11. “What have you done in the past to get out of a tricky situation?” – Asked at Virgin Atlantic Airways.
“The best defence against an atomic bomb is to not be there when it goes off” — attributed to the British Army Journal.
This is good advice for life, not just for bombs. On the whole, I avoid getting into tricky situations in the first place. How? By keeping things simple. I don’t tell lies, so I never have to get out of a tricky situation causes by a lie. If I find myself in an argument where I am not completely sure of my facts, I just back down.
Of course, sometimes tricky situations happen on their own — like a piece of software developing a mysterious bug just before an important demo. I don’t think there’s any trick to dealing with situations like that: all you can do is keep calm, think clearly, and do your best to figure out the problem.
12. “Why is 99% not good enough?” – Asked at Parcelforce Worldwide.
99% of what? Scoring 99% in an examination is outstanding. Eating 99% of a meal is nutritious. A football team winning 99% of available points is sensational. A space program that gets 99% of its payloads safely into orbit is doing pretty well. On the other hand, if 99% of your body is functioning correctly, you could be in serious trouble.
If 99% of the lines of code in your program are correct, you have bugs. Then again, if the bugs are in the 1% of the code that’s almost never used, maybe it actually doesn’t matter that much? (The idea of a bug-free program is an illusion: Firefox currently has more than 10,000 registered bugs.)
A much better question would be: when is 99% not good enough. It’s easy to trot out mantras like “we don’t accept anything less than perfection” without thinking about the trade-offs. The Firefox people can invest the next decade or six into fixing all those 10,000+ bugs; or they can develop the new features that people need. Perfection is often not only unattainable, but a distraction from the real issue.
13. “How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?” – Asked at Macquarie Bank.
- Burn the haystack. The needle will remain in the ashes.
- Blow the haystack away. The needle will remain on the ground.
- Drop the haystack in water. The needle will sink to the bottom.
- Use a powerful magnet to pull the needle out of the haystack.
- Allow cattle to eat the haystack. Extract needle from sick cow.
What these solutions have in mind is that they exploit a property that is different between the sought element and the substrate. #1 works because hay burns but steel doesn’t; #2 and #3 work because steel is denser than hay; #4 works because steel is magnetic and hay isn’t; #5 works because cow can digest hay but not steel. You could use other properties such as the needle’s ability to reflect X-rays.
14. “How would you explain Facebook to your Grandma?” – Asked at Huddle.
“Your friends write about their lives, and take photos. These things are available for you to read and comment on. You can also write and take photos, and make them available for your friends to read. If you like, you can make new friends.”
15. “If you entered into a room full of people with different interests, what would you do?” – Asked at Ernst & Young.
Depends on the situation, of course. If it’s a party, I’d find someone who shared and interest and talk to him or her. If it’s a working group, I’d wonder who had convened a group of people who were not interested in the problem we were working on. In general, people can sort themselves out pretty well, and don’t need any leadership in social situations. But in a work situation, when there is some specific thing that you’re trying to achieve, you just need to make it clear to the people why that thing is important.