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Ask HN: What has been your experience with TopTal (and other similar agencies)?
50 points by baccheion on Aug 17, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments
I'm looking into becoming a developer-for-hire through them. Is the company legitimate, ethical, etc? Are there any hidden issues or things that one should be aware of? Any other general bits of information? Are there better places for this kind of thing (I'm basically looking into consulting, freelancing, telecommuting, remote working, etc), and if so, then where specifically?

Be prepared to put substantial effort into the interview process. You are looking at approximately 40 hours of your time.

Once you are in, you sign one contract and create a very detailed personal profile (another time sink) and that's all the admin done for any role. This seems to be one of the benefits - you don't need to interview and agree contracts, etc. for each new role.

They match candidates to roles based on skill overlap - typical recruiter style. If you don't have substantial experience in a particular technology that is deemed important for a client then you won't get that role - which seems fair, but if you have lots of experience, but none in funky web technologies, which is where many of their roles are, then it could be an issue.

You can choose your rate and commitment level (e.g. 10 hours a week), but that potentially limits the roles available to you. I've been told that average rates are around $80,000 for the UK region. It makes little sense to me that there are regional rate differences as it's all remote working, but I think it relates to keeping the working day in sync with clients.

All the people I've spoken to in Toptal seem friendly and competent and the interview process is relatively polished.

I'm in toptal but hardly do anything for them.

I find the experience pretty nuetral. Most companies are looking for better talent then the other freelancing sites but still not willing to pay $100/h for work.

On a side note.. Dont trust a lot of the positive comments here. I haven't checked the slack team for toptal but they are very good at monitoring sites like HN for toptal releated posts and asking a whole room of like 1500 people to come and post positive comments about the service.

I have been a developer at TopTal since about 6 months now and my experience has been very positive!

I have found the entry tests not easy to pass, although fairly chosen and well representative of a developer's expectation. The "recruiters" there are very helpful and responsive, and getting new missions through the website is a real breeze. In addition, I don't know if I have been lucky, but all the people I have been working through TopTal so far has been (and are) really nice people to work with; and I managed to keep a fairly good rate even though the TopTal commission.

As a remote worker, it has been amazing to work while visiting some wonderful places of this world. One drawback, it may feel isolating at some point and you sometimes need to push yourself to move out and discover some new coffee shops / co-working spaces. It's worth to be mentioned, but hasn't been a cut off for me at all - so far.

If I could give one advice, be well prepared for the admission tests and pay attention to well designed code and details.

Hope to see you there as a workmate :)

I went through the interview process for toptal and they seem to make an effort to screen for competent developers which is a plus. The job listings are generally higher quality than what you find on sites like freelancer - they look reasonable and there aren't loads of "make me an app for $200" ads like you see on many other freelancing sites.

Unfortunately the jobs skew towards web dev and there isn't much work for my skill set (game development, C++) and the hourly rates are quite low by North American standards so I haven't found any contracts I'm interested in taking on so far. I've had better luck seeking out freelancing work directly myself. There's no major downside in signing up with them that I've seen though - it gives you another channel to find work if you can't find anything on your own for a while.

Very negative:

Spent quite some time in passing all interviews just to figure out that hourly rate is very low in my region. Then got the client who pinged every hour for updates. TopTal did not want to change the client for me.

To summarize: low rate, negative client and TopTal don't care

What do you mean "in your region"? TopTal only gives you clients in your region? If so, why would I use them when all my clients are in the US? Hell, why would I not lie and tell them I'm San-Francisco-based? The only difference it'll make is that I get higher rates.

Tough and long interview process (like others have noted). The good part is that clients will later be less likely to ask you much, they usually take for granted that you have already been vetted.

Lot's of jobs available, mostly serious clientele, almost entirely web related though.

Mostly it depends where you are from, regional rates differ (a travesty, but it's how they make bigger margins). I doubt you will get amazing rates if you already live in a wealthy country (US, UK etc), for us plebs in the rest of the world the rates are good.

Payouts are regular and can be via Payoneer, Paypal or wire transfer. Never had a problem with this aspect.

The bad bits, they take massive margins (up to 50%, as in half of all earnings, though that depends on your rate, they will sell you for as much as they can, and try to convince you to lower yours "to have more chance at landing a job", which is fine, they are a business).

Apart from providing a way to find jobs (which is very big deal), you won't really get anything from them. Once you're working you'll probably have no contact with them whatsoever if nothing is going wrong. Their platform is very automated though, so this is actually a positive.

