A rockstar developer can't save you

A rockstar developer can't save you. Why? Because the developer gap.

Posted in Main Thread on March 18, 2014

Everyone wants to hire a rockstar developer. A developer who will squash the bugs in your code, finish late projects instantly, and whip your dev team into shape. The silver bullet.

I’ve read The Myth of the Rockstar Programmer. Despite the title, the author concedes the rockstar developer does exist in some form. One he defines as a thoughtful, senior developer.

By that definition, let’s say the rockstar developer does exist. Let’s say you manage to find and hire one. They can’t save you.

Why?

Because of what I call the developer gap.

The developer gap

A gap exists between the developers on your team. A gap created by varying skill levels, experiences, and personalities.

A rockstar developer cannot bridge this gap. To do so would defy the very laws of nature.

Let’s look at it from a physical point of view. And by physical I mean physics. Think gravity, momentum, and energy.

Consider the pull required by the rockstar developer to influence the entire rest of the team. That’s a massive rockstar. Instead, and inline with natural law, the larger body (team) will influence the smaller body (rockstar developer).

Let’s look at it from an arithmetic point of view. Maybe overall you want your team to operate at a 7. You currently have a 7, two 5s, and a 3.

People have equated a rockstar developer to a 10x developer. Adding a 10 brings the average from 5 to 6. Still not a 7. In fact, you would need to double your team, hiring only rockstar developers, to operate at a 7.

In the real world

What’s more likely is you hire a rockstar developer, burn them out, and alienate your team.

Remember:

  • There are no silver bullets. A rockstar developer is not the solution to all your problems. Do some root cause analysis to understand the problems. Then see what other, real solutions exist.
  • Mind the gap. Hiring a rockstar developer will not have much effect if the developer gap is too large. You want to add a good developer to a good team.

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