Can You Become a 10X Developer?

In the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, there is a scene where John Nash visits the Pentagon to help the military decipher codes. He stands in front of a giant screen of numbers and as he stares, the numbers move and jump around till his eyes focus on the answer. Eureka, code is cracked!

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I’m not sure this really happened (there is even a question on this very topic). However, it does capture the amazement of watching the ease by which a few gifted intellects can solve the most complex problems. It is like a completely alien next level of brain power.

Most of us have been around that one extremely talented programmer. What takes you a whole day to do, they get it done in minutes. We are awed by their expertise and speed. But how exactly are they doing this?

Clearly it is not because they are typing faster. As one developer described it:

A 10x developer will have insights and find solutions that would never occur to an average programmer; they will avoid entire categories of problems that eat up enormous amounts of time among average programmers.

When most of us are drowning in lines of code, 10X developers stare at the terminal and whip up the answer. They visualize and iterate on solutions faster and make better decisions along the way towards the best answer. And often times they can do this without realizing they are doing much “thinking”.

To think that 10X developers do not exist is to ignore our own experience. I was a middling programmer and had the privilege to work with some of these 10X programmers. They are a rare breed though, so trying to build a company on the most hard to find talent is not a reality.

Can a person become a 10X developer? That would be like asking if one could become as great as Nash. There are aspects of genius that are simply innate. I recalled asking one of these amazing developers early on in my career what it would take to become a top programmer. He said, “Solve harder problems.”

That is the conundrum, to struggle through out the challenges that lie in the code and solve new problems. It is in that zone that I always felt the most unproductive, trying one approach after another without any success. That is why sites like Stack Overflow have been such an invaluable helping hand to millions of developers that regularly struggle like I did to crack those hard to solve problems. Collectively, we all become smarter when we can share the knowledge and glean insights from the experience of others.

Leveraging shared intelligence can be useful for companies as well. While companies can have plenty of talented coders, few have 10X developers. If you pool the collective knowledge and experience across teams however, you give everyone a chance to have 10X moments in their work. That is the hidden power of a well-thought out internal community and collaboration strategy, the shared knowledge raises all boats and enables developers to focus on doing their best work.

What is your experience with 10X developers? Have you had your own moments of 10X productivity?

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