie LaidlawKatie Laidlaw is a Mission Specialist, leading state and local government work at Palantir. She enjoys working with civil servants and local law enforcement leaders across US cities to tackle day-to-day challenges in using data to inform decisions and advance discussions on democratizing data access across city government.

Degree: Harvard Business School (MBA), Harvard Kennedy School (MPA), BA in French, Duke University

Career Trajectory: Management consultant, consumer sector growth and organizational design; supply chain researcher and non-profit advisory work in Tanzania and Nigeria; Management consultant, public education sector growth; Press Office, US Senator

On being a woman in technology: “Technology is changing the world we live in on a daily basis; we must shape the dialogue, debate the boundaries, and lead the direction of where it takes us in the future.”

Her advice to young women looking to get into the tech field: “Learn a language; engage in analytical problem solving; develop a level of comfort with ambiguity as well as complexity.  Don’t hesitate to dabble in a personal tech interest or challenge yourself to sign-up for coding classes.”

  • Guy from Hell’s Kitchen

    Who knew? Very impressive resume’s. Having two daughters of my own, I’m happy to see that these women are thriving in a so called “man’s” world. An inspiration to all young women. Great article.

  • Laurel T

    really impressive. these women are badass! go ladies.

  • Dorn

    Superb topic to cover and well-presented article.

  • A lady engineer

    Disappointed to see “brains and passion” pitted against “tech degrees and coding skills”. Women can have both; women DO have both. The women engineers at Palantir are role models as much as the other women featured here.

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