100x Software Engineering

Juraj Masar
Updated on October 13, 2023


There's a subtle art to crafting amazing software at a pace that leaves your competition in the dust.

Most of us get that there are top-tier software engineers who outperform their peers but fail to grasp by how much. And it's not about being 2x, 5x, or even 10x better. Some of the very best engineers are 100 times more productive than their peers.

Picture that: creating more value in a single day than a big-co engineer creates in 3 months.

The examples are everywhere

Google's initial team had just three people. Apple's crew was only 25-strong when they introduced the Apple II. At the point of its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp was serving 600 million users with a team of roughly 50 engineers. Instagram's tale is quite similar, boasting 30 million users with a mere 13 engineers at its $1 billion acquisition. And Basecamp? It began as a humble side project.

Similarly, at Better Stack we had only 3 software engineers writing code back in the day when we crossed $2 million in ARR, coupled with double-digit monthly growth. That's an impressive "revenue per engineer" ratio, if you ask me.

It’s the art of doing less

Imagine a "1x engineer" as a fresh university grad who, given enough time, could build any software from scratch.

Then the "10x engineer" is a seasoned pro with a refined intuition that helps them identify the part of code that should be implemented using an existing open-source library instead of building it from scratch. This doesn't mean they write superior code or type faster. Rather, they understand the immense time-saving potential of plugging in an existing open-source work rather than re-inventing the wheel. The key here, of course, is choosing the right library.

Who’s the mythical “100x engineer” then?

A "100x engineer" has a comprehensive understanding of the product roadmap, business model, competition, and common customer issues as well as a detailed knowledge of the work needed to implement a feature. As a result, they can judge the cost/benefit ratio of a feature better than the product manager. 100x engineers push back on feature definitions. They’re able to cut the right 5% of the feature to simplify its implementation by 100x.

100x engineers aren’t necessarily better at writing code. They better understand the context of everything absent in the task description.

They’re able to take a second to judge the cost/benefit ratio of a feature before they jump into implementation. They can often do so better than the product manager or the CEO.

In the end, it's about everything an engineer doesn't have to do.

Yet, pragmatism and thinking from first principles can be surprisingly rare among engineers. We've all been guilty of over-engineering, premature scaling, recreating existing libraries, and blindly following industry "best practices".

But when you manage to find a few of these 100x engineers, you're in for some real magic.

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