Solving Technical Problems


The ability to find solutions to difficult or complex issues, using technology as a tool to solve problems that may or may not themselves be of a technical nature.

That's a very broad topic! Problems exist in countless forms, in varying degrees of difficulty, and the techniques to solve them are similarly diverse. Sometimes the challenge isn't just to find a solution, but to look at multiple solutions, understand the costs and benefits of each, and make an appropriate choice.

Problem-solving is as much a mindset as it is a collection of discrete skills and methods. No single person, regardless of how talented, will be able to solve every problem. A good problem solver learns how to leverage their unique experiences and skills against hard problems and how to work with others to achieve the best possible result.

Why is it important at Palantir?

Problem-solving is fundamental to all of our work. We work with the most critical government, commercial and non-profit institutions, helping them tackle their critical problems. Every client we work with operates under unique circumstances, which means we work in environments that feel radically unfamiliar at first. Problem-solving is the process by which we map these challenges and circumstances to the ones we know well, and bring our products, knowledge, and experience to bear to find valuable solutions.

How to prepare

“Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.”

– Descartes

The best way to get good at solving problems is... to solve problems! A new problem is rarely unique. When you strip away the details of a problem and look for the fundamentals, you often discover that it's a problem you've already solved. The more problems you solve, the more likely you are to see patterns you can act on.

Question your understanding of the problem. We all carry assumptions and preconceptions that make problems harder than they need to be. It's easier to recognize a familiar problem when remove complications and leave just the core behind. When you can't find patterns, you can still draw on experience. If you know how to solve a similar problem but that solution doesn't apply to the new problem, why? Knowing what makes this particular problem unique may help guide you find a solution.

When experience seems irrelevant, you can still learn from the techniques used to solve other problems. Sometimes you make progress on a problem by solving just a special case, or a deliberately simplified version of the problem. With other problems, the best strategy is to fully generalize the problem instead!

No matter what — just try something. There are too many problem-solving strategies to list here (and they often directly contradict one another). The more you learn and try, the more tools you'll have to solve new problems. Develop your intuition. Learn to listen to that voice in your head with a crazy idea. When you don't know what to do, the best thing to just do something. The more things you know how to do, the more likely you are to succeed.

You've spent a large part of your life solving problems. This experience is your problem-solving toolbox, which you'll develop throughout your life. As you tackle more problems, you learn more solutions and techniques and ultimately become a better problem-solver.