Showing posts with label Genius. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Genius. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The 10x Engineer (part 2)

[part 1 may be read here.]

ITWorld linked to TheHackerCIO's blog on "The 10x Engineer", can be read here. Rereading your own posting has a strange feeling. There's always so much more one could have written. But there is only so much time in the day for blogging. Or in the night, as the case may be. In fact, my blog postings are written at night, after a hard-days hacking for clients. But I pop in and re-read them quickly before posting, just to try to keep typos at bay.

The additional point I should have made about 10x Engineers are two-fold. First, there are plenty more anecdotal examples I could have specified. At one very recent client, their team-lead/head-developer  (let's pretend her name is Sally, so we can distinguish this anecdote from the previous instance which featured Bill!) easily produces more than all the rest of her team, which is on the order of 10.  I never got a full head-count, for several were remote, so I don't know exactly. But you get a sense of it from hearing the names and adding them into the known quantities in the home office.

The second point, which is far more important, derives from both this example and the previously cited one. In both cases, with Bill & Salley, they each  not only were at least an order-of-magnitude more productive, but also an order-of-magnitude harder workers! Any time I stopped into the office, no matter how late, Bill was hard at work, headphones plugged in, and plugging away. Sally seemed to live at the office, working often until midnight and at least one day on the weekend.

So there's a major cost to being a 10x engineer. You shoulder a great deal of the burden. You become Atlas.

I Remain,


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The 10x Engineer

Shanley attacks the "Myth" of the 10x Engineer in her blog.

 On the other hand, in Quora, there is an interesting discussion positing the existence of 100x and 1000x engineers.

Is this a myth?

One point Shanley makes is that:
There is no conclusive body of scientific research to suggest that the 10x engineer is in fact a real phenomenon, much less one that provides us with a deep and actionable understanding of the factors, conditions and stipulations of their existence. 
Make no mistake. I'm going to disagree with Shanley. But first, I'll partically agree. There is no scientific research to back up this notion, because controlling the variables is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Also, finding an objective measure of productivity is problematic.

That doesn't mean that the phenomenon is unreal. It means that science -- at present -- is unable to study it. There are plenty of things that fall outside of the purview of the Scientific Method of Experimentation, controlled variables, and double-blind-placebo-controlled systematic testing. Political behavior, for example, cannot be subjected to this, despite the misnomer of "Political Science."

However, as to the 10x engineer, I can cite plenty of anecdotal evidence: while recognizing that this is not scientific, nor an attempt to establish the fact scientifically. Using a concrete example to think about has a lot of positives advantages; keeping our ideas tied to reality being one of the most important!

At one client we had a Programmer/Analyst, Bill, we'll call him, who designed and wrote detailed specifications for approximately 60% of the modules to be developed. The remaining 40% were divvied up between the other 8 team members. And the complexity of the 60% was far in excess of anything found in the other 40%. Bill's were basically the crucial accounting and financials portion, while the rest were less important ancillary functions. Nice to have, but unessential. I got one of these areas -- how to monitor the Oil and Natural gas production relative to the lease provisions and actual cost of production.

That's pretty close to an order of magnitude more work being performed by Bill than by the rest of us. This was borne out by the programming staff who were ramped up on each team to code the final product. Bill's team was close to 20 or 25 (it's hard to specify exactly, because team size is not a constant value in most projects; they expand and contract).  The other teams all put together amounted to about the same.

That didn't mean that Bill was better than us. Yes, he was more productive. He got a whole lot more done than any of us. I didn't really envy him the position. He was the one who was always there late into the evening, while I went home to my wife. He was the one who had trouble getting away even for lunch, or a coffee break, while I headed out to Downtown Subscriptions for a premium Expresso.  But he was also recognized as indispensable to the project. At one point, his rate got increased above ours. But only about 10-15 % higher. Not enough to compensate him for the additional effort required, in my opinion. I don't think Bill was 10x better, whatever "better" means. He wasn't 10x more intelligent, either. But he was 10x more productive, there is 0 doubt.

