One Good Programmer equals 10 average ones
One Good Programmer equals 10 average ones
by RUTH THOMAS - Dec 14,2015

Steve Ballmar, CEO of Microsoft, said “One good programmer is equal to 10 average ones.” This is true.

Not everyone has the same capacity for abstract thinking. Aristotle said this, but he but put it more bluntly: he said some people were meant to be workers (slaves, actually) and nothing more.

Margaret Thatcher believed this too. She mocked the notion that all people are created equal. She said some people are exceptional; they lift up the rest of us.

The computer is a completely rational machine. All it does is add and subtract. Nothing more. All logic and math problems can be reduced to this simple electromechanical operation of adding and subtracting. Programmers are completely rational too, or should be.

The French mathematician Henri Poncaré showed that all numbers can be expressed as polynomials meaning you can convert any function, no matter how complex it is to something simple to solve, for example, 3x3 + 4x2 + 7x + 6. To solve this you just add each term until you get to the end, e.g., 2x = x + x. When you ask a computer to solve Sin(x) is does not calculate the actual value Sin(x). Instead it just solves an equiavelt polynomial problem to several decimal places (so it is an estimate).

 

Thinking rationally

Not everyone can think rationally and grasp a notion like that. Some people do not have the capacity for logical reasoning. Some people are just that way: you can train them for a task, but they will never envision something entirely new. But this does not matter, because on any programming staff there is a need for people to do rote work that is easily taught. You just don’t want all of your programmers to be that way.

The best programmers have the brilliance to absorb new ideas rapidly. They collect program languages and techniques like other people collect stamps. They can look at an idea and dismiss it or embrace it almost right away.

Yet, a brilliant person who cannot communicate will never be a great programmer. One project manager said, “They are no good to me.” Why? An engineer has to be able to express and elaborate on his ideas, to defend them in the face of alternatives put forth by their peers. The best programmers can logically lay out their arguments in a manner to achieve consensus and knock down any ideas that do not hold up under deductive reasoning. Debate is how the best ideas rise to the top.

A person like this usually has the energy to direct and mentor programmers with less experience even if not asked to do so. So he lifts the entire organization up, as Margaret Thatcher said.

So, Steve Ballmar is correct: “one good programmer is equal to 10 average ones.”

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