Microsoft’s corporate interview process involves the use of logic puzzles to figure out how you think. It’s intended to be like the Kobayashi Maru test, but with cheap index cards instead of billion-credit battle simulators.
The Microsoft method, unlike the Starfleet version, is very easy to hack.
In my first round of interviews for a full-time position at Microsoft, I was given the old chestnut “You have unlimited time and resources. I want you to move Mount Rainier 6 feet to the north”.
My first proposal was that, given that we had infinite time, we should wait for plate tectonics to do the job for us. That was rejected, but it did lead to a discussion of usable project constraints.
I then harried the interviewer to provide best-estimate constraints.
He responded with one year and $60 billion dollars. As an incentive, I could keep whatever funds were left over.
I asked how he would measure my success. He said he’d stand on the summit with an accurate GPS tracker, and would accept any value within a radius of 2 inches of the desired location.
I proceeded with an analysis of the costs of the project, but I was stalling for time, because I’d had an flash of an idea and I needed to set the stage.
The interviewer kept suggesting dumptrucks, but I knocked that one down, based on the difficulty of slicing Mount Rainier into dump truck-sized cubes, indexing the cubes, and storing them until we reassembled them. Why, the setup alone would take a minimum of 6 months to create the required tools, let alone deploy them!
I then announced my fool-proof plan: a $30 billion campaign of bribery, extortion and assassination at the USGS and Pentagon mapping offices, designed to insure that all GPS devices would, at the end of the project, report that the summit of Mt. Rainier was in the desired position.
It wouldn’t be an abrupt transition, just an accumulating error as one got closer to the summit. All we really needed to do was upload a fiddled software update to the entire GPS satellite fleet, and backed by a Bond-villain budget, we could get ‘er done on time and under budget.
I spent the next ten minutes on the general minion-hiring process and an outline of how to identify and handle the Bribable, the Extortionable, and the (most unfortunately) Expendable target groups, using the USGS bureaucratic structure as an example. I did this one standing up, turning the plan into an actionable flowchart.
The interviewer was somewhat flabbergasted, and took a few minutes to respond. I used the time to ponder my next curveball.
There were the usual objections about legality; I countered with the far thornier legal and practical issues involved in getting permission to move Mount Rainier.
He objected that the GPS and survey maps wouldn’t match. I allowed his objection, and added $1 billion to the project cost for deploying additional assassins and assorted minions to adjust the master cartographical databases at the USGS and Pentagon. All we needed were tiny tweaks in the survey marker data, really. Probably wouldn’t have to get into wet work at all.
He brought up the European and Russian GPS-clone mapping systems. At the time, the Euro-GPS system was years away, so I ruled out that objection immediately. I politely suggested that he, as chief Mount Rainier project manager, needed to broaden his technology reading.
I then went into an analysis of the Russian system. I acknowledged the difficulty of hiring reliable minions in the former Soviet Union and the problem of identifying persuadable targets under a secretive regime; I balanced these problems against the likelihood that anyone on the project could obtain Russian mapping data.
I concluded that, if need be, we could cover the Russian contingency by using at most $2 billion to provoke a serious international incident with Russia, guaranteeing that no Russian data would be available.
I then proposed an alternative.
Would the interviewer like to be $20 billion richer at the end of the project?