The Mythical 10X Programmer

I posit a few reasons:In any given real-life scenario, some developers bring more to the table than others, and some do that often.

Measuring that additional value is both impossible and pointless, but plenty of people think that such a way must exist, and that “10X” sounds like a good a way to describe those people as any.

In reality, that advantage rarely translates across every stack, domain, etc.

, but it’s less impressive to say “I’m a 10X developer on Java backends for FinTech apps as long as I don’t have to do any database stuff, and ‘average developers’ who did it for a few years would be too.

”Silicon Valley dev culture breeds the kind of narcissists that think of themselves as 10 times better than an imagined “average” developer (usually represented by some dummy they worked with once).

It’s hard to undo 40 years of cowboy neck-beardery in dev culture.

The industry is getting a much-needed influx of people from non-traditional backgrounds which is chipping away at the lone-super-genius-doing-everything story we tell ourselves, but it takes a long time.

Despite a lot of lip service in recent years, soft skills are still undervalued and algorithmic skills are still overvalued.

That’s changing for the better every year, but it’s also going to take a long time.

Some people are wrong on the internet.

So?This is dangerous for a few reasons.

The biggest is that the dopamine and testosterone-infused “I’m better than you at everything” implicit in this 10X myth is hardly welcoming to anyone new to the industry, much less women, people of color, or anyone’s who’s already unsure if they belong.

Someone who believes themselves to be a 10Xer is also an instant team liability.

Such an inflated sense of worth is hardly conducive to sincere self-reflection, growth, or being willing to make and admit mistakes.

Also, who wants to work with some asshole who thinks he or she (although honestly, probably he) is 10 times better than you?“I’m 10 times better than you at everything!”Here’s a thought-experiment: Let’s say you can measure individual productivity.

You’re on a team of seven, and everyone contributes “1”, so your team’s output is “7”.

Now let’s say one of them is a 10Xer, so if everyone else’s output stays the same and the 10Xer contributes no tech-debt (quite the thought experiment indeed), your output is now “16”.

There’s some risk to this though- 10Xers expect 10X money, and are self-described as almost impossibly rare.

Someone throws a little more cash at your 10Xer, they leave, and now your team’s output is “6,” with a difficult hunt for a replacement ahead of you.

How else might we get to “16"?You’d get a little more than “16” if everyone on the team brought out 15% more out of everyone else (1.

15⁶ * 7≈ 16.


This is the synergy effect.

Not only is that far more realistic, it’s also more robust (losing a person knocks you to “12.


The upside is huge too- if the 10Xer picks up another X (which, again, is the supposed entire output of another developer), the team’s output goes to “17”- a little less than the gain if the 15% team makes each other 1% better.

Teams that consistently produce great results are not comprised of solo super-geniuses who have a bunch of secretaries and clerks doing the unglamorous work while they ponder the good and the true, and I’m not sure that was ever the case.

Great teams bring out the best in each other.

Keep your surgical teams and 10X myths- 15% is good enough for me.


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