Overall, a good experience, IMO more geared towards talented programmers in "second-world" countries.

I found them pretty terrible. First talked to them 3 years ago? They dropped the ball part way through the interview process.

Then more recently talked again. They used an online system for initial coding problems (timed, unsupervised). These are google style "solve X algorithmic problem". That was pretty good, but I quit the interview process when I realised they were going to do essentially the same thing with a human and were using the online process for filtering. I felt they undervalued the interviewees time.

So I'd characterise the process as disorganised, and inconsiderate.

I recall that during the interview process, they dropped off the face of the earth once I asked them about hourly rates and if they'd be able to meet my minimum.

I refused to do any coding exercises if they couldn't openly state that my requested hourly rate was within reason.

From everything I have read online, the rates are low for US based freelancers.

You're better off finding your own clients and skipping the middleman.

I work in finance as a quant/dev. I took the toptal interviews as a backup in the case I didn't find my own finance gigs. The interview process is very serious and fairly hard, and I barely made it through. I do think people who make it are good. The interviewer I had clearly knew a lot of stuff.

I've had a cursory look at what contracts they had on offer, and unfortunately it looked like there was not much for data people, and even less for finance. Most of it seemed to be web and apps.

That said, besides the job, there are other benefits from joining: you get access to a network of people who can help. And I think they give you free access to some teaching material if you write for the toptal blog. And also, you get to show publicly that you went through the screening process. So that can help to get other jobs.

You set your own rates / availability, so if you don't want to be cheap, you can.

All in all, the screening process is a bit long, but not crazy long, so it doesn't cost you much to give it a shot.

Hey, I wonder if you would mind answering a few questions.

I work as a marketing analyst doing pretty much what I expect you do in finance - developing statistical models. I've always wondered if I can make a transition into finance. Do you have any resources/blogs you can share that talk about workflow or the details of the job, foundations, etc.?

You can certainly make a transition to finance. Unfortunately I don't know much about books / blogs about how to start. It seems that there is good advice on quantstart.com

I did a video call with them and had a very negative impression. They seem to be trying to do to developers what uber does to drivers which made me a little uneasy. The interviewer admitted to me that developers are basically expendable to them.

Furthermore the interviewing/recruiting platform is a rails app and it had a serious bug. Time zones were off between the confirmation email and the app and there wasn't any way to tell which was the source of truth. In the end my interviewer was given a different time for our interview by one hour, and I was forced to wait for her.

I made it to the next step but dropped out due to these two reasons

Was just checking their website...

A popup takes over while I'm still having a look. To exit the popup is a small link that reads, "No thanks, I’d rather not hire the best.".

I think I have seen enough.

<rant>Oh how I wish all people would include their country of residence when answering region-sensitive questions...</rant>

I'm recruiting with Toptal right now. The interview is long and arduous. I realize when it comes to global freelancing living in London puts me at a disadvantage. Lack of details about rates makes it challenging to make an informed decision on whether you should even bother. [UK, London]

Info from last year, based on hearsay: average rate in a poor-ish country in South Eastern Europe was $27/hour. I've heard of people who make twice that, which is probably the around the maximum for this region.

Since region matters, someone in the UK will get more, I don't know by how much, depends on experience and skill-set. I doubt, best-case, it will be an integer multiple of the maximum above.

Was going to give them a look-in. Sat the tests which weren't too tough, although the editor for the tests was a bit broken at the time, so wasn't able to complete them. They offered a re-take, but I'm always busy enough without really needing more leads, so not really that interested in pursuing.

I've heard good things from devs in cheaper labor markets like Eastern Europe/India. But most U.S. devs that have talked about it have had pretty bad experiences(typically long and grueling interviews for below market rates).

So it probably depends on where you're from.

though toptal rates are much higher than those at upwork (so is the entry barrier), they are inferior to what you can get paid in the states or britain. if you live in a cheap country or are a digital nomad, toptal might work like a charm

What places are you referring to? Do they offer consulting positions, remote working, etc, or are you referring to full time in office positions? I was mainly wondering about TopTal, as the ability to work remotely, have flexible hours, and not have to deal with politics/BS/bureaucracy, etc are things I strongly need.

i worked as a contractor in both britain and states and really didn't have to put up with as much shit as employees had to. toptal is cool for digital nomads or folks from low COL countries. remoteok.io is your best friend in a remote job job search

I know of one or two South African devs that joined Toptal and it sounds like they're pretty legit.

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