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10x Engineers

Recently on Twitter a nerd fight started around the idea of a 10x engineer. VC Shekhar Kirani kicked things off by advocating that startups do anything to grab these types of employees. Needless to say, a lot of differing opinions were shared on the matter. It's an interesting topic and one w

10x Engineers

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Reasonably Accurate 馃馃 Transcript

Morning everybody. How are you doing today? In this episode of the show? We're gonna talk about the major nerd fight that happened on Twitter this weekend discussing the 10 X engineer. Ok. So what is this fabled 10 X engineer? Well, the idea is there are these rare set of nerdy engineers who are capable of doing 10 X the work of other engineers, sometimes it's 100 X, they basically just throw out a number X the normal engineers.

And the idea is no matter what these people are like, you should put up with them because they're going to push your project forward and you're gonna see huge results because these are basically the all stars of code development. So Shenkar Kirani who's an investor based in India, kicked this off and basically said, hey, founders, if you find a 10 X engineer, just grab on, do whatever it takes to get them on board because they are going to help your start up, get out of those early stages better than anybody.

It's worth paying them what you need to pay them to get on board because you're gonna get that 10 X result and guess what things got savage. You think somebody would have dropped that? Hey, Vim is better than emacs or E A is better than Vim or if you use tabs versus spaces, you're an idiot, some sort of, you know, fundamental nerd level.

And it was really interesting because some people replied immediately with, you know, parody accounts, the 10 XCT. Um, all this kind of crazy stuff. Some people took it seriously and discussed it. There was a whole bunch of people who supported Kirani and said, yes, absolutely. If you see a 10 X engineer, you should jump on board.

Let me summarize my experience because this is not necessarily about just building a product. This is about a team that builds that product and the sustainability of that product down the uh throat its life cycle. So Kirani might be actually right in the fact that if you can get a 10 X engineer on board, you can probably get something out the door quicker than you normally would.

But at what cost and his argument is, it really matter what the cost is because a good manager would be able to handle that cost. So if you have somebody who's basically uh an a hole and won't work with the rest of the team. If they're a 10 X jerk, that's fine.

You can isolate them and they can just be an individual contributor and what's the harm? You're just getting 10 X the value of a normal engineering's pace or output. But I would argue that there's a ton of challenges here. So I've been a uh active athlete, despite my, for most of my life, I've played on teams that have had amazing amounts of success.

I've played on teams that were absolutely disastrous. Now, later in life, I'm coaching, I coached novice basketball. I was involved in leading scouts, which is a nonathletic team. I've been obviously involved in professional teams my entire life, I've seen this from every angle that I can conceivably think of.

And here's what my opinion is and this applies directly to secure teams as well because we're hitting this gap where you're grasping for any security talent you can to meet this need that we have team fit is absolutely critical. It is by far the most important thing.

So let's take a sports analogy if you look at all star teams, especially like in the NBA or if you look, um for pro American football or even, uh, you know, European football, when you throw the all stars together, the idea is like, hey, you're gonna see some amazing things and you do, you absolutely see some crazy plays, but you also see disastrous fails on basic stuff because the team's not used to working together.

And the idea is basically saying, hey, these people have enough talent that they're gonna overcome the lack of familiar and the lack of teamwork and often they can, but there's also a place where this breaks down because this is so the analogy that a lot of people point to is go well, 10 X engineers are like all stars in sports.

But the difference is in all star in sports is you have a coach and you have management to guide these people to make sure that they're moving forward. And there's only one ball, you can't have a 10 X uh player, an all star player off to the side, just doing everything themselves that's not gonna work.

So you need to be able to share. And it is a different analogy, but it's still being applied. So here's what I would go back in, going back to the tech world. Here's, here's what I would say is that if you have a 10 X engineer who is producing 10 X the output on their own in isolation and you're trying to get the product out the door, that may be the right call.

But that 10 X is also called something else technical debt. Because if the team isn't up to speed on it, if the team doesn't understand the code that's written the way the solution was um created how this, how this code actually solves the customer problem, then it's not sustainable moving forward.

Now you're locked in. And this is where I think a lot of teams find themselves is that they find these engineers, they were great. We're gonna put them in. Uh despite the, the social cost, despite the teamwork cost, but now you have to deal with their output and while it may have passed that flag, you're like, hey, look, we built a product, yay.

Now you have to live with that reality and that is not worth the cost. I've never seen that be worth the cost. What you really need to be hiring here is for team fit and there are gonna be some people who are fantastic, just, you know, individual uh churn, churn churn and they're great with the team, but they're not gonna make everyone around them better and that's fine.

You need people doing the work. You're gonna have people who don't individually contribute a ton. But the way they contribute is by making everyone around them better. So if you're looking at one metric, you may see, hey, Mark's not output a ton of code, but anytime Mark's on the team, everybody else is f output two X.

Well, that's normally probably worth it for a lot of people, right? Um Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe you go like, well, you know, when Mark's on the team, everybody's, you know, output is half, but he's doing 10 X. That's the bad situation. That's just technical debt, that's uh mounting up.

That's a morale debt, right? That's culture debt because here's the other challenge that's been danced around on online is that when you bring someone like that into your culture, it is absolutely poison. So let's flip this over in the last couple of minutes here on this broadcast on this show to the security angle right now in security, we are desperate for talent.

You've been tuned into the show, you know, that I think we are doing a really bad job of how we solve these problems. But even if we do fix how we solve the problems, we are not, uh, we don't have enough people. So we need people who have security skills.

But that should not mean that you drop your standards to grab just anybody. What you need to be looking for is people who are great team workers, great communicators and willing to learn and collaborate. Not the 10 X security engineer. If you hire a 10 X security engineer, that uh team cost, that culture cost is gonna kill any chance you have at retaining the other talent.

So I think while it's an interesting discussion in software development when it comes to security teams, it's absolutely critical to understand that it's not worth the cost. There is no point when you should be uh killing your team culture, you need to be building up this team culture.

You need to be really supporting things because your security team is one piece of a larger cog where they need to be going out and talking to other teams and getting them on board to spread the security responsibilities around. Remember, it's everybody's job to make sure that what you're building works as intended and only as intended regardless.

It was a really fascinating discussion to see on Twitter also, some, you know, low grade trolling, some witty remarks, all that kind of stuff, but it did generate some fantastic legitimate responses. I'll link to some of them down in the descriptions so you can read through them yourselves.

What do you think about the 10 X engineer as it applies in software development and especially in security? Let me know, hit me up online at Mark NC A in the comments down below. And as always by email me at Mark N dot ca, I hope you're set up for a fantastic day.

We'll talk to you online and we'll see you on the next episode of the show.

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