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Where the fuck is my Ari Gold? (youell.com)
109 points by softbuilder on Aug 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

Robin Hanson covered this a few weeks ago. I fact, it's probably worth having an agent _just_ to negotiate your salary given that a 10% increase is not out of the realm of normal negotiations. Not to mention all the other effects of having an agent like signaling, networking, having someone to guide you through career development, etc. this is an industry ripe for creation, but I don't know how to go about doing it: you'd have to start with a bunch of smart developers, and the ideal way to do that seems to be for me to become a top recognized developer, and then transition into starting an agency once I've developed the reputation... Anyone have a good history of how agencies began in Hollywood?


10X Management is trying to do this for the tech industry right now: http://www.10xmanagement.com/

I personally love the idea, But the core problem is that there needs to be a very strong level of differentiation between candidates identifiable. And this seems to be much more complicated with non-visual/de-personalized things such as code. I could see this working much better with design, but still even there things can get very replaceable.

Does anybody know how recruiting works in the upper end of C-level recruiting (i.e. Top500s)? I suspect that contract negotiations here are more similar to the movie industry i.e. - lawyers talking lawyers - after some screening process of the candidates etc.

Many times retained search occurs (up-front payments) for C level recruiting, E.G. ~33% up-front, ~33% for candidate identification / interviews, ~33% on hire. Or 50% retained fee up-front, and 50% on-hire. C-level recruiting (from my chats with a few "executive recruiters" in the past, no personal experience) tend to be highly network / old-boy based (of course), and is a completely different industry then "recruiting" as most know it.

Retained search does occur for specialized firms, typically >$100,000 salaries in roles such as hedge fund analysts / developers, Sr Director's of large scale companies (MS for example) and the like.

Hopefully an actual Exec recruiter at the C level (so different then Sr VP / Director) will chime in, but they are probably out doing dinners and golfing with potential candidates and clientele in megacorps.

Ok, on your next contract I will negotiate your salary and conditions and aim to get you 10% on your last contract.

Of course I will need a plausible "walk away" option - are you willing to give that?

Edit: it's a bit early in the morning so that was supposed to be an expanation why you might not choose to give ana age t the negotiation power they need.

Not a sales pitch

Honestly, anyone who is competent at their job should say yes to that bargain.

It takes a long time to find work, and having someone else do it for you, as well as negotiate a higher salary, would be completely worth losing out on even 30-40% of the work you might otherwise have gotten.

Sure. I'm currently a PhD student and I love it. So any offer is by definition over and above what I _really_ want to do with my life, which is research. However, I can still be bought for ridiculous amounts of money. If you can negotiate that, then you deserve your 10%. If you drive away employers with your negotiations, I'm still happy.

I'm not claiming to be a superstar, but superstars are usually in the same position: They are already in a job they love and are successful at. So negotiating a better gig for them always includes the option of credibly walking away.

Of course, the question then comes back: why are you a decent agent, and why should I let you represent me?

I think the first agents did not do it that way round :-)

Can you tell me more about differential privacy - if the London Underground releases data about journeys from my start point to my end point, surely at some point enough data is released to determine which anonymous ID is me.

I just would like to know are there determined upper and lower bounds on how much can be released before it is explotable?

I found a recruiter that I stayed with for over a decade - he was my agent. He knew my work history, what I had done and he would get me more money before I even walked in the door. Our deal was simple - he sold the prospective client on how good I was (both as a developer and and employee) and I closed the deal. Every time. We made a lot of money together. The difference is that he's not a technical recruiter. He's an executive recruiter. He places VPs, CEOs, etc. But he also was with those guys on their rise up as well. So often when I took a position, my boss was someone who had the same guy. Now, when I am looking to hire someone, who do you think I call? Tech recruiters - the big companies who just try and grab warm bodies, put them in seats and collect commissions, are a blight on the corporate world. Corporations have gotten it in their head that it's better and easier to use them, and developers who need work have to turn to them to pay the bills. But it doesn't work for exceptional programmers.

