DEV Community

Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Posted on

What are your thoughts on the whole 10x engineer viral discussion?

There's a meme of sorts heading around Twitter after one regrettable take on "10x engineers" which paints a laughable stereotype.

This is a great post which sums up the complaints and respectfully disagrees:

It seems like everyone weighed in on Twitter, but let's have a discussion that allows for more than 280 characters. As per its usual style, the Twitter trend has been mostly about piling on, more so than necessarily evolving the conversation in an overly useful way.


To be clear, people aren't necessarily ridiculing the notion that engineers may fall on some sort of power law distribution curve. The issue with the thread was more about the hyper-specific, highly stereotypical notion of what "10x" engineers are like.

e.g.

Let's unpack this discussion a bit.

Top comments (103)

Collapse
 
aadibajpai profile image
Aadi Bajpai • Edited

I don't see how this one for instance is a good thing to have at all. If you're spending time on what exactly you write instead of understanding the overall design spec then that means you don't have a flexible base at all. That's like a poet focusing more on memorizing the dictionary than conveying the meaning of their poem. I really hope people don't construe this as good advice to emulate ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ

Collapse
 
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Absolutely.

I'm personally trying to gradually loosen my own similar role within the context of the dev.to codebase. It seems that the only times I ever have to request changes to a @rhymes pull request is when I have some deep knowledge of a hack or undocumented decision taken a few years ago when I was solo-hacking on the project.

It's easier said than done, but I pray for the day I don't have this "special role" of just knowing things other people probably don't. If I were a 10x engineer I probably wouldn't have created that role for myself in the first place ๐Ÿ™ƒ (or perhaps 10x engineers aren't a thing).

Collapse
 
cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

Yes, your approach is one of servant leadership, which is a much healthier approach (in my opinion). I always hope to raise up my team to a place where Iโ€™ve made myself obsolete.

Thread Thread
 
adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett ๐ŸŒ€

Iv heard this obsolete thing before. I've seen it too, ๐Ÿ’ฏ agree, but honestly I don't want to be a VHS, I want to be blueray.

Thread Thread
 
cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

Haha I hear you. But if you focus on your technical and soft skills, then you will never have to worry about having a job. Your position might go away but youโ€™re free to focus on a more difficult challenge.

Collapse
 
yucer profile image
yucer • Edited

That's a good approach for a leader.

In management courses they teach the topic of "chief vs leader". The leader inspire and the others follow it by mean of good examples. The chief commands and the others obey it by obligation.

If someone delegate tasks, he should trust the one in charge giving only non-mandatory feedback.

The ultimate goal is for a pure management is to delegate everything.

In software engineering it is to divide the complexity of the software and make it flow through persons or group of persons that can fully understand it.

In this book the author treat also the topic of why the industry should not be based in the inspiration of geniuses that could handle all the complexity of the software.

That's why the focus of the Book, and also the software development methodologies of the last decades, has been the "industrial strength software". They define such software as a software that has enough complexity that no person can not fully understand in details.

I don't know if an internet forum can achieve such a level of complexity, but a rule of thumb can fit here:

If just one person can understand it, then the software is not complex enough... or that person is a genius.

I would say in practice geniuses are good for a project, as long as they are humble and cooperative. I would hire them, but I would make them part of the design or the quality team. They would be only be able to touch the code by mean of pair programming, so that there is a redundant backup.

Geniuses trend to be a high demand resource, and there is not guarantee that they can be retained forever.

Collapse
 
aadibajpai profile image
Aadi Bajpai

Agreed, I don't really maintain as huge a codebase but it's getting to the point where I'd rather keep track of why something was done than how it was done. Especially when working with other contributors, it is easy to review their approach by comparing it to your design and not the way you may have implemented the same thing.

Collapse
 
dance2die profile image
Sung M. Kim • Edited

That #4 probably should be better be stated as "10x engineers know how to find the fault more reliably" as engineering is not about memorizing the line of code.

