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Throughout my career I've definitely been lumping the skills described in this article about not doing work in with the whole "10x developer" catch phrase.


Customer needs a CMS.

Clyde looks at the requirements for the CMS. He sets off to write hundreds of thousands of lines of code by himself, complete with CI, continuous deployment, tests and documentation because he is a very good developer. Through the course of the project he leverages his years of experience and background in CS and engineering to make a well-factored body of software that will be maintainable for years. He did this in only a couple months.

Bob looks at the requirements for the CMS. He thinks "I know, I will use a good application framework and an ORM". Bob writes a couple thousand lines of code with all the tests and stuff that Clyde had. Bob's tests and app code, however, are more focused on the customer's needs, making in maintainable for anyone who can read the documentation of the software he's chosen to use. It takes him a couple weeks.

Alice looks at the requirements for the CMS. She realizes the customer will do just fine with Wordpress with a couple of tweaks. She sets up a hosted blog so nobody has to actually maintain it. She has better shit to do with her time.

Alice did the least work but that doesn't make her less productive. You're solving problems. If you do work to solve those problems, fine, but having more "output" doesn't make you go from a 1x to a 30x engineer.

Bob says he is a better driver than Lewis Hamilton (the current Formula One racing champion). He puts forward as evidence that he got into his car right before the Formula One race, and drove in his old car at 40 miles per hour until the race was finished. Then he measured the distance from where he started to where he finished (which was about 60 miles). He compared that to the numbers for Lewis Hamilton, who ended up a few feet from where he started.

Bob went farther than Lewis Hamilton, in a much cheaper car, with no pit crew. Hail to Bob, the 100X Driver!

Your scenario is much the same as the above scenario. Different businesses can extract different amounts of value from programmers. Just like you can't tell a high performance car from a low performance car in a school zone, so some businesses are not tackling hard enough problems to differentiate between programmers. In regards to delivering a CMS, there is not much John Carmack or Jeff Dean could do to distinguish themselves in terms of value to the business than someone who just graduated from Wordpress bootcamp.

In the above scenario, if you are just a run of the mill business, that just needs a CMS to post PR pieces, then Alice is the right choice for you. There is also no point in even discussing 10X programmers because a 2X programmer would be a complete waste of money. If on the other hand, your company is looking to "disrupt" CMS, you want Clyde.

Another way of putting: just because Lewis Hamilton would probably be arrested for driving through city streets the way he does on the raceway, does detract from the fact that he is still a better driver than Charlie Commuter.

The fact that, in most situations, one doesn't need professional driving abilities is also not of consequence.

I think people who are critical of the idea of a 10x engineer are missing the point. Of course hiring a 10x engineer is not sufficient to Solve The Customer's Problem. 10x engineers are not fairy dust. However, hiring a 10x is necessary if your customer genuinely needs a bespoke solution, or if you are trying to disrupt an existing tech market.

I would also add that one of the main contributions of a 10x is that they raise the productivity of everyone else (creating tools, providing guidance, simplifying code, etc.). I am not a 10x, but I've worked on teams that have them and teams that do not, and it makes a big difference.

I agree with you, but my quibble with your analogy that there are problem sets that will probably never need a 10x engineer, like disrupting Wordpress.

Looking to create a completely packaged toolset, from a custom linux distro, that orchestrates containers and does config management (CoreOS)? You might need a 10x engineer.

Oh please! Can someone go ask Jeff Dean to create a CMS in some semi-serious way and video the result.

Alice is clearly the 10x engineer in this story. Probably more like 100x. She solved the problem with 100x less work. The goal is to solve the problem.

I know that's what you're saying already, I'm just summarizing.

Unfortunately, it is Clyde who will have the better-looking resume and portfolio (will Alice even have a portfolio?), Clyde who will be held up as the exemplar of the "10X engineer", and Clyde who will be getting his choice of job offers. Meanwhile, Alice will be toiling away wondering why she can't even get any interviews despite the "talent shortage".

Clyde has better experience of actually developing programs. He has exercised and demonstrated his technical skills. For someone who actually needs new programs developed, these skills may help to deliver a substantial amount of business value. For someone who doesn't need the new programs but is poorly incentivized to care, Clyde is also adequate.

Alice may have a fine future in consulting, but if her projects never demonstrate hard-to-find technical skills no one's going to pay hard-to-find-technical-skill money for her efforts later.

Developing new programs is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The need is to solve problems. Sometimes the best solution is to write new programs, sometimes the best solution is to modify existing programs, sometimes the best solution is to tweak off-the-shelf programs.

If you select for people who are good at, and like, writing new programs, then every solution becomes a new program. That isn't the best way to run a business.

> Developing new programs is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Yeah, so this is just another case of the principal-agent problem. The thing which is best for you as a programmer may not always be the thing which is best for the company paying you. You'll have to find a balance between the two, and so will your employers.

This is a good point. I think the need for new programs has actually decreased relative to the overall need for software solutions over the past, say, twenty years. Between the rise of open source and the fact that lots of software products being built aren't very technically innovative I suspect the relative need for new code has decreased. It's more often about broadly figuring out how best to solve problems.

I wouldn't be surprised if, in response to this trend, we see the formalization of a new "product developer" role at startups that is kind of a hybrid engineer / product manager. This person can code perfectly well, but is also scrappy and really good at getting shit done. The Alice character in the story above would fit this role perfectly. These people can drive way too much business value for their role not to become a defined hiring target eventually.

