MICHAEL HOUGHTON
Freelance PHP Developer

My Toptal Adventure: Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina

7th September 2016

I promised an update on my next Toptal Adventure - and here I am - writing this from Split, in Croatia, sharing a house with 10 other Toptal core team members!

The view from the Toptal House

Travel is both fun and challenging all rolled into one.  Having travelled to over 30 countries, I have had my fair share of challenges along the way. Last night broke a 4 year drought for me of visiting a new country - and I am super excited to be here in Croatia.

You can forget the toll that travel takes on your body (or maybe its a sign I am getting older), but after working a full day on Friday, I left my house at 4pm - I drove the two hours to Dublin airport (and embarrassing got lost trying to find the "cheaper" long term car park. Managed to panic to the airport and catch the 3 hour flight to Zadar.

I was the poor guy who got stuck next to the baby that just wouldn't stop screaming. As a parent who has traveled enough time with kids, I know there isn't a huge thing a parent can do - but hey, I was due to be "the poor guy next to that crying kid", as our own kids have done it before to others sitting nearby!

I Landed in Zadar, bit I still need to travel the 155km to Split. With a flat phone battery I manage to get talked into hiring a GPS, and was taken aback when I realised the model looked like something out of Soviet Russia, more than the modern GPS I was expecting.

But it seemed to be doing its job. Though I had to question the car I had been given, which looked like a courier van, though I joked at least I can park in loading zones without fear of getting a ticket!

The trip was going well, until the GPS told me to exit well before I expected. I decided to trust it (big mistake), and exited. I ended up exiting in the mountains and drove around corner after corner at 1am. To this day I don't know why my GPS took me that route - but likely the cheapskate before me who borrowed it, set it to route around the toll roads where possible.

Finally at 2.30am, I arrived at the Toptal House.  After 3 hours sleep, I woke on Saturday. Toptal had bought us tickets to WordCamp Split. Meeting other developers, talking shop, listening to speakers and of course my favourite part.... local food!

Split Wordcamp with other Toptal Core Team Members
A WordCamp Presentation
Myself and Matt Dunbar - another Toptal Recruiter
Myself and Asia Lindsay -  European Community Lead
The local food at WordCamp

After the conference I got to meet Emir Kurtovic, a developer I had matched with a client earlier that week!

Meeting Emir

On Sunday, I took the opportunity to check out Split and swam off the rocks. I enjoyed an amazing hot sandwich for ~2 euro.

The Inbound Sales Team Lead, Paul Henn arrived from near Mostar, in Herzegovina, and we got to meet.  He later invited me back to his house and within a few hours, I was back in the car following him across the border to Herzegovina.

The drive to his house was an adventure. As we crossed the border, the roads got narrower and narrower, as we drove up and over the Mountains that seperate the two countries.

As we neared his house, I got to see first hand what a lack of town planning looks like, as driveways had been turned into roads and the houses looked like they had been built on top of each other. Paul later mentioned that most of the houses were built on state land, and that the house owners never had permission to build and nor did they technically own the land!

The next day, Paul invited another developer I had matched a few months previously, Igor Trlin. It was lovely to meet him, and hear face to face about his experience with his Toptal Client.

Meeting Igor Trlin.  Paul Henn (left), Michael Houghton (center), Igor Trlin (right)

I decided afterwards to go on an Adventure into Mostar and got to experience the excitement of travelling and working remotely - after finishing my workday, I got to go and sight see a new and exciting city!

Visiting Mostar

Paul and his family made me feel so welcome and I was constantly spoiled with home made local meals. The highlight was the home made cheese cake, which was one of the most amazing things I had ever tasted! To be able to visit such a fascinating place and be treated to such kind and generous hospitality was something I will always be grateful for. I got to experience a lot more than the standard tourist experience, and got to see what day to day life is like living in Herzegovina.

Amazing Cheesecake

I returned back to Split the next day and had an interesting experience going back through the border to Croatia. Once again, I blame my GPS, which for whatever reason took me on a different route, through various backroads of Herzegovina. Not realizing I was taking a different route than when I came and expecting a large que through the border, like when I had arrived, I suddenly came accross what I thought was a police checkpoint down a side road. The officier stepped aside, so I assumed I was OK to drive ahead, not realising I was actually at the border until after the officer yelled stop and I had carried 20 meters past the check point.

The officer spoke very little English, but I understood he wanted me to pull over - and lets just say he wasn’t impressed. I handed over my documents and after 5 minutes he returned. He handed my documents back, and shaking his head said "just go, go". I promptly started the car and drove off as quickly as I could!

Back in Split, I got to meet with more Toptal core team members and developers at the official Split meet up!

I am finishing this article from the plane on my return to Ireland. The last 5 days has been a fantastic adventure - all made possible because I took the opportunity to Join Toptal back in 2014!

Toptal is amazing, for so many reasons, however the community events and ability to meet other team members and developers - who are able to show you around and introduce you to local people and the local way of life - is by far my favourite aspect of working at Toptal.  Not to mention, I did all of this while still working full time.

Are you a developer? Why not apply to join Toptal and see what adventure you may get to experience.


Did you know, I am now offering FREE mentoring for those looking to get into freelancing.
Whether you are looking to join Toptal or break into freelancing...
Click here to learn more about my Mentorship Program.