10X Engineer Series Part 1: What Is It?
The 10X Engineer: Some call them unicorns; some call them purple squirrels; some call them the Space Cowboys; some call them the Gangsters of Love. In this series, we will explore what a 10X Engineer is, how to become one, and how to find one.
Steve Miller and mythical creatures aside, the 10X Engineer is so rare to find. There’s no wonder all you have to do is Google the term, and you can find a plethora of material talking about them. Yet, I know there are engineers, managers, and all in between, who will go a whole career without working with a 10X Engineer.
Here is the Gorilla Logic take on the 10X Engineer! You’re going to hear both my musings and the musings of our Silverbacks, Ed and Stu!
First, where does this term come from?
The idea of the 10X Engineer is actually rooted in a study done in 1968 by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant. “They studied professional programmers with an average of 7 years’ experience and found that the ratio of initial coding time between the best and worst programmers was about 20 to 1; the ratio of debugging times over 25 to 1; of program size 5 to 1; and of program execution speed about 10 to 1. They found no relationship between a programmer’s amount of experience and code quality or productivity.” – Steve McConnell, Productivity Variations Among Developers and Teams: The Origin of 10x.
YES! Though some of the logic was flawed, the basic principles have been tested in countless studies since then and all point to the same conclusion.
What exactly is a 10X Engineer?
A 10X Engineer is an engineer that creates “Robust, clear, and elegant code.” The core idea is that the 10X Engineer is said to perform 10 times the amount of work an average engineer would. But this is hard to define in an industry with such complex performance measurements.
According to Ed Schwarz, Co-founder and VP of Engineering at Gorilla Logic, “The 10X’er on the team is going to be the person who makes the team better by being there. They are able to discern what an actual engineering problem is and raise the bar for the rest of the team. When you have a group of these ‘X’ers’ engineers, your median expected output is going to rise because the output is dictated by the talent on the team.” Additionally, “The idea of a 10X Engineer isn’t binary: you can have 3X’ers, 10X’ers, 25X’ers, and everywhere in between.” We have seen this time and time again at Gorilla Logic, and will continue seeing it.
Gorilla Logic Co-founder and CEO, Stu Stern, mirrored that same thought, pointing out that “it’s not only about the code – although you cannot be a 10X Engineer without having the talent first – it’s about making the team around you better, too.”
The 10X’er isn’t always the architect, but often helps the decision-making process around tech stack, design, and best practices. They understand the business problem first; they understand the reasons why they are helping to build a solution before they ever write a line of code. The 10X Engineer isn’t always the most senior person on the team, but it’s very rare to find a 10X’er without solid experience, which leads to the next topic…
Can 10X’ers be junior level?
This is a tough question. The most defining part of a 10X Engineer is the talent. Gaining experience isn’t a guarantee to producing talent. Conversely, even the most talented engineer needs to acquire some grounding in the ‘real world’ to be successful. A talented person with little experience can be considered a ‘10X Engineer In Waiting,’ and I’ve seen here at Gorilla Logic that you can encourage the ‘in waiting’ to become ‘in reality’ through a culture that cultivates that talent.
Another factor to think of when considering junior level 10X’ers In the Making is the barrier to entry of the industry they are starting in. Certain industries use such specific jargon that the ramp up time to turn ’10X Engineer In Waiting’ to ’10X Engineer In Reality’ can be much longer. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely more difficult.
Let me be clear, the 10X Engineer is:
- Not just someone who outperforms others
- Not just the ‘over achiever’ or the ‘teacher’s pet’
- Not the person that appears to be contributing the most
- Not always the person who is actually submitting the most code to production
The 10X Engineer is a critical thinker: someone who gets calm and in their ‘element’ when code starts blowing up around them. A 10X’er thinks outside of the box when appropriate and understands the value of following procedures and guidelines. You’ll see the fruits of their labor not only in clean, concise code but also in the functionality of the team they are a part of. DaVinci wasn’t just a painter; he was an artist. 10X Engineers aren’t just engineers; they are Craftsmen of Code.
Next up on our 10X Series: How to become a 10X Engineer!