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Cover image for Dangerous consequences of being a 10x engineer

Dangerous consequences of being a 10x engineer

uyouthe profile image Miloslav Voloskov ・2 min read

TL;DR: Sacrificing everything for skill is a sure path to mental death.

One of my previous colleagues is a brilliant programmer. He can fit a very large, complex domain area into his head and come up with efficient and elegant architectural solution really quickly. I saw him as my inspiration and learned a lot from him.

My experience with him aside from programming, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly the same – he was close-minded and violent in his ways of thinking. He was surprisingly insensitive for new ideas for a guy who works with programming conceptions every day. He had almost no hobbies or interests in life.

He sacrificed his personality and pretty much everything he had for raw skill which effectively made him a coding machine. He pathologically couldn’t explore the new ways of thinking and learn new kinds of reasoning.

When you talk to him about something that isn’t related to programming, you see just that – a machine. There was no spark in his eyes anymore.

When we’re born, we’re gifted with a large amount of learning resource. Some people get more, some people get less. As we grow, we invest this resource in exchange for certain skills and abilities. The resource is also lost as you age even if you don’t invest it. But we’re quick to invest – 10 000 abstract points to learn enough to get a job, 500 for a new hobby and so on.

If you see a person who’s a brilliant performer and have a great personality at the same time, there’s nothing magical – he was just born with more learning ability and this allowed him to invest more into skills and still have something left.

If you invest everything into just one skill, there’ll be nothing left for you to remain a human.

There is a great channel that classifies animals as RPG characters. Looking through these videos you clearly can see a pattern – animals who invest all their “points” into just one ability are unbalanced and thus are weaker, even though they can perform this exact ability really well.

There’s no person or organization on earth that can take the huge amount of money you made with your immense skill and bring your personality back.

Learn only the necessary things. Don’t forget about things aside from coding – life isn’t just about creating products and making money. If you feel like learning chess or Chinese philosophy – go for it.

Invest your points carefully.

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Miloslav Voloskov

@uyouthe

🏳️‍🌈 Declarative logic for masses

Discussion

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Shared on LinkedIn with this:

"And to employers: Stop thinking a '10x' 'unicorn' developer is going to magically solve all your problems. In truth, you're probably just wasting a lot of extra time searching, letting a lot of great devs (with much better interpersonal and cross-departmental communication skills, and much broader vision) slip through the cracks, and completely missing the opportunity to create your own unicorns by providing a solid foundation free of bad habits you don't need them to unlearn."

 

I absolutely agree with all of this, I met a couple of guys that were totally monstrous in coding, in DevOps, and all that, but socially just awkward, couldn't even walk straight.

Also, I was on a couple of job interviews lately and I felt that companies look for these unicorn devs, who know all the design patterns to every problem that exists, but also can design and maintain the most complicated AWS infrastructure by themselves if it's needed.

 

Anecdotes don't confirm the assertions about brain development posed here. They just indicate that personalities vary widely.

 

The dismal conclusion of this post seems to hinge on the argument that your capacity to learn is a fixed size which once spent is never renewed.

I find that to be frankly ridiculous. Am I unable to study a foreign language now because I "invested points" in bicycle riding as a child?

I don't think the consequences of being a workaholic can be so neatly summarized, not to mention how dehumanising it is to these purported unbalanced individuals.

Your article draws close to saying that if you meet someone who is more productive than you then they're either just born lucky or inhuman machines.

This is in my opinion a flawed view.

 

If you can’t learn a foreign language, your mental resources are already spent.

In fact, some elder people lose they ability to learn. Their mental resources are either already spent or just lost because of aging. And if they can, that means they still have some resources left.

I don’t see a contradiction here.

 

Knowledge retention works like this: What you don't learn within a hierarchy is far more likely to be pushed out (forgotten) in order to retain other information. Brain capacity is finite, but not static. There is (potential) ability to learn both intense specialization (and in multiple domains! "Jack off all trades, master of none" is flawed) as well as branching out more shallowly in other areas (or again, specializing in multiples of those as well), but not if you neglect the core in favor of "10x" specialization. The more you integrate well within your overall hierarchy, the more you can retain.

There is a reason so many great devs make terrible leads/managers (and don't get me started on their inability to interview candidates, or the lousy conclusions they draw from said candidates, often owing more to said personal inability than any flaws in the candidates themselves).

This is also what colleges hope to achieve (though often fail miserably to do in implementation) through the requirement of core classes not related to one's major.

 

It's an interesting theory and has some valid points, however I wonder how acurate it is, especially the part regarding brain capability and limiting yourself from being human being when spending all the rpg points on specific skill - not really sure if there is such relation between acting like a human, which is kind of natural and biological thing, and acquired skills.

Perhaps its as plain as some people are naturally more social and are capable of coding while others are less social but also can are good at coding. Also there are definitely some people who are extremely introvert but also suck in coding. It's hard to see any relationship here if you ask me.

 

There are in fact some preconditions like being an introvert, but my point is that you can’t spend everything on your skill and still act and think like a living human being. If you’re skilled and still a human, you still have some RPG points left.

Every act of human conversation implies exploration and thus spending points so you need them there.

 

I agree. This struck me as the speculation of a layperson more than the yield of any rigorous study of human brain development.

 

I think you have cause and effect reversed here, friend. The person you describe probably would've been essentially the same 200 years ago, before computers existed, but with a different professional focus. The gob of goo between our ears determines who we are, not what we put in it.

 

Exactamundo. It's far more likely that his personality led him to a field where he can get by quite well spending nearly all his time with a computer than with other people than the other way around. There's a reason that the stereotype of the IT guy is the neckbearded introvert troll in the company basement, even if that's usually pretty far from reality these days.

 

Wonderful read; #kudos.
I believe that will power is limited; and you should invest it carefully.
But I don't believe that human learning has limit. If time management is right, we can grow exponentially; my belief.

 

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Thank you. I’m depressed now and I don’t understand much anymore, especially about how to make what I write appealing and deliver my point. Comments like this really help 💖