I have been thinking for a while about the myth and reality of the 10x engineer. My colleague Fintan wrote an excellent piece on the subject, with his take on the role and character of a distinguished engineer.
“Of all the attributes that go to make up a distinguished engineer, being the engineer that inspires and helps others is, to my mind, the single most important. A distinguished engineer is someone a team can build around for any project, a person who will spend time developing others and making them far better at their job then they were before.”
One of my thoughts about the 10x is that there are indeed engineers that command a premium in building a technology and associated community. These are engineers that are also social leaders, that create movements, that others watch to take cues for where to go next. Engineers that communicate well are such an incredible asset – Stephen recently argued James Hamilton of AWS should be a balance sheet item – not just because of his engineering but his communication effectiveness.
“Every large organization has people who are energetic and communicate candidly and well. They also have individuals with deep expertise. It is not common for those categories to overlap, however. Businesses – particularly those competing with Amazon – need to try and identify and cultivate this type, because they’re critically important for reaching audiences that are otherwise hard to persuade.”
These people are not just engineers but also tastemakers at scale. Talking to Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research last night he broadened this thinking out to other disciplines. Think of music, where the people that actually do the work are not always the ones leading the movements. Muscle Shoals, the Wall of Sound, Lou Reed. We shouldn’t forget that tech is a fashion business, with South of Market as Shibuya.
Last week I noticed a few selfies on my stream with Mark Imbriaco and Pivotal. I am a bit slow so it took me a while to realise Imbriaco had just joined Pivotal. Great hire. Imbriaco helped build the skills and stories that define the devops/site reliability engineering movement. I think the Pivotal case is instructive it has explicitly hired for technical communications leadership – see Andrew Clay Shafer, Bridget Kromhout, Michael Coté, Richard Seroter, Josh Long, Kenny Bastani.
There is a spectrum between coder and developer advocate. Of course technical communications leadership is not the same thing as technical leadership, but when they overlap it’s tremendously powerful. It’s a force multiplier.
That said, it’s always worth considering and celebrating the unsung heroes that quietly maintain the projects, do the work, just get on with it, without spending as much time explaining what they do. Let’s hear it for the maintainers!
Fascinating discovery from @MikeMcQuaid: the most active maintainers on GitHub (by commits) often have the smallest social followings.
— Nadia Eghbal (@nayafia) May 8, 2017
Blogging vs Building. Communicating and or, doing the work.
I would love to know your thoughts, and if you have anyone you’d like to add to my list above of 10x people above.
[update: one of the things with blogging every day is that generally the need to publish overcomes the need to write the once and future piece you might like to. I woke up this morning, jetlagged at 5:30am and asked myself: what about the data? So we will be pulling together a data-driven follow up in the next week – I think it might be fun to scatterplot Github followers against Twitter followers, for example, and look for correlations. There are a few potential pivots on the Github side. One issue to consider is that some people are all about Deep focus to a single project, language or framework, whereas others take a more magpie approach and contribute in multiple areas.]
Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Pivotal are all clients.