This editorial was originally publised on March 12, 2012. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.
Is a great software developer worth 100 average ones? On one hand I think there are some good arguments that it’s not true. One developer certainly can’t write the amount of code that 100 average ones can. However there’s another way to look at things. A great developer can do things that the 100 will never think of, or never consider. He might not write the code that does as many things as 100 people, but I think a great developer could easily write code that performs a hundred times faster than the code 100 developers write.
That’s why you always have an open position available for a great developer. If one is available, and they rarely are, you hire them if they want to work for you. You can always find things for them to do, and they can make improvements in code that your other 5, 10, or 20 developers will never come up with. I’d make sure they fit in your team and get along with others. You can get less work done if you have someone that is too difficult to deal with or too critical of others. While a great developer can accomplish things that others can’t, or won’t, they can’t do all the work.
Ultimately I think that managing great developers is hard, and they are unlikely to stay with your company for a long period of time. However they are rarely available, and for a few years, they might jump start the evolution of your software, and potentially build something that makes your software great. I’d always have an open spot in my team for a great developer, and hire them as soon as they came available, if I thought they would fit in well with the rest of the team.