Improving Wetware

Because technology is never the issue

Productivity and Compensation

Posted by Pete McBreen 27 Jan 2011 at 10:23

Steve McConnell responded to (In)Validating the 10X Productivity Difference Claim by saying 10x Productivity Myths: Where’s the 10x Difference in Compensation?

My overall conclusion is that paying for productivity on any more than a very-rough-approximation basis is a panacea that cannot practically be achieved.

As I’ve commented previously, the discrepancy between capability differences and compensation differences does create opportunities for companies that are willing to hire from the top of the talent pool to receive disproportionately greater levels of output in exchange for only modestly higher compensation.

This is not the answer I expected to find when I began asking the question almost 25 years ago, but I can see the reasons for it. Gerald Weinberg describes a pattern he describes as “Things are the way they are because they got that way.” I think this is one of those cases.

To a large degree I agree with McConnell on this, it is hard to measure productivity of software developers, so corporations tend to just have a narrow range of salaries for developers. The body of his article has good arguments for this, so there is no point repeating them here.

There is however another dimension to this conversation that has not yet been addressed.

Salary is not the only option

McConnell exemplifies the alternatives, after all he is more or less synonymous with Construx and several well read books like Code Complete. There is also the startup route, and as McConnell mentions, some developers end up contracting.

So overall the question of salary difference may be moot, except that maybe it means that within a single organization the 10X difference in productivity does not exist. The lower band will probably not pass the hiring filters, and the higher end of the band may self select out, either by not applying in the first place, or by choosing to leave for greener pastures.

Compensation is not the issue

Personally I’m more interested in Understanding Productivity and what drives it. My bias for explaining productivity is in the area of Software Craftsmanship, but there are many aspects of productivity that have not been explored …