But I didn't begrudge Bill his extra rate premium. I didn't resent him for the overtime hours. And I didn't envy the security he attained through his work. I merely reflected that with another such worker, the team would have been complete! Of course, it hadn't been possible to locate another such worker. And I don't know of any process or method for so doing. They seem to arise spontaneously. I can assure you that if I had interviewed Bill, I would never have guessed him to be a 10x outlier, in advance. I don't think Google would have selected him; I doubt he was very good at brain-busting puzzles. I don't think that having him write a spec at the white-board would have helped anyone spot the potential.

But Bill's accomplishment I celebrated and uphold to this day as spectacular, inspiring, and praise-worthy. Without it, the team would have needed another ten employees and the product would have been much worse, in accordance with the Cartesian Law that the more minds involved, the less the stamp of one clear integrating plan. [Cf. the Mediations] Why should Bill's accomplishment be denigrated, denied, or claimed to be mythical? The achievement was Herculean, heroic and Heroes should be rewarded.

In contrast, Shanley claims of the 10x Engineer, that:
It over-focuses on the role of the individual and individual contribution in success, reinforcing Silicon Valley’s tendency towards hero worship, elitism and destructive individualism while ignoring the context of situation and privilege.
This is bizarre. How can you possibly "over-focus" on individual contribution, when that is the basis for any collective accomplishment? What is wrong with worshiping Heroes for their accomplishments? What in the world has situation and privilege got to do with this? In the case I used above, "Bill," was in reality a minority and a woman, and hardly came from a privileged background. She was brought in at the beginning, just like everyone else, so there was no situation there. And she was told, "If the client doesn't like you, you're out of here, pronto!," as she related to me at one point. So, I'm sorry, I must have missed out from Shanley how I should not uphold the accomplishments of a minority female struggling against prejudice and stereotypes and yet producing an order of magnitude more work than anyone else on the project!

I'm sorry (OK, I'm not, but it sounds good, rhetorically) but ANY individual accomplishment an order of magnitude greater than the other team members is worthy of hero worship, worthy of considering that person an "elite," and far from destructive. In fact, it is pure inspiration for us to strive toward this as a goal. The more productive we are, the better our lives will be, and the better-off everyone will be.

So please, let's not have any more of this gratuitous attack on the "Lone Genius," or the "10x Engineer."  Let's recognize that there are amazing outliers. Let's celebrate them. Let's be encouraged to emulate them.

[part 2 may be read here.]

I Remain,


Friday, October 11, 2013

Teamwork's Just Another Word for Shifting Blame

Lyrics aren't TheHackerCIO's profession, but I'm sore tempted to write them about the evil Idol of "Teamwork." Perhaps, to the tune of that old standard, "Me & My Bobby McGee." Something like:

 "Shifting blame was easy, Lord, when we were screwed and blued ..." 


"Teamwork's just another word for Shifting All the Blame ... "

I know whenever I hear people singing praise to "Teamwork," that 5-9s of the time (i.e., 99.999%, for those of you unused to uptime claims), they are euphemistically referring to a Blame-shifting subterfuge, rather than a productive collaborative effort. 

Recently, for example, Beth Comstock angered TheHackerCIO with her conventional Whiz-Dumb -- so typical of the Bureaucratic Hidebound Enterprise (where TheHackerCIO has unfortunately spent the majority of his career) -- that "There is No Lone Genius; Hire a Team". 

Which, in response, elicited my very popular posting, Never Hire the Greatest Scientist The World Has Ever Known, mostly focused on Newton, but which could just as well be generalized to "Never Hire the Greatest Minds the World Has Ever Seen," and broadened to include many other notables, including Rene Descartes, or, in more modern times,  Einstein, who noted of himself:

"I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork; for well I know that to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person should do the thinking and commanding" [ref: here]

Can you envision the HR department interview? So, Mr. Einstein, are you a Team player? 

So many today seem to worship at the alter of the "Team Player." In my experience, the "Team Player," is either one who is too junior to work independently, without senior direction and supervision, or one who wishes to have others involved in his work products, so that blame is either difficult to assess or to attribute to one agent. I can't really see any other advantage to it. 