So what you're saying is that its better to ultimately move into management ?

for Alice, and possibly also Bob, yes, their career advancement is most likely from software developer to product manager or technical lead, to VP of engineering somewhere.

for Clyde, definitely not. Clyde really loves coding as an end unto itself. his career advancement is probably getting picked up as a "unicorn" at a quant trading hedge fund, or joining a project that is coding low-level technology infrastructure at a big tech company like Goog/Msft/FB/Oracle/whatever.

why on earth would you let your developers decide what to develop? Isn't that the role of the product owner/client/management? There should be some back and forth between stakeholders.

I say this as a developer who, if it were up to me, would just spend all day refactoring existing code and not implementing new features or fixing bugs.

Actually, since we all have a finite amount of time, it's entirely possible Alice has solved real problems with the rest of hers whilst Clive is reinventing the wheel.

For the 99% business he's an expensive liability. Sure he might get jobs, but he'll hardly have a career backed by success.

> Clyde has better experience of actually developing programs.

Agreed. In this specific case Alice was in the right, but there are only so many problems that can be solved by installing Wordpress.

You don't have anything to back that up, though. You know Clyde will make work when he doesn't have to. You don't know what Alice does in the time she has not spent creating a redundant CMS.

Clyde's portfolio will have "built a custom cms from scratch" and then in my interview I'll ask why from scratch instead of using a framework and something like Pinax or one of the Rails CMS packages.

Bob will have "built custom cms on Rails/Django/CakePHP" I'll ask why him the same questions as I asked Clyde along with why he didn't use Drupal or Wordpress or ...

Alice's portfolio will have more in it that just "set up WP site". In fact it probably won't have that in it at all but it might come up during the interview: "Oh, the marketing site? Yeah, I just fired up a wordpress instance, themed it, got backups working and passed it over to IT and got back to my day job."

And then ask, "what was your day job, because I don't need a wordpress themer."

I guess what I'm saying is that if your resume consists of setting up Wordpress sites, then you better like setting up wordpress sites because that's where your experience is.

Your missing my point entirely. This is what the resumes look like.

Clyde: Spent 6 months writing a custom CMS in Perl in support of Project X.

Bob: Spent 2 months writing a custom CMS in Rails to support Project X. 4 months writing feature A and B for Cool Project X while continuing to support the CMS.

Alice: Spent 6 months writing feature A, B, C and D for Project X.

If I was looking for a developer for Project Y, who looks better?

Except in this example the CMS /is/ Project X, not part of supporting Project X

And you gave zero requirements for what you need in Project Y

So I have no idea and no way of knowing who looks better. Maybe Project Y just needs a CMS to go with it. Maybe Project Y needs an extremely custom web application with niche needs.

I think you just barely touched on the lunacy of even debating who has the better resume. You need to actually talk to them and understand what their real experiences are. Besides how do we not know that Alice is actually a major contributor to WordPress or optimizes compression algorithms on the side for fun.

Then in that case, Alice will have features A, B, C, and D of Project Z. She won't have wasted time developing a system that didn't need to be developed in the first place.

I guess all this rests on the assumption that Alice did something relevant in all that time she saved. If features A, B, C and D. Basically you seem to assume that each or some of those are relevant software development work and not just more WordPress deployments.

I guess the point is use pre-packaged tools when possible. But somebody has to write new software, so you better get some experience in doing that if you want to be a software developer.

This argument has taken the original scenario completely out of context. You could as easily twist this and say.

Alice was part of a small team in a Space Tourism start-up. Once their marketing site was online she got back to the rocket science.

Instead of "Used APIs X, Y, and Z and languages Foo and Bar", Alice's resume will say "Delivered project on time and under budget that brought in $X,000,000 in revenue to the company."

There are certainly companies looking for the latter.

The story is simplified. The 10x engineer is usually someone who has the technical skills and knows have to deploy them effectively. The 10x finishes the Wordpress site and then moves on to the next task, and the next, and the next completing them efficiently, even though some require technical skills and some do not.

True. 10X is productivity in the context of business value. Clyde will take six months before he can deliver something of value while Alice will have solved ten more business problems with within that same time period.

The key differentiation is: is the company a technology company (Clyde's approach is more valuable) or not (Alice's approach is more valuable).

I feel like much of high level engineering work isn't having knows (sic), at least beyond a certain level. It's being able to grok a narrow problem domain from first principles, write code, then forget it to learn a different narrow problem domain the next week.

Clyde will have one thing on his resume. Solved the CMS problem.

Alice will have plenty of other things to put on her portfolio instead and should show the 10x other things she fixed with all the time freed up.

Alice is going to have other projects on her portfolio because she didn't spend a year building a CMS like Clyde did.

In my experience people like Alice have resumes full of novel things, rather than a bunch of B2B-sounding internal apps.

Seems unlikely. "Built my own CMS" is not uncommon on resumes and isn't a big draw. Presumably Alice has other accomplishments from the 99% of time she didn't use writing her own CMS.

Clyde is a sous chef at the French Laundry. Alice works the grill at Applebees.

Other way around. Because Alice set up Wordpress and was done, she had plenty of time to work on actual, hard problems that needed to be solved.

You are assuming she is given the chance to work on actual hard problems.

