Top Programmers Are Getting Agents–Should You?

In a tech-heavy economy, highly skilled workers are the quarterbacks and A-listers of their industry.

Top Programmers Are Getting Agents–Should You?

Top talent demands top compensation: There are market reasons for why elite quarterbacks and actors make astronomical sums. Their performances are measurable–they win Super Bowls or make blockbusters–and they have leverage. The powerful listen to them.


But Peyton Manning and Tom Cruise don’t do their own negotiation. They pay an agent to handle it for them.

Devs are talent

In the same essay linked above, Paul Graham talks about how much value a top programmer can contribute to a company in a single day. He recalls watching one “monster of productivity” back in the salad days of Viaweb:

I remember watching what he did one long day and estimating that he had added several hundred thousand dollars to the market value of the company. A great programmer, on a roll, could create a million dollars worth of wealth in a couple weeks.

And since there are only so many “monsters of productivity” around, it makes sense that they demand elite pay. And now, as Ashlee Vance at Businessweek reports, agents are springing up to represent the independent ones.

One of them is 10x Management, founded by Harvard grad Altay Guvench and two of his friends. In finding jobs, negotiating salaries, and doing the accounting for programmers, Guvench says they “deal with the necessary evils” of freelancing. As well, their industry connections help alleviate the “feast or famine” volatility of freelance life.

It does, of course, come at a cost: 10x takes a 15% cut from the jobs they land.


And as Guvench writes on the Hacker News discussion of the story, the agency helps their clients’ career trajectories, the same way that John Mayer’s managers helped him move from doing unknown shows to selling out stadiums. Plus, they aid in giving the programmer–rather than the boss–greater agency in how they lead their lives.


“We’re entering a long-term relationship with our clients, and strive to understand their goals and help them achieve them,” he writes. “For some people, that means we save them cycles that they can put towards their startups. For others, we enable them to travel more.”

Outsourcing your work-life advocacy? Might be money well spent. But if you’re not Tom Cruise, you might want to learn how to negotiate.

[Image: Flickr user Daniel Oines]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.