Skip to Content
  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Blog
  4. /
  5. Remote Work: My Complete Toptal Experience
Sunday, February 18, 2024

Remote Work: My Complete Toptal Experience

Remote work is increasingly popular among freelancers. Toptal is a freelance platform for tech talent with a rigorous screening process.

Toptal is one of the biggest freelancer platforms for remote work. It is also one of the most private networks since it's closed to talent and clients (companies). As a freelancer, you need to go through a thorough interview process, and as companies, you need to go through a vetting process to ensure you are worthy of hiring vetted talent from the Toptal network. I have been a member of the Toptal network since February 2021 and have worked through the platform for roughly two years. This post will tell you about my Toptal experience in detail.

If you are interested in the platform itself, its benefits, and everything about the hiring process, check out my other blog post about how to get started at Toptal.

What is Toptal?

In a nutshell, Toptal (founded by Taso du Val) is a remote, global freelance platform that connects professionals with clients. These professionals work in areas that range from UX design and finance to Machine Learning and Software Engineering. They offer information security services, quality assurance services, cloud services, and application services, among others. The Toptal selling point is that they have the top 3% of tech talent in the platform since that's the percentage of professionals that go through the rigorous screening process and enter the talent pool.

Some contacts at Toptal have revealed that it's around the top 1.7% instead of the top 3%. It is why Toptal boasts of having the top freelance talent in each industry.

How can you join Toptal?

Joining Toptal can be more or less straightforward, depending on the field you are working on. In markets where there is more demand (meaning more professionals applying), it's usual that interviews are stricter. For an in-depth guide to the interview process, check out my other post on that topic. For you to quickly note, you have more than one Toptal interview and one test project.

My Toptal Experience

It is my complete experience in Toptal after being accepted into the platform as a remote worker. It goes from looking for jobs in Toptal to when I stopped my last engagement.

I was part of the Core software engineer talent services, working as a software engineer. That's the software development and web development specialization within their wide range of specialists.

Job Search in Toptal

After joining the platform in February 2021, I started looking for jobs in the Toptal marketplace. The first thing you do after joining (and getting past all the legal stuff) is create your Toptal profile. At this stage, you set your hourly rate for Toptal jobs.

Toptal job matchers use this rate to send you job offers based on your skills, profile, and hourly rate. They are a Toptal employee who works as a Market Maker. They try to match Toptal clients and Toptal remote talent as fast as possible. These job offers are mostly interest requests, where the matchers ask you if you are interested in the job and if you are so, they will send your profile to the client. These requests are highly time-sensitive, so they encourage you to reply to them as fast as possible. Below, you can find what one of those looks like:

I wanted to let you know about a new role you might be interested in: Full-Stack Developer (React & Python).

Based on your unique background and skillset, it looks like you would be a great match for this job. If this piques your interest, I would be happy to add your profile to a shortlist of top candidates for this role.

This is a time-sensitive opportunity – we recommend that you respond within the next 24 hours, as quicker applicants will have a greater chance of being interviewed. You can respond from wherever you are with on-the-go access to your requests in the Toptal Talent app, now available for iOS and Android.

Job Details

Full-Stack Developer (React & Python)

Summary: We are a startup building an intercom tool but with video and are looking for a full-stack developer to join the team to evolve and complete the application.

General Information: The client is based in the US (UTC-06:00) but is completely flexible in terms of location or timezone to work.

Tasks and Deliverables: We are looking for a Senior Developer to join the team (2 developers) and help us to accelerate our development. Feature development and also integrations are needed. Stripe integration is done, and we may need to integrate with some other applications. The architectural definitions are almost done (React on the FR and Python on the BE.) and your opinion will be really helpful!.

Required Experience:

  • Main skills: JavaScript
  • Strong skill: React, Python
  • Nice to have skill: Flask, Django, Shopify, Stripe, Web Sockets, Heroku

Engagement Highlights:

  • The duration of this position is estimated to be between 3 and 6 months and can be extended if needed.
  • Commitment: The client prefers to hire someone on a Full-Time basis (40 hours/week) and is open to start on a Part-TIme basis (20 hours/week) if needed.

Required Skills: JavaScript Commitment: Full-time

Duration: 6-12 months

Desired Start Date: January 21, 2021 If you’d like to be considered for this position, please confirm your interest or let me know that you’re not interested.

In my experience, during my first week on the platform, I received approximately twenty-eight (28) job interest requests. After applying to fifty-seven (57) software engineer jobs during that initial week, clients considered my profile for six (6) roles. Some of those applications happened via job interest requests, while on others, I registered my interest.

Registering your interest in a Toptal job can be time-consuming since you need to answer several questions (depending on what the client asks to include there), which look like smaller versions of a job application. Toptal posts jobs every day, so it's best to have the job alert on to get the jump on any new interesting ones that appear. Be prepared to reduce your rate when applying since clients might have a tighter budget than your hourly rate. Look at some of the application questions below:

  1. How soon can you start working?
  2. How many hours per week are you currently working, and how many hours are you available for new work?
  3. Have you worked on a Jamstack architecture in the past? could you please elaborate?
  4. What's your experience and level of knowledge of Javascript, Vue.js, HTML, TailwindCSS? Please elaborate
  5. What's about the nice to haves?
  6. The client's time zone is (UTC-05:00) America - New York, and their working hours are 3pm - 8pm in your time zone (UTC+00:00) Europe - London. How many hours of overlap can you provide during their workday?

The next step is talking with the client (or one of their representatives). The Toptal job matchers are very friendly, and they help you and give you tips for the interview. Depending on the client, you might have to interview more than once.

The Actual Toptal Engagements

As mentioned, I worked in the same Toptal engagement (they call jobs, engagements) for roughly two years. Open-ended offers say so in the job description. It was the case of this engagement as well. Below, you can find the original job description. The client was a mix between a digital marketing agency and a software factory. They offered marketing services to universities with virtual degrees.

We are looking for someone with very strong front end development skills and familiarity with the Jamstack architecture.

We have multiple clients that are always asking for small enhancements to their websites (around 10/15 per day).

You will be working with another Frontend Toptaler on this.


  • Strong Vue.js skills and a general understanding of how to approach building websites and web applications with a reactive JavaScript framework
  • Strong HTML/CSS skills and are comfortable building responsive websites that are implemented to match designs as closely as possible
  • Capable of building cross-browser compatible websites based on audience requirements (sometimes IE 9+)
  • Familiar with WCAG 2.0 website accessibility guidelines
  • Git/GitHub via command line or GitHub client
  • Gridsome (Jamstack framework)
  • TailwindCSS (utility-first CSS framework)
  • Good, clean code
  • Comfortable writing code from scratch (not dependent on a framework)
  • Familiar with most modern front end development best practices
  • Understand modular design/development (reusability/avoiding unnecessary duplication)

Experience that will provide additional value:

  • Netlify
  • Serverless functions (Lambda