To add to the confusion, the noun “hack” also has two senses. It can be either a compliment or an insult. It’s called a hack when you do something in an ugly way. But when you do something so clever that you somehow beat the system, that’s also called a hack. The word is used more often in the former than the latter sense, probably because ugly solutions are more common than brilliant ones.
Believe it or not, the two senses of “hack” are also connected. Ugly and imaginative solutions have something in common: they both break the rules. And there is a gradual continuum between rule breaking that’s merely ugly (using duct tape to attach something to your bike) and rule breaking that is brilliantly imaginative (discarding Euclidean space).
There’s one question that acts like a wildcard, at least for me:
Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.
If this wasn’t already clear, we’re not looking for the sort of obedient, middle-of-the-road people that big companies tend to hire. We’re looking for people who like to beat the system. So if the answer to this question is good enough, it will make me go back and take a second look at an application that otherwise seemed unpromising. In fact, I think there are people we’ve invited to interviews mainly on the strength of their answer to this question.
Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage