The Dangers Associated with Believing in the “10x Developer” Myth

There is no single, definitive definition of a competent software developer, but there is a growing consensus among those who hire developers that technical proficiency is not enough. It is not simply the quantity of code a developer can create in a given timeframe that is important, but rather a combination of their intellectual and emotional intelligence that can have a transformative impact on the development team.

At the San Diego 7CTOs event, a panel of esteemed engineering leaders was convened to discuss the concept of a “10x Developer”. The esteemed panel included April Wensel, the founder of Compassionate Coding; Chris Nikkel, the Director of Development at GoDaddy; and Manijeh Noori, the Director of Engineering at The Zebra. The conversation was facilitated by Alexa Scordato, the Vice President of Marketing at Works. The panel offered several key insights, dispelling the myth of the “10x Developer”.

When it comes to coding, what characteristics make a successful programmer? A 10x programmer? Does such a thing even exist?

Although some companies boast about their “world-class developers” and others proclaim to hire the “greatest full-stack engineers,” there is no consensus on the definition of a competent programmer. To further emphasize her point, Alexa invited the group to discuss their own ideas on what constitutes a successful developer.

Manijeh and her group believe that problem-solving is not simply about having an understanding of certain tools, languages, or structures, but rather about being able to think creatively and devise innovative solutions. Furthermore, excellent communication and empathy are key to achieving this goal, as it encourages collaboration and understanding between all members of the team.

Chris believes that a “good developer” should possess three essential qualities: enthusiasm, group chemistry, and mutual understanding. He believes that individuals with an obvious passion for technology and their work demonstrate enthusiasm for the industry as a whole. Furthermore, he believes that having a strong team chemistry is essential as it allows members to contribute to the team in a variety of ways. Lastly, Chris looks for developers who will be able to progress in their careers while simultaneously benefiting the team.

April raised the point that the necessity for a hierarchical system in the workplace is not necessary. She believes that too much emphasis is placed on competition, and instead we should focus on collaborating with people who are passionate about the project and who can provide something that is essential to the success of the endeavor. April believes that it is more beneficial to work in a collective environment where unique contributions are welcomed and appreciated.

The best practises for ensuring a fair recruiting process

April and Manijeh both have the same starting point in their hiring process; they require potential employers to have a Github or Stack Overflow profile. This requirement can be seen as a perpetuation of the stereotype that a programmer is only successful if they have an extensive portfolio of personal projects. However, this ignores the fact that many other types of programmers can be just as successful without these profiles.

MJ has highlighted that The Zebra does not require a degree in Computer Science from applicants, in fact, half of the company’s engineers have degrees from disciplines other than Computer Science. This demonstrates that the company is open to a variety of educational backgrounds for its engineering roles, and does not limit itself to traditional Computer Science qualifications.

April suggests that rather than solely considering a candidate’s “culture fit,” a “culture add” should also be taken into consideration when making a hiring decision. She encourages employers to reflect on their reasoning if they deem a potential employee unsuitable for the business, as it may be beneficial to bring in someone who can challenge existing employees and help the team reach higher levels of success.

Regarding the incorporation of dispersed teams

When discussing the challenges of creating a cohesive and communicative team even when everyone is in the same setting, we acknowledged the additional layer of complexity that arises when members of the team are working remotely. It is important to consider how best to manage this scenario in order to ensure that collaboration and communication remain effective.

MJ and Chris both concurred that video recordings should be utilized. Despite initial hesitations from MJ’s team to begin holding daily stand-ups via video, MJ felt that this was the only way to guarantee that all members of the team, irrespective of their location, were treated equitably. As such, she now always meets with remote developers face-to-face prior to beginning any collaboration.

In April’s discussion, she emphasizes the importance of effective communication and the need to ensure that all team members are heard and understood. Pointing out that developers may tend to be sarcastic, she highlights the difficulty of detecting sarcasm in written communication as opposed to verbal communication. As such, she advises everyone to be particularly cognizant of the language used when corresponding via email, Slack, or any other written medium, in order to ensure everyone is on the same page.

HackerRank’s research reveals that employers prioritize problem-solving abilities above all other qualities when hiring developers. This finding was echoed by engineering leaders who confirmed that they formed successful teams by selecting candidates with a combination of strong problem-solving skills and collaborative, enthusiastic, and compassionate coding abilities. It is clear that the notion of “the greatest” developer is subjective, but problem-solving is an essential competency for any software engineer.

Interested in finding talented, emotionally intelligent developers for in-house use? Make contact with Works right now!

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