A recent blog post on Forbes by Venkatesh Rao, The Rise of Developernomics, has ignited a lot of controversy around the concept that some developers are as much as 10x more productive than others. It’s not a new debate; the assertion that some developers are 20x more productive than others has been around forever, and folks like Jole Spolsky have asserted that it’s not just a matter of productivity, but also a developer’s ability to hit the high notes of real breakthrough achievement that makes for greatness.
Worth reading out of all of these threads: Avichal Garg of Spool’s blog post on building 10x teams, which has a very nice dissection of the composition of great teams.
Also, for those of you who haven’t read it: Now Discover Your Strengths is a fantastic way to look at what people’s work-related strengths are, since it takes into account a broad range of personal and interpersonal traits. Rackspace turned me onto it a number of years ago; they actually hang a little sign with each employee’s strengths on their cube. (See mine for an example.)
Jon Evans of TechCrunch wrote a good blog post a few months ago, Why the New Guy Can’t Code, which illustrates the challenges of hiring good developers. (There are shocking numbers of developers out there who have never really produced significant code in their jobs. Indeed, I once interviewed a developer with five years of experience who had never written code in a work context — he kept being moved from project to project that was only in the formal requirements phase, so all he had was his five-years-stale student efforts from his CS degree.)
Even with the massive pile of unemployed developers out there, it’s still phenomenally challenging to hire good people. And if your company requires a narrow and specific set of things that the developer must have worked with before, rather than hiring a smart Swiss army knife of a developer who can pick up anything given a few days, you will have an even bigger problem, especially if you require multiple years of experience with brand-new technologies like AWS, NoSQL, Hadoop, etc.
With more and more Web hosters, systems integrators, and other infrastructure-specialist companies transforming themselves into cloud providers, and sometimes outright buying software companies (such as Terremark buying CloudSwitch, and Virtustream buying Enomaly), serious software development chops are becoming a key for a whole range of service providers who never really had significant development teams in the past. No one should underestimate how much of a shortage there is for great talent.
As a reminder, Gartner is hiring!