Saturday, November 29, 2014

Toptal hasn't worked out for me (yet)

Let me tell you a story about how I got a great job... but not really.

It all started in July 2014, when I stumbled upon Toptal. In a nutshell, it's a premium freelancing portal which connects programmers with software projects. The big difference from other similar sites is that they don't admit just anyone. They have a 4-step recruitment process for developers and claim that only 3% of the people interviewed get admitted to work with them.

Disappointed by my previous experiences with freelancing portals, I decided to give Toptal a shot. I was hoping that they were able to address the biggest problems with finding contract work, i.e. people spamming offers without even reading the project's description, cheap coders from Asia breaking the market by working for $2/hour, and bad projects' descriptions not letting you assess the amount of work properly. This way my interview process started.

As I mentioned before, it consisted of 4 steps and took me more than a month to complete (partly because I went on vacation in the meantime). First, they give you a Codility test to solve. Then, if you do well enough, there's a technical interview during which they ask you about your work experience and test your English fluency as well as video and sound quality (you must be able to communicate with future clients without problems). After that comes another coding session - this time it's done live with a Toptal recruiter watching you write via shared screen. You have to have a microphone on as well to make sure that someone is not helping you with the solution. The final part is a mini 2-week project that you have to make. I can't reveal all the details, but it's basically a web/mobile app (you can pick whichever suits you better) that lets users log in and store some data in the cloud using asynchronous calls and REST. I used Parse for the backend and I have to say that it's a great tool. I chose it over Firebase which has been bought by Google recently and is probably a good alternative.

After my mini project had been accepted, I finally got admitted to the portal. I signed a contract and set my availability to 20h/week, because I was hoping to work on my own apps at the same time. I found a couple interesting projects, for which I immediately applied. They were pretty well described and seemed to be offered by people who knew what they were doing.

After several days and no reply whatsoever I began to worry. I noticed that full time projects were greyed out for me, because of my availability settings, so I changed it to 40h/week and applied for more jobs that I could possibly do. A couple of days later - still no answer.

Imagine my surprise, when finally someone from Toptal messaged me on Skype and asked me directly about two projects (some older ones that I hadn't applied for). I happily answered that I was ready to do anything they wanted me to.

Unfortunately, after the Skype conversation I didn't get any follow-up messages or project invites. Did they forget about me? Or maybe the process of connecting tasks with coders was so time-consuming that they didn't have enough man power to handle it. I'll probably never know.

All in all, having just moved to another country and not having too much savings, I was forced to look for a normal job, which I found (but that's a separate story). I also had to reduce my Toptal availability to 10h/week, so my chances of receiving a serious project are rather small now. Anyway, I'll keep trying and we'll see how it goes.


  1. Keep trying. I follow your blog & I have found very useful the information you provide. Keep up with the good work.
    Vasilis from Greece. (Novice developer)

    1. Thank you for the nice words Vasilios. I'm glad to be of any help.

      I probably complain too much, while in fact I have quite a nice job now and I'm working on interesting projects on the side as well. I'll write more about them soon.