This past weekend I was interviewing three students at Harvey Mudd (awesome school) for summer internship positions at Windward. One of the questions I gave was the following:
In the Code War (held the previous weekend), let’s say you realized the provided pathfinding algorithm was providing poor routes. Winning requires a better pathfinder. However there is only 2½ hours left in the contest so there isn’t time to find and port a good A* implementation.
One of the students gave me one of the best replies to any question I have ever heard in an interview:
I would go ask the other teams if they had a good implementation for the contest. And if so, would they share their code.
Yes, Yes, YES! This is such a good answer in so many ways. First, it is looking to make use of available resources rather than re-invent the wheel. Second it shows a clear focus on solving the problem quickly with any and all means available. Third it shows the candidate is considering solutions well outside the assumed parameters of the question.
Of course it was an interview so I then told him that all the other teams said no. (And he then went on to find the solution.)
Very very impressive.