Aug 14, 2016

The Inner Workings of “10x Engineers"

I recently gave a talk to our interns and co-ops, and I was pleasantly surprised by the questions they asked about my career growth and the advice they sought. During one of the questions, I shared my perspective about how to get noticed early in your career. Afterwards, I realized that this is the same pattern that I’ve seen with our most highly prolific and transformational software engineers— the 10x engineers. These are the best software engineers in any organization— the “difference makers” on any project. They solve the hardest problems, and blaze a trail for others to follow. They don’t have direct reports— but somehow they are the thought leaders that the team seeks out. They are prolific with their code, and they find ways to make the team better.

Throughout my career, I’ve led some very large Engineering teams, and I’ve found ways to stay close to the top engineers in my teams. I have watched the ways these top engineers worked, and I found that the top 1% can be ten times more productive than the average engineer. Three engineers, in particular, exemplify these traits: Jeff Brewer, Jim Showalter, and Joe Wells.

These 10x engineers excel in three dimensions:

  • Effort
  • Effectiveness
  • Influence


Let’s face it, all of us have meetings in a given week. These meetings take away from “keyboard time” to crank out code. The best engineers will find more hours in a day and week to write code— and they will work more hours than the average engineer.

For illustration, let’s assume that the average engineer has 10 hours of meetings in a 40-hour week, which leaves only 30 hours for writing code. When you work more hours, the weekly overhead of 10 hours remains the same, but you’ve just created more time for cranking out code. A 50-hour work week provides 40 hours of coding time (33% more than average). A 60-hour week provides 50 coding hours (66% more than average). A 70-hour week provides 60 coding hours, which is double the average. Jeff, Jim, and Joe are some of the hardest working engineers I’ve seen, and they are committing code at all hours of the day and night.


Writing new code is only part of the software life cycle. Getting your code ready for production and fixing bugs after production eats into the time you have for writing new code. The best engineers create fewer bugs and spend less time debugging their code, which gives them more time to tackle new initiatives. While their teammates are fixing their bugs, they’re working on stories from the next sprint or finding creative solutions to problems that they see coming down the road. They are also very conscious of their time and they manage their time wisely— so that they can carve out more hours for coding. They attend only those meetings where they feel like they are needed and are adding value. They rearrange their calendar so that they have large, consecutive blocks of uninterrupted coding time. Jim teaches other engineers about his approach to time management and how he stays “in flow.” When Jim is “in flow,” he is prolific, and his code is high-quality, tested, durable— and it just works!


These 10x engineers don’t isolate themselves in a cave. I’ve found these engineers to be at the center of their project teams, no matter how large the team. They actively influence the broader team, and they are sought out by others on the team for advice or help. And boy, are these top engineers vocal! You will find them sharing their opinions on team e-mail aliases and in meetings. They interactive proactively with execs and constructively share their ideas. All of this passion and energy comes from a place of not accepting the status quo so that the team can do great things.

Joe led our largest Engineering initiative—the transformation of the QuickBooks Online (QBO) user interface and tech stack, which resulted in QBO Harmony. Jeff invented the QBO plug-in framework, which allows us to rethink how other applications from Intuit and third-party developers can integrate seamlessly into QBO. Both of these initiatives evolved from their early prototypes and experiments into game-changing technologies. Along the way, they evangelized their work and got “buy in” from other engineers and execs— and they changed the way teams work.


The top engineers are two to four times better than the average engineer in each dimension, and as a result, can achieve 6-10x the output of the average engineer. I’ve also found that these top engineers identify and mentor the engineers they see exhibiting these traits.

Staying close to these top engineers has provided many benefits. I got insight into the inner workings of the broader Engineering team. These engineers were also able to drive change at scale, since they have such amazing “tech cred” with the broader team. Working together, we have achieved amazing outcomes for the business.

Jul 12, 2016

Apps Quickly Becoming an Integral Part of Small Business DNA

When operating a business, it’s easy to get absorbed into daily routines, and forget to take a step back and ask, “Is there a better way?” One of the biggest takeaways I can share from my startup experience is to encourage entrepreneurs to explore and discover new technologies that can improve how you operate your business.

