DSV Week One: First Day of Class, Palantir, Stanford
Duke in Silicon Valley has been off to a great start! Starting off with the class with Prof. Azhar was a great and unconventional experience. He put us on the spot and made us think unconventionally – all part of his goal to simulate what it’s like to be a part of a startup. I think that we were all a bit anxious at first, but by the end of the class, we were all sold by his teaching style and excited to draw from his entrepreneurial experience moving forward with the summer.
Immediately following our first class, we headed to Palantir Technologies, one of the world leaders in software services and big data analysis. We were able to get our first taste of a Silicon Valley tech company – employees laser-focused on their projects, unique interior design around the office, and all the snacks and refreshments needed to refuel after some hard work. Though I was amazed by the environment we were in, what I found most captivating was the panel session we had with several software developers and data analysts.
I found it amazing to hear about Palantir’s mission and maturity process. One of the more senior software developers pointed out that throughout his time, Palantir has evolved from a more rambunctious startup company to one with more structure and importance. This reminded me that years ago, Palantir was just another budding company with a couple people working in a small office space with no concrete sense of direction. This panel also reaffirmed that there isn’t an instant route to success; Palantir was founded roughly 15 years ago, and there were a lot of obstacles the company needed to overcome to get to where it is now. Seeing how the company developed from just focusing on intelligence to a wide variety of services, I saw how important it is for a company to constantly innovate. Palantir is constantly tackling new issues, and it is this mindset that enables it to keep growing.
What I find most admirable about Palantir is how they innovate with a purpose. Outside CEO Alex Karp’s office is a leafy wall with the wooden phrase “SAVE THE SHIRE”. Adopted from Lord of the Rings, the phrase essentially means “Save the World” and is Palantir’s unofficial motto. Every single service they offer comes directly from a client’s needs – everything they do is to help people. One of the software developers pointed out that when you work on a project on Palantir, you could be facilitating a disaster relief program that directly feeds children or saves drowning people. To them, it doesn’t matter that their project isn’t mass-marketed; having a great impact on just several people is much more important to the company’s mission. As someone with a dream to start my own company someday, I found this an extremely important value to keep in mind with any venture that I pursue.
We also had the opportunity to speak with Tom Byers from Stanford University, who heads the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. I loved hearing about some of the more detail-oriented aspects of entrepreneurship that he recommended every venture focus on. He repeated the idea that every entrepreneur should keep the values of purpose in mind; focus on helping others in some way and improving the world. I found this especially inspiring in light of the fact of some of the ethical issues that have come up in Silicon Valley this year – an issue that Tom brought up as well.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve already learned so much about entrepreneurship and technology that I ever have before. I’ve had an amazing experience being exposed to the professionals of Silicon Valley and am looking forward to the unforgettable month that lies ahead.
Bryant is a rising sophomore at Duke University studying Economics and Computer Science with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. He’s interested in finance and technology, hoping to find his niche in the intersection of these fields. In his free time, he loves to play basketball and go to the beach.