Andy Crouch - Code, Technology & Obfuscation ...

10x Engineers

Photo: Eddy Lackmann - Unsplash

Last weekend saw a thread on twitter blow up in the developer community. What could get such as reaction from a group of intelligent, creative souls? It was the thread below which highlighted that mythical creature, the 10x engineer and how to spot one. This was the original tweet series:

When I read it I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for the author. I first suspected it was a ploy to gain attention for his fund, Accel.

First up, as proved here there is no such thing as a 10x engineer. The thread linked to above lists 11 points none of which make either a great developer or employee.

  1. They may hate meetings. Most creative people struggle with meetings that add no value. They do see the value in a company or team meetings that set out their projects and address user feedback. Creative people want to be creating and getting validation. There is nothing special about hating meetings. I think it’s known as being “agile”.
  2. They keep irregular hours and work when few people are around. When growing a company that is not 100% technical this is a major drawback. I worked (not managed) on a team where some contract developers worked when they liked. They would go missing for days, worked through the night and blocked progress on the application. No one could contact them. Feedback was rejected, it was a mess. That was on a project. If you are growing a startup you need alignment with the rest of the company to keep up the momentum. Flexible hours is one thing but this kind of employee will slow your team down. They may even become a negative force in your team.
  3. They change their screen background to black and their i, f, and x keys are worn out. Sounds to me like they just installed Arch and copy and paste their code from Stackoverflow. In all seriousness, some developers just work with default settings and some configure their setups. We are all individual and I have a black coding background to prevent eye strain. I am not a 10x engineer!
  4. They know every line of code that has gone into production. There is a couple of reasons this might be. They are the sole developer or they are a control freak. Either way, there is a big me in team situation going on here! It also explains why they can fix bugs so quickly. With that kind of knowledge comes great responsibility.
  5. They are Fullstack engineers. This point doesn’t even make sense. There are a lot of developers that work across the stack out of choice or because they are a sole developer. He then says they rarely do UI work. Well then they are not fullstack, are they?
  6. 10x Engineers can convert thought into code and write it iteratively. That’s what we all do! In my experience developers “sketch out” code in two ways. They use TDD to help guide their design and thoughts or they write a 200 line method to get their idea out and then refactor it and write tests for it. Either way is acceptable. I have a developer who converts requirements into database design first and then it flows into code. Again, that’s fine. The remarks about developing idea’s in 4 to 6 hours fueled by coffee made me laugh. My TA took a problem from discussion to working prototype in 3 hours fueled only by Tea (he is from Yorkshire)
  7. They don’t read the documentation and write code like English. No developer brought up since Google incorporated remembers the documentation for everything. Every developer Googles stuff and hits Stackoverflow. It’s normal especially when working with Reg Ex’s.
  8. They are always learning new languages and frameworks. Any good developer will continue to self learn. Whether that is frameworks or libraries, it is one thing that most developers enjoy the most. They also appreciate that it’s key to staying relevant. They know what to focus on for their role or career and don’t try and learn everything. Knowing when to use new technology and not rewriting the businesses core application ever six months is the real skill.
  9. 10x engineers are poor teachers and interviewers. That is because they are frauds and lack any personal skills. Once a developer knows something they usually happily share it. It’s how StackOverflow works! Being a poor interviewer can be coached and anyone who has never done it before should be taught how to do interviews.
  10. They don’t hack things. I think all real, committed, developers should be insulted by this. None of us hack anything. We all want to deliver good quality code that follows the agreed best practices.
  11. 10x Engineer rarely move companies or job hunt. When they move out it’s because you make their life miserable with process, meetings and other non-value-added activities. I am speechless. This is coming from an apparent VC. These are the very people that bring structure and processes to companies they invest in to add value and support their growth. This makes it sound like businesses should be grateful that the almighty developer has graced them with their presence. This comes across that these apparent wizards can only work on their terms at small companies. They are not team players.

As you can imagine some of the replies where angry. What made me smile was the developers that shared their insecurities and imposter syndrome fueled feelings. That’s the mark of a good developer. Someone open, honest and happy to discuss their skills, what they know and what they want to learn. I have worked with a vast number of developers across my career. No matter what type of business you are, you do not want to hire someone outlined in these Tweets. They do not add the mystical value they are rumoured to and will potentially damage you and your business.

I for one will be on the lookout for the qualities I mention above that I saw being shared in response to this Tweet. Engaged, eager, capable developers that are team players and aren’t perfect. That way we can all grow and learn together.

If you have any comments or thoughts around this post then please contact me via twitter or email.