Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard a bit of the fuss going around lately about 10x engineers. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of research that shows that in fact “10x engineers” do exist and can certainly provide immense value to a team. This isn’t particular to the software development industry either; as can easily be seen in many other industries as well; perhaps most notably in sports. But the characteristics laid out by Shekhar Kirani a few weeks ago, are not what I would want on my teams by any means.

Perhaps, this is how he perceived the 10x engineers he had worked with in the past, but the true multipliers for your teams look quite different than this.  If you haven’t read the thread, here is the gist of it:

What surprised me the most is that Shekhar is a seasoned VC for none other than Accel Partners in India. Accel is by most accounts one of the top 10 VC firms in the world and Shekhar himself has been a board member of many successful software companies. So how does someone that works closely with so many companies of every kind, have a view that misses the mark in so many ways?

To be clear, I have no intention of joining the internet shaming machine nor am I going to try to explain what he was thinking. Also to be fair, Shekhar has a lot more experience and credibility for that matter than I do and he is clearly a smart guy, so I respect his opinion as well; but in this particular case, his opinion just doesn’t match mine.

Brilliant engineers don’t have a blank check to be jerks and if you tolerate that behavior in your company, you will have a heck of a time building a durable one. This is one of the reasons why many of the best software companies don’t only track if you achieve your personal goals, but also how you achieved them. Brilliant engineers do exist and are a real pleasure to work with. The best are the ones that can:

  • Spend the time to make everyone around them better and more productive.

  • Explain things in simple terms to help everyone get on the same page

  • Be true technical leaders that are often right about their technical decisions, inspiring others to want to work with them

  • Help set conventions and processes that produce better outcomes

  • Be force multipliers by helping elevate everybody else’s game

  • They don’t see themselves as being above the team, but rather as equal parts in it

  • And last but not least, they care as much about their work as they do about the collective achievements of the team.

When you find an engineer like that, which agreeably are very hard to find, those are the ones that you should do whatever you can to attract to your teams. These engineers won’t only provide immense value as an individual contributor, but they will help elevate everyone else around them— and that, is truly priceless!

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