The era of the 10x engineer is over.
That’s the first thing that Noam Bardin told me when we sat down for an interview.
Noam led Waze from 2009 until last year. As Noam was leaving Waze, we had the chance to partner with him at A.Team, and quickly realized that he's one of the most visionary thinkers about the revolution in work that’s happening right now.
Naturally, our conversation focused on the biggest challenge facing today's business leaders: the dramatic paradigm shift in how we work that’s occurred since the early days of the pandemic. How do we structure our companies around the real competitive advantage—talent? And as skilled professionals grow tired of undifferentiated work, how can we rethink old assumptions and create missions that people will choose to join and stay to complete?
We ultimately explored five key traits that could give the next generation of companies a huge advantage over the competition, and may just help you reimagine how you build your business. Specifically, these companies will:
1. Reject the “10x engineer” fallacy
Recently, Noam noticed an interesting trend while advising the CEOs of tech companies: Talent was their biggest constraint. Yet, they were all pursuing the age-old strategy of recruiting the mythical “10x engineer.” The idea is that with enough cash, gourmet food, and yoga classes, you can hire the best talent at scale the way Google or Microsoft once did.
This may have worked 20 years ago, he told me, but things have changed. First, cash is no longer the same differentiator since so many startups are raising huge funding rounds. Second, the competition is steeper now that seemingly every company is a software company. We live in a world where Goldman Sachs employs more engineers than bankers.
“There just aren’t enough humans being created that can be these 10x engineers,” Noam explained.
The number one thing companies need to think through is their access to talent—and every business decision needs to be made with that in mind. “It’s not a recruiting problem,” Noam said. “It’s a strategic problem.”
2. Build a talent strategy around its core business goals
If talent is your greatest constraint, Noam explained, then the first question you should ask is: Where am I putting my best talent?
When Noam came to Waze in 2009, this wasn’t even on his radar. “We had some of our best engineers building websites, which was a huge waste of talent.”
In 2021, this approach could sabotage a company. When you only have a few 10x engineers, you have to evaluate how to best deploy them—attacking the problems that are core to your business—and then build around them.
The number one thing companies need to think through is their access to talent.
This ultimately points to a hybrid workforce model, in which you bring in independent workers to strategically bolster your team and accomplish everything from launching a website to building a specialized product.
3. Pivot to a “network of talent” approach
Early on, Waze had a big internal debate: Would they use Amazon Web Services (AWS) or host their own server?
From a technology perspective, hosting their own server was easier. But there was a problem: They wouldn’t be able to hire the SRE (site reliability engineering) talent to pull it off. So they went with AWS.
Early adopters of AWS, like Waze, ended up with a huge advantage. They moved quickly and scaled easily. Building a hybrid work culture—with teams consisting of both full-time employees and independent builders—could offer similar benefits of scale and speed.
As we move forward, it’s easy to see the analogy. Companies set on going back to the office and their pre-pandemic operating model could face the same consequences as those that missed the move to the cloud.
"It's not a recruiting problem. It’s a strategic problem.”
“Companies trying to go back to the way the world was will get some short-term success because there’s value in that. But long-term, they’re going to fall apart,” Noam predicted. “The demands of employees are going to be different, and they’re not going to be able to find the talent to continue that way.”
4. Build a hybrid workforce culture from the ground-up
The biggest challenge in scaling a hybrid workforce model that integrates full-time employees with independent builders is creating a culture that supports it—from APIs to team formation to equity.
Tech stacks and APIs will need to be structured in a way that allows individual team members to quickly access the information and resources they need, regardless of employment status.
To entice independent builders, we’ll need to figure out how to provide them with the upside of equity (something we’re starting to work on for our builders at A.Team).
We’ll also need to find a way out of the current purgatory, where half of a team is together in a conference room while the other half is remote. As Noam put it, “Everyone’s yelling, whiteboards are flying, and you don’t know [what’s going on] because you’re not there.”
Instead, Noam imagines a future where people can pick a team to work on based on the lifestyle they prefer—either fully in-office or fully remote—and leaders can build the culture of separate teams based on that setup.
5. Engineer itself around smaller teams to avoid “a single point of failure”
Most startups want the same thing: to hire a CTO or VP of engineering who can scale the company.
“They usually use the example of: ‘I want the original VP of Engineering at Amazon,” Noam told me. “Well that person is richer than almost anyone in the world… So you’re probably going to end up hiring someone who has never done it or done it weakly.”
“Companies trying to go back to the way the world was will get some short-term success. But long-term, they’re going to fall apart.”
This creates a single point of failure for the company, much like it does in a network. To avoid this scenario, the next generation of companies could build smaller teams that act like fail-safe units, with focused, autonomous missions. In this model, senior leadership acts more like coaches than traditional managers.
The challenge is that it’s easier said than done. Your infrastructure has to be built from the ground up to enable it. For instance, teams can’t be reliant on other teams to access a database. Instead, there needs to be an authentication API that you call and an infrastructure that allows for this approach.