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ACM Opinion

Challenging the Myth of the 10x Programmer


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10x programmer, illustration

Credit: 10x Brands

A pervasive belief in the field of software engineering is that some programmers are much, much better than others (the times-10, or x10, programmer), and that the skills, abilities, and talents of these programmers exert an outsized influence on an organization's success or failure.

Data from a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute challenges the idea that some programmers are inherently far more skilled or productive than others.

The truth is more nuanced. First, the study found that most differences resulted from a few very low performances, rather than exceptional high performance. Second, there were very few programmers at the extremes. Third, the same programmers were seldom best or worst. While average performance differs between programmers, only half the variation in program-development effort can be attributed to inherent programmer skill.

Since software project managers have limited ability to evaluate individual developer capability, those wishing to achieve high productivity and quality might be more effective by finding capable programmers and then employing other tools at their disposal.

From Carnegie Mellon University
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