Solutions Pyramid

In College Computer Science Majors worry a lot about the optimal solution to algorithmic problems. What is the optimal solution? Is it in logarithmic or polynomial time? Did you pass or fail the test? My Algorithms class had a group class competition to see which team could find the best solution to a particular algorithmic problem. 

Then when they start looking for jobs they run into whiteboarding interviews where they are supposed to find the optimal solution in 50 minutes so we have time for questions. 

But once you enter the workforce, no one cares about the optimal solution anymore. If you look at the Solutions pyramid above there only one optimal solution. But right underneath there are 10 excellent solutions and a 100 good solutions. In the corporate world a good solution is an A grade, and an acceptable solution is passing. Typically as long as a enterprise software project avoids clearly ‘bad’ algorithms it will probably meet its throughput and latency goals. 

When your team has found multiple approaches to solving a problem and can’t seem to agree on the ‘right’ one. Ask yourself whether any of the solutions are in a higher level of the pyramid than the others. Don’t try to find the best solution, try to get a solution from the highest level of the pyramid implemented. And if all the proposed solutions are from the same level of the pyramid, sit back and relax, it doesn’t matter who wins.

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