As the reference cited notes, this also was the belief of Descartes, the founder of Analytic Geometry among myriad other things. He noted in his Meditations, as summarized here, that:

"the works of individuals are superior to those conceived by committee because an individual’s work follows one plan, with all elements working toward the same end. He considers that the science he learned as a boy is likely flawed because it consists of the ideas of many different men from various eras." 

Frankly, anyone can verify these claims very simply: just sit on a committee. Almost any committee will do. But, especially, on a "Steering Committee." You wouldn't allow a committee to steer your car, bus, or plane, but suddenly everyone goes mystically silent when someone proposes the same thing for directing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of technology and equipment. Wreckage everywhere is the result, uniformly. 

None of this means that there isn't value to be found from collaboration. But, the benefit that does accrue comes from and is made possible by the individual achievement of the actors involved. Individual achievement is a "basic." It's a fundamental. It's a basis, on top of which collaborative synergies can layer in and develop. To put that down is to destroy the very underpinnings of achievement. Only an HR department can do that effectively. 

I Remain, With Single Harness, 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Never Hire The Greatest Scientist The World Has Ever Known

Once again, The HackerCIO is ticked. He's reading Beth Comstock's article:

How I Hire: There Is No Lone Genius

Since there is no Lone Genius, there must have been no Newton. And, obviously, no one should ever hire anyone like Newton. It isn't that everything Beth suggests is wrong. But consider how Newton contradicts this popular, conventional Whiz-Dumb. By her standards, one of the greatest, most innovative minds of all time should have been avoided by employers!

I don't know if Newton -- or for that matter, the very notion of the Lone Genius -- is romantic. Maybe the hacker soul isn't compatible with grokking that idea, but I know for certain that Newton was a complete and total lone genius. Experience and research about Newton indicate that his lasting success -- namely, in laying the foundations of modern physics -- resulted not a whit from any collaboration or teamwork. Newton never had any collaborator or competitor who drove him anywhere -- other than, perhaps, crazy. In fact, his competitions with Robert Hook had nothing but a negative effect on him and resulted in a reluctance to publish which only hampered the development of Science. He almost didn't publish his creation of the Calculus because of his competitive experiences.

Plenty of innovation resulted from this loner: The Calculus. The Physical Science of Mechanics. The Physics of Light.  Seems like he'd be pretty useful in a startup. Seems like a man with a biography called "Never At Rest," might have had a decent work ethic. 

Now consider the 4 traits proposed by Beth for hiring, but against the backdrop of Newton:
1) The fish out of water. Newton, the Loner, was the ultimate fish out of water. 
2) Someone who can FIO (Figure It Out).  Again, this non-team-player was the ultimate in FIO, fortitude and creativity. This is an employee who couldn't figure out the Mechanics of The Celestial Universe, so he invented Calculus as a tool. That sounds like the paradigm case of FIO!
BTW, I would never hire anyone who worked for the Peace Corps.
3) Candidates with design training. Newton learned tool-making and doll-house miniature building, as a child. Seems to me like design training. Again, these aren't team sports.
4) The well-balanced player. I doubt if Newton would be characterized as well-balanced, but he certainly balanced his equations! He mastered Calculus balancing it with Physics, as well as Alchemy/Chemistry and Religion. And on the business side he superlatively managed and led the Mint in the project of the complete recoinage of England. Pretty good business administration for a lone genius who never had a friend.
TheHackerCIO hates it when people denigrate the lone genius. Genius of any variety must be celebrated. Hired. Encouraged.  If only we could find plenty of these loners/geniuses. I'd hire every damn one! And he hates it when people worship the false god of teamwork. I hate prejudice against single player sports, too. Tennis is one-on-one competition. That doesn't teach life lessons?  What about the lessons of Golf, where you can play against EVERYONE, including yourself! Now there's a model for corporate emulation!!!
Why is it that while everyone loves innovation, they hate the lone innovator?

I Remain, With Edge Honed,