In July 2019, a series of tweets from Shekhar Kirani led to a long-term discussion about whether hiring a “10x engineer” is really worth it.
Working with someone who avoids meetings, doesn't want to mentor anyone, and prefers to act as a lone wolf — how does this affect team productivity and company outcomes?
The concept of the “10x engineer” appeared in 1968 alongside research showing that the best programmers are 10 times more productive than the worst ones. In the 2000s, this topic became popular again, as companies began looking for technical geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, and Elon Musk, as Paul Graham once joked, “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg.”
In 2019, Shekhar Kirani (from Accel, a successful venture capital fund) wrote tweets that led to a heated discussion about whether so-called “10x engineers” are really about productivity and motivation.
The main points from Shekhar’s tweets can be retold as follows:
And so on.
Shekhar Kirani, of course, tried to depict an image of a genius, a complex but very talented person whose oddities and preferences should be respected. And yes, this is true but not for all cases. Because here, we run into the good old discussion about soft and hard skills.
The “10x engineer” concept is about hard skills with a severe lack of soft skills. Individuals that produce brilliant code in complete isolation from other team members cause huge knowledge gaps for the rest of the employees. When these lone-wolves leave the company, it takes time for staff to realize what they’ve lost. And for employers — to understand how to fill in the skill gap they left behind. And this is not to say that you should not hire such employees. This is about considering a different approach, which means having more teams full of a“1x engineer” with soft skills instead. But why?
In the UK, 97% of employers say that soft skills are key to business growth and success. Cooperation in a team benefits its productivity. The thing is that an employees’ ability to collaborate directly affects the way they help to achieve company goals. Employees that lack hard skills but have well-developed soft ones are often able to easily gain the knowledge they lack by constantly learning from different sources. Such workers will cost your company far less than a developer with twenty years of coding experience but they are more likely to share your company’s values, find inspiration and motivation in other employees, will be eager to take part in different meetings, discussions, conferences, and so on. The so-called “1x engineer” is a valuable part of any company that wants to build agile teams.
Today, in these “new normal” conditions, when everything is unstable and always changing, agility is not a choice, but a necessity.
Note: LinkedIn’s top three skills for two years in a row that companies need most are creativity, persuasion, and collaboration.
Searching for rock stars among crowds of developers that will revolutionize the market is no longer a common practice. Employers are looking for adequate employees that can simultaneously grow and help to grow their own company.
Here is a list of “1x engineer” characteristics:
Most employers want perfect employees who meet absolutely every requirement. But in fact, "perfection" is a very relative thing. Progress is what makes a real difference because it is about improvement, innovation, and change. In order for change to happen, you need to grow. In order to progress, you need to give your colleagues the freedom to do what they love, even if you disagree with them. After all, you can be wrong too. Without risk and innovation, there can never be change or progress.
Motivate colleagues to develop their current skills to become more versatile and come up with new ideas.
Whether you are hiring a super-skilled developer or a highly motivated beginner, finding and hiring a candidate that fits your company is not no walk in the park.
So, how to choose the right candidate? Start by keeping the following in mind:
Stop searching for someone who will magically fulfill all your needs. First of all it is important to figure out what are the needs, clearly describe them, and focus on these specific requirements. By following this simple tip you make the life easier for everyone involved in the hiring process, get rid of the people that don’t suit the vacancy, and get much more chances to find the ideal candidate.
Keep looking for the necessary candidates even if you don’t have actual vacancies. You can conduct regular interviews, monitor LinkedIn and job search portals. In this way you will have a list of professionals to interview in case of a vacancy.
Attending different meetings, conferences (even online ones) and conversations with your colleagues will give you an additional source of searching for both 10x engineers and 1x team players. Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations from your peers to find the right candidate for your vacancy.
Interviewing is still the best tool in an HR’s arsenal. For most candidates, it is the main obstacle on the path to work. Questions like "Where do you see yourself in five years" or "If you could only choose one animal, which one would you choose?" should have stayed in the nineties. However, many recruiters still ask them.
In interviews, you should ask only those questions that are necessary. Those that will allow you to learn a lot about the candidate's motivation and ambitions, and not about what kind of animals they like.
While technical skills are important, they should be acquired through continuous education and training. Meanwhile, the right approach to work is an internal characteristic, which is more difficult to develop. A person loyal to a company with the right approach to work will be more successful than someone who only goes to work for the sake of a salary.
Every company wants its employees to be team players and fit perfectly into the corporate culture. They do not need those who ignore meetings, rules, communication, and so on. However, culture can be taught if the process of integrating a person into a team is properly planned out, although there are no guarantees.
Professional hiring tools can greatly streamline the process of searching for and hiring employees. Advanced recruiting software will help you to not only automate posting vacancies, searching for candidates, collecting CVs, but improve the overall experience for candidates by getting rid of routine chaotic steps that take up time and resources from every side of the process. Such tools usually provide special editable templates allowing you to create, edit, publish, and share job descriptions, a team cost calculator, a hiring process checklist, and more.
The good news is that today, people have far fewer illusions about developers. If at one time they were required to be mathematicians, scientists, engineers, magicians, and wizards, expectations are much more realistic today with regards to technical specialists. Teamwork, knowledge of frameworks, a narrow specialization, and well-developed soft skills with the ability to express empathy and support others characterizes the typically in-demand developer that can take your company to the next level.
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