Do Elite Software Developers Exist?

Cue the X-Files theme song because the truth is out there, and this article aims to find it.

It’s been a hot topic for over a decade now, with little in the way of hard evidence or answers. Are there elite software developers, rock stars of their trade, among us? Does the mythical “10x Developer” actually exist, or has it been an elusive myth all this time?

Cue the X-Files theme song because the truth is out there, and this article aims to find it.

That “One Study” Isn’t the Only One

Armchair scientists and highly educated professionals alike love to point out the flaws in Sackman, Erikson, and Grant’s 1968 study on the 10x developer. There’s no denying a few askew points in their methodology, but their study isn’t the only one that uncovered the possibility of these developer superhumans.

The original study that started the debate showed more than a 10-fold difference between the best programmers and the worst out of their control groups. From that study, countless others were spawned in an attempt to replicate or expand upon those findings. These include:

  • Curtis 1981
  • Mills 1983
  • DeMarco and Lister 1985
  • Curtis et al. 1986
  • Card 1987
  • Boehm and Papaccio 1988
  • Valett and McGarry 1989
  • And Boehm et al 2000

These study’s findings are so profound that there are books written on them. They confirm that there are indeed order of magnitude differences among programmers, making a 10x magnitude more than just a myth but a full-on possibility.

That Which Cannot be Measured Can Be Reasoned

Even if you were to ignore the peer-reviewed, scholarly studies above and simply say that programming productivity is near impossible to measure, you could not deny that it can be reasoned.

If you were asked who was the better writer, Shakespeare or L. Ron Hubbard, you would answer the former. Sure, Hubbard founded Scientology and all, but Shakespeare is clearly the better choice in author. How did you make that decision, though?

Without performing any tests, with no proven facts, and without a single productivity metric you were able to instantly recognize the better writer. That’s because you used your intuitive reasoning, or intuition, which is based on your observations. While you can’t accurately measure who is the better author, since it comes down to opinion, you can reason that Shakespeare is better based on your knowledge of his historical fame and continually published works a century after his death.

The same can be said about the mythical 10x. You can reason that one developer is vastly greater than another.

Speed, Choice, and Productivity

In programming, there are multiple ways to solve the same problem. A team of 10 programmers working on one single problem might seem like they could outperform one single programmer who is better than they are combined. This idea comes from the thought process that each group of programmers would have to create the same amount of code, and 10 brains would be faster than one.

In reality, the best coders work to eliminate the amount of code being produced, which makes them more efficient than 10 mediocre coders put together. Programmers make an incredible amount of choices every day that affect their future workload. A 10x developer would simply be able to make the right choices to increase their productivity tenfold by cutting out the mistakes that would slow them down later.

It isn’t about writing more code, it’s about writing the right codes and solutions. To say that’s impossible would be like saying any scientist could have invented the laws of motion or theory of gravity. It would mean saying that 10 average entrepreneurs could easily accomplish what Steve Jobs or Elon Musk did in a lifetime.

The 10x developers are out there. They’re a rare breed, but they are out there somewhere creating code the likes of which today’s top companies have never seen.

Solutions like AnswerHub have given 10x developers the tools they need to increase their productivity, with features like built-in SDK and rest API customization and efficiency are a breeze. Contact us for immediate information regarding how your developer team and experts in your field can get started with an online community today.


This guest post is written by Wendy Dessler, a super-connector with who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.