Lots of questions float around the idea of the “10x developer”.
What’s a 10x developer? Do they actually exist? What do they look like? Do I need one and how would I go about hiring one? What if I do find one? How can I make them want to stay with my company?
Looking for answers? Here are our thoughts:
What’s a 10x developer?
There are a number of definitions for a 10x developer. Some consider that they produce code 10x faster, others think their work is 10x more impactful to business. Some compare 10x developers to the “worst” developers, whereas others compare them to the “average” developer.
A widely accepted and general definition is that a 10x developer is “an individual who is thought to be as productive as 10 others in his or her field. The 10x developer would produce 10 times the outcome of other colleagues, in a production, engineering or software design environment.”
Are 10x developers really out there?
Some argue that they’re a myth. Others maintain that just because they’re rare, doesn’t mean that they’re not real.
Those that are skeptical claim that the idea of a 10x developer is purely contextual, utterly unsustainable, pretty fuzzy, exceedingly difficult to measure – and even damaging to the tech industry.
« This myth sets up a world where you can only program if you are a rock star or a ninja. It is actively harmful in that it is keeping people from learning programming, driving people out of programming, and it is preventing most of the growth and the improvement we’d like to see. – Jacob Kaplan-Moss
Experts like Jacob Kaplan-Moss claim that the 10x developer is an unachievable goal – both for programmers and for hiring organizations. In a context of tech talent shortage, could the idea of “rockstar” programmers be disheartening potential candidates?
Yevgeniy Brikman disagrees. He defends the idea that there are, in fact, exceptional developers that can bring much more (10x more!) to your tech teams and to your company. He does acknowledge, however, that these profiles are exceedingly rare.
“I’m confused by the claim that « 10x » or « rockstar developers » are a myth. Are star athletes, artists, writers, and, uh, rock stars, a myth?” – Yevgeniy Brikman
As for us, we’ve been lucky enough to meet and to work with extraordinary developers – they exist. 10x extraordinary? Maybe, maybe not. Are all other developers bland in comparison? No, 10x no!
What do 10x developers look like?
What makes a developer a 10x developer (or in any case an excellent developer with the potential to become one)?
“I’m in a team right now which I believe has a 10x programmer. […] When he reviews code, he finds bugs that prevent days of debugging down the road and suggests simpler architectures that make the code easier to understand and change. He has had this effect on approximately 20 people over roughly 5 years. I would not be surprised if he saved us over 1 year of dev time collectively.” – Hacker News community member “pradn”
The tech community greatly agree that an exceptional developer has qualities that go beyond computer programming. Here are a few:
1. They can write business solutions: they have an eye for business solutions and an understanding of what’s at stake. They’ll quickly and agilely identify what needs to be done or optimized to get results and they’ll do it.
2. They can architect things correctly: they have the depth of understanding to make appropriate decisions in regard to simplicity and performance. Their code is well structured and straightforward for others – no spaghetti here!
3. They’re swift learners: they’re able to quickly and efficiently source any knowledge they need (and don’t already have) for their project to succeed.
4. They take full ownership of projects: they take responsibility for the technical and non-technical aspects of a project. Not only will they write good code, but they will install a process, follow a workflow, form a correct approach, communicate, etc.
5. They resolve conflict: they’re able to quickly identify and swiftly resolve conflict or roadblocks that might kill productivity.
6. They juggle priorities: they instinctively know what’s important and what’s not. They’ll invest their time intelligently for an optimal outcome.
Do I need to hire a 10x developer?
Now, do you absolutely need a 10x developer for your company to be successful? In short, no. You can get along swimmingly with a good, tightly knit tech team.
Managing to find, recruit and retain a 10x developer could be an excellent thing for your company. However, we would definitely not advise building your entire tech recruitment strategy on a perpetual hunt for the 10x developer.
“I wouldn’t recommend building a hiring strategy around solely hiring “rock stars”; you’ll end up looking foolish and lonely. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: hire the best engineers you can get and give them ample opportunity to develop and get even better.” – Yevgeniy Brikman
In our humble opinion, recruiting 10x developers is not a reasonable, honorable, long-term tech recruiting goal. Hiring and building a reliable, balanced tech team, in tight collaboration with your current team members and with actual, measurable skills at heart – is a reasonable, honorable, long-term tech recruiting goal.
Hiring a 10x developer may well amplify the quality of your tech team – but you also risk the exact opposite, if you don’t take your current team into consideration:
“If you have a 10x developer, who is also a 10x jerk and they have driven away nine contributors from your project, he’s now a 1x developer, and still a jerk.” – Ryan Scott Brown
How can I recruit and retain a 10x developer?
Sourcing and/or attracting a 10x developer is a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. To do so, you need to think outside the box – and your employer brand is central.
What’s it like to work at your company? What does the work environment look like? What stimulating challenges will your 10x developer face? What are your tech team’s key values?
If a 10x developer were to show an interest in your company, would your screening process allow him or her to stand out? Technical coding tests are one way to easily test candidates’ skills. How would you then evaluate non-technical skills to determine whether your candidate is, in fact, a 10x developer?
Once you’ve hired a 10x developer (hurrah) all you’ve got to do is make him or her want to stay. Retaining an extremely talented developer means giving them recognition, responsibility, learning opportunities and room to stretch their creative coding muscles.
What about you? Have you ever recruited a 10x developer? How did they slot into your tech team? Did you manage to make them want to stick around? What was the impact for your company?