And also that line doesn't make sense because if 10x engineer knows every line of the code, then s/he wouldn't have put that into production in the first place! (if the engineer did know, then that engineer was either lazy or up to no-good ๐Ÿ˜‰)

Collapse
 
ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

Reminds me of an old joke...

//
// Dear maintainer:
//
// Once you are done trying to 'optimize' this routine,
// and have realized what a terrible mistake that was,
// please increment the following counter as a warning
// to the next guy:
//
// total_hours_wasted_here = 42
//

Collapse
 
aadibajpai profile image
Aadi Bajpai

Makes sense, I think the OP has had no real experience work programming and/or leads a team who is feeding him bs.

Collapse
 
adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett ๐ŸŒ€ • Edited

Despite the fact that humans can only remember 7 things in short term memory at a time. This is Twitter post is toxic, do not listen to such nonsense. You might find people appear to have the eye of sauron pointed towards a particular repo but honestly it's software like Jira and whatever else that allow them to consume information. As for fix in hours, that just means stem the bleading and do the work later.

Collapse
 
ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

Despite the fact that humans can only remember 7 things in short term memory at a time

That's an average, not a maximum (and, according to some recent studies, that average is more like "4" than "7"). Different people have different effective working-memory capabilities ...and, even the ones that are stuck with the average MAX_ITEMS can increase the effective number of items they can juggle by strategic chunking.

There's a lot of interesting articles on short-term, long-term and working memory. Both in how you can improve them or completely undermine them (even to the point of erasing long-term memories with common pharmaceuticals like a couple different kinds of beta-blockers). One can quickly fall into a link-hole by reading about human memory. :)

Thread Thread
 
adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett ๐ŸŒ€

It would be quite difficult for my to list the memory of every human on earth and in space so I think an average is a lot more efficient in this post, that was my intent. Anyway are you sure you remembered that correctly ๐Ÿ˜‚.

Thread Thread
 
ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

I'm one of the people afflicted with the "remembers too much" problem.

Collapse
 
aadibajpai profile image
Aadi Bajpai

Yeah, I mean if you're not using the tools you have available just for appearing vainglorious then that's just plain stupid. Driving a nail into a wall using your bare hands when a hammer is available means you literally have no idea what you're doing.

Collapse
 
ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

...And you're missing that the engineer in question isn't necessarily doing any of that. Some people simply remember everything they stumble across (whether they want to or not). It's not that they spend all their time crawling code, it's that, as they've been asked to fix things, the cumulative code-crawling to find bugs has resulted in them getting the entire code-base stuck in their head.

Collapse
 
svemaraju profile image
Srikanth • Edited

Moreover, if you've been working on a project for a while, you'd be able to identify bugs easily. There's nothing special about that.

Collapse
 
ctrlshifti profile image
Kat Maddox

The part that sold me on him having no idea what he's talking about is him saying that the "i" key is worn on coder's keyboards.

How many times do you actually type i? I autocomplete my loops, and usually give variables descriptive names.

... Besides, worn keys? Pffft. Everyone knows THE BEST 10x developers have mechanical keyboards with doubleshot keys ;)

Collapse
 
nathanheffley profile image
Nathan Heffley

Maybe he thinks that all 10x coders use Vim?

Collapse
 
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

10x engineers avoid innovative, feature rich editors like VSCode.

They also would never develop on any platform that use custom IDEs like mobile app dev.


And seriously, the notion that great engineers don't communicate with the rest of the team is ridiculous.

On the other hand, I'm feeling like the joke is sort of on all of us for getting so worked up over such a trolling set of tweets (intentional or not)

Thread Thread
 
jacobmgevans profile image
Jacob Evans

Beyond ridiculous. I also think is actually for the best, it not only showed that the community is very supportive and responsive but that as a whole most of tech is moving STRONGLY against a lot of these toxic stereotypes, patronizing and pretenses.