Why do you think Clyde wrote a custom cms in the first place? You think he didn't know about Wordpress? In reality he knew but pushed for the custom implementation because it was the best route to improve his skills and increase his power within the company.

The truth is at a typical company Alice isn't going to be rewarded either financially or with better projects.

I wish it was different but if they both worked at the same company Clyde would be the one taking first pick of all the best projects.

You're my hero right now.

Alice will be able to provide a list of employment and value added to the business.

People, who read that, know what they are getting same as they do the prolific developer with a nice portfolio.

Both are high value. It's all in the presentation for Alice.

Technical Consultants and Solution Architects make more than Coders or Programmers. The main value of Alice's approach & solution is time - the quick turnaround in providing the right solution.

Maybe - but I know which of my ex-colleagues Clyde, Bob, or Alice _I'd_ be calling up and poaching when I needed to build myself a new team in my next role…

Alice will have several orders of magnitude more projects on her CV than Clyde has.

When Alice is applied to a harder problem (that can't be solved with Wordpress), she'll be able to solve it far faster and more effectively than Clyde because she won't have the not-invented-here hubris and will stand appropriately on the shoulders of giants to construct something that will likely be far more maintainable, broken down into saner components, and on the whole, more effective.

Clyde will be valued as a 10x engineer at his company forever, but would probably find it very difficult to start somewhere else where he doesn't have the luxury of having written the entire codebase.

You're assuming Alice only sets up Wordpress, and isn't doing anything else with all the extra time she has on her hands.

And quite frankly, a portfolio with yet another CMS hand made is not impressive at all. I'd ask the same thing: "Why didn't you use Wordpress, or another off the shelf solution?"

isn't this like the joke about regex though?

She used WordPress... now she has x problems?

My own experience of using WordPress is that it's like sticking a "kick me" sign on your back for every script-wielding hacker on the internet...

Don't focus on the WordPress part, focus on the $HOSTED_BY_NOT_ME_SOLUTION part.

I am just not a fan of this. Avoiding Wordpress issues, just using an out of box solution; what if the customer wants specific features? Plugins? Oh those don't exist yet. Do you build your own plugin? Shoehorn some 3rd party system in?

I can't do that. My customers come to me expecting a solution that isn't hacky and just "there". They expect a solution that solves their issues and not tacks on more issues.

I've never seen any good results come from someone doing the least amount of work possible by finding out of the box solutions that half ass most of the features the client wants.

But I have seen many customers come back repeatedly satisfied with their completely custom solution because it has what they want and not confusing or anything, because it's to their specifications.

If doing half-assed work to get the client out the door and a new one in is the best thing, than I'd rather not be "the best".

I think you are fooling yourself into thinking what you want to think.

IME that is fairly common among developers, who after all got into this line of work because they like writing code, not configuring a web interface. So, many developers will tend toward solutions that involve them writing lots of their own code, especially if it involves using an interesting new technology or framework. "Yes, node + Angular would be the perfect stack for your small business brochure site."

But let's think about the probabilities here, keeping in mind the customer wants a CMS (as specified in the parent comment). Wordpress is used by about a quarter of websites. What are the chances that your client wants a CMS feature that no one else has ever thought of before?

It's pretty unlikely. With very rare exceptions, there is a plugin available for what your client wants. You might need to modify the template to get exactly the look you want, but the feature is available. And Wordpress is not the only popular open-source CMS either--there are plenty of options to meet your client's needs.

From your business perspective, using a popular open-source CMS increases your margins: you spend less time building for the same quality. From a security perspective, a popular open-source CMS is superior to your code because so many other people are trying to attack and defend it. From the client's perspective, a popular open-source CMS is more future-proof--they can fire you and easily find another vendor to take over management. Even better if it's a commercially hosted instance and they don't have to worry about hosting at all.

Wordpress has its place for quick, dirty and simple jobs with common requirements however if you are trying to do something a little more complex wordpress is a awful choice.

You usually end up struggling with sub par plug-ins and unintuitive UI's that are a nightmare for you and the customer potentially wasting more time doing that then doing a custom build.

The point is it takes a 10X programmer to recognize when a out of the box popular solution might not be the right choice for the customer.

Installing a bunch of third party plugins is the fastest way to take an already somewhat vulnerable application and introduce security holes large enough to fly a 747 through.

I used to work in the hosting industry - the overwhelming majority of abuse reports against customers were from people who had installed wordpress and plugins and one of the plugins had a major security flaw, and then the customer was off to the races as part of a botnet or spamming.

So you now have to audit the plugins, you have to worry about future updates to those plugins introducing vulnerabilities, you have to worry about a plugin no longer being maintained and becoming obsolete, etc.

Is there a business case for WP and plugins? Certainly. But the blanket idea that you can just drop a PHP application on a server, install a bunch of plugins, and move on to your next more interesting project is extremely naive.

All of these points are valid, none of them are unique to the Wordpress solution.

If you're writing a reasonably complex CMS, you will create security flaws you can fly a 747 through. This is doubly true if the CMS isn't the end goal and rather a necessary dependency for what's actually needed.

The only guard against security holes is battle-testing your code - Wordpress may not be the most secure thing in the world, but it's likely more secure than something you can whip up yourself in a jiffy.

