Avonelle's Blog

The 10x Programmer Debate

By Avonelle Lovhaug on 10/20/2021

It is always fascinating to me how many programmers want to debate whether or not 10x programmers exist. For the last several years, any post I’ve read on this question has been either a firm: no, they don’t exist, or even if they do exist, they will be vile people so don’t hire them.

Personally, I think perhaps they do exist. Years ago when I was a fairly green programmer, I worked on a project with developer who cranked out elegant and working code at an amazing rate. Also he was great to work with. Was he a 10x programmer? Maybe. Certainly he was 5x to the rest of us on the project.

Thinking about it more, I think the debate focuses on the wrong end of the extremes. I don’t think of 10x developers as those who 10x more productive than most other competent programmers. Instead, I think of a range of programmers from 1x – 10x, and I’d like to avoid the 1x and 2x ones if possible. I recall a developer I worked with at a consulting firm 20+ years ago. This guy was incredibly nice, but completely incompetent. He struggled for weeks with something telling us it was “almost done” but in fact none of it worked. When asked for demos of the software it errored out. Finally he was taken off the project and the rest of the team picked up the pieces and finished it.

I think this guy was afraid of admitting he was in over his head. You could argue that perhaps our environment was supportive enough, and that’s fair criticism, but it wasn’t a particularly scary office. I personally asked for help plenty of times with no repercussions. But this particular fellow just couldn’t cut it.

Or….another guy at the same firm who was a middling programmer, but who had other problems. If he didn’t agree with the team’s architectural choices, he would go away, but come back a few days later to argue the point again, not just once, but several times. He was repeatedly removed from projects because he couldn’t move past decisions he didn’t agree with. To me, he is another example of a 1x developer, because he was ultimately a drag on the team’s productivity.

I don’t know if I’ll ever encounter a 10x programmer, and I don’t expect to ever be one. But I do hope to avoid more 1x ones.