Lindsey Kuper (lindseykuper) wrote,
Lindsey Kuper

Needle, ITA, Google, and why I have such a crush

Back in April or so, on Plans, I wrote to my friend Courtney, the person who I thought would be the most interested:

[sherwood00], I think you would be intrigued by Needle. This article does a pretty good job of summing up what it's for. I think of it this way: There are a lot of people who work with data who have pushed Excel about as far as it can go. They don't want to keep on trying to shoehorn their data into Excel, and what they really need is the power and flexibility of a relational database, but they don't want to become database programmers. Needle is for them. It also does things that an off-the-shelf relational database doesn't do: it can help you try to make decisions (say, about whether something is a mistake or not) based on patterns in your data. Needle was developed by people I respect a lot, and I'm very interested to see what will come of it.

Courtney said, "Ooh, can you leave that link up for a while?" I've left it up since, but I know how busy she is, and some of the rest of you might care, too. So here it is in a more permanent home. I also want to say a little more about Needle and where it came from.

Needle is an ITA Software project. If the name sounds familiar to you, it might be because you've read Paul Graham's essay "Revenge of the Nerds", which was written in 2002 and which was one of the centerpieces of his book Hackers and Painters in 2004. ITA makes the software that runs travel search websites like Kayak and Orbitz. They are also probably the biggest corporate user of the Lisp programming language. So, as a Schemer, I was already a confirmed fangirl before glenn mcdonald, my favorite music critic and one of the best bloggers I know of, started working there in 2006. (Some of his thoughts upon starting the job are chronicled on his blog.)

My reasons for liking the things I like aren't particularly rational. I've barely played with Needle at all. I don't even really know if it's good for what it claims to be good for. But one of the things I like the most about Needle is that it has glenn all over it. Or maybe it just has Trebuchet all over it and I can't tell the difference, but one way or another, it's been imbued with a personal touch that I immediately recognize. I think it's damn cool that one guy, at a company that employs several hundred people, can launch a big project like this and that his personal touch can be allowed to shine through. For that to happen, it must be a pretty cool company.

I've come close to applying for internships at ITA lots of times, but the timing has never been quite right, so what I've done instead is push my friends towards applying for them in the hopes of vicarious enjoyment. In fact, much of what I've written here about my raging crush on ITA is cribbed from a breathless email I wrote to Monica keystricken over a year ago in an effort to get her to go work there.

So, now it turns out that Google is acquiring ITA. My reaction to this is partly, "Maaaan, does Google have to take everyone good?"1 There's also a little bit of disbelief that, you know, after all this time and all this hemming and hawing, it turns out that this dream people have of writing Lisp at Google might actually come true.2 (Might.) But mostly, my reaction is "Hah! Told you!"

  1. Google also just acquired Metaweb, so now they've also got Kirrily, plus these guys, whose definition of "machine learning" is still the one I like the best.
  2. Funny story: Back in March, I was at Grad Cohort, standing in the hallway chatting with a Google software engineer between sessions.

    Me: I used Python in my Google interview; it didn't go that well. It was too bad I couldn't have used the language I was most fluent in.
    Her: Oh, no; you can use whatever language you want!
    Me: Scheme.
    Her: ...oh. Yeah, not that.


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