You’ve heard of the 10x engineer, but I am here to tell you about the Wolf. They are an engineer and they consistently exhibit the following characteristics:
- They appear to exist outside of the well-defined process that we’ve defined to get things done, but they appear to suffer no consequences for not following these rules.
- Everyone knows they’re the Wolf, but no one ever calls them the Wolf.
- They have a manager, but no one really knows who it is.
- They have a lot of meetings, but none of them are scheduled. Inviting them to your meeting is a crap shoot.
- They understand how “the system” works, they understand how to use “the system” to their advantage, they understand why “the system” exists, but they think “the system” is a bit of a joke.
- You can ask a Wolf to become a manager, but they’ll resist it. If you happen to convince them to do it, they will do a fine job, but they won’t stay in that role long. In fact, they’ll likely quit managing when you least expect it.
- Lastly, and most importantly, the Wolf generates disproportionate value for the company with their unparalleled ability to identify and rapidly work on projects essential to the future of the company.
The Wolf moves fast because he or she is able to avoid the encumbering necessities of a group of people building at scale. This avoidance of most things process related combined with exceptional engineering ability allows them to move at speed which makes them unusually productive. It’s this productivity that the rest of the team can… smell. It’s this scent of pure productivity that allows them to further skirt documentation, meetings, and annual reviews.
It’s easy to hate the Wolf when you’ve just spent the day writing integration tests, but it’s also easy to admire the fact that they appear to be dictating their own terms.
In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of the working with a handful of Wolves. They appreciate that I have identified them as such and we have interesting ongoing conversations regarding their Wolf-i-ness. Two times now, I’ve attempted to reverse engineer Wolves and then hold up the results to other engineers. See? Here is a well-defined non-manager very technical track. Both attempts have mostly failed. The reason was the same both times: the influence earned by the Wolf can never ever be granted by a manager.
The Wolf doesn’t really need me. In fact, the Wolf is reading this right now and grinning because he or she knows that I’ve done an ok job describing them — there is a chance this description may help inspire future Wolves, but what really matters… is what they’re working on right now.