Ditto maintenance and obsolescence - in fact this problem is probably worse for a homebrew solution than WP, since the number of people qualified to maintain this homebrew codebase is approximately one, whereas you can actually hire for WP plugin maintainers if you need to. Likewise, homebrewing your own solution and then moving onto the next project literally means it's not being maintained from day one, which is strictly worse than even a casually maintained plugin.

WP installs aren't always the right solution, nor is deploying some off the shelf code, but choosing to write your own code needs to pass a higher standard than is normally applied in most companies - it's silly to complain that some open source thing might stop being maintained when by default what you write yourself is also not actively maintained ;)

> it's silly to complain that some open source thing might stop being maintained when by default what you write yourself is also not actively maintained ;)

I certainly agree to a large extent, but there's a lot that mitigates this as well:

When it's code you write, you have control over feature creep, documentation, comments, etc.

If you write something that only does what you need, you reduce a lot of the attack surface vs. off the shelf plugins, and you are in a position to make sure that the code commented and well documented. You don't have that sort of quality control over a third party plugin, and you may down the line be in for a rude awakening when it's no longer developer and has a breaking problem, and you open it up and find the code is a completely undocumented mess from top to bottom.

Of course if you're rushing something out the door, you might not produce anything better - but if you're a software shop with solid engineers, you have a high chance of being able to get better quality code out there than a lot of WP plugins.

(That being said, WP today is a lot more secure itself than it was in the past - the right option might be not writing the CMS from scratch, but writing any plugins you need from scratch)

I get your points, but at least with custom code you have security by obscurity. Using out of the box stuff puts you in a higher level of security risk because anyone can access the code and find bugs and how to exploit them. At least with custom code, it'll take some time for them to find something and attack you.

I mean for crying out loud, just installing Wordpress invites people trying to get in using automated tools. You can deploy a wordpress blog at it's default state, and wake up 3 days later to it being spammed.

The bad guys generally don't bother browsing Wordpress code to find vulnerabilities. It's tiresome to do, especially since a lot of good guys are doing the same thing and patching the obvious bugs.

Instead they use automated attacks to test any website directly for the most common errors. Understand that this is not limited to Wordpress. The types of vulnerabilities they test for are universal: password brute force, directory permissions, code injection, XSS, etc.

Sometimes one of these tests works, a site gets hacked, and then the developer has to a) recognize the site has been hacked, b) diagnose the problem, c) patch the hole, and d) recover the site.

For open-source projects like WordPress, the developer can then contribute the patch back to the community, and everyone else can pre-emptively fix their sites, even if they haven't been hacked yet. Bad guys also get these patches, and add automated attacks based on them. These are often what you see in WP logs, but such attacks are easily defeated by simply applying patches when they come out.

For custom-developed sites, you the developer must do all those steps by yourself, and yes that means you probably won't know about vulnerabilities until they are exploited.

The problem with custom solutions I see is that they are usually awesome at the first iteration but when the customer comes back wanting new features each subsequent version degrades. By degrades I mean that it takes longer, it is a little messier, a little hackier.

I believe this is honestly true for most software. The longer something has been around the more hacks it will inevitably have in it. The projects I have seen that last the longest are the ones built with a solid, generic foundation capable of handling all types of requests with minimal user touch.

I am not necessarily saying all out of the box solutions do this well but certainly, most if not all off the shelf parts have been iterated more to hammer out bugs, security issues, get the feel right, etc. than your homegrown bit ever could.

I of course couldn't advocate that wordpress is the solution to everything but if it meets the customer's needs right now and will do so for the foreseeable future, I see no reason not to use a mature, existing framework.

So how would you suggest getting the technical knowledge to build solid, generic foundations if most projects don't have them?

Rolling your own is almost never the best solution unless you are creating something truly innovative. This is almost never the case for client work as they are operating in defined markets. What always fails to get factored in is total lifetime cost - writing and deploying the code is a marginal part of that

Okay, so they need specific features and plugins. Start with WordPress, then write a WordPress plugin to your customer's specifications. You skipped writing 90% of the CMS, which is also tested and secured by a large group of developers. You have a much smaller codebase you're responsible for maintaining.

And what if the client wants a CRM... Do you install a popular CRM plugin, and then tell the customer to ignore 90% of what's in their dashboard, because posting articles isn't something they want?

If I as a client came to a company and said I wanted a CRM built for my company, and they gave me a Wordpress blog with a shitty CRM plugin, I'd request a refund and find someone who is actually going to build to my needs, and not hurry me through the tunnel to get my money and go onto someone else.

But I believe in quality over quantity. I'd rather spend time building a custom solution (Note, just because I am building a CRM doesn't mean I build the whole thing from the ground up, I use frameworks) that is going to make my client ecstatic and return again and again, than be like a friend's company. No good reviews. My current boss told me he had them make him a website few years ago. He said that lets just say he wouldn't be going back to them anytime soon. Why? Because they build EVERYTHING on WordPress.

>>My current boss told me he had [a friend's company] make him a website few years ago. He said that lets just say he wouldn't be going back to them anytime soon. Why? Because they build EVERYTHING on WordPress.

Sure, but that sounds like a strawman. The lesson in the original post isn't about building EVERYTHING on WordPress. It's about knowing when to use existing tools and solutions instead of reinventing the wheel.

>>I'd rather spend time building a custom solution... that is going to make my client ecstatic and return again and again

It completely depends on the project. If it is for a mission-critical application that needs a lot of custom, well-designed features, building it yourself might make sense. Otherwise using something someone else has built is just as likely to make your client ecstatic because you just saved them a lot of money and time.

