I am a Rockstar Programmer?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the “rockstar programmer” (aka the “10x” programmer); specifically, whether or not such a creature exists.  For instance, on Hacker News today I saw Scott Hanselman’s article The Myth of the Rockstar Programmer, which is very critical of the idea.

I think it’s more complicated than that.  You see, I am a “10x programmer.”


I run a one-man programming operation as a sort of side-business; I’ve been writing application software for vertical (mostly local government) customers for many years, in a variety of languages.  Most recently I’ve been focusing on web-based apps in Python (and of course, Javascript).  I’ve spent many an hour working on these programs, and I can tell you that most of the time I’d call my productivity average.

But a couple of years ago, near the beginning of my love affair with Python, I wrote an application for handling city property taxes for a small town.  My understanding when they contracted the work was that they just wanted help with some Excel files… but it was more than that.  They really needed a program similar to the ones I had written for several county-level customers.

So in the course of about five hours of wild-eyed hacking, I wrote it.  I repurposed a few small components from a personal project, but even so most of the code was new, and surprisingly it works pretty well.  Since then, two other small towns have acquired versions of the program, largely cloned from that original program, and in each case it took me more time to customize the program for them than it did to write it in the first place.

I still don’t know how I did that.  Zero testing.  Solving problems I was uncertain about not by research, but by going around, over, or under them.  But it worked great for the original customer for the entire first year, and has required only another hour here or there in maintenance, mostly adding features.

It’s not the only time I ever did that.  I have other programs, or parts of programs, written in the same way, usually under time pressure but sometimes just because I felt like it.  If I worked more consistently in software development (full time, as opposed to basically part time now), I might do that sort of production more often… but I really don’t know.

It’s a mystery to me.