Collapse
 
moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I use Vim and I categorise myself as an 11x coder.

Thread Thread
 
awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him) • Edited

I use Java and categorise myself as an ArithmeticException coder

Thread Thread
 
ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

I use Vim and I categorise myself as an 11x coder.

Is that binary?

Collapse
 
adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett ๐ŸŒ€

Don't they? You have to be some kind of masochistic unicorn to use Vim all day ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿฆ„

Thread Thread
 
tadman profile image
Scott Tadman • Edited

I've seen some people grind out incredible amounts of code in modern, windowed versions of vim, and myself cranked out tens of thosuands of lines using little more than a pile of xterm windows and elvis, an older, now obsolete vi clone.

Now I use Visual Studio Code after a long stint in SublimeText and TextMate, but to each their own.

Collapse
 
ctrlshifti profile image
Kat Maddox

Gosh, that's even worse.

Collapse
 
thefern profile image
Fernando B ๐Ÿš€

I don't think i would be the most worn out, probably esc but then again most serious 10X programmers shouldn't have labels on their keys lol.

Collapse
 
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I'll start by mentioning how important that project fit and motivation are to this whole discussion.

Even the most experienced or innately talented coder needs motivation and fulfillment to actually contribute in any especially great way. Nobody just spits out code on command.

Furthermore, ... Actually I'll stop here. I feel like this is the kind of conversation where I could say furthermore, furthermore, furthermore until I'm blue in the face ๐Ÿ˜„

Collapse
 
kmehran1106 profile image
Mehran Kader

Maximum recursion depth exceeded.

Collapse
 
jacobmgevans profile image
Jacob Evans

Infinite Loop detected ๐Ÿคฃ ๐Ÿคฃ ๐Ÿคฃ

Collapse
 
agrothe profile image
Andrew Grothe

Stackoverflow

Collapse
 
elmuerte profile image
Michiel Hendriks • Edited

Fact: The best programmers are up to 28 times better than the worst programmers, according to โ€œindividual differencesโ€ research. Given that their pay is never commensurate, they are the biggest bargains in the software field.

From Robert L. Glass's book Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering

It's more of a 28x than 10x. Yes, the book is old, and the sources for this fact is even older. But even with new research you will come up with similar high 'x' numbers.

As for why, Robert has this to say

The problem isโ€”and of course there is a problem, since we are not acting on this fact in our fieldโ€”we donโ€™t know how to identify those โ€œbestโ€ people. We have struggled over the years with programmer aptitude tests and certified data processor exams and the ACM self-assessment programs, and the bottom line, after a lot of blood and sweat and perhaps even tears were spent on them, was that the correlation between test scores and on-the-job performance is nil.

I am pretty confident this has not changed.

Yes, 10x-ers exist. But moving this 10x-er to a different environment can turn them into a 5x-er. A 1x-er can grow into a 10x-er in the same place. It is not the individual, it is the individual within its environment.

Dolphins are really fast in the water. But on land, they struggle.

Want 10x-ers in your company? Then get rid of things which get into the way of your devs' productivity and hapiness. You have to ask them what these obstructions are, because they are not the same. But generally getting rid of open-floor plans has a boost in productivity. A ping-pong table does not.

As finishing remark, when your whole team goes from 1x to 2x; are they still 1x or 2x? Relatively speaking between peers they are still 1x, but compared to the past they are 2x. ๐Ÿค”

Collapse
 
thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

The tests they used for the original (and subsequent) experiments are controversial. Small sample sizes, reliance on metrics that are easily quantifiable, unrealistic tests. Makes it so any results like this have to be taken with a grain of salt. Despite all the problems I'd love to see more and better tests done on stuff like this.

codingblocks.net/practice/four-rea...

Collapse
 
elmuerte profile image
Michiel Hendriks

I don't believe it is possible to create a test which objectively measures productivity of a software developer.

There are simply too many variables.