> And what if the client wants a CRM... Do you install a popular CRM plugin, and then tell the customer to ignore 90% of what's in their dashboard, because posting articles isn't something they want?

No, I tell them to pay for Salesforce, because I'm not going to build something as good as Salesforce in anything approaching a normal project's budget, and I introduce them to trusted Salesforce consultants I know. It's more important to me that they get the right thing rather than pay me to do the wrong thing. And if you are building a CRM, even with a "framework", for any sort of business under, say, ten thousand employees, it's very likely--not without exception, but I'm betting hard in this direction and I will very rarely lose--that you are not doing the right thing for your client.

> If I as a client came to a company and said I wanted a CRM built for my company, and they gave me a Wordpress blog with a shitty CRM plugin,

The parent comment at the head of this subthread specified that the client wants a CMS. That's how we got on the topic of Wordpress to begin with.

I agree that Wordpress would be a terrible platform for building a CRM. But I am dubious that anyone needs a custom CRM. There are literally dozens of commercially available CRMs at all price points and industries.

That's just an example. I am building a custom CRM as part of a service right now. Or should I shoehorn Salesforce into this service and tell all my customers that to use that feature of our service, they have to also have a membership with salesforce?

My customers pay me for the features I am building all into this service... Not to charge them to hook a membership for another company up to it.

Then I have to provide support for Salesforce. Their service goes down, now I have my customers mad at me because part of my service is down.

No thanks.

It doesn't have to be Salesforce, but yes, I think you should help them find the right CRM solution, and configure and integrate it.


Giving the customer direct ownership of their CRM database is a feature, not a bug. They will benefit from a CRM development team who has dedicated experience and expertise in CRM, plus they'll benefit from the feature and security requests of the other CRM customers. And it will make them less dependent on you, specifically. Which, from the client's perspective, is a good thing.

Edit to add: what's more likely, that Salesforce goes down, or that you are unavailable for some reason?

"And what if the client wants a CRM... Do you install a popular CRM plugin, and then tell the customer to ignore 90% of what's in their dashboard, because posting articles isn't something they want?"

No, you modify the template so it's not showing the stuff they don't want. Problem solved.

"If I as a client came to a company and said I wanted a CRM built for my company, and they gave me a Wordpress blog with a shitty CRM plugin, I'd request a refund and find someone who is actually going to build to my needs, and not hurry me through the tunnel to get my money and go onto someone else."

And if I was your boss, I'd fire you for wasting my money.

"But I believe in quality over quantity."

Nobody here is any different. The difference is that I don't think that the only one who can deliver quality is me.

"I'd rather spend time building a custom solution (Note, just because I am building a CRM doesn't mean I build the whole thing from the ground up, I use frameworks) that is going to make my client ecstatic and return again and again, than be like a friend's company."

And again, you're assuming that result isn't possible with an off the shelf solution.

>And what if the client wants a CRM...






Now figure out the integration between it and the WP site.

I would never just roll my own solution for a client. The whole point of open source is that it's battle tested.

It also saves you lots of time that could be used on the features they actually do want.

Most clients just want a soluton that works

I suppose it does allow you to lock them in easier with a custom solution.

Custom software is a business risk not an asset. Your company processes and people become dependent on workflows that lock you into the software. You become beholden to a single vendor, and eventually the pain of switching away from a woefully outdated system becomes all but impossible. Just ask the companies that still rely on hundreds of millions of lines of COBOL.

To add to this: Very old custom software located on internal systems is one thing, imagine if you are relying on 15 year old web-based software from a vendor that no longer exists. How do you protect that?

I think the point is that the developer should attempt to understand what the client actually needs and act intelligently to determine what tools or technologies would be best for the job.

If your client have the money to pay for the n months of work and maintenance, it is fine. I think most people try to use this solution because budget and time constraints.

Where in the story does it imply that Alice did halfassed or hacky work? And do not say because she used Wordpress or another off the shelf solution.

If you're using WordPress, then you should be declaring that as a global.

As would a custom cms I know as a few years back our custom blogging platform got hacked and was used to host many GB of pirated movies.

> She sets up a hosted blog so nobody has to actually maintain it.

Somebody has to maintain a Wordpress blog, keeping it updated and the plugin list pruned to reasonability. That somebody may be the end user, but a non-technical user maintaining a piece of business-critical software carries its own set of problems.

Someone years ago at my company solved this problem by integrating Wordpress into their own home-baked e-commerce platform. The platform wasn't maintained, Wordpress wasn't maintained, when I came in years later, I found a mess that wasn't even worth maintaining anymore. Eventually it broke. I refused to fix it and so we moved to hosted Wordpress just like Alice.

My solution would have been to find a Rails-based self-hosted blogging platform that I could integrate into my daily workflow. I told them I wouldn't be able to help them if Wordpress breaks and that Wordpress gets hacked all the time. I could have gotten it up in a single day, no big deal. No dice.

Company politics and strategy determine how productive a programmer is. Make him/her do stupid shit and they won't get much done. They say they don't want silos, but then all their technology decisions do is create silos.

> Somebody has to maintain a Wordpress blog

"Hosted blog" here means someone else is maintaining it -- Wordpress.com or some other provider. You pay a little bit of extra cash, and you don't have to spend hours deploying patches.

