There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence supporting the theory of the star programmer. In fact, given the ubiquity of technology workers today, almost all of us can attest to situations where one sharp guy (they’re usually guys) outperforms a large team of people.
Tom Esvlin, venture capitalist and author of one of my favorite blogs, has taken a stab at proving the theory. And humble me, I’ve pontificated on various times in my career I’ve been this very construct.
The fact is, though, that today’s star quickly becomes tomorrow’s dog. Yesterday’s hot piece of code becomes tomorrows’s unsupportable nightmare. Yesterday’s motivated star performer becomes tomorrow’s HR problem. Last year’s Barry Bonds becomes, well, this year’s Barry Bonds. Yesterday’s top model Kate Moss (no peeking) becomes, well, today’s drug scandal.
It’s not just the star performer that deconstructs. Organizations that fall for the fallacy suffer as well. As the star performer ascends to his throne, resentment builds for those with the audacity to try to have a life and work by him. This resentment may come from a disparity in salary, but it can come from ordinary human pettiness or a genuine lack of recognition of all the work needed to clean up after the star.