Everyone involved in the recruiting process within the tech sector is desperately hoping to come across the 10x programmer.
This number, based on a 1968 study by Sackman, Erikson and Grant describes a ten-fold difference in productivity and quality between great programmers and average programmers with the same levels of experience.
They studied professional programmers with an average of 7 years experience and found that the ratio of initial coding time between the best and worst programmers was 20 to 1; the ratio of debugging times over 25 to 1; of program size 5 to 1; and of program execution speed about 10 to 1. In the study, they also found no relationship between a programmer’s amount of experience and the code quality or productivity.
Characteristics of Great Programmers
In other words, in the programming world, great coders stand head and shoulders above the maddening crowd. They:
Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to find the ’10x unicorn’. The question is how?
In the recruiting model of today, the challenge is breaking through a resume clutter and uncovering what a 10x programmer looks like. More and more companies have internal recruiters doing the initial screening and the vast majority of these recruiters have no programming experience whatsoever.
They’re provided a list of technology criteria (programming languages, frameworks, tool sets) and they search exclusively on these buzzwords using Boolean logic. Breaking through this initial gatekeeper is a continual challenge for programmers and proceeds to block out really great candidates since it’s easier to search for the terms. It’s that simple.
Questions to Ask When Searching for the 10x Programmer
How can we search out these unicorns who don’t fit the exact technology stack? The answer is not as difficult as it seems if we spend some time truly digging into a person’s history an coding background.
Here’s what I do.
Put together a skills matrix of the individual’s skills, from strongest to weakest, including number of years experience and competency level. Include languages, operating systems, tools used, frameworks used, etc. This will provide the hiring manager a quick overview of the background of the individual rather than focusing solely on the stack at hand.
Then, for their last three main projects, ask them the following questions.
If you do your due diligence, and put aside the hyper-specific silo, you’re going to find gold nuggets among the many similar looking candidates and you’ll come to realize that brilliance comes in all sorts of technology stacks.