Selling software's superstars
June 18, 1998

Wooing power programmers, Silicon Valley's Jerry Maguire wows an industry
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ATLANTA - In cubicles from San Francisco to San Jose, young programmers are using computer languages like Java to change the world. If they're good enough, they can even ask for the world as well.

If you want to understand why, grab a cup of coffee with the man who sits at the center of this universe -- Bo Rinaldi, agent to the programming stars.

Rinaldi is the sort of let's-do-lunch, take-a-meeting, have-your-people-call-my-people kind of guy you'd expect to find in Hollywood, not Silicon Valley.

Instead of representing Tom Cruise, he finds jobs for the top guns who cruise through computer code. As vice president and partner of the Trattner Network, he has an inside view of an industry on the edge.

"It's the power of one person that creates something here. And you can have 300 people working for you in two years and call yourself Excite," he says.

Clients of the Trattner Network can charge as much as $300 an hour for their skills. Among the hits claimed by Trattner clients are such breakthroughs as the CD-ROM and the spreadsheet that became Microsoft's Excel.

Maker of superstars

Last year alone, Rinaldi closed nearly 150 deals, and he's always on the lookout for the next opportunity for his stable of software superstars -- like programmer Carl Wescott.

Recently pictured on the cover of Internet Week for his work on Schwab's online trading system, Wescott is one of Rinaldi's most sought-after programmers. When Rinaldi went to a casting call at Swedish cell phone maker Ericsson, he brought Wescott along.

Three months of Wescott's time on Ericsson's next big thing -- a cell phone with built-in Web browser -- will cost Ericsson $85,000. Rinaldi's cut: about 20 percent.

"Carl is a somewhat pricey person. And they are already ready for someone who is pricey. Carl will probably charge about $200 an hour for this -- and we'll probably charge about $240 an hour," says Rinaldi.

Being able to command such a high price for one's services can be heady, but what put Wescott and his agent in the driver's seat?


Not enough fish in the sea

It's not just high-tech firms that are hunting for software slingers. Companies of all stripes are feeling the talent gap and desperately offering young programmers a rich array of corporate perks ranging from flexible hours to gourmet food.

Many Silicon Valley corporate grounds look like five-star resorts -- jogging paths, health clubs, basketball courts, pools: all mandatory perks these days [1.14Mb Quicktime movie].

Though it's hard to pin down exact numbers, it's likely that within a decade, more than one million technology jobs will go unfilled. And there's little relief in sight. The number of students majoring in computer science is nearly half of what it was 10 years ago.

The coming dearth is something Rinaldi knows all too well.

That's what brings him to a meeting at the Silicon Valley start-up VEO Systems, home to young computer science graduates like 23-year-old Kelly Schwarzhoff.

Rinaldi asks him how his salary compares with the rule of thumb that a 23-year-old's salary should be more or less $23,000. "Well, let's just say I'd be a senior citizen," Schwarzhoff replies.

In fact, it's not uncommon for newly minted computer science grads to start at $60,000 or even $80,000 a year.

Oracle Corp.

Off to see the Wizard

At the end of another deal-making day, Rinaldi's last stop is the headquarters for software powerhouse Oracle. It's called "The Emerald City" because of the way it looks, but it also generates tons of green -- $5.5 billion in revenue last year alone.

Oracle's Kelly Banks has turned to Rinaldi for hundreds of programmers. This time, Oracle needs not just one software superstar but an entire cast of them to deploy its next-generation software. In short, he needs 25 superstars -- and fast.

Given Rinaldi's stellar reputation, Banks has full confidence he won't disappoint, but Rinaldi takes nothing for granted.

"At Oracle, we brought (in) a few hundred people in the course of a year's time, 300 people-plus. And every day we scratched our heads and wondered how we (were going) do it," he says. "But via good systems, great staff and probably knowing our game, we've been doing it 20 years. We will always figure out a way."

At least for now. Like his Hollywood counterparts, for this agent the star search never stops. Back to top


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The Trattner Network

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