I have thought about this topic for a long time. I remember seeing at one place that an exceptional developer can do work usually done by 10 developers. Or in other words, he/she is a rockstar developer.
Besides productivity, I think rockstar developer has the following traits:
1) Willing to share the knowledge with fellow developers, keep in mind we all learn from each other, rockstar can learn from (dare I say) ordinary developer too;
2) Attention to the details and code quality, and other good development practice such as TDD (test driven development), again sharing knowledge is applicable here;
3) Help other developers getting better, again this is correlate to the two bullet points above, but rock stars don’t do this by power, they achieve this by influence, which is both more subtle and more powerful. Essentially other developers willingly make the needed change to carry out the best practice, or come on board even if initially not warn to the idea.
5) Assertiveness. Refer to this great post by Jeff Atwood (the cofounder of stackoverflow.com). Personally I think this is the most important (for me).
So for managers (leaders), what should they do? Find, hire and keep the rock stars. This is probably a bigger task 🙂
Again, reiterate the last point of “a nice developer != a good developer”. Today at JCC, I asked the life guide a question, whether I could swim at that lane. Looking back that was unnecessary question, as I saw there are 2 lanes for lap swimming, and per protocol, it’s ok to swim in the middle as each lane has been taken by one lap swimmer. If there are 4 swimmers, then they all swim in a circle. But the guard, being a young nice lady, she appears not assertive enough. She said I can swim in the same lane as one swimmer. Or I can swim in the smaller pool. Both options are not what I prefer. I am not too unhappy about it. Thinking more about it now, I think in other cases, the guard was much more proactive, talking to the existing lap swimmer, to clarify the lane privilege so that make sure I can swim. My point is in many cases, we have to make some people unhappy, unfortunately, but as long as we communicate, and be fair, we are ok. Reminds of the quote:
“Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — Bernard Baruch