Collapse
 
awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

This is the best response in this entire discussion.

"...if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Collapse
 
xowap profile image
Rรฉmy ๐Ÿค–

I SEE A LOT OF COMMENTS IN BOLD BUT LET ME TELL YOU THAT ALL OF THEM ARE WRONG

After of few years of experience I can say that I found a definition of the 10x engineer. It has nothing to do with the social weirdness nor the black screens. Those are just symptoms.

10x engineers are the ones with tools. Lots of tools. They know all the layers in the stack from the atom to the UX patterns going through CPU design and webpack fiddling. They are able to assimilate them quick enough to being proficient with them within a lifetime and they can cross fertilize them.

It's all about the tools, all the rest is noise.

Collapse
 
awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

BOLD TEXT IS BEST TEXT

Collapse
 
xowap profile image
Rรฉmy ๐Ÿค–

THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO SCREAM ON THE INTERNET

Collapse
 
rudolfolah profile image
Rudolf Olah

Yep, this is why there's an emphasis on tools (and documentation to understand those tools).

Knowing all about webpack is a thankless task though.

Collapse
 
xowap profile image
Rรฉmy ๐Ÿค–

That's another good point you're pointing here. Nobody will sing your glory for the many tools you learn, it's actually quite a lonely and unglamorous journey.

Thread Thread
 
rudolfolah profile image
Rudolf Olah

Yeah, this is why I think Developer Hegemony (great book from daedtech.com/ ) makes a lot of sense, there's a lot to learn from tools and docs but at the end of the day we're paid for the results of knowing all that, which is unfortunately hidden.

Collapse
 
nestedsoftware profile image
Nested Software • Edited

I think this whole 10x thing goes back to Steve McConnell's book Rapid Development (published in 1996). He popularized this idea in mentioning some research that suggested that top developers could outperform average developers by as much as 10 times (by some measure of productivity).

I have no idea whether research into software engineering still backs up this claim or not. Certainly there are super talented people out there, and they can seem a bit magical at times. As an example of someone I know, I consider @mortoray to be such a person.

However, I am pretty confident that ascribing all these weird traits to "10x" developers is both wrong and unhelpful. The only context in which I can think of it being at all useful is where you might not consider hiring someone with asperger's syndrome because they don't interview very well. They could have useful skills and talents, but they'd need the right support system to succeed. However, looking specifically for traits like poor communication as if they were the core indicators of programming ability would be much more likely to filter out good candidates than to identify them.

Collapse
 
awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

Thanks for providing the origin of the term. Really interesting!

Collapse
 
thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

The origin goes back way farther, 1968, and the testing condition were controversial even back then. People have tried to repeat similar experiments but the results are always debatable because of two major sticking points:

  1. What quantitative measures are being used to measure productivity?
  2. How realistic are the tests.

I looked into this a while back and wrote up a post about it: codingblocks.net/practice/four-rea...

Collapse
 
jakekring profile image
jake kring

That tweet storm is a joke. But one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet in this conversation is Brook's Law en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooks%27s_law

I'm extrapolating a bit, but there are certainly diminishing returns when adding developers to a project. In other words, the 1st developer on any project is likely to be 10x more "productive" than the 101st (if we measure productivity in features shipped).

I'd be happy to explain this in more detail, if folks are curious. But my point is that the "10x engineer" may have been first imagined by someone who observed a tiny team crank out an incredible MVP in a short period of time. Comparing that team to a huge, stodgy corporation, and failing to recognize the cost of communication overhead and bureaucracy common on enormous teams, the observer might have come to the conclusion that the small, agile team was made up of "10x engineers".