They can't secure Wordpress for you. You still have to do that yourself. Wordpress plugins are chock-full of holes, probably the biggest attack surface this side of Windows XP.

In a lot of cases with the 'hosted' platforms, you're limited to a handful of 'approved' plugins that have been vetted and are kept up to date for you. So... you're getting protected, but losing out on one of the primary reasons people choose WP in the first place - customizability. But it's not the reason everyone does, hence the hosted places can still thrive.

Sounds great in theory. But what about the business perspective? Alice fixed your problem but Clyde gave your company a new product which can bring revenue and become even more profitable that your existing products.

Remember Slack? They needed to chat. Alice said "let's use mIRC". Clyde implemented an IRC clone. Now Slack is a billion-dollar business...

If you want to post animated gifs and embed youtube videos you can't use IRC. Everything depends on the requirements. To find the right solution you have to understand what your client needs, not what he thinks he needs.

Yes you can, plenty of IRC clients let you post animated gifs, some would let you embed youtube videos I am sure.

Nope. And you have no guarantee that the server supports sending that, or that anyone else is using the same IRC client.

Then the question becomes: Is your company Slack?

A lot of assumptions that I think distract from the important - understanding the need vs solution first thinking.

The business might not be out to build their slack, chat could just be enough of a transformer alone. Besides, Slack is IRC client re-skinned with a bit different rendering. It's not the first either but maybe a business case is good enough to just chat as a big improvement.

Many organizations do just fine using something like Microsoft Lync, as much as I like Slack it's not for all users or instances.

This is a terribly flawed analogy.

90% of companies that try that are going to fail.

There are too many facets to this.

Clyde likely has fewer but very good job prospects, but better job stability and higher pay.

Alice probably learns little day-to-day if she makes a living setting up Wordpress, and likely has lower job satisfaction than, say, Bob.

I'd rather be Clyde, but then I like spending my time coding, thinking and analysing, and tend to be fairly unproductive.

Alice would make a lot because she's billing as a consultant that evaluates needs and produces a working, scalable, "runs itself" solution. She's not being paid for making WP sites, but for identifying that your complex needs can be satisfied thereby.

It's like the old joke, "I'm not billing you $500 for tightening a screw; I'm billing you $500 for the expertise needed to recognize that that was your problem."

(In my work, there have been times when I spent a week working on a problem and ended up with pull request changing only five lines, but it took a lot of research to find out exactly how to change those five lines.)

That's not quite true. He mentioned Alice has better shit to do. She realizes that there is other more important work to do and building a CMS is not the thing to spend time and budget on.

But if you're Alice, you can spend your time coding the new, exciting stuff, instead of coding yet another CMS for the umpteenth time.

Funny thing is, how often is it really "Wordpress with a couple of tweaks"?

I mean, seriously, I've seen too much devs out there, hacking Typo3, Wordpress or Drupal into oblivion to do their bidding.

There are hundreds of companies just doing this.

If you are making a marketing website, Wordpress is great. Also, all marketers and bloggers know how to use the admin. I have seen several website projects go off the rails because some developer involved felt that they were too good for Wordpress and turned the job into a personal hobby horse with some "superior" framework that resulted in an end product unusable by anyone else.

Even better if they use their "own" superior framework, because they can do better than Wordpress :D

Well, I saw both. Wordpress and Typo3 filled with dozens of custom modules and "from scratch apps" with half baked solutions.

Maybe it just feels to me that the customized CMS-consultancies are in the majority, because they do their stuff for marketing-customers, so they have more skill in getting the word out.

Slightly irrelevant: I once was in a team where part of the solution involved one dev "hacking Drupal into oblivion" (seriously, that description is incredibly apt). In the end, he had a nervous breakdown and quit the company.

This was mostly caused by unreasonable expectations and a tremendous pressure on the poor guy, but I still like to think that trying to turn Drupal into an eldritch abomination had something to do with it...

You got the names wrong: Bob is Dilbert, Clyde is Alice and Alice actually is Wally.

Wally is the 100x engineer.

This is amazing I didn't even realize.

True but:

When the next round of layoffs come Alice is the least needed, so unless she is good at making sure everyone knows she gets the best solutions, she's likely to get canned.

Then when they apply at the new job at the local starup Alice is surely going to fail the first round programming quiz.

You are making the fallacious assumption that this is the one and only thing that Alice has ever done, because it's the one thing that we've talked about, and it is therefore the one thing under the metaphorical lamp post that you're thinking about.

If this is a pattern that recurs over weeks, months, and years, the delta in results between Alice and even Bob, let alone Clyde, only opens wider. Alice will surely have other opportunities to do "real programming". Granted, the way Alice is doing it may not be immediately impressive on its own but if it has someone else to compare against it becomes more evident.

I can say I've seen the Clyde solution before, but cpdean's story is rather optimistic. In the real world, the Clyde solution actually delivers late, is usually badly bodged together under the hood due to the too-late recognition of the impending deadline, and will actually create an ongoing maintenance nightmare as his code will be buggy and yet not perform very well no matter how much he bangs on it. In the real world, this sometimes gets combined with a bad manager who sees Clyde engaging in heroics and thinks Clyde is dedicated and stuff, but this is far from a sure thing. That's a very specific kind of bad manager and Clyde would be well advised not to count on having that exact kind of manager. (Heck, I've been Clyde. Very educational. Terrible use of resources.)

