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[flagged] Becoming a 10x Developer (kateheddleston.com)
37 points by mxschumacher 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

Total clickbait; Article equates being a 10x developer with being a better "10x" teammate and then lists ways to be a better teammate. Not that becoming a better teammate isn't important but it is definitely not synonymous with becoming a 10x developer.

Did you read closely enough? She’s saying that you can improve the team by 10X by helping your teammates. I’ll take a 10X team over a 10X developer any day, by the way. And last I checked no one has a recipe to be a 10X developer and that’s not even a thing.

10x developer is absolutely a thing, in the easily observed phenomenon that some developers are 10x more productive than other developers. The "other developers" are earning good wages and doing good work; the 10x developer is usually found making 2x or 3x the norm.

That said; I just can't believe that a team can perform 10x by the actions of one person. This claim is so outlandish I may just have to skim the article. It is often the case that having a 10x developer nearby can greatly improve the quality of a product, but that's not the same thing as improving the team.

I didn't used to believe in the 10x developer, until I worked with one. This guy was amazing. Not only was he wildly productive and wickedly smart, but he also cared about the people around him and would give talks about how he solved some crazy hard problem in 1/10th the time that was estimated. Had I been smart enough to follow him where he want, I totally would have.

> 10x developer is absolutely a thing

Agreed, it is. I've seen it.

> the easily observed phenomenon that some developers are 10x more productive than other developers.

How are you measuring? LOC? Semi-colons per hour? story points? If you're measuring in "dollars earned", how do you think their managers are measuring? And can they tell the difference between a 10x programmer and an 11x programmer?

Then clearly you've never met one.

Clearly... but then again I won't work at a place with any developers less than 11x.

> 10x developer is absolutely a thing

Sorry, but the only places I've seen 10X developers is when there are lots of 1/10th developers around to compare them to.

Obviously, that's mathematically equivalent...

My point is, at large companies with lots of very competent developers (I've worked at two of these: Salesforce and Twitter), 10X developers are not a thing on any useful metric I can think of.

The places I _have_ seen someone be 10X better than the people around them has been more a function of the people around them (their overall ineptitude) vs that individual.

It's nice to believe and even nicer to talk about, and that's what's important when it comes to writing fuzzy, warm feeling fluff.

I did read that. Independent of what you would prefer, they are still not synonymous and one would expect an article that says ways o become a 10x developer to address that specifically- not something else entirely.

The contrast between what you expected and what you got is, if we're being cynical, clickbait.

If we're assuming good faith, it's meant to make you question your assumptions and goals and whether or not we all ought to take a moment and smile at one another because a smile is worth 100 lines of code and can actually ship products if you do it hard enough.

I tried to lean on good faith but using common terminology as is and then redefining it in the body of the article is clickbait: alternatives that aren’t baity would include ‘how to really become a 10x developer’ or ‘rethinking what it means to be a 10x developer’.

The article says "A 10x engineer isn’t someone who is 10x better than those around them, but someone who makes those around them 10x better."

I'm guessing you disagree with the author's definition of a "10x developer". I don't really think there is a clear accepted definition for it.. so how would you define the term?

Ten times more productive than the baseline minimum-productivity-to-maintain-a-career-without-hassle developer. Simple as that. "Ten times" is really just a placeholder for your intuitive observation of their performance.

C'mon, we know who it's referring to. That developer who just powers through things, understands huge parts of the stack in depth, and usually sacrifices more of their time than they should to getting things done.

I don't know if you can become that person. I think maybe you have to be born that way, or drag yourself into that position from a young age.

Yeah, I know the spirit of the term. I'm really not trying to play dumb here or anything. I agree that other people can be more productive than others on an individual basis.

I just disagree with using a "10x" quantification without a clear way to measure individual productivity when you're working in a team. It's not like we can just point to something like.. hey, Person A has 10x as many line changes as Person B, therefore Person A is 10x as productive. And unless we have two individuals working on features completely alone, we can't say Person A shipped 10x as many widget features as Person B either.