Collapse
 
cutiko profile image
Erick Navarro • Edited

I have a couple of things to say:

  1. This 10x thing is the hero developer all over again without mentioning the life-saving fixes, it does talk about the weird schedules. We all know how the hero thing goes and why didn't work
  2. The doesn't look at documentation point is blatantly stupid
  3. How am I supposed to pronounce it? 10 exes eng.. 10 times eng... I don't get it
Collapse
 
thatjoemoore profile image
Joseph Moore

Re: #2

Seriously, though. The comment on how the best developers don't look at docs tells me how little the poster understands about development. My mentor at my first job (one of the best programmers I've ever met) recommended to me that I have a prominent link in my browser toolbar to the Java API docs. 11 years later, it's still there, with another shortcut to the docs for String.format (that stuff's black magic). And don't even get me started on how often I find myself staring at Node's 'fs' and 'path' docs.

Collapse
 
yucer profile image
yucer • Edited

If I understand properly, that thread is just a description of a 10x developer is an hypothetical superhero, a genius engineer.

Those persons actually exist for specific projects of low and medium complexity. In the majority of the cases they achieve that quality with the years of maintaining the software. In some cases they are the leaders of such projects, in many other cases they are the creators.

They are the ultimate solution for project managers with low managing skills, less people to control and a simplified communication process. They look for 10x engineers but they actually perform like 8x, worth like 15x and they are paid like 2x.

This is just the dream of some low-quality managers. It should not be taken as an strict goal to reach by the engineers.

From my point of view, the key is not about the people itself. It is more important is how the company manages the information. What makes the engineers 10x is the knowledge they have over the business logic, the application and the IT layer. Sharing that information from top to bottom would make regular engineers with a balanced life, to perform more than 10x.

I strongly believe that not body is inherently better than other, it is just a matter of how much information they have acquired and how that information was shaped in their brains.

In some companies the CEOs, CTOs, are paid 100x or 200x and the value is because they worth it. But not because they are super heroes, it is because the information they have over the business logic, the application or the Technology that the companies uses to operate.

Subordinates are intended to do just the little part they are concerned without having an overall view of the context. Some years ago, I was hired by a company that had a complex system, no requirements written, no description of the processes, no comments in the code, ... I had to figure it out everything just by reading the code. I understood soon that was intentional, and my chief was pleased that I did ask everything because that made him feel more valuable.

Instead of explaining the logic, he used to translate the task to explanations like: "You just have to put a button here, a database field here, and make the calculation with this formula". I did quit as soon as possible, because I felt that like blind programming

There is an interesting development paradigm called Domain Driven Design that seems to look for the mechanism of sharing all the knowledge of Business Logic (the problem domain) and quickly broadcast its changes to the engineers (Event Sourcing and Event Storming).

There is also a programming paradigm called Feature Oriented Programming that models the domain features by mean of entities that can automate the software creation or generate part of them. This seems to be an attempt to model reusable structures (which represent the projection of the concepts of the problem domain) and combine them to get the product.

We also have the last advances in Devops, with technologies that aids the build, develop, test, and package into reusable deployment units that can be customized and combined during provisioning by mean of managed configurations.

If one focus on the big picture that is Enterprise Architecture, everything seems like an attempt of cross-sharing information of its layers (Strategy, Business, Application, Technology, Implementation and Migration) in the form of reusable structures of lower complexity that can be combined in different contexts by engineers.

If we keep in mind that engineering is not focused into discovering new knowledge (that is science), just to apply the knowledge for build solutions... then we agree that everything is trending to give more X to the performance of regular engineers.

So please everybody stay quiet, just stay tuned and do not pretend to be a genius or 10x engineers... If we keep us up-to-date with the trends we will soon become all 100x ones.

Collapse
 
scott_yeatts profile image
Scott Yeatts

I want to highlight a great comment from James' post:

dev.to/thatjoemoore/comment/d1kj

I commented on that as well, but building a team around someone who actually can magically produce 10x more work than others is a TERRIBLE idea. The bus factor is coming for you haha!

Collapse
 
autoferrit profile image
Shawn McElroy • Edited

Just found this.

10x.engineers

Really though. This all also reminds me of the painful experience of an old employer/small business looking for "rockstar developers" or "ninja developers" and wondering why nobody ever passed his "test".

