Rockstar Programmers -- 10-20x more efficient?

From Wages or Shortage, this comment

A-grade engineers are unfortunately similar to Welsh
longbowmen: devastatingly potent compared to their peers, but you
have to start their training at age 10 or so.  Simply upping the
salaries of A-grade engineers won't magically create more of them.
We know this, as we tried exactly that experiment in the boom."

and this comment

... the notion of "best practices" is widely misunderstood in IT. It
is not organizational best practices that most improve the output,
it's best engineering practices. And those are accepted first by the
"rockstar" types and least understood, why, most often resisted, by
the management and subsistence engineers. Where do you think that
10-20x gap comes from, lightning-fast typing skill? ;-)

and this one

... such practices often fall victim to the hero mentality that is
the odious legacy of the dot-com boom. It basically says that for a
tech company to do well, it has to find some rockstars, clear the
decks for them, and sell the gold that trickles out of their
foosball-table equipped office. It fosters a warlike mentality in
the workplace and sacrifices long term growth for short term market
share. It also happily sacrifices a vast middle ground of engineers
who would improve and be profitably productive with a positive
environment and some solid mentoring so it can lavish luxury on the
super-productive who may not, as Dave seems to concede, necessarily
add business value. Contrary to Dave's assertions, I've also seen
good engineers get better in such an environment.

all ring true.


Legacy Comments

Posted by Monkey on 2008-04-02 at 00:38.

Hey,    yeah, some people can just do things better.  Not saying I'm
one of them :)    It's like the old "100 monkeys typing on 100 type
writers for 100 years will never be able to write something as good as
shakespear wrote down the pub one night when he was pissed and had a
sore tooth".    But maybe if shakespear was allowed to tell the
monkeys what to do... with fruit bribes perhaps... then the
monkeys+shakespear could do some good stuff.  Like if the monkeys were
given good monkey type writers, and were sent off to monkey typing
class to learn how to type better.  Or would the monkeys just slow
shakespear down?    If only shakespear could live again, and be given
100 monkeys and unlimited fruit... we could finally know the answer to
this question.      -Rsd.

Posted by Erich Schwarz on 2008-04-02 at 04:47.

Somehow the phrase "rockstar programmer" always makes me think of this
post:    <a href="
l"></a>    and
the one it quotes:    "There is no such thing as a 'Rock Star
Programmer,' so if you want to become one, you already have problems
that reading a blog post can't fix.  Rock stars get sex, drugs,
parties, limousines, fame, glory, dates with supermodels, and Rolling
Stone covers.  Good programmers get ... uh ... fewer compiler errors."

Posted by Greg Wilson on 2008-04-02 at 08:48.

Ever gone looking for the evidence to back up the claim that the best
programmers are X times more productive (where "X" varies from quote
to quote, and "than whom" is rarely specified)?

Posted by Carl T. on 2008-04-02 at 12:19.

So there's hope for us mere mortals, and I should keep trying to learn
how to implement automated tests.  Cool.  I was about to give up and
join the French Foreign Legion.

Posted by Patrick Dubroy on 2008-04-02 at 20:34.

Steve McConnell, the author of Code Complete, recently posted about
the origins of the "order of magnitude" belief: <a

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