To be very frank, crude, and also "In my honest opinion" only (so add lots of salt)
There are a lot of programmers who are really bad. Like 10x or even 100x bad.
So as most pointed out, it ended up as a business term in larger companies. Especially nonengineering companies, who could not know better regarding programming.
Because due to their sheer hiring size - a good chunk of their developers ends up being really bad, or worse, being busy with politics rather than actual work.
So whenever a good programmer, is willing to ditch the political nonsense. Put his job on the line and risk. And get things done...
Suddenly from the average perspective in that company: he is truly 10x (Assuming he succeeded, if he didn't, he would be fired)
I personally witnessed many times as a vendor working for such big companies. Which is interesting to say per least, cause being in an engineering-focused company. We would not consider such individuals 10x. But I guess 2, or 3x technically? I have no idea how to quantify this.
So in that sense, they were 10x not because they were extremely great. But because the average was really bad. And they have the courage to stand up to it.
Also to be clear: For those in such a situation, and made it through. They automatically earn my mark of respect. Cause I will emphasize. It takes real courage to get things done in such an environment. And in development work, cutting through the crap and communication is a good half of the battle.
Personally, I would not stand for it. And send in my resignation letter for a real engineering company... or in my case form my own engineering company.
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