How did you find that recruiter in the first place?

Honestly, partially by chance. During the dot-com bust I called every recruiter I could talk to in order to line up my next gig. He was actually an executive recruiter, but because of the boom in tech, he started taking on tech clients. So my advice is to find an executive search recruiter who is looking for bad-ass tech clients. The second part of this equation, which is not chance, is that I was looking for someone I could trust and build a long term relationship with, not just someone to get me a job. I did not expect to find it, but that's how it went down.


This post shows a deep misunderstanding of the key differences between Hollywood and programming.

In Hollywood, people often need to create a reasonable sized business, have it work for a year or two, and then it falls apart. That's what a film is. Most people's engagement in this business is only a few months, maybe less, no matter how well they do. Therefore you need to get hired again, and again, and again.

In programming, there is a hope and expectation that people will last substantially longer in a job. Therefore you do not need to go back to the hiring well nearly as often, so it does not make sense for you to have a dedicated person who is going to regularly try to hire you out.

> In programming, there is a hope and expectation that people will last substantially longer in a job. Therefore you do not need to go back to the hiring well nearly as often, so it does not make sense for you to have a dedicated person who is going to regularly try to hire you out.

In practice, that's seldom possible. Hell, we're on hacker news - it's a tossup as to whether most of the companies you hear about on here will still be operating in two years. If those are the companies you work for, you'd be best off with an agent.

In practice, that's seldom possible. Hell, we're on hacker news - it's a tossup as to whether most of the companies you hear about on here will still be operating in two years. If those are the companies you work for, you'd be best off with an agent.

The companies on hackernews are not the majority of companies that employ developers though...

More to the point, they're not even the majority of companies that employ hackernews readers

That's not at all true for freelancers or, for that matter, a lot of permanent programmers who want 1- or 2-year gigs because of the wider experience it'll give them. They might be looking for the next contract all the time.

Exactly. Freelance developers could benefit greatly from an "agent" who actually found them work they wanted and that was worth the commission.

This is why we're creating matchist (matchist.com).

Unless of course you're a full time freelance developer. And that's exactly who we're creating matchist (matchist.com) for. A talent agency of sorts for freelance developers.

Sometimes the projects and developers can rotate like they do in Hollywood, but even so, there's no Ari Gold, because the companies stay the same.

In London's finance industry, there are actually many contractors often working on temporary projects of a similar lifespan to a hollywood movie. The difference is the relationship with the third-party recruiters. The companies and their HR departments will still be around afterwards, similar to the point you're making here, so they establish long-term relationships with the agencies/recruiters. Thus, the agency is biased towards serving the needs of the company. It sees the company as its client, not the contractor. A lot of the time they can get exclusive assignments this way, and with many exclusive assignments around, it's not in the interest of a developer to be tied exclusively to any one agency.

"In Hollywood, people often need to create a reasonable sized business, have it work for a year or two, and then it falls apart. That's what a film is. Most people's engagement in this business is only a few months, maybe less, no matter how well they do. Therefore you need to get hired again, and again, and again.

In programming..."

In programming it's exactly the same. No one works in a software project for decades, and most gigs last 1-2 years until the programmer either moves to management or takes another project.

Aren't companies the "agents" of programmers?

If you're a talented developer, but with no marketing or other such skills, you join a company. For the sake of argument, let's call it a Software Consultancy. Then the consultancy finds you Gigs (i.e. takes on projects and puts you on them), and you get money.

Companies, in fact, solve another problem that acting doesn't have - namely, actors are hired alone. Software, on the other hand, is much, much more likely to be built by a team. And having a team brings you all sorts of other difficulties that customers can't deal with:

* You need a team that works well together

* You need proper management of the team

* You need proper processes in place for building the software

* In some cases, even access to equipment is an issue

In short, an agent that can represent a single developer is not the right "level of abstraction" for most clients.

actors must act with other actors- sort of like... a team? the must be... directed, sort of like a manager?

