Freelancing at Toptal | my first year!

2015 has been an amazing year for me and my family. It was the first full year of self employment and I have been very lucky to work with some amazing companies throughout the year. I wanted to write this post for others that are considering working for Toptal or maybe looking at something similar for work.

About me

I am a 29 year old iOS / web developer that has about 10 years of dev work experience. I have mostly worked for agencies building custom software for clients, but have also been at a couple start ups. I am happily married and have two beautiful daughters a 2 year old and a 6 month old. The freelancing life is a bit crazy at times and the uncertainty can be a little stressful especially when having to provide for a family. Toptal definitely takes some of that stress away by having a good amount of new clients coming through the pipeline.

The Toptal application process

Step 1 is to apply on the toptal website: Toptal.com depending on what position you are applying for I think determins how long it will take you to get an interview. My application went right through and I had an interview a couple days after applying.

The first interview is just a quick skype call. I think they mostly want to make sure your english skills are up to par as well as explain the interview process. If everything checks out you pass on to the next step at technical interview.

The technical interview is about an hour long and is just your standard run of the mil technical interview. My interview was with a javascript developer even though I applied as an iOS dev. He asked me to write a sorting algorithm and a question about a binary tree. They mostly want to see how you solve problems and what your thought process is.

Next up is the sample project. Since my background was mobile dev I elected to do the sample iOS app. It was a simple travel app that let you add, edit and delete trips that you were planning. They mostly checked for clean code, good standards and if you wrote tests. Once I passed this test I was hired!

Once you are hired

Once you are hired you get access to the Toptal system. You have to set up your profile, and add your experience and personal information. My Profile. You submit your profile for review and once approved you can start applying for engagements.

There are three types of engagements you can select from:

  • Full time a 40 hour a week contract
  • Part time a 20 hour a week contract
  • Hourly a flexible contract where you bill hours worked on the project

To apply for a contract you can browse all available engagements that meet your skill set.

Getting a project/engagement

The engagements vary a ton. There is everything from startups looking to supplement their teams to people that have an app idea that have no background in software development. Once you find an engagement that interests you, you can apply for the position. This application is sent first to a Recruiter that makes sure you would be a good fit for the position and then your profile is sent off to the client. If the client is interested they will request an interview.

Client interviews

The client interviews are super important. They are just as much for you as they are a client. You want to make sure their personality will be a good fit for you as well. The actual interview will vary depending on the client. I have had full technical interviews for start ups and super basic interviews from someone that has never built an app before. If you are a good fit you will be approved and a start date will be set.

Working with clients

Once you start you jump right into the project with the clients. I have really enjoyed working and integrating with teams that are more established software companies. I enjoy seeing their process for managing their code base and build processes. The most important part of maintaining a good relationship with clients is communication. Usually you will have a standup meeting that you join in everyday as well as getting access to their companies slack, or hip chat. The hours you work really depend on the company you are working for. I am located in the U.S. and was able to work for a company in London which is 8 hours ahead of me. I worked 4 am – 1 pm so I would catch the 12pm – 5 pm hours with the clients dev team. Usually though you have to have set hours.

Trial periods

There are trial periods for each of your engagements when you start out. Every time you start an engagement you get a trial period that starts on your start date. For a full time contract it is 10 business days, part time is 5 business days. You work on the project and once you hit the end of the trial period the client can either approve your engagement or cancel your engagement. If they cancel your engagement due to quality reasons they get a 100% refund and you are out of luck getting paid for those hours spent. If the work is good but it is a personality issue I think they get a 50% refund on the project. I haven’t had an issues with my trial period getting approved.

My overall thoughts on Toptal

Having worked in software development for a while this has definitely been my favorite gig. I really enjoy working for myself and having more control of how much money I make every year. If I ever need more money I can just pick up an extra part time contract for a couple weeks. The clients have been great, but I like I said before you need to make sure the client will be a good fit for you as well in the interview. It has also helped me learn about handling clients and how to present yourself to get them to treat you the way you want. I also love working from home. Having two little kids being around them throughout the day is amazing. I won’t lie at first there was stress about job security but really when you think about it a regular 9 – 5 job has just about no security. I think if you are good and dedicated at what you do there will always be people looking to hire you for your skills. There are also other stresses about health insurance and retirement and getting a mortgage (hopefully this year) and taxes that are a little more stressful but I think having more control over my life and happiness is way more beneficial than having those issue taken care for me by an employer. Toptal also has a pretty cool community. They have a slack community as well as live events you can go meet up with other developers in your area. Last winter I was invited to a ski trip up in Lake Tahoe, it was a blast and got to meet a bunch of cool people that work with Toptal. I think that Taso Du Val and Breanden Beneschott have really created an awesome company and I feel very lucky to be working with everyone at Toptal.

Should you Freelance with Toptal

I think freelancing is an awesome opportunity and Toptal definitely makes it a lot easier. You don’t have to do any marketing or billing and focus on development. They attract high quality clients and challenging projects. If you are looking to challenge yourself and grow as a developer I think Toptal is a good fit.

What I built this year with Toptal

I’m really proud of my work this year and wanted to brag a little about what I built!

  • Roomi – Find Roommates, Apartment Rentals & Sublets
    This was my first contract and I was really lucky to work with these guys. It was a really fun project to work on and I learned a lot.
  • House of Fraser
    The house of fraser app is my favorite app I’ve built in a long time. The team I got to work with was top notch and their code quality was amazing. I really enjoyed integrating with their team and learning there code testing and reviewing process. I also got to build a bar code scanner and the project was written in Swift. Just a lot of fun to work on.
  • Zugata
    Zugata is an awesome company located in Palo Alto and I feel really lucky to be working with them. They are a small and dynamic team with great leadership. I have really enjoyed working with such a small and energetic team and I have learned so much from them. I am also really excited this is a longer term engagement and will hopeful get to work with them for most of the next year and maybe even longer. I can’t wait to see what we will build together.

It has been a really exciting year and I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring! If you have any questions about Toptal or anything about freelancing in general then please feel free to leave a comment below or follow me on twitter and send me a tweet.