Silicon Valley Goes Hollywood: Top Coders Can Now Get Agents
Courtesy Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Photograph by TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection
To be a good coder in Silicon Valley is to be among the pampered elite. You get fat paychecks, people bring you free gourmet food, drivers shuttle you around town. Coders here are really treated much like talented entertainers would be down south in Hollywood. It’s a thought not lost on Altay Guvench, a coder himself who has become one of the first agents for software developers. Don’t groan. It was only a matter of time.
About a year ago, Guvench and two friends started 10X Management. The company represents freelance software programmers. It finds them jobs, negotiates their salaries, and keeps track of billing and invoices. “We deal with the necessary evils of being a freelance coder, so they don’t have to,” says Guvench.
Guvench has an eyebrow ring and rolls to our interview in a funky hat. He’s a Harvard graduate who did a thesis on his study of monkey vocalizations and the hunt for precursors to human language. Later he got into coding and playing in bands. Through his music efforts, Guvench ran into Rishon Blumberg and Michael Solomon, who’d worked as managers for such music acts as John Mayer and The Clarks. “Their job is to do the business bulls—for these artists,” says Guvench. “So, in this weird experiment, I hired them to act as my agent for freelance programming.”
The experiment worked, according to Guvench. He got paid well to work a reasonable number of hours. Instead of slaving away at a startup deep into the night, he had some free time to work on his music and bands. “Friends of mine started seeing I was happier,” says Guvench. “They started asking how they could get in on it.”
Today, 10X Management represents about 30 people, including former Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) coders. It takes the standard agent cut—15 percent—for the gigs it finds. The company says it strives to lessen the feast-or-famine nature of freelancing by spreading work among its clients, most of which are startups. “Working with 10x has been the perfect blend of the freedom of freelance and the dependability of regular employment,” crows Ryan Waggoner, an iOS developer, on the company’s website.
People who want to work with 10X Management must have their code reviewed by Guvench for quality, then submit to an interview by Guvench or another 10X partner. If they pass muster, the company tries to find gigs that match coder skill to client need. “One guy we represent is really into education, so we found a position at a site that teaches kids math,” says Guvench.
10X Management wants to build a reputation for having the best coders around on speed dial, so that startups in a pinch know they can depend on the company for really talented people. “We want to be the Rolls Royce or Apple,” says Guvench. As traditional agents do—and temp agencies typically don’t—10X also tries to guide the careers of its developers. “There is a lifestyle design aspect to this,” Guvench says. “A lot of these guys eventually want to start their own companies, so we help them take a long-term view.”
Do the companies find it weird or obnoxious when an agent hops on the phone to close a deal for a programmer? “Yeah, the employers can be taken aback a bit, but the ones we work with regularly have come to appreciate it,” Guvench says. “We handle all the awkward conversations about salary and the scope of the projects and make them less awkward.”