The best engineers are 10x better than an average engineer. Like a one man army, they deliver more value, faster, by themselves, than a team of junior engineers combined.

But how could that be? Isn’t more always better?

In my time as an engineering lead at Netflix and Amazon, I’ve worked with both new grad interns all the way up to principal engineers (L7 and above at Amazon) and I can attest that 10x engineers do exist. I can also confidently say they aren’t typing 10x faster or working 10x the hours or writing 10x more code. In fact, 10x engineers might type at half the speed, work half the amount, and spend more time DELETING code rather than writing it.

The difference between the best engineers and junior engineers boils down to an issue of mindset. They use the right tools, ask the right questions, and know how to prioritize. Skills that have little to do with coding that even non-technical people can develop.

What separates the best engineers from the average ones are (surprisingly) the non-technical skills.

In this article, I discuss 3 common mistakes junior engineers make, and how a senior engineer would tackle the same problem differently — leading to vastly different results.

Not investigating tooling enough
Abraham Lincoln once said “If I had 8 hours to chop a tree, I’d spend 7 sharpening my axe.”

A junior engineer will spend 8 hours chopping with a dull axe. The senior engineer spends an hour picking the right chainsaw.

And 5 minutes cutting the tree.

A common mistake I see junior engineers make is that they dive head-first into coding. They stick with only the tools they know, and try to fit it for every situation.

If an average engineer only knew how to use a hammer, they would also use it to dig a hole.🙄

They spend almost no time looking into other alternatives — or whether it’s possible to do the job writing 0 code at all!

Using the right tool is the difference between laboring for weeks, and finishing a task in 10 minutes. That’s where the 10x difference accrues.

Not asking for help
This is a really simple one that’s easy to fix, but has caused so much wasted time that I have to mention it.

Some junior engineers have this misconception that a senior engineer is like a lone genius. If they keep at the problem, they’ll eventually get a solution.

But this is a rather naive way of thinking. A lot of times the difference is that they were missing context — information that they couldn’t possibly deduce themselves.

So instead of just asking for help, they stew over the code base, looking at the same lines of code over and over, when a 5 minute question to a teammate would have resolved the issue instantly!

A less experienced engineer who knows how to ask for help will always beat a more talented engineer who never asks for help.

Not delivering business value
10x engineers are investors first and foremost.

They understand that their work is an investment — and the payoff of their investment has to vastly outweigh the cost of the time spent. They understand opportunity cost: time spent building one feature means time not spent building another feature.

Engineers must weigh opportunity costs — “Of all the features you could build — is this feature the best use of your time?”

They understand that code is a means to an end — a business end. And if they can achieve their goal with no code, even better! It’s less work to write, and less code to maintain — a win-win situation.

It’s this math that leads to a 10x engineer. If a junior engineer spends 2 hours working on a complex feature that doesn’t increase revenue, but a senior engineer spends 1 hour on a simple copy change that 5x’s the revenue, we get a 10x improvement in productivity:

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