>Heck, I've been Clyde. Very educational. Terrible use of resources.

Agreed. So looking back are you happy you took Clyde's path? If you had to advise a new grad today, what would you recommend?

Do the Alice thing, leave early, and do useless programming puzzles for several hours in the afternoon?

Do the Alice thing, leave early

Ha! First you have to find a company where the reward for finishing early isn't more work.

Well, in that case, just look busy in your cube.

That's an awfully pessimistic view, and assumes that she is the only one that sees the value in this situation. Also, nowhere was the assertion made that Alice was not a competent programmer that couldn't pass a test, merely that she used her time more wisely in this situation.

I'm starting to wonder if we would be having this same conversation if we substituted the name "Alice" for "John."

This may have hit the nail on the head: nobody is arguing about Bob and Clyde.

Hopefully by then someone will notice Alice should be a team lead or manager due to her pragmatic and customer focused nature.

yeah, that's taking away a pragmatic developer from what she does best.

The goal being Alice will transmit her methods and habits to the entire team.

I think that will be wrong too. A good team lives from a variety of experiences and abilities. The trick is to find the right team member for the job.

Why does everyone assume that Alice just sat on her ass the whole time? That she doesn't know how to program just because she knew she had better things to do than bring yet another half-assed CMS into the world?

Alice is the only one who realizes its our job to build products, not write code.

Well for many , their job is to prepare themselves for their next cushier , more high paying job.

Noone wants to be the drone who installs wordpress plugins.

Sure they do. For someone who is a little bit tech savvy, but not senior engineer level, there is pretty good money to be made setting up Wordpress sites and the like. This person can be an interface to the small or medium business owner who knows nothing about the interwebs but needs to get a presence online.

Alice learns that problems can be solved by changing problem scope and re-using existing tools. She ends up fighting with her customers over what they really need and fighting with her tools over what they were designed to do. Someone who isn't averse to writing code fixes the problem.

I'm not sure I agree.

You seems to be suggesting that the only way to solve a problem is to write code, and that's precisely the point that that article is trying to address; That you don't always need to write code to get something done.

It's the same reason why when you need to build a website you don't build a web server from scratch (unless you do in which case, godspeed).

Again, why do you assume that she's not averse to writing code? Why do you assume that she just forced Wordpress on people, instead of doing the same analysis that Clyde and Bob did?

I think build vs. buy is a tangent debate. Engineers should build software that is the core competency of the business. Within that we can definitely debate who is 0.1x or 10x and whether less is more.

A lot of companies aren't in the business of building software. An accounting firm will not think their custom CRM software is their core business.

A problem here is that the project is rarely described as "customer needs a CMS". If that really truly is all that's needed, and presented as such, yes... use an off the shelf thing that has other benefits.

Usually there are a lot more gotchas that need to be addressed. Maybe WP is a valid solution, with some customization, or maybe it's not, based on a bunch of other factors the client presents (existing integration needs, skills/experience of other staff, etc).

Understanding/parsing/coaxing requirements, and setting and managing expectations... both of those are much larger factors in someone's success than lines of code, of speed of coding.

When the client reasonably comes back and says "oh, and we need XYZ to happen and tied in with the CMS". Well... you're now on a 'hosted wordpress' platform and don't have control of anything, so the tie-ins the client needs are basically impossible (or... require 10x the amount of work compared to Bob's solution). These scenarios happen. We can't always predict them, but with enough experience you should be able to predict many/most of the potential use cases (at least out a few years in the future).

I don't feel 10x means producing 10x as much code, it's getting 10x results, often with a lot of pragmatic approaches, like Alice does in your example.

Yes, Alice is the 10x programmer.

"You're solving problems. If you do work to solve those problems, fine, but having more "output" doesn't make you go from a 1x to a 30x engineer."

No, you're not only solving problems. Especially with a complex stack of software, you also try to stay in control. This could mean, a library or a third party software adds a clean, encapsulated and controllable part to your software.

This can also mean, you add a library, it works, first, but then you discover bugs and missing functionality. What then? Raise tickets on the third party software and wait and swear? Write code around the bugs, until they are solved (a 100% loss of developer time). Add required functionality to the library, which makes you depend on the installed VERSION and each update requires more time invested.

It is a decision, how important the job is. Developing key functionality in house, not to re-invent the wheel, but to stay in complete control, can be a time saving option, even if it takes weeks of initial investment that could be saved with a third party solution.

The discussion, who is more productive, becomes then really a side problem.

Honestly though, I make a living replacing Wordpress sites for clients who have gotten frustrated with how easily Wordpress falls apart when they try to customize it. We have an in-house CMS that does not have anywhere close to as many features as WP does, but features is has are robust, secure, and can be customized exactly as requested.

Exactly my thoughts as I was reading the article. To me, a 10x developer is 10x more effective, not productive. This encompasses everything and is very hard to measure, but I think the point is there is the potential gap in the value of an employee, which doesn't exist in many other industries.

You had me until "Wordpress".

Jane did even less work by outsourcing the task to a guy she found at rent-a-coder-for-peanuts.in, so, clearly, Jane is the one who is the most productive there.

People down-voted this because they hate outsourcing due to code quality etc, yet they didn't down-vote a managed wordpress hosting solution.. seems like a double standard.

