What does programmer productivity look like?

I am unable to judge the details of its contents, but this article intrigued me.  The key question is why pay across highly-talented and lesser-talented programmers isn't more unequal.  (That's a question I'd like economists to study more generally, given the disparities in productivity across individuals within a firm.)  Here is an excerpt:

Software output cannot be measured as easily as dollars or bricks. The best programmers do not write 10x as many lines of code and they certainly do not work 10x longer hours.

Programmers are most effective when they avoid writing code. They may realize the problem they’re being asked to solve doesn’t need to be solved, that the client doesn’t actually want what they’re asking for. They may know where to find reusable or re-editable code that solves their problem. They may cheat. But just when they are being their most productive, nobody says “Wow! You were just 100x more productive than if you’d done this the hard way. You deserve a raise.” At best they say “Good idea!” and go on.  It may take a while to realize that someone routinely comes up with such time-saving insights. Or to put it negatively, it may take a long time to realize that others are programming with sound and fury but producing nothing.

For the pointer I thank Hamilton Ulmer.


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