Engineers are thought to be genteel, measured people, but it appears that nothing gets them as worked up as descriptions of what they’re really like.
A Twitter thread on 10x engineers has split the internet, and spawned hundreds of conversations, discussions and memes. Shekhar Kirani, a Venture Capitalist at Accel India, wrote a series of eleven tweets on the characteristics of the “10x engineer.” 10x engineers are a bit of a tech legend, and refer to those engineers who are 10 times better than the average engineer, and significantly drive software development in their companies. “Founders if you ever come across this rare breed of engineers, grab them,” wrote Kirani. “If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of your startup success significantly. OK, here is a tough question. How do you spot a 10x engineer?,” he began.
Founders if you ever come across this rare breed of engineers, grab them. If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of your startup success significantly.
OK, here is a tough question.
How do you spot a 10x engineer?
— Shekhar Kirani (@skirani) July 11, 2019
Kirani then listed the characteristics of “10x Engineers.”
1. 10x engineers hate meetings. They think it is a waste of time and obvious things are being discussed. They attend meetings because the manager has called for a “Staff meeting” to discuss the features and status.
2. Timings in the office for 10x engineers is highly irregular. They tend to work when very few folks are around. If there is a crowd or all-hands meeting, they are not visible. Most of them are late-night coders and come late to the office.
3. 10x engineers laptop screen background color is typically black (they always change defaults). Their keyboard keys such as i, f, x are usually worn out than of a, s, and e (email senders).
4. 10x engineers know every line of the code that has gone into production. If a QA or support folks alert an issue, they know precisely where the fault (or bug) is and can fix the same in hours vs days
5. Most of the 10x engineers are full-stack engineers. For them code is code, they don’t care whether it is front-end, back-end, API, database, serverless, etc. I have rarely seen them doing UI work.
6. 10x engineers can convert “thought” into “code” in their mind and write it in an iterative fashion. Given a product feature, they can write that entire feature in one or two sittings of 4 to 6 hours with a caffeinated drink without distraction.
7. 10x engineers rarely look at help documentation of classes or methods. They know it in memory and can recall from memory. They write code at the same ease as writing English. No breaks, no pauce, just type.
8. 10x engineers are always learning new frameworks, languages ahead of everyone in the company. They are not afraid of anything new. If there is something new (e.g. blockchain) they gobble up, setup, experiment before anyone is getting started.
9. 10x engineers are poor mentors as they can’t teach others on what to do OR parcel the work. They always think “It takes too long to teach or discuss with others, I would rather do it myself.” They are also poor interviewers.
10. 10x engineers don’t hack things. They write quality code and know exactly how the code has to evolve, and have a mental model of overall code structure. They write at most one design document, and the rest is in the code.
11. 10x engineers rarely job hunt or move out of the company. They move out because you make their life miserable with the process, meetings, training, and other non-value-added activities. If you come across them, hold on to them. Celebrate them.
His thread immediately spawned a lot of reactions. Some of them were positive, thanking him for his insights.
Fantastic thread / thanks Shekar.
I've had some 10x engineers I've worked with in the past and it's always a privilege to work with them.
Some are slightly higher maintenance than others but worth dealing with! https://t.co/E06m7nUPqp
— Sanjay Swamy (@TheSwamy) July 11, 2019
But not everyone was pleased. Kirani’s thread seemed to be well intentioned, even if it described these supposed 10x engineers in broad strokes, and resorted to some stereotypes, but it came in for some harsh criticism. Some people couldn’t believe that the thread wasn’t satire.
This is the most idiotic thread I've seen in a while. I literally thought it was a joke.
— Chris Salzberg (@shioyama) July 12, 2019
This is hilarious. For all the wrong reasons. You’re 10x wrong.
— Tyrone Millard (@tyronemillard) July 13, 2019
Others thought that the thread justified misanthropic behaviour at tech firms.
I don’t like your thread for many reasons. But the biggest is because you’re describing the “brilliant jerks” that the rest of us spend our careers cleaning up after.
You’re describing someone with poor teamwork skills, unwilling to document code or mentor others.
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) July 13, 2019
Some others thought that the thread was an example of how VCs didn’t really understand tech at all.
Thanks. This is now my new example thread when advising founders that VCs are sometimes absolutely full of shit.
— Stefan Magdalinski (@smagdali) July 13, 2019
And things even got personal — some went as far as to say that they’d never work with Kirani or anyone who agreed with the thread.
Adding you & everyone who agrees with you to my personal list of people to never work with. Very obvious you don’t actually care about the code, how it works, nor the people writing it.
— Bree Jackson (@BreeJaxOfEarth) July 13, 2019
But things got even more interesting — someone built on the list, adding some outlandish characteristics of “10x engineers.”
12. A 10x engineer is usually levitating, and farting out 1's and 0's as they whiteboard a proof that P=NP. They stopped sleeping before they were born. They are usually typing on two keyboards simultaneously.
16. A 10x engineer flosses with a USB cable, and likes listening to vintage dial-up modem sounds. A 10x engineer will rewrite vim with Emacs in a VM they wrote in Perl. When a 10x engineer dies, they ascend to The Matrix.
Then, predictably, the memes began.
A 10x engineer is just a 2x engineer who can only write in binary.
10x engineers can kill Chuck Norris with a well aimed pointer.
— Nitin Borwankar (@nitin) July 13, 2019
— Krzysztof Góralski (@k_goralski) July 13, 2019
When you finally get around to publishing your thought leadership on 10X engineers. pic.twitter.com/QjupGi8EhW
— Aaron Levie (@levie) July 13, 2019
Rare photograph of a 10x engineer in action. pic.twitter.com/c9kN1SzE91
— Daniel Martín (@dmartincy) July 13, 2019
And someone even went ahead and created the site 10x.engineer, which displayed a 404 not found message, saying that 10x engineers aren’t real.
10x engineers might or might not be real, but they’re certainly 10x more fun when they feel they’ve been wronged.