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Post by Rich Moy on Nov 9, 2017 12:00:00 PM

For a long time, many recruiters used the phrase 10x developers (or “10xers”) to describe their ideal candidates. But what does that term mean? The textbook definition of it would tell you that a 10x programmer is ten times more productive than his or her colleagues. Sounds ideal, right? On the surface, yes. But for a growing number of software experts, it’s nothing more than a myth.

So how do developers feel about this hiring approach? We reached out to a few people to find out whether or not companies should be looking for 10x developers.

The Term is Often Interpreted as Jargon

Time and time again, developers have told recruiters that they hate being called “rock stars” or “ninjas.” Based on what we learned, many of them harbor similar feelings about the term “10x developer.”

Chris Stainthorpe, the technical co-founder of CustomerSure, says that it can actually poison discussions amongst software teams. “The ‘10x’ coders I’ve worked with have the gift of making ‘boring’ technology choices, showing empathy towards user needs, and a big-picture view of the software product lifecycle,” he says. “But the term is also a signifier of a certain type of hyper-maverick coder, and any of the ‘10xers’ that I’ve worked with have worked to distance themselves from it.”

What does this mean for you? Your company should look for the best tech talent it can find. But when you’re writing a recruitment email or interviewing a candidate, avoid using the term “10xer.” Even the most qualified developers might not apply if they get the impression they can’t live up to your expectations.

No 10x Developer Can Outproduce a Strong Tech Team

When you find a programmer who’s ten times more productive, that means you can hire fewer developers around that person, right? According to Ashish Datta, a partner at Setfive Consulting, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Datta adds, “Fred Brooks once wrote that additional team members cause an exponential increase in the lines of communication. The obvious conclusion is that 10xers work better on smaller teams.”

Still, he warns that the tradeoffs of hiring fewer developers could ultimately be costly.

“It’s great when a single 10xer can build an entire system without the help of a team, but that person could also leave your company,” Datta continues. “The negative effects on your entire organization would be much more noticeable if that programmer was a team of one.”

Employers Need to Rethink The Definition of “10x”

When you think of developers who are ten times more productive than their peers, you probably think about the number of features they ship, the amount of time it takes them to fix bugs, and the frequency at which they learn new programming languages. But Sylvain Kalache at the Holbertson School says that 10x developers should be measured by more than their individual output.

“As a Software Engineer, if you do your job well, you are a 1X,” Kalache tells us. “But if you are empowering ten people to do their job better, then you are a 10X. That is this type of Software Engineer that companies should be looking to hire.”

How can you measure a tech candidate’s ability to share their skills? Our CEO Joel Spolsky says that the best developers he’s met with were careful to explain things well. This isn’t just a sign that a programmer is a good interviewer—but that he or she can also grow the skill sets of his or her counterparts.

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