Collapse
 
picocreator profile image
Eugene Cheah

Personally been struggling with lots of inner thoughts on this. The root of it - I really hate the 10x term, especially the many misunderstood myths around it (along with hero syndrome), and how I strongly believe in 10x being very contextual (anyone can be a 10x given the correct context).

Previously (before the tweet storm) - in a separate article

I stood by the idea of 10x being a myth, and more the product of large organization having really bad recruitment practices.

To be very frank, crude, and also "In my honest opinion" only (so add lots of salt)


There are a lot of programmers who are really bad. Like 10x or even 100x bad.

So as most pointed out, it ended up as a business term in larger companies. Especially nonengineering companies, who could not know better regarding programming.

Because due to their sheer hiring size - a good chunk of their developers ends up being really bad, or worse, being busy with politics rather than actual work.

So whenever a good programmer, is willing to ditch the political nonsense. Put his job on the line and risk. And get things done...

Suddenly from the average perspective in that company: he is truly 10x (Assuming he succeeded, if he didn't, he would be fired)

I personally witnessed many times as a vendor working for such big companies. Which is interesting to say per least, cause being in an engineering-focused company. We would not consider such individuals 10x. But I guess 2, or 3x technically? I have no idea how to quantify this.

So in that sense, they were 10x not because they were extremely great. But because the average was really bad. And they have the courage to stand up to it.

Also to be clear: For those in such a situation, and made it through. They automatically earn my mark of respect. Cause I will emphasize. It takes real courage to get things done in such an environment. And in development work, cutting through the crap and communication is a good half of the battle.

Personally, I would not stand for it. And send in my resignation letter for a real engineering company... or in my case form my own engineering company.

Ironically the extremely toxic "anti-social" traits mentioned in the tweets - are self-reinforcing behaviors which create situations where the "heroes" constantly look like 10x, or even 100x - because no one else could fix the system (what documentation?).


But, more recently - as I am constantly pondering on how to structure a curriculum/process to bridge the gap between a junior dev, and a senior dev. A gap while not quantifiably a 10x, is huge and visible - completely contradicting in me the idea of 10x being a myth.

Lots of complex thoughts in me related to the topic, including how as an industry (in my country now at least) we seem to have a somewhat toxic "only hire seniors" mindset. Partially due to the perceived "10x" difference between them - a mindset I strongly disagree and slowly trying to fight against.

(I also struggle with a whole other unrelated topic, on how VC's are, and the fact that as a startup founder I am somewhat "reliant" on them)

Collapse
 
steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao • Edited

It is a myth and it is something that I will run away if they are looking for a 10x developer.

How will the company be like if the focus is finding 10x developer.

It might mean that they do not spend anytime to build the team.

Which with the right team, leadership, vision and processes in place could deliver software at faster pace than a 10x engineer.

Look at how special forces is composed. They work in a team as a well oiled machine with very strict process to get the job done.

I would be in that type of team anytime than being around a 10x engineer.

Collapse
 
nina_rallies profile image
Nina Rallies • Edited

It made me sad. I Google everything and always have the documentation open in front of me. Before starting to code I draw a UML and then at each step write down what I think and sometimes draw funny things. Some of 10X engineersโ€™ characteristics in one of the tweets scare me. It somehow makes me feel insecure about my habits knowing there are people who might think I'm bad at what I do because I have pinned documentation pages or pause constantly to think. Also the best programmer I've ever seen was my mentor who was a great mentor. You don't know it well, if you can't articulate it.

Collapse
 
thefern profile image
Fernando B ๐Ÿš€

There's absolutely nothing wrong with using Google, and reading documentation. I do it all the time, I think most people do it otherwise SO would be a lonely place.

Collapse
 
itachiuchiha profile image
Itachi Uchiha • Edited

for i in range(0, 10):
print(i, โ€x Engineerโ€)