Rockstar developer. Ninja. 10x engineer. Hyperbolic names for a mythic individual — the superhuman who is worth 10 times the value of a normal engineer. But is this just a myth? Can any one person do the work of 10?
Who is a 10x engineer?
The term comes from a study conducted in 1968 by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant (1). Their data showed more than a 10-fold difference between the best and the worst programmer. While the label “10x” is figurative, the difference in performance can be anywhere from 5x to 25x.
A common misconception
It’s not the engineer’s coding ability or raw pace alone that accounts for the massive difference in performance. It’s the engineer’s ability to come up with superior solutions to complex problems that sets her or him apart. A 10x engineer is able to get higher quality results because they make better decisions than the average worker.
A 10x engineer should not be mistaken as someone who just writes code faster than others. Hastily written code can lead to mistakes and redundancies — costly issues that will inevitably need to be addressed. The 10x engineer knows the most efficient solution to a given problem resulting in less code and fewer errors.
Real life or just fantasy?
There is debate as to whether or not 10x engineers actually exist. Consider Michael Schumacher, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Usain Bolt. These athletes dominated their respective fields. It isn’t hard to see how their abilities were orders of magnitude superior to those of their weakest competitors. Even at the Olympics where the best in the world square off, we see a significant gap between first and last place.
The original study conducted in 1968 is often attacked by critics on grounds on flawed methodology. Since 1968 however, quite a few other studies have come to the same conclusion: “There are order-of-magnitude differences among programmers” (2).
Let’s talk benefits
Having a large programming team can complicate communication. This can slow down the decision-making process, resulting in missed opportunities. Large teams can experience frequent conflict and unproductive disagreements. A team of 10x engineers — more focused, less prone to conflicts, and more efficient — will almost always yield better results.
A 10x-er does more than code. She or he can be an inspiration to the rest of the team, helping others by guiding, motivating, and teaching better ways of working. Having such a skilled engineer on your team will increase competency and keep enthusiasm high.
When you hire someone who knows what they are doing, you save money. An expert doesn’t need to require instructions at every step. They’re less likely than an average programmer to make mistakes. Their experience makes them more efficient, consuming fewer company resources.
10x engineers do exist. They are individuals who have superior experience, talent, and intuition. When you can recognize the qualities and features of a 10x engineer, your hiring quality improves. You’ll set a strong foundation that can take your company to new heights.
If you’re working on a project and need technical advice from an expert, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.superteam.io
- Sackman, H., W.J. Erikson, and E. E. Grant. 1968. “Exploratory Experimental Studies Comparing Online and Offline Programming Performance.” Communications of the ACM 11, no. 1 (January): 3–11.