The 10x Engineers
What's really important in our craftmanship?

The drama, as it is popular today, began with a tweet from one of Accel Ventures' partners.

TL;DR, the 10x:

  • Doesn't attend any meetings
  • Comes by the office when he wants to
  • Their keyboard keys such are i, f, x, a, s, e (????) are worn out
  • Uses black desktop wallpaper (!!!!)
  • Remembers every line of code by heart
  • Full-stack. They write front-end and back-end at the same time
  • Writes code as text, without thinking
  • Doesn't use the documentation or google
  • Always learn, but doesn't like to share knowledge
  • Doesn't "hack," but immediately delivers the perfect code

Everybody was on fire after the thread. We heard about 10x Engineers before on Medium, saw in Silicon Valley, and read in children's books. Some even dreamed of becoming one. But this is where the line was crossed. Obviously, the guy wanted to make a traditional motivation speech on how "we seed, pre-seed, exit the blockchain space with our data science spaceships". But...

Okay. It didn't work out well, but we all had a nice laugh. Just like in sex.

As I managed to google recall, the talk of "10 engineers" was popularized by Steve McConnell in "Code Complete" and "Rapid Development" books in the late '90s. They became bibles for generations of programmers. There he referred to some "research" which, as usual, "revealed" that skilled developers are on average 10 times more productive than their "ordinary" colleagues. Just like children believe their parents, the entire generation of developers believed McConnell back then. The industry boomed with "rockstars" and "ninjas" in the 2010s, who had successfully burned out by the 20s without achieving anything useful.

If this tread had been written ten years ago, it would have become legendary. But today, it seems like we've become wiser. IT evolved and here's how it all works now (according to my humble opinion and 10 years' of experience as an engineer):

1. IT came out of puberty

That's it. No more superheroes, no more ninjas, no more magic. Full-stack gods turned out to be average web-monkeys in fancy wrap. Astonishing efficiency of vim and emacs did not allow anybody to finish any project in time. MacOS vs. Linux vs. Windows holy wars look like kids' hassles. Garage disruptors are now all in rehabs. Happy puberty is over. Now everything is a tool.

2. Knowledge is multidimensional — rulers are meaningless

"10x engineer" is like "three meters of milk". WAT? We've already realized that knowledge itself has many dimensions. You can be 10x in architecture, your neighbor is 10x in algorithms, and his neighbor is 10x in debugging. Which one of you is more than 10x? None of you are. Make friends at last and let's make cool stuff.

Everybody has their own "wind rose" — some stronger and some weaker areas. The engineer's task is to use them correctly. The manager's task is to build an effective problem-solving mechanism out of these roses. Things are getting more complex as everyone has multiple roses. Like technical (I like to code, but not so good in infrastructure), personal (I solve problems well, but always delaying routine tasks), etc. The sooner you understand and use them, the better for everyone.

3. We need engineers, not artists and rockstars

Here's the fanciest trend in the IT — to do your work! It's not about fucking around being 10x, but trying to become at least 1x engineer. Like it's a mature industry. To have professional ethics, to be able to reason your ideas, to discuss review approaches and to record the decisions with documentation or another tool of your choice. A choice that you should also reason professionally. No, a popular HackerNews article is NOT a "good reason".

Once the coder stops believing in perfect code, art, and world change, he becomes an engineer. The insensitive and effective machine. Machine, that comes to meetings, calmly repeats the same thing as many times as needed so everyone heard, googles things it doesn't know, improves the soft-skills as well as tech-skills, and doesn't look for people to blame if something goes wrong. Never. That instantly turns on a "10x" alarm sign above their head.

4. Leaders launch, teams deliver

The previous paragraph is not about suppressing any form of charisma or personal opinion though. We need charismatic leaders. They are the ones to beat the shit out and launch a project. At a later stage, they can't do much. But that's why they form a team which wraps it all up in a cozy bureaucracy and thus survive the valley of death. Eventually, we need everyone, yet at different times and places. Ilon Mask can invent and set up the Falcon X, but his team will assemble the rocket while he's shitstorming Twitter.

Or in more smart words:

Procedural legitimacy is always better than charismatic legitimacy, because charisma is just an appeal to transcendental values, while procedure is rational. But one thing will never replace the other, because procedural legitimacy turns into bureaucracy over time, bureaucracy becomes a new class, innovation stagnates, and then a new charismatic leader appears, who breaks the old procedure and offers a new, perhaps more optimal one. And then everything goes on to Hegel's old man.

5. Humanity is more efficient than productivity

Dreams of becoming "10x productive" turned out to be a trap for the poor people. The tool that works best usually breaks first. The engineer's tool is the brain. Turned out, it's more pricey and longer to fix it than to care of it and not to overload it unnecessarily.

We went a long way from "work hard to be successful", through Steve Jobs' "we have to work not 12 hours, and head" and ended up that we shouldn't work at all. If you can not to work — don't work. If you can make a product without writing a single line of code — don't write. An ideal system is a system that does not exist, and all its functions are still being performed. Oh no, we've come to hyped TRIZ fundamentals again! Okay, let's stop here.

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