Toptal - The 2 year update you have been waiting for!

22nd June 2016

It has been over two years since I have joined Toptal, and I have to apologize, it has been over 18 months since my last update!

I have so much to update on, it is hard to know where to start - so I guess I will go straight to the present! I am now a member of the Toptal Core Team! My role in Toptal is as Director of Engineering - it is my job to match a developer to a project! This includes talking with clients about their project, and finding the perfect developer for their needs.

But, before I go into that in too much detail, let me pick up since my last Toptal update!

What has happened since my last update

Thank you to all of those developers who have commented on my articles in the past. I receive a lot of feedback and questions - and I will always do my best to help answer any questions developers have. Here is a list of regular questions / comments I receive:

Payments Methods:

Firstly, in my 6 month update, I was somewhat critical about the payment methods from Toptal. I am pleased to report that things have improved. The fee of International Transfers is now only $25 US, and I use MoneyCorp, which allows me to lock in exchange rates, and keep my balance in US Dollars for as long as I like. Toptal also allows you to get paid in bulk payments so, in some cases and at my discretion, I hold the funds in my Toptal account for 2 or 3 months, and then get paid in one bulk payment. This allows me to have my money sent over in one shot and just get charged one $25 fee for multiple months’ pay.

Can I set my own rate at Toptal?

I have a lot of people ask me about setting their own rate on Toptal. Yes, you can set your own rate with Toptal - but just keep in mind that Toptal is a market place. Thankfully, with Toptal, the hourly rate of a developer is not the only thing taken into account, but it is still a factor. Unless you have a very specific skill set, chances are other developers are going to also be applying for the job - and their hourly rate will be compared against yours, so you want to stay competitive from a pricing standpoint.

Thankfully, the number of years experience, your specific skill set and previous projects, as well as feedback from other Toptal engagements will also all be taken into account - so unlike other market places, your rate is not going to be the only factor.

I stick to the same philosophy I had when I first joined Toptal - charge the same that you do for a regular long term client outside of Toptal. Or, if you normally take short term engagements, charge slightly less, knowing that you don't need to handle things such as finding a new job and billing issues etc.

Is it true, there aren't enough projects in Toptal in X Language or Framework?

I have seen this comment pop up a few times as well - a good example was a developer recently complaining that there weren't enough C++ projects. Toptal is a marketplace, and like any market place, supply and demand is the key. I certainly found in the last 12 months, CakePHP projects were few and far between (not so much a reflection on Toptal, but a reflection on the popularity of CakePHP). However, at the same time, there didn't appear to be a huge amount of developers who had the same level of experience I had with CakePHP. In this case, there was enough work for me.

I think developers often forget that the only number of engagements you really need is one! In the case of the C++ complaint - while there may not be many C++ projects, there may also not be many C++ Developers, and so when a job is listed, chances are you will be invited to the job.

Other than Billing the client, what else does Toptal do?

This is another common question. Infact, I didn't truly appreciate just what Toptal does behind the scenes until I joined the core team. Here is a list of the extra benefits of being a Toptal Developer:

  • You don't have to worry about billing: Infact, you never need to worry about discussing hourly rates or anything to do with billing with the client - this is dealt with by Toptal.
  • Support for each job: For each engagement you work on Toptal, a Recruiter will be assigned, who will act as the mediator between yourself and the client. If you have any questions or concerns about the project, you can reach out to the Recruiter. No more awkward conversations with the client - let the Recruiter deal with the awkward stuff, while you get to code!
  • Let Toptal manage your work load: Have an engagement ending in a few weeks. Let Toptal know the engagement is ending soon, and you will be sent new requests for new engagements. This will limit your downtime between engagements.
  • The Toptal Community: One of my favourite parts of being part of Toptal - the community. In June, I was in Lisbon, getting to meet both members of the core team, and other Toptalers. The accommodation and work space was paid for by Toptal - I got to explore an awesome city, while meeting awesome like-minded developers - all while working at the same time. The events organized by Toptal continue to get better and better.

What made me Decide to join the Toptal Core Team?

There wasn't just one reason why I joined the Core Team, but here are a few reasons:

Toptal is awesome

After being a Toptal Developer for the last couple of years, one thing about Toptal, is that it is awesome! The projects are great, the clients are fantastic and the core team members are fantastic people. Toptal adds a separate layer to development that gives both developers and clients extra security over traditional freelancing.

Be part of something bigger

As much as I loved freelancing, there was often a certain loneliness about this, and a sense that I was just going from one project to the next. I wanted an opportunity to be part of something bigger - and see myself grow within a team.

Working from a Different Angle

I love programming, but I also have a business and management side to me. I love that being a Director of Engineering at Toptal, allows me to use both my technological side, as well as my business side.

Opportunity Knocked

In January, one of my long term clients let me know that they would be cutting back my hours on their project, as great progress had been made. At the time, I was worried about finding a new engagement, but there were some fantastic opportunities within the core team. I would encourage any Toptal Developer to look into what positions are available, as there are fantastic opportunities for Toptal Developers within the core team!

Whats Next?

I hope to continue to add articles on how things are progressing with Toptal. One of the great things with Toptal, is that it will allow me to travel and continue to meet amazing people - certainly I will be sure to blog about my next Toptal trip! In the meantime, I will continue to answer any questions answered on this blog post, and by all means, please contact me if you would like to have any specific questions answered.

Until my next update! If you haven't applied yet as a developer for Toptal - feel free to apply now!

My name is Michael Houghton and I have been freelancing as a web developer for nearly fifteen years.

Would you like to learn the secret to my success as a freelancer? Visit to sign up & learn my formula (for free).