I dunno. I honestly don't have a good answer for how to measure individual productivity on a clear, quantifiable basis, again not trying to play dumb here I'm admittedly not sure on it and was hoping to get some feedback from others about it.

There is a commonly accepted definition (described in a sibling comment) and the article explicitly says ‘I will redefine the term as ...’ what it goes into.

For the sibling comment, are you referring to this comment?

"10x developer is absolutely a thing, in the easily observed phenomenon that some developers are 10x more productive than other developers. The "other developers" are earning good wages and doing good work; the 10x developer is usually found making 2x or 3x the norm. That said; I just can't believe that a team can perform 10x by the actions of one person. This claim is so outlandish I may just have to skim the article. It is often the case that having a 10x developer nearby can greatly improve the quality of a product, but that's not the same thing as improving the team."

I don't agree that some developers are "10x more productive" than others. I agree that some developers are more/less productive than others but I agree with the article's premise that teamwork is a much more important metric than individual talent. I understand the spirit of "10x developer" in that some individuals are more productive than others.. but the quantification of 10x seems very unrealistic, and IMO is overshadowed by potential productivity gains by having a well-functioning team. Again just my opinion here so feel free to disagree with me on this.

The relevant paragraph in the article is this:

"Software engineering today is a team sport; like water polo, you can’t build incredible software systems alone. So when I first heard the concept of the 10x engineer, I was confused. How could someone be so talented that it overshadows the power of teamwork? In my experience, individual excellence is necessary, but not sufficient, for greatness. Focusing purely on individual achievement misses the larger picture that teams are required to build great software. So I decided to change the definition of a 10x engineer to this: "

It doesn't give a very clear definition of what a "10x engineer" is. Again I agree with them here that the "10x" number and lack of a clear objective "individual productivity" metric makes the term hard to clearly define. Since most work is not done on an individual basis, but rather in teams.


When I was a teenager, shortly after it first came out, a friend taught me to play Magic: The Gathering. I thought it was a lot of fun, got into it as a competitive tournament player for a while, etc.

Later on, I got certified as a tournament judge, and worked my way up the ranks, eventually becoming a level 3 (the current highest level; previously, levels 4 and 5 existed but were kind of special roles for level 3 anyway, so they got collapsed back into it a few years ago).

Part of my role was to train and teach other people who wanted to do this. A Magic tournament judge, in the eyes of most players, is just someone you call over when there's a rules question or a dispute in your match. And that is the most visible part of what they do. And level 3 does require expert-level knowledge of the game's rules and tournament policies, and you get tested on that (a long written exam at promotion, and 3-4 refresher/update exams throughout each year).

But being level 3 is about a whole lot more than that; L3s aren't more useful to a tournament because they can answer 10x as many rules questions in the same amount of time (they can't). L3s are useful because they act as multipliers for the other people around them. They've put in the time to learn how to coordinate a team of other officials, keep track of all the logistical things that need to be done to keep a tournament running, delegate as necessary and appropriate, etc.

This is something that I saw over and over at large tournaments; L2s were permitted to lead teams on occasion as a kind of supervised training exercise (under the watchful eye of an L3), and watching them always brought home just how much stuff I'd had to learn to do in order to make that look easy, and to know how to keep a team running smoothly and getting things done throughout the tournament.

But most Magic players don't get that; they still persist in thinking of the higher levels as just "the people who can answer really hard rules questions", when that's a tiny fraction of what's actually going on. Someone who could only answer hard rules questions quickly, without all the other multiplier skills, might be useful as an L2, but never as an L3 (I started out as one of those people, for what it's worth).

And when I needed to explain the level structure in a short way, I'd always say it was about broadening your focus. At level 1, your focus is answering questions and being the go-to person in your local game store. At level 2, your focus broadens to include your entire local community, larger competitive events, and helping to train and give feedback on your colleagues. And at level 3, your focus broadens further: now you're concerned with tournaments of all types (including the professional level), you're at least a regional leader, you're working on helping turn existing L1s into L2s and L2s into L3s, etc.

