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Summary: Do you need a talent agent?

In the really weird department, a New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/24/programmers-price?intcid=mod-most-popular) describes a talent agency for engineers. 10x, whose name comes from an anecdotal observation that some software developers are ten times more productive than others, matches what they consider the best and brightest with companies desperate for developers.

Details are sparse, but at least some of their clients get $150 to $250 per hour for software engineering gigs. 10x gets 15% of that. If the average is $200/hour they're getting $30/hour per client, not bad for a couple of young guys with fat Rolodexes and not much else. With 80 clients now, assuming each works 1000 hours per year, the agency nets a cool couple of million a year.

It's true that many conventional recruiters are just resume mills, and one does have to admire 10x's determination to cull the very best in breed.

One of their customers complained that "There's simply not enough senior people in the system." The focus seems to be on web programming, which must be a different world from that of embedded systems. My salary survey from last year (http://www.ganssle.com/salsurv2014.html) pegged the average age for firmware people in the USA at 46, a number that has been going up for a long time.

On another site (http://www.businessinsider.com/big-name-talent-agency-that-represents-coding-rock-stars-2014-11) Marc Andreessen complains "Our companies are dying for talent. They're like lying on the beach gasping because they can't get enough talented people in for these jobs."

That's hard to believe. The law of supply and demand would suggest a shortage would drive wages up; a desperate shortage should make them skyrocket. Yet the BLS (http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/computer-programmer/salary) reports that the average programmer wage is $81k, with the top 10% at $123k. Now, with the average family income in the USA at $51k, $81k is nothing to sniff at. But it has grown only about 2% per year over the last decade. That hardly sounds like a shortage.

Other data (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-myth-of-americas-tech-talent-shortage/275319/) suggests there's a surplus of software developers.

I run free job ads for embedded engineers in my Embedded Muse newsletter (http://www.ganssle.com/tem-subunsub.html). A typical issue will have around two ads. If companies were so desperate you'd think they'd be using every resource possible.

One of 10x's founders finds software developers "sort of hip. Especially designers-they dress nicely." I have met some engineers who are really snappy dressers. But that surely isn't the norm. Who are these people? Is the IT/Web world so much different from embedded?

I find the notion of a talent agency for developers faintly ludicrous, but do have to admire the American spirit of entrepreneurship that finds niche businesses everywhere there is a niche. even if one has to be created.

What's your take? Would you use a talent agency?

Published March 27, 2015