Do actors have to know and understand the other actors they're working with in the same way? I'm guessing not seeing how rarely you see a gang of actors that sticks together through several movies.

Jud Apatow is known for working with Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, Quentin Tarantino is known for working with Uma Thurman and Michael Madsen, Martin Scorcese is known for working with Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio, Tim Burton is known for working with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter...

The list goes on and on. Software is special, but it isn't that special.

Rat Pack

Brat Pack

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan


Yea, this points to the commoditization thing again. You wouldn't see "Film Consultancies" renting out entire production teams; actors, director and all. At least not for the high profile films.

It's worth noting that you could replace every instance of the word "programmer" in this article with "banker" or "accountant" or "teacher" or any of a number of non-public-facing professions and the take-home would be the same. The programmer connection here is somewhat of a red herring; this article is much more about what makes Hollywood different than about anything related to programming.

Most of the agent-bearing talent are performers (recorded or not)-actors, directors, speakers, musicians, models, athletes- who negotiate and set compensation ahead of time. These circumstances are what lend themselves to an agent middle-man.

If you are a lawyer, architect, accountant, engineer-a professional billing to the client on an hourly basis-an agent doesn't want to work for you. Cf below-the-line Hollywood professionals, like colorists, sound engineers, cinematographers, these guys don't get agents.

This post reminded me of this old (and long) rant: http://gilesbowkett.blogspot.co.il/2009/12/blogs-are-godless...

Relevant quote:

"The Hollywood job market doesn't work the way Joel thinks it does. It barely works at all. If you thought Google and Microsoft interview questions were ridiculous, wait until Joel Spolsky has us all dressing up in Catwoman suits just to get a job, after we've established ourselves as stars."

In Hollywood there are only a handful of studios. In sports, there are only a handful of pro teams. In software, there are too many companies for an agent to develop a relationship with or tout your services to in the same manner. And the best programmers don't need an agent.

A programmer's skill in programming is unrelated to their ability to communicate said skill. So the programmer may or may end up better off paying an agent >=14% of their salary to try and increase their net income.

There are a handful of top studios, teams, etc. And in tech, there are a handful of top companies.

If your interest is acting, there are a great many local and regional venues, likewise there are outlets for athletes (including teaching and coaching), and other creatives.

As with software, there are people who lead pretty fulfilling, if not always hugely financially rewarding, lives without associating with the majors.

I've been contracting for a couple years now and I haven't had to pay anyone commission to find me work. We're much more akin to contractor who work on people's houses than actors: referrals are everything. If you've done more than a few contract jobs of any significance and you aren't getting referrals, you might want to take a look at the work you are producing or the attitude you are presenting and figure out what is wrong.

Does that mean you now spend little to no time actually finding work? The referrals are all inbound at this point?

Genuinely curious.

I've been having to turn down work. For a while I was able to schedule it for later times as it comes in, but once I have at least 3 months booked into the future, I won't take on any more. A fair amount is ongoing work acting as a part-time dev on a project. I don't do much in the way of short "build me a website" projects

Also want to say that as valuable or even more than building referrals through clients you've worked for is building up a network of other dev contractors you've worked with. Much of my work is a job someone else lands and then needs to bring in additional help, or a job they turn down for lack of availability. And likewise, I do the same for others I know.

Old article is old. In the 4 years since this article was written, nothing much has changed.

You don't have an Ari Gold because the economics of software recruitment are different from that of the fictionalized A-list acting crowd. See other comments on the quickly apparent disparities between the two economies.

There's more than enough work available in 2012 if you know your stuff. And you can get it easily as a direct relationship with a company. Just ask. They won't want to give you a full recruiters fee but might be cool with meeting you part of the way on what they save.

It is a good question, I've always wondered why engineering types didn't develop a similar system to the one in LA for actors. Perhaps its the long term nature of software (3 - 5 years to get the product out) or support after the release.