The flipside of this is that using a framework without first understanding it is asking for trouble down the road. If you look at Rails and go "Great! Now I don't have to understand how the stack works, I can just put some templates down and have a custom blog!" you're going to be the guy who discovers that his system is slow and riddled with security vulnerabilities because you didn't take the time to understand how all of the parts of the platform interact.

This is why I always groan when I see a "solution" that involves bolting together dozens of different libraries (all out of date because updating any one would break the rest of the system) I know I'm in for a long day.

Using libraries is certainly a good thing and saves lots of time and effort in the long run, but they take more thought than most people are willing to put in. There are no shortcuts if you want to keep your company out of the newspaper as the next big data leak.

Wordpress is an excellent example. Even if you have the basic system down and have the management handled (either in house or externally), there's a dizzying array of interactions with the plugins that can shoot your foot right off. And don't think the Wordpress developers thought of all of the edge cases for you, they have their hands full on the main platform:


At the very least you need to know enough about any solution to deploy to turn off all of the features you didn't configure/don't understand/don't need. So many vulnerabilities these days happen in features you didn't even know you had.

I know the popular saying is to never write code that you don't have to, but IMHO it's less of an evil to write your own couple of hundred lines of glue than to pull in a 100MB package that depends on a dozen other packages just to get that one mandatory piece of functionality.

Most code rot comes not from the code itself going out of date, but from its interactions with external dependencies. Managing the number of dependencies makes maintenance easier in the long run. There's nothing worse than a mandatory security update for a module that breaks another external module that is no longer maintained upstream.

As opposed to whoever inherits the hand-rolled codebase, who will get to discover (after spending three months deciphering the architecture) that the system is buggy and riddled with totally-unique security vulnerabilities because the original author was a fallible human being. YUUUUUGE improvement.

Amazingly, yes, it is an improvement. Having the code all in one place and not spread across a dozen different frameworks makes it tremendously easier to figure out how all of the parts are fitting together.

It's the difference between having to figure out a few thousand lines of code written by a small team vs. having to parse through a million lines of code written by several different teams, some of which you don't even have because they only distribute the binary module and of course you don't have a support contract (if they are even still around). If they had a support contract they wouldn't be calling you.

The one big thing you lose however is StackOverflow. Usually bugs in frameworks have bitten people before and they'll have posted solutions online. This can be a big help, unless your client has a particularly unusual set of modules installed that are exposing some new and exciting bug.

Many modern web stacks fall into that trap. Huge amounts of complexity in order to satisfy buzzword compliance.

> will do just fine with Wordpress with a couple of tweaks.

I see there's already some WP criticisms, right or wrong, in replies to this. I just want to point out that Drupal would take care of this use-case just as quickly and you get a wonderful ecosystem of battle-tested modules and, ignoring a couple security fuckups, really nice secure code compared to WP, or most popular FOSS projects for that matter.

This problem shouldn't be WP or custom code. I find there's almost always some FOSS project that stops me from writing new projects. This wheel has been reinvented so often, that there's often a pro-level project perfect for a lot of business use cases.

Not to attacked new CMS projects, but if you're going to create a new project your first question should be "What can I do here that Drupal isn't doing already? Or that Drupal can't do with just a custom module?"

To be fair, you can build a lightweight CMS with a markdown editor in a couple hours. I speak from experience.

the CMS example is kinda wrong here. What about something that you don't find "off the shelf"? e.g. video processing with hard memory/cpu constraints; in such situations, the real 10x engineer will outshine most others. the "plumbing" type jobs are NOT real engineering problems to begin with, but of course, they generate more "business", in general.

I guess people who design bridges are not "real engineers" because so many bridges have been built before and they are only plugging together load formulas that someone else came up with.

We're talking about a hosted blog, ie., creating an account on WPEngine or similar and sending the credentials to the user. If there was a similar service for bridge building ("choose two points on a map, swipe your CC, get a bridge"), the person using it wouldn't be doing engineering, no.

How come it is not engineering? Engineering is all about solving problems. Good engineers solve problems with less work and time and achieve same or better results (high efficiency).

I agree. Good engineering is about efficient outcomes.

The 10x meme is a software thing. From my experience as an engineer outside of software it is rare to be working on something by yourself mostly you are part of a team and you get the best results by leveraging the strengths of each engineer in the team.

To use the example in this thread Dan is the engineering manager, he assigns the latest project to Clyde. Clyde knows he is going to require some modelling work and that Alice is the CFD expert so he asks her to model some cases for him. He recalls that Bob worked on a similar problem for a different client a few years ago so he wanders over to Bob's desk to chat with him about what worked and what didn't. During the conversation Bob mentions he read a recent paper that might be relevant...

Clyde doesn't need to be 10x as efficient as Alice or Bob because he knows they can get more done by cooperating then by competing. That is efficiency in action.

Engineering is about solving problems, but not all problem solving is engineering.

The CMS example fits in with what the article is about, and really, what 99% of us will see on a day to day basis.

It is true that's what 99% of us will see/do. But that doesn't change a basic fact about good engineer - being able to solve "yet unknown/unsolved class of problems" and not just be able to solve "JUST yet unsolved problems". Plumbing is generally about solving "JUST yet unsolved problems" whereas engineering is about the former. Yes, good engineers will also be (will have to be) good plumbers and that's where the 10x thing comes into play in a big way.

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