With technology changing by the minute and its options seeming endless, business solutions may appear out of reach, too expensive or completely overwhelming to think about. There are, however, free or low-cost alternatives to help your business run efficiently. A recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine discusses how apps and the Cloud provide entrepreneurs a better way to run their small business. Entrepreneurs running their business on the cloud not only benefit from the mobility factor, but also benefit from the many options to integrate new tools that help improve business productivity, operations, and even access to credit.

Let’s take for example Theresa Lee, the founder of Future Glory. Theresa handcrafts socially conscious goods, and she relies on QuickBooks integrations with Shopify and PayPal so she can focus on design, and not numbers. She uses the Shopify for QuickBooks app, which automatically syncs all of her Shopify e-commerce data, sales transactions, and PayPal payments to QuickBooks, giving her back time to focus on creating amazing accessories. Other customers who don't have an online store use the Sync with PayPal app to seamlessly import sales (including line items, fees and taxes), as well as customer information into QuickBooks. By using apps, Theresa manages all the day-to-day bookkeeping herself, spending less than 20 minutes a day on tasks such as invoicing and tracking vendor payments.

As the guy on the hair club commercials used to say, "I'm not just the owner, I'm also a customer." Before my startup was acquired by Intuit in 2009, I used QuickBooks to track my team's budget and expenses and an app from to manage and approve purchase orders and bills. I didn't know accounting, but I was actually managing my accounts payable workflow. Imagine that! continues to be a popular app that helps accountants and small businesses save time paying their vendors.

The first step to figuring out a solution is to not overthink the problem. Start by identifying software that solves a critical business need and will grow with you as your business grows. As detailed in both my personal example and that of Theresa, the apps that work the best are the ones that fully integrate with the software you use to manage and run your business. It’s a unified approach to business – the apps work together while the data flows into and out of your business software. That’s the best kind of integration!

Increased efficiency trickles into other areas for a business owner, such as mobility. Most software platforms and apps on the cloud have mobile solutions that untie a business owner from their desk and provide access to the same data from a web browser or mobile phone. Even on the go, owners can check inventory, access employee schedules, pull an expense or streamline a payment at any time.

Furthermore, apps can also become a resource for the business by providing funding options. Take Carol Highsmith, for example. Carol, a photographer for the Library of Congress, refined her business so she can focus on her craft of capturing a lasting photographic legacy for generations of Americans. As a self-employed photographer who lives on the road, she cannot spend her days slaving over the books, managing expenses, collating receipts, chasing up payments and stressing over cash flow. Thankfully, she uses QuickBooks Online and Fundbox – a tool that offers small businesses an easy way to advance their outstanding invoices for access to working capital. Carol leans on Fundbox to ease her worries during those highly stressful waits for clients to process payments. Carol says: “I can advance the money for a pending invoice and say ‘this is how I’m going to pay it back.' The money hits my account immediately, and I can check on the repayment status at any time. That's huge."

I encourage small business owners to make the time, take a step back and embrace new technologies or apps available to launch, grow and operate your business. Look for apps that solve your problems and can help you grow your business – and that seamlessly connect to your existing software solutions. And the best part about this all is that you don’t have to go far to find these solutions! If you are a QuickBooks customer, you can visit the QuickBooks App Store to find apps and try them out with your business. And if you're unsure, you can always ask your accountant for guidance.

We will continue this conversation in the fall, when Intuit QuickBooks will host a panel discussion as part of the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Technology Coalition on the use of apps by small businesses. We will provide entrepreneurs with an opportunity to hear directly from other small business owners who are using apps and how they have transformed the way they run their businesses. Small businesses will also have an opportunity to connect with developers who are continuously innovating with small businesses in mind. Stay tuned for more updates on the event shortly.

In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing from you about your experiences in using apps to run your business. What’s working? What’s not working? Which ones do you love? How do you hear about the best apps?