Consider other agencies, like professional sports teams, can you put together 12 engineers who can win you the superbowl of engineering (what ever that would be)? Perhaps there is a disruption opportunity here.

Well, for the sake of discussion, how does NASA assemble the team(s) that build their stuff? That's the highest profile, most ad-hoc programming gig I can think of.

Fact is projects like that are pretty rare.

I do know some NASA engineers, my impression was that teams get formed much like they do in a large corporation where a project manager seeks out various people in the organization with the skills needed and recruits them to be on the team.

In that case the team is pulled from existing employees, so there isn't an externalized negotiation that goes on, at least not directly.

From the disruption point of view you would need some sort of loose conglomerate which sort of re-defined 'agile' development, a company with a small cadre of full time 'producers' and 'project managers' but not engineers. They might come up with some sort of concept and then hire an 'architect' (the moral equivalent of the director) and then working with that person perhaps the 5 to 15 core engineers. Then a bunch of 'extras' in the form of new engineers who aren't yet 'stars.' Between the architect, the producer, and the product manager roles would be doled out and extras added as needed.

If you really did this like a Hollywood movie there would be a period of 'pre-production' where most of the overall design decisions would be made, the architect person would work with a designer ( the equivalent of a script writer in our analogy) who would layout the pieces and how they would fit together. Then you'd go into 'location' and spend 3 - 6 months of really long days getting the whole thing put together, and dump that over to QA / post production team who would go through and clean up the loose ends. Then blam you ship it, collect revenues and go to work on the next one.

Not surprisingly that is somewhat similar to the 'game studio' model. Games being programs that have a limited lifetime. Game programmers don't float from studio to studio though.

NASA doesn't strike me as a particularly "ad-hoc" kind of place.

Isn't that partially what YC is?

Given that they discourage solo submissions.. no.

This article was fun, I like imagining myself with an agent and some awesome Diva dressing room. However, sorry, but I have to rant a tiny little bit. We need to stop using the "ever try to explain it to your mom" trope. My mother understands what I do at work a whole lot better then my dad. If I was mother, I would clearly understand what you do at work. The very fact of being a mom does not preclude you from high level technical knowledge. In addition, the statement encourages the idea that since only women can be moms, and moms don't understand tech, women don't understand tech. That is what you are implying to all of your readers when you utilize this cliche. It's lazy writing, and I would request that you try harder to overcome that initial pull of the go-to stereotypes and cliches that paint women in a non-technical light. Thank you.

"if you’ve got 5 years of experience with C++, you are the same as anyone else who has five years of experience with C++"

I would agree that your "5 years" is equally as meaningless as anyone else's generic 5 years. On the other hand, I would like to think that a quick look at your GitHub profile could make a huge distinction between you and another programmer.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to learn from this article. The author spends three paragraphs setting up an analogy and the the next 17 paragraphs explaining why that analogy is broken.

Authors have agents as well, and writing may be more analogous to software than acting.

Also the vast majority of authors are paid less (usually much less) than the average software developer.

All it would take for this to start is a few highly-motivated salesperson/agent types to team up with a handful of highly-desirable engineer types. And let's face it, it will probably need to be the agent types to make the first move. Surely there's a few guys (or gals) like that reading HN right now.

The largest Hollywood mega-agencies have their fingers in just about every pie that has money in it. Tech has recently joined that collection.

What agencies really do these days is "packaging". They put the actors together with a director and with money and producers. They're starting to package software development in related cases as well.

They aren't representing developers yet, but it's not a stretch to believe it may eventually occur to them.

I'm shocked to realize that I am apparently the only (or one of a select few) developers here that has an agent very similar to the ideal discussed.

He's a matchmaker that works at the C-level, placing interesting developers in qualified situations. In fact, the client isn't encouraged to pay their invoice for his one-off fee unless they are happy with me.

It's all relationship driven networking, no acronyms or resumes involved. And we both are very happy with how this works.

In closing, I assure you that having an agent is possible, you just have to have a personality to match your coding chops.

