What Is a 10x Developer and Do They Really Exist?
A ‘10x Developer’ is something of a programming myth, a term that has been around pretty much since computer programming begun in the middle of the 20th century.
The simple premise behind the phrase ‘10x Developer’ is that such a developer is 10x more efficient/productive/prolific than a regular developer. The existence of such a person has been the subject of much debate over the years, as well as whether it’s even possible to quantify the work a developer does in such a way that someone could produce 10 times as much as one of their peers.
In recent years, the phrase ‘10x Developer’ has begun to be conflated with the vogueish ‘Rockstar Star’ developer, and can be used to refer to arrogant programmers who believe themselves to far superior to their colleague and worthy of special treatment.
Challenges of defining a 10x Developer
If a 10x Developer really exists, it will be pretty much impossible to prove that they do. Contrary to what a lot of people think, writing code faster or in higher quantities does not a good programmer make. Developers are not (or shouldn’t be judged) on the quantity or the speed of their work, but the quality, clarity and business sense of what they do. Programming is not manual labour, it’s about problem solving, creativity, and simplicity.
As Yevgeniy Brikman points out in his excellent blog ‘The 10x Developer is not a myth’:
"The logic above makes it sound like programming productivity is all about typing speed; as if the 10x programmer is simply the one that produces 10 times as much code as the average guy. This line of reasoning ignores that programming is a creative profession and not manual labor: there are many, many ways of solving the same problem."
To continue this argument, if a 10x Developer did in fact exist, by what metric would you measure them? Time saved? Pretty difficult to estimate. Revenue produced? Difficult to single out one programmer’s particular impact on your bottom line.
So if we can’t definitively prove the existence of the 10x Developer, there’s no point continuing the discussion.
Or is there…?
The arguments for the existence of the 10x Developer
Just because you can’t say outright that someone produces 10x more than someone else, doesn’t mean that exceptional programmers don’t exist, who may well be 10x more productive than an average programmer.
For Brikman, it’s all about the cumulative effect of good decisions:
"It’s not about writing more code; it’s about writing the right code. You become a 10x programmer not by doing an order of magnitude more work, but by making better decisions an order of magnitude more often.
So one programmer will certainly not write 10x more lines of code than someone else, but the cumulative effect of making excellent decisions at every possible opportunity could easily be amplified to a point where their productivity is 10x more."
Why the concept of a 10x Developer could be damaging
Django expert Jacob Kaplan-Moss has gone further than to suggest that 10x Developer doesn’t just not exist, but that it can potentially be damaging and even dissuading people from taking up programming.
"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 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.
If we embrace this idea that "it's cool to be okay at these skills" — that being average is fine — it will make programming less intimidating for newcomers. If the bar for success is set "at okay, rather than exceptional", the bar seems a lot easier to clear for those new to the community. Even once we get people into the community, the talent myth can haunt them—it can actively drive people out of tech."
Is the concept of the 10x developer creating an unachievable goal that is destroying the self confidence of, by any other standards, very talented developers? It’s certainly food for thought.
Does any of this matter?
If 10x Developers do indeed exist, they are most likely extremely rare and should not play a part in your company’s business plan. Hiring exceptional individuals is something we all want to do, but if you’re expecting one person to paper over the cracks with their brilliance, it’s time to reexamine your business model.
On Techloop we believe that there is a role for every developer and that it’s wrong to simply focus on 10x Developers, Rockstar developers or whatever you want to call them. Hiring companies have a variety of requirements for who they want to hire and therefore we welcome developers of all experience levels.
- DEV - What is a "10x" Programmer?
- The New Stack - Are you a 10x Programmer? Or Just a Jerk?
- Yevgeniy Brikman - The 10x Developer is not a myth
- Technopedia - 10x Developer
- LWN.net - The programming talent myth