Attention, rockstar developers: Get a talent agent

High demand, large workloads, and the changing nature of programming work have some developers seeking reps to help them land new gigs

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Finding the right fit

Having work come to you -- rather than going on the hunt -- may sound appealing, but what’s the catch? Blink Reaction’s Laszlo points out that working with a talent agency often means they’ll ask you to commit exclusively. That is not always the case when going the recruiter route.

Robert Laszlo, program manager, Blink Reaction

“If you tie yourself to one agency, then I think you’re definitely limiting the scope of your potential job search.”
-- Robert Laszlo, program manager, Blink Reaction

“They want you to sign some sort of agreement,” Laszlo says. “If it’s an outside agency, they don’t get paid unless they fill an open position. But there’s nothing to say you have to agree with that. I don’t know that your odds improve if you talk to more than one, but that definitely goes on. If you tie yourself to one agency, then I think you’re definitely limiting the scope of your potential job search.” (One recruiter I spoke with warned that while speaking to more than one rep is smart, allowing more than one to represent you will backfire. If a client gets the same résumé from more than one source, they won’t hire the person because of the potential conflict.)

Bridge Technical Talent’s Wright says anyone representing you should be taking the long view. There are a number of red flags to look out for.

“Obviously they are only as good as the jobs [they can offer],” Wright says. “Also, do they have technical knowledge? Do they seem like they know what they’re talking about? Are they trying to shoehorn you into a job that’s not right for you?”

This is a relationship business, not a sale -- if the agency treats you like a commodity, it’ll probably end badly.

“This industry doesn’t always have the best reputation,” says Wright. “But when you get going with the right people and they’re advocates for you, it really does work very well. A lot of times, I’m talking to people and when they finish talking to me, they say, ‘You know what? Where I’m at right now is not so bad,' or 'I’ll call you when I’m ready.’”

The shifting nature of software employment

Another significant reason to rethink your approach to finding employment can be found in the changing nature of software employment itself.

“The line has blurred a lot in the last 25 years,” Wright says. “There are definitely people who are straight-up contractors and people who prefer to be permanent. But certainly the recession has made development more project-based. More people now flip back and forth between both.”

In many cases, large corporate clients send contract job descriptions -- and salary requirements -- to recruiters who then race to find the right talent at that price. Traditional permanent placement is still happening, but it’s on the decline as companies seek to outsource work they can’t afford to do in-house, working with tightening budgets.

Solomon, of the 10x agency, says technology development is increasingly a freelancer’s game, unlike previous generations who had long tenures at one job or at least went from one full-time job to another.

“You don’t know when you’re going to want your next job,” Solomon says. “I think that we’re seeing a lot of people who have run their careers not by staying in one place and moving up but by hopping. We can talk about freelance vs. full-time, but full-time is rapidly moving toward freelance.”

But before you get lost in dreams of skiing three months a year thanks to some kind of impending piecework paradigm, remember that the freedom of freelancing, whether undertaken by choice or necessity, is balanced by the need to hustle, on your own dime, for work.

“What I’ve seen is people will go freelance for a certain period of time, then maybe start having a little bit harder time finding projects,” says Blink Reaction’s Laszlo. “Something happens at home or whatever and now all of a sudden they need to be full-time somewhere and there’s a frantic search.”

In the end, the bigger question may be how to stay up-to-date rather than whether to go freelance or punch a clock. Wright tells a story, from when he first started out, of a programmer whose main requirement was being challenged.

“He basically said, 'Look, every project I take … it has to expose me to new technology, so they’ll want me for the next job.' He looked at the skill makeup and the nature of the project, before he looked at the rate. His skills were constantly advancing. So he spent three months in Costa Rica every year and the other nine months he got to work and got paid.”

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This story, "Attention, rockstar developers: Get a talent agent" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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