In the ever-evolving landscape of software companies, a momentous shift is underway. The once-celebrated "10X engineer," whose mythical prowess was extolled, has now become a subject of mockery and memes. As the industry moves beyond the age of individual heroes, I see the opportunities for a new archetype that I call the 5Y Engineer. These visionary professionals combine technical excellence with relentless questioning and innovative thinking, driving transformative change across software companies, from agile startups to established enterprises. And while the 10X engineer was never really attainable, it is possible to both find and grow a 5Y Engineer.
Meet the 5Y Engineer: Curious, Collaborative Innovators
The 5Y Engineer, named after the "5 Whys" process that delves into root causes, is an extraordinary breed of professionals who harness the power of curiosity and innovation. Unlike their mythical 10X predecessor, whose lone wolf howls now fade into obscurity, the 5Y Engineer takes center stage with their collaborative spirit and thirst for knowledge. Their inquisitive nature becomes a powerful catalyst that fuels creative problem-solving, spurs innovation, and pushes the boundaries of what’s possible. They are not content with mere technical expertise; they possess a fundamental desire to explore, solving the deepest challenges and discovering the biggest opportunities.
Beyond the foundational quality of curiosity, there are 5 core elements: agility, customer centricity, collaboration, a thirst for data, and a deep sense of ownership.
Agile Delivery: Innovation Included
When it comes to driving progress, the 5Y Engineer doesn’t need a meticulously written requirements document. Instead, they can embark on a journey of innovative exploration armed with a rough idea of the business objectives. Their relentless pursuit of solutions drives them to continuously question and refine their understanding, fostering an environment of adaptability and responsiveness. Whether they use Scrum, Kanban, or something else entirely, they live and breathe the agility that these systems seek.
Customer-Centric Development: Unraveling the "Why"
Curiosity is at the heart of the 5Y Engineer's customer-centric approach. They understand that the "why" behind each feature or enhancement is pivotal. By actively seeking feedback from stakeholders and engaging customers throughout the development process, they unravel the underlying motivations and needs that drive product decisions. This ensures that the end result not only meets expectations but exceeds them.
Strength in Collaboration
One of the most important aspects of the 5Y engineer is that they don’t work alone. They recognize that the power of a team can outshine the brilliance of a single person, and they’re curious about the thoughts and recommendations of those around them. A lone wolf is not as effective as a pack, and the 5Y engineer operates with that same mindset, seeking out the wisdom of others to improve their own insights.
Embracing the Power of Data
As the 5Y engineer finds strength in others, they also find strength in numbers and the data available to them. The 5Y engineer loves testing and iterating on their curiosity-driven hypotheses, and then using the data generated by those experiments to improve in the next iteration. To the 5Y Engineer, the software development process is an iterative journey. Curiosity is their guiding light as they explore uncharted territories, unafraid of where the data leads. Missing details and shifting hypotheses are not roadblocks but stepping stones toward ingenious solutions. And when success is ultimately achieved, it is this same thirst for data that showcases the impact of their efforts.
Acting as their Own Product Managers: Innovation-Powered Ownership
Curiosity empowers the 5Y Engineer to take ownership of the entire product development lifecycle. Acting as their own product managers, they proactively seek answers to questions that others might overlook. This self-driven approach ensures that their decisions are based on a profound understanding of the project's vision and objectives. They are deeply cognizant of the "why" behind their actions. This allows them to see the broader impact of their work, aligning their energy towards creating meaningful momentum on business outcomes.
Finding the Gems: Unleashing the 5Y Engineer Potential
Unearthing the potential of 5Y Engineers can be a transformative endeavor for software companies. Their unique blend of technical expertise, curiosity, and innovation enables them to uncover unique solutions and insights that propel companies forward. While they may be a rare find, anyone can become a 5Y engineer with proper motivation, dedication, and training, and their impact on product development velocity and innovation is immeasurable.
Example of 5Y Success: Digestible Data
At 1904labs, our 5Y Engineers are critical to our success. One of our clients, a venture capital firm, had invested in applying data science to detect patterns that could indicate fraud, but needed a way to make data more digestible for investigators. Our team created a single profile page that showed aggregate statistics so an investigator could get a quick snapshot. The profile provides a total landscape across procedures, prescriptions, diagnoses, and more to see if anything stands out as a warning sign. This achieved significant time savings and potentially increased the effectiveness of fraud identification. Critical to success was the team’s relentless curiosity in determining with stakeholders the most important information to expose.
The era of the 10X engineer has given way to the rise of the 5Y Engineer, a force that challenges the status quo and champions a new paradigm of curiosity and innovation. Embracing this visionary archetype is essential for driving transformative change and pushing the boundaries of what software companies can achieve. By fostering a culture of relentless questioning, creativity, and purpose, organizations can tap into the remarkable potential of 5Y Engineers and pave the way for a future of boundless possibilities.
At 1904labs, we value 5Y Engineers, and in Part 2 of this blog series, we will explore how we hire, retain, and grow this kind of talent.