At a tournament, when things were going well, it sometimes looked like I was doing very little, unless you paid close attention. I'd wander around the floor of a tournament, having conversations with other judges, pausing every so often to pull out my notebook and write something down or cross something off a checklist, and occasionally consult on resolving some situation that had come up. But an air of nonchalance can cover for a lot of things actually going on; those conversations would be me checking in on members of my team, following up on things they'd asked about earlier, making sure they had things to keep them engaged if the tournament was running slow, redistributing people around the tournament floor if there were areas without good coverage, making sure they got their assigned breaks, delegating or re-scheduling things as needed, working down my various checklists.

And by contrast, the times when I looked the busiest were the times when things were badly going wrong.

> A 10x engineer isn’t someone who is 10x better than those around them, but someone who makes those around them 10x better.

This makes things even more confusing. What do we call the former, then? 10x individual contributors are absolutely a reality. It is generally more about horizontal skills and cutting though things to identify what really matters to the business. If you are a ticket taker, your output will be very limited. But if you can read between the lines and understand what stakeholders are _trying_ to do, but are struggling to clearly communicate, and if you can find creative ways to solve larger problems, and gracefully move around priorities in the roadmap, you are very likely worth 10x-100x other team members who may have similar titles.

The 10x developer narrative is intriguing because 10x developers aren't being paid 10x (maybe more like 2.5x), yet it's held up as a personal goal. Unless you own your own company, you're basically aspiring to deliver actual millions of dollars in uncompensated value to your employer.

I'm not disagreeing with you. If its not a personal goal you are sort-of providing uncompensated value to your employer.

But I don't see it as bing HELD up as a personal goal. I read it more as IF it is your personal goal.

"Dev skills" are like a sport for some of us. You probably don't get paid to make three pointers on your friends playing basketball on weekends but would you find it so bizarre to work on improving your jump shot?

I was programming well before anyone was paying me to. I was just bored.

I don't disagree with you either. I'm just saddened by the way we're trained to accept it as normal that Microsoft's shareholders are allowed to make a 75%+ margin on the efforts of an exceptional developer.

At least in a employee owned company (or similar structure) the extra value is being split up equitably among people who are also working towards the enterprise's success. Especially if it's really true that the way to "10x" is to boost your teammates abilities, this nicely aligns everyone's incentives to cooperate and improve.

> you can’t build incredible software systems alone

Is this really the case? My guess it would depend on the magnitude of the project. With the growth of developer tools available to us, it seems that the team size is shrinking and indie makers appear to be on the rise.

These kinds of articles keep making it up the HN front page even though most are fluff. It's like we keep hoping this will be the list that finally tells us how to truly be some multiple better than we already were.

If anything, this is a list for being a x10 manager, since managers are the ones who need to focus on people and elevating your team.

"managers are the ones who need to focus on people and elevating your team."

This is dangerously wrong. If you work in a team, your ability to work well with others and help others work well with you correlates strongly with both your productivity and the upwards slope of your career path. This is true in almost every profession, and even more so in complex and collaborative work such as software development. Labelling people skills as a manegerial issue is doing yourself a huge disservice.

As I become more senior I spend more and more time thinking about how to solve 10X problems from root cause with 1X effort.

10X engineers don’t write 10X code. It’s not healthy to overwork. They get 10X problems solved for the business with elegant 1X solutions since they understand the system in a deep way. Sometimes you feel like they are taking longer than 1X junior folks but these are the engineers who solve problems from the root cause so they never happen again. Not only that, but they setup the system in such a nice way that it removes friction for other developers and makes them >2X effective. So all in all the whole team moves at multiples of 10X.

And that just comes with practice and discipline.

I wasn't particularly fond of the article, I prefer Antirez's take on it: http://antirez.com/news/112

> 2. Encourage everyone to participate equally


> Your opinion is as valuable as your education, so if you have not educated yourself, your opinion is not valuable.

Some people participate more equally than others I guess.

I use the "Linus Test" when reading articles on how to be a 10X developer. Linus is obviously one of the most productive developers both as an individual and as a leader of a team. If the advice in the column is something that you could see playing a big part in Linux being a 10X developer, then it is reasonable advice. Otherwise, it is advice about something, but not about being a 10X developer. This article fails the Linus Test.

