Erik Bernhardsson    About

I believe in the 10x engineer, but…

  • The easiest way to be a 10x engineer is to make 10 other engineers 2x more efficient. Someone can be a 10x engineer if they do nothing for 364 days then convinces the team to change programming language to a 2x more productive language.
  • A motivated 10x engineer in one team could be a demotivated 0.5x engineer in another team (and vice versa).
  • A average 1x engineer could easily become a 5x engineer if surrounded by 10x engineers. Engagement and work ethics is contagious.
  • The cynical reason why 10x engineers aren’t paid 10x more salary is that there is no way for the new employer to know. There is no “10x badge”.
  • …but also, a 10x engineer can go to a new company and become an 1x engineer because of bad focus / bad engagement / tech stack mismatch.
  • So unfortunately there’s less economic rationality for companies to pay 10x salaries to 10x engineers (contrary to what Google or Netflix says)
  • There’s no such thing as a 10x engineer spending time on something that never ends up delivering business value. If something doesn’t deliver business value, it’s 0x.
  • If you build something that the average engineer would not have been able to build, no matter how much time, that can make you 100x or 1000x, or ∞x. Quoting Alexander Scott: There is no number of ordinary eight-year-olds who, when organized into a team, will become smart enough to beat a grandmaster in chess.
  • Most of the 10x factor is most likely explained by team and company factors (process, tech stack, etc) and applies to everyone in the team/company. Intra-team variation is thus much smaller than 10x (even controlling for the fact that companies tend to attract people of equal caliber). Nature vs nurture…
  • I’ve never met the legendary “10x jerk”. Anecdotally the outperforming engineers are generally nice and humble.
  • Don’t get hung up on the exact numbers here, it’s just for illustration purposes. I.e. someone introduced a bug in the trading system of Knight Capital that made them lose $465M in 30 minutes. Did that make it a -1,000,000x engineer? (and btw it had more to do with company culture). The numbers aren’t meant to be taken literally.


I got a unique photo opportunity of this small group of 10x engineers until they suddenly vanished. All I managed to hear was “Merkle trees” and “Kappa architecture”. What are the meanings of those expressions? We will never know.

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Erik Bernhardsson

... is the CTO at Better, which is a startup changing how mortgages are done. I write a lot of code, some of which ends up being open sourced, such as Luigi and Annoy. I also co-organize NYC Machine Learning meetup. You can follow me on Twitter or see some more facts about me.