Unfortunately, the blame for this myth falls on Fred Brooks himself. Well, almost -- he's been misquoted. What Brooks actually says is that, in one study, the very best programmers were 10 times more productive than the very worst programmers, not the average ones.
Most developers fall somewhere in the middle. If you really see a 10-fold productivity differential in your own staff, chances are you've made some very poor hiring choices in the past (along with some very good ones).
What's more, the study Brooks cites was from 1966. Modern software project managers know better than to place too much faith in developer productivity metrics, which are seldom reliable. For one thing, code output doesn't tell the whole story. Brooks himself admits that even the best programmers spend only about 50 percent of the workweek actually coding and debugging.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to hire the best developers you can. But waiting for superhuman coders to come along is a lousy staffing strategy. Instead of obsessing over 10x developers, focus on building 10x teams. You'll have a much larger talent pool to choose from, which means you'll fill your vacancies and your project will ship much sooner.
Programming myth No. 4: Cutting-edge tools produce better results
Software is a technology business, so it's tempting to believe technology can solve all of its problems. Wouldn't it be nice if a new programming language, framework, or development environment could slash costs, reduce time to market, and improve code quality, all at once? Don't hold your breath.
Plenty of companies have tried using unorthodox languages to outflank their competitors. Yammer, a social network, wrote its first version in Scala. Twitter began life as a Ruby on Rails application. Reddit and Yahoo Store were both built with Lisp.
Unfortunately, most such experiments are short-lived. Yammer switched to Java when Scala couldn't meet its needs. Twitter switched from Ruby to Scala before also settling on Java. Reddit rewrote its code in Python. Yahoo Store migrated to C++ and Perl.
This isn't to say your choice of tools is irrelevant. Particularly in server environments, where scalability is as important as raw performance, platforms matter. But it's telling that the aforementioned companies all switched from trendy languages to more mainstream ones.
Fred Brooks foresaw this decades ago. In his essay "No Silver Bullet," he writes, "There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, that promises even one order of magnitude improvement in productivity, in reliability, in simplicity."
For example, when the U.S. Department of Defense developed the Ada language in the 1970s, its goal was to revolutionize programming -- no such luck. "[Ada] is, after all, just another high-level language," Brooks wrote in 1986. Today it's a niche tool at best.