The Myth of Elite Programmer Employment

James Robertson, advocating that people give 1-3 elite Smalltalkers a chance to take on a project that would take "commodity" programmers 6 months, says "Which will cost you more: Those two "cowboys", or the 10 "commodity" developers? Heck, let's say you find yourself 2 really good people, and pay them each \$$175k per year, as opposed to paying each of the 10 commodity guys \$$80k?"

Let me tell you a story: there's this programmer -- let's call him Gary -- who architected a system for a startup company and wrote some of the foundational code. Six years later, the company calls up Gary and says "We're doing \\$100M a year in transactions on the system and, without significant alteration of your initial architecture, can handle somewhere in excess of 10,000 simultaneous users. We're interested in 'taking things to the next level' and are looking for someone to help us architect it and write some of the foundational code."

So Gary, who is generally thankful that he can get by making a modest living as an independent contractor, thinks "gee, here's a situation where I am justified in charging an 'elite' consulting rate. Whatever I charge these guys, they will have every reason in the world to pay it." So let's say that X equals the rate that Gary charged these guys six years ago. What's your guess as to the rate at which the company walked away from negotiating a 5-month contact with Gary?