> you just have to have a personality to match your coding chops.

Which entirely defeats the point of having an agent

Not at all. I am the product, and I have to close the deal. I do that by being both a great coder and a great communicator.

It doesn't change the fact that it makes excellent sense for me to delegate the job of finding suitable clients that are looking for someone with my background.

How did you get into that relationship?

I was contacted initially after he was referred by a former colleague to me. We had a great Skype meet and greet, became friends and he recommended me to his client. It was a great fit.

Now we all have children together.

If you are interested in that notion of representation you should take a look at main() over at http://main.is or look for a skillshare class featuring main().

Looking back at when I was indy, main() is a service I wish had access to then. See also: Had I known then what I know now (through a series of sometimes painful lessons).

The answer, as best as I can tell, is commoditization. In our industry the middlemen – hiring managers, HR people, recruiters, etc. – work extremely hard to commoditize labor.

Why is this? I've seen it pushed to the level where it's clearly detrimental to the company... It seems irrational.

It's perfectly rational. The primary concern of the corporation is to remain a 'going concern'.

This entails certain operational risks, key of which is 'key person risk', where the ongoing operation of the business is exposed to the availability of a single person (or small number of people).

This is why CEOs of large companies are such mediocre 'everymen/women/persons' because if the ongoing operation of the organization depends on the availability of the CEO, that is a very large risk to be exposed to.

If you cannot reduce a function in your organization's business process to something that is repeatable and replaceable, then you have an ongoing operational risk.

Small companies value growth, large companies value security, consequently large companies will expend more resources on mitigating risks than expanding the market/revenue/products of their business.

One could make a compelling argument that Marc and Ben over at a16z have already been pioneering this industry on a large scale with their talent services division.


The reason programmers don't get agents while actors do is that an actor's work is mostly visible to those hiring him while a programmers is not.

Thus, agents don't have to convince those hiring how well the actor can do his job (well or poorly). They only have to negotiate compensation and scheduling.

With individual software developers, their skill is not easily visible to those hiring. Thus it is much more difficult for an agent. The agent would need to becomes salesman as well as agent.

The real Ari is on our board of directors. It doesn't help recruiting. Telling and believing a great story and treating your culture and team as its own product does.

Blockbuster actor salary > developer salary

10-15% means a lot more in one place than the other.

That's why the Ari Golds aren't scrambling to get you (or any other dev) on their rosters.

He specifically mentions the fact that even average, B actors have agents. These are guys who make less than many developers do. Yes, the Ari Golds are not representing them, but some agents are, and they presumably find them jobs.

In my brief tangles with the industry, I noticed that it was common for an agency to have a few A listers, then lots of B listers. The model was that the A listers would pay the bills, and it was worth lavishing time and attention on them. The B listers would be effectively put in a holding pattern with just enough effort spent on them that they didn't go anywhere else, on the off chance they eventually became A listers. The B listers could say that they were represented by a firm with real legal clout, and the agency could inflate the number of actors they were representing, but other than that the benefits seemed to be pretty intangible for the B listers.

It's all relative though.

If you're a freelance developer spending 25% of your time every month seeking new clients (to keep the pipeline full), that's time spent on prospects that may or may not work out.

What if you instead paid an agent commission on work found only (and didn't waste 25% of your time each month)?

Working on projects of any decent size would make this worthwhile I imagine.

"(Of course RMS is more like a Tim Robbins: Respected and talented with a passion for activism. But I wince when he opens his mouth.)"

Even if the author of this article wrote RMS's bio and knew the man and his work intimately, this embarrassed coughing everyone seems to do whenever Stallman comes up really grates on me. I didn't finish reading past that sentence.

I asked this same question a few weeks ago on HN. Some interesting points were brought up. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4310710

> Of course there some exceptions – programmers who are known mostly for their work. These are almost exclusively in the free software field though, like Linux Torvalds or RMS.

Linus really is known for his work, huh?

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