4 min read

The parable of the hole

" It is a magnificent hole. What’s at the bottom?"
The parable of the hole
" It is a magnificent hole. What’s at the bottom?"

Show Notes

Hey folks, welcome to The Imposters Club, the podcast for misfits in tech. I'm your host, Teddy Kim and today let's talk about 10x. The subject is not without controversy judging by how Twitter has been blowing up in recent days. Boy, there is a lot of debate and hand wringing going on. If you ever want to feel like a misfit in tech, just tune into the 10x debate. Nobody can agree on anything, and I suspect that maybe none of this really matters. But yeah, there is a fundamental fissure forming in tech around 10x. Are 10x programmers the genius needle movers upon whom the entire industry depends, or are they socially maladjusted douchebags who inflict more harm than good? You can't straddle, you have to pick aside. Remember, we're in tech. There's no room for reasoned debate.

I have my own opinions on the subject of 10x engineers, let me try to go at the 10x thing from another angle, allow me to present to you the Parable of the Hole. Imagine one day you walk onto a job site, you know that there are supposed to be four workers on this particular job site, but you can only see three workers standing around. Each of them is digging a hole in a different place, each with varying levels of progress. Hey, you ask. Where is the fourth person? I thought there were supposed to be four of you. The three workers you can see, point to a big hole. So you walk over and peer into it.

This particular hole is so deep and so dark that you can't even see to the bottom. You think the hole is empty. But wait a minute, you can hear activity at the bottom. Someone's down there, digging. What's up with that guy, you ask, why is he down in that hole? The other three workers say oh, he's the fastest, most productive, and most experienced digger, he digs so fast, look at that big hole he made. Yes, your reply. It is a magnificent hole. What's at the bottom? Everyone shrugs. Nobody knows what's at the bottom. We've never been down there. We would just slow him down. And he's making so much progress at digging the hole. Okay, you say well, how is he going to get out? Well, the workers' reply, he didn't have time to bring a ladder down so he can't actually get out. It's too deep for a ladder now and we don't have a rope long enough to pull him out. So he's just gonna keep digging the hole deeper and deeper until the job is complete.

Okay, you say. So what are you three guys doing? Well, they reply, we're not as good at digging holes. So the foreman had us hang out over here and dig other holes that aren't on the critical path, you know, to keep us busy. And one day we'll get better at this and then we can each dig our own magnificent holes. Well, okay, you might not run a job site this way, but to each his own, I guess. So you move on.

Later that day, you go to another job site. Here, you don't see anyone standing around, but you do see the mouth of a big hole. So naturally, you stroll over and peer down. Straightaway, you see a ladder leading down the hole. That's good. Some thoughtful person has also strung some light so you can see inside. And at the bottom of the hole, you can see two workers taking turns, digging. The third worker fills a bucket with dirt and runs it up the ladder emptying it at the surface. Meanwhile, a fourth worker is consulting a municipal plan to make sure that the hole isn't going to hit any gas or septic lines.

This is an amazing hole you say, and you seem to have a really efficient system for digging. Who thought this up? Three other workers point to the person with the bucket. Well, she figured out this system they say, and she taught us how to do it. Well, you reply, after this job is complete you're all going to be moving to different job sites. Will you still be able to dig holes like this without her? Oh yeah, they say, We all know the system now, we can dig holes this way on any job site.

Interesting. The first job site is completely different from the second job site. The two sites have adopted completely different approaches to digging holes. Which method is better? It's hard to say right? At the end of the day, both job sites will have holes. Is one hole better than the other? Well, it's getting late, and you have one more job site to visit before you call it a day. But when you get there, you notice that everybody is standing around reading a manual. Hey, what's going on here? You ask, where is the hole you're supposed to be digging? One of the workers shrugs. Well, he says, I called the customer to ask a question about the hole, and we got to talking. And he realized he doesn't want a hole, after all, he actually wants a trench. So we're trying to figure out how to use this trencher. And they all turn back to the manual.

So three different job sites...you tell me which one of these job sites has the real 10xer? If you had to hire one of these people, which one would you hire? If you had to invest your life savings in one of these job sites, which one would you invest in? If you had to work on one of these job sites, which one would you choose? And there you have it, folks, the parable of the hole.

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