I think I find this cultural cold war in our industry a lot more entertaining than most

Entertaining? This is deadly serious. I think you might need extra diversity training.

I would find it entertaining were it not disheartening at the same time

Are you referring to this specific article, or the "cultural Cold War" in general?

I'm honestly curious. In general I'm not in agreement with the direction we seem to be going as an industry, but it seems to be for different reasons that is generally assumed. I really think the biggest issue is one of impedance mismatch. There are real issues that can and should be dealt with, but we're speaking different languages and can't seem to get past that difference.

Speaking only for myself, I don't buy a lot of the thought around the concept of Intersectionality. When I say that, those who do buy in to that concept usually tune me out. Likewise, when I speak about how do identify and reduce implicit biases in hiring processes and building a culture of cooperation and, as the author put it, a working environment of "psychological safety", those on the other side of these issues tune me out.

I think that's really unfortunate - because I believe there is a lot of potential for efficiency gains (and therefore, ultimately, profitability) through purposeful cultural change. If the same actions also meet the goals of Intersectionalists... great! Finding areas of common ground and working together is the way the world moves forward.

"Entertaining" might not be the right word, but I'm definitely intensely interested in watching it unfold.

This article is particularly interesting to me. I know the author - not well, mind you, but we have a few mutual friends and I've spoken with them at conferences. More importantly, I respect them both socially and professionally.

I have to wonder if my impression of the article is colored by this personal knowledge. In turn, that leads me to ask if my impression of other articles is colored by my lack of shared experiences.

For what it's worth, I think it goes both ways. I feel like I'm often seen as part of the "culture in power" in this field, though from my perspective I'm definitely an outside and make a constant conscious effort to moderate my speech.

10x may be too much. A teammate has recently 2.5x-ed his salary, to half a mil, and feels ok with it so far :) Couple others only 1.5x-ed and seem to be pretty satisfied, at least for now, too.

>So I decided to change the definition of a 10x engineer

No Thanks.

Also this:

> 1. Read everything

Ok, be right back.

Hackernet pay-dirt!

Turning the 10x scenario on it's head was brilliant. I work hard to improve myself, but the low-lying fruit has been picked. This article just gave me several ways to boost my workplace.

Kudos to the author for this one.

Even more interestingly, how does one 10x one's income as a developer?

Based on other recent threads, start working at FB or Google where you apparently can make $400K/year.

Or do what I did and work for a company with Remote in its DNA and move somewhere so cheap you realize a 100% increase in salary from cost of living decrease.

Some of those are factual, many (here on HN especially) of those user comments are inflated values.

I’ve done that. It took 25 years of work and some good luck along the way. Easy!

Now how do we do that in 1/10X the time?

Get a time machine and a job at Bourbon.


This "become a 10x FooBar!" is causing more harm than good. It ignores the aspects of team coordination, self development, mental health, and even taking time for self care.

I can literally feel my eyes roll out of my head when anyone tries to pitch the 10x mantra to me.

I don't even think there is a clear definition of what the "10x" is measuring in terms of output.

Features/story points (velocity)? well.. this is a productivity metric of the team rather than individual.

Without a doubt some people can be more "productive" individuals than others, but I -do- think in the real world, it makes more sense to look at productivity on the team level rather than individual. Ex: someone is very productive at making lots of commits but obnoxious to work with or has shoddy tests/documentation that end up sucking time away from the "less productive" developers that have to clean up their mess...


I did, and still disagreed with the point the author was making.

Thanks for the snark though!

> A 10x engineer isn’t someone who is 10x better than those around them, but someone who makes those around them 10x better.

> 10 Ways to be a Better Teammate - Create an environment of psychological safety - Encourage everyone to participate equally - Assign credit accurately and generously - Amplify unheard voices in meetings - Give constructive, actionable feedback and avoid personal criticism - Hold yourself and others accountable - Cultivate excellence in an area that is valuable to the team - Educate yourself about diversity, inclusivity, and equality in the workplace - Maintain a growth mindset - Advocate for company policies that increase workplace equality

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