The notion of a “10x engineer” who boasts 10x more productivity than the average continues to be a hot topic in software engineering. Some say the term is like a carrot on a stick, a way to make engineers work harder. Some say the 10x stands for being ten times harder to work with, and others swear by these unicorns that effortlessly devise the most efficient solutions where their peers couldn’t compute.
Within every profession, there are varying skill levels, but what truly constitutes this elite talent tier? With over two decades of working with some of the world’s most gifted problem solvers, we’ve developed a formula for consistently recruiting, retaining, and challenging these unicorns. Read on to learn what sets 10xers apart, how they create outsized impact, and ways to build an environment to help them thrive.
Demystifying the Mythos
The concept of 10x engineers originated from a 1968 study that showed vast performance differences between engineers debugging code.
While the study has its flaws, for example, it combines programmers working in high and low-level languages (bear in mind it was published the year after the floppy disk was invented), a kernel of truth remains: significant gaps in output and quality exist between elite and average talent.
True 10xers are rare, and their edge comes from a distinct interplay between nature and nurture. However, despite great software engineering requiring close collaboration, not heroes, developers in the top decile deliver disproportionate value. Here’s how:
Laser Focus on Customer Outcomes
Elite developers maintain an unwavering focus on solutions that deliver maximum real-world value instead of chasing technically interesting dead ends. They draw from deep technical skills to simplify even the most challenging problems into consumable products and services, leading to exponential business impact. For example, our engineers drove innovation in Node.js file writing, making tools like node-tar run up to 50% faster, significantly speeding up software installations and updates for our clients, and ensuring a smoother user experience. It’s this kind of customer-centric problem-solving that epitomizes the 10x mindset.
10x engineers remain lifelong students, rapidly assimilating new languages, tools, and techniques. They intrinsically enjoy the journey of continuous skill expansion, and they help others do the same. Our team pursues side projects, hackathons, programming competitions and online courses to stay sharp. Željko, our Senior Software Engineer, established a non-profit organization, empowering children aged 8-14 to design, build, and program their very own robots. We nourish this appetite for learning through regular knowledge-sharing sessions and dedicated time for self-driven education. This mindset enables us to continually deliver on key initiatives that affect millions of developers (like PyTorch, React Native, and Node.js) and services that affect billions worldwide (such as Expedia, Bing, and the Italian Railway Network).
Masters of Collaboration
Lone coding cowboys may seem impressive, but they can also be counterproductive. As software scales in complexity, collaboration becomes critical. Hiring competent problem solvers is only one half of the story. While technical acumen is essential, the human elements of teamwork, such as effective communication, mentorship, accountability, and a commitment to collective goals, become equally pivotal. True 10xers recognize that achieving overarching project objectives takes precedence over individual accolades.
Finding, Hiring and Keeping 10x Engineers
With such massive potential upside, how do you build a team of 10xers? Unlike many companies that are marching engineers back into the office, we’ve been remote-native from day one, enabling us to connect with exceptional software engineers from all over the world. Being globally distributed provides significant advantages – access to the top 1% unconstrained by geography, diversity of perspectives, flexibility, and results-focused culture.
We utilize a rigorous recruiting process honed over nearly two decades, assessing problem-solving skills, technical knowledge, soft skills, and culture fit. We prize engineers who take initiative and elevate those around them.
Once hired, we invest heavily in professional growth through mentorship, learning resources, and opportunities to work on cutting-edge challenges. Our engineers gain exposure to diverse codebases and industries, multiplying their capabilities, and we regularly promote from within to retain our stars.
In the ever-evolving realm of software engineering, the allure of the “10x engineer” continues to captivate and challenge our perceptions of productivity and talent. While the term may originate from a study with its own imperfections, its essence captures a truth in the industry: there are individuals who, through a blend of innate talent, dedication to growth, and a collaborative spirit, drive exceptional value. But identifying these talents is only half the journey; nurturing and fostering their growth in an inclusive, global, and adaptive environment is key. As software engineering continues to evolve, so too will our understanding of what defines excellence in this field, but the principles of continuous learning, customer-centricity, and collaboration will always remain at its core.
If you’re a driven developer looking to reach your 10x potential, take a look at our latest job posts here. Or, if you’re looking to leverage our deep technical expertise to drive your next software engineering feat, contact us here.