The 10X Engineer

“He’s a 10X engineer.” I remember hearing this expression from recruiters and product managers a few years ago. It’s a funny term but quickly conveys the point. A 10X engineer is someone who can get 10X more done than the average engineer.

Let’s think through this logically. How many hours are there in a normal working day? 8 hours. So does a 10X engineer work 80 hours a day? No, of course not. That’s silly and impossible to do unless you have a tardis. So it’s not about how much you work but how you focus your efforts. A 10X engineer is smarter about how about he choses to spend his time and is better able to focus on higher leveraged activities. He or she focuses on things that make the most difference. This is nicely explained in Edmond Lau’s The Effective Engineer book, which I recommend.

The 1X Engineer

This one is pretty straightforward. The 1X engineer can accomplish what the average engineer can achieve.

The 0X Engineer

So that covers 10X and 1X engineers. Next we have a 0X engineer. Have you ever heard of an 0X engineer?

This is a scarier one. A 0X engineer is an engineer who works on something but actually did not get anything accomplished.

There are several ways to achieve this incredible feat of unaccomplishment. Let’s say you work on a feature, putting in 60 hours a week for 8 weeks. The feature gets shipped and you celebrate. You only then realize that no one uses the feature. People find it confusing, hate on it, and avoid the feature at all costs. So you end up getting rid of the feature. You have spent 8 weeks slaving on a feature, but it actually did not accomplish anything. This, my friends, is 0X engineering.

For what it’s worth this happens from time to time, but if it has a habit of repeating itself, try to stay away from those types of projects.

Another example of a 0X engineer is covered well by this infamous saying: “premature optimization is root of all evil”. People sometimes overly focus on little things that don’t add as much value. I’ve seen engineers spend an extra couple of weeks tweaking things to squeeze out every last ounce of performance from it, when that part of the code only makes 0.1% difference to the overall picture. Hilariously, because I enjoy engineering challenges, I may have fallen into this trap myself. 😁

Simply put, a 0X engineer is an engineer that has accomplished nothing even though he has worked plenty. If you find yourself falling into this trap, try to slap yourself out of it as quickly as possible.

The -X Engineer

Now for the scariest one. Believe it or not, there is something that is actually worse than accomplishing nothing. This is called the -X engineer. What in the world is a -X engineer, you ask?

A -X engineer is someone who takes away from the productivity of others on the team. Unbelievably, this is actually possible.

A -X engineer is someone who is destructive to the team. They run around updating code. The code is so atrociously and poorly written that your brain hurts trying to make sense of it. The lines of code hurts your eyes so much that it makes them painfully bleed, rushing you to call an ambulance for professional medical help, costing you a small fortune. You constantly find yourself having to undo and re-do the -X engineer’s work repeatedly. The person drags you and the rest of the team down. He’s dead weight. He’s got an uncanny talent to create even more work for everyone else on the team. A -X engineer dramatically hurts the productivity of the team.

Summary of the terms

  • 10X Engineer - An engineer who is wise about what he/she is working on and focuses on the most highly leveraged activities. He can achieve 10X more than the typical engineer.
  • 1X Engineer - An average engineer.
  • 0X Engineer - An engineer who gets nothing accomplish even though he/she is working.
  • -X Engineer - A engineer who actually hurts the team, causing more work for everyone else.

Of course, everyone wants to hire 10X engineers. Good luck with that, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this satirical piece. 😁