Attention, rockstar developers: Get a talent agent

You’ve heard the timeworn advice: Leverage LinkedIn, post code to GitHub, bone up on the latest buzzy tech. But a little-known career trick is giving some of today’s top developers an edge: Hire an agent to find work for you.

That’s right, demand for tech talent is so hot, it’s gone Hollywood, with firms cropping up to hype your skills and represent you in negotiations to ensure you get what you’re worth. But before you roll your eyes at the idea of someone pimping someone else’s programming chops as a pretentious fad, consider this: Software work is becoming increasingly more project-based, and the days of settling into long-term employment without the need to keep an eye out for new work may be waning.

Here’s an inside look at this trend to help you assess whether hiring a rep is the best move for your career.

The pitch

The best time to look for a job is when you have one. Even if you’re not actively looking to leave your current employer, it’s smart to keep an eye on the market. But with looming deadlines, who has the time to keep up with the want ads? If you’re already overwhelmed at work, it’s hard to take a long view of the career path ahead.

Time constraints represent only one factor. What if research and negotiation aren’t your strengths? If you’re in this boat — or if you find searching painful — it may help to have someone working those angles for you.

With many tech firms starving for developers, here’s where the growing area of “agents” for tech talent come in. These outside recruiters represent programmers with top-notch skills and who, like Hollywood talent, let a professional negotiator sweat the details.

“Our background is the music industry, where we represented American musicians for 20 years,” says Michael Solomon, who co-founded a talent agency for programmers called 10x. “We saw a need because developers and technologists in general are not necessarily good at — or not interested in — the business side of what goes along with their career.”

If you want to focus on doing the job at hand instead of searching for work, an agent or traditional recruiter may be able to present opportunities you wouldn’t see otherwise. But which of these services — if any — are worth their salt? And when is an agent or recruiter a bad fit?

Agents: Hacking the traditional hiring process

When Solomon and his partner co-founded 10x, he saw similarities between engineers and the artists he’d been representing as an agent. His firm deals exclusively with freelancers, who — like musicians and actors — sign one contract after another.

“It’s not a one-time transaction; you’re going to continue to have those transactions,” Solomon says. “So we modeled the company very much after a Hollywood or music talent agency. We believe these people are incredibly talented and undervalued and being exploited.”

Often outside recruiters — as opposed to recruiters who work for the firm doing the hiring — will find both contract and permanent work. Solomon says 10x appeals to coders who prefer contract jobs and want to solve a new problem every two to six months — then get a new gig to work on.

“One guy lives in Thailand and scuba dives a lot, so a lot of people have chosen us for lifestyle purposes,” Solomon says. “Some of them do a number of hours a week for us, then work on their own startup. Some people freelance because they want to snowboard for two months or three months in the winter … or so they can spend more time with their kids.”