Catalysts is a software development company. We are really good at delivering projects on time and on budget. As a service company, we deliver our services through people.
Needless to say: we are successful through our people (and only through them). So we are very careful to find the right ones for our job.
The top-most leaf of our lucky charm is about “The Best Heads”. It contains aspects like:
- “Very flexible” and “damned disciplined”: we can be very flexible if that’s valuable; we can also be damned disciplined if that‘s valuable. The trick is to understand when to have more of the one or the other.
- “Critical, creative, supermotivated”: we may question everything and not easily accept something as the truth; we surely are creative in finding a pragmatic solution to a problem; and once we get started with something, we are super motivated to pull it through, even if it gets tough.
- “Very experienced – 10,000 hours”: a typical Catalyst starts coding at 12-14 years and spends a lot of time with the computer in the younger days; it may sum up to 10,000 hours by the age of 20 (read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” to find out what’s so magical about 10,000 hours).
- “Strong competency to solve problems”: by utilizing our brains for analytical problem solving for such extended periods – especially during the youth, our brain structures surely adapt to the challenge.
- “Linear performance curve”: even if the challenge gets harder, we dig through it in linear time.
The Linear Performance Curve
When you drive a car and want to overtake another car, you step on the accelerator. The more you step on it, the more acceleration you expect. In other words: you expect your car’s engine to have a linear power curve (the red curve between 1,000 and 5,500 RPM).
We’ve been organizing coding contests for years and have found an interesting analogy in how the best software developers work through level after level of increasing difficulty where
- the first level of a contest may be quick to solve,
- the next couple of levels are harder and harder, still some participants solve them with a similar speed; and
- the last couple of levels are typically too hard for almost everybody – but not the stars.
Here’s a diagram from an actual coding contest showing the 15 best coders and how long it took them to solve the various levels.
- The best 12 coders solved the first level in 25 to 50 minutes.
- The second level followed quickly with a delay of only a few minutes.
- The third level made a few stumble.
- A few were stuck in the fourth level for 1-2 hours.
- Only 10 managed to solve the fifth level.
- Only 2 people finished the sixth level within 2 hours, the remaining 8 coders were slower than 2:50.
- Only 3 people managed to finish the seventh level.
In the end, only the best coder had a nearly linear performance curve.
That’s an important quality – not just during coding contests but also in real life: when the going gets tough, the tough get going 😉
Over the years we have found that coding contests nicely make that quality visible.
As a company, we have positioned ourselves to deliver challenging projects on time and on budget. That’s what our clients expect of us. That challenge is also what attracts some of the best coders to Catalysts. Together that gives us the right people for the job and the right job for the people.
Many things in life follow the “bell curve” or normal distribution. In any given company you can expect to see a few great coders, many average ones and some poor ones.
Every year, we receive between 5 and 10 times as many job applications than we have team members. We are quite selective and invite just the top 5-6% of the applicants into our team.
Over the years that has led to an extremely strong team with many excellent software developers.
Surely also our team members follow a bell curve. But our average is far better than the “global” average. Only with many of the best heads can we repeatedly and reliably deliver projects on time and on budget.
That’s why “The Best Heads” is the first leaf of our lucky charm.