The 10x Programmer

I saw a blog post recently about the factors that set apart a 10x programmer from the rest. I agreed with most of it, but like the comments say, the author should’ve included something about creating maintainable systems.

I feel that the author could have gotten the same point across by talking about what makes a good software engineer, rather than a 10x programmer. The 10x programmer idea is somewhat harmful in a few ways:

  1. It encourages impostor syndrome. By focusing so much on a near-mythical being like a 10x programmer, many who care about being a good software engineer hold themselves to an unreasonably high standard. Impostor syndrome disproportionately affects minorities, and it’s an issue to which the software industry needs to pay attention. Being good at one’s job is more important than being 10 times as good as everyone else.

  2. The 10x programmer is a premature optimization, so to speak. If we consider the skill level of software engineers to lie on a bell curve, a 10x programmer might be defined as falling several standard deviations above the mean. This means that a 10x programmer is, by definition, a tiny majority of the total population. For most people, regardless if they’re a software engineer or an employer, this is neither a healthy nor a realistic goal. It’s an interesting thought experiment at best. Meanwhile, there is work to be done in the real world. Rather than pontificating about how a 10x programmer might do it, it’s best to just finish the work the best way we know how, and iterate over the results.

  3. It’s very difficult to measure a 10x programmer. If we consider a 10x programmer to be a celebrity software engineer like Stallman, McCarthy, or Hopper, then we’d be talking about an extremely small minority of engineers who happened to work on high-profile projects. We’d be trading off recall for a gain in precision. If we expand the definition, then the whole matter becomes more contentious. It reduces to the unsolved problem of measuring software productivity.

In conclusion, I believe that it’s counterproductive at best, and actively harmful at worst, to focus on the idea of the 10x programmer. The author of “The mythical 10x programmer”, while taking a nuanced view of a 10x programmer, is playing into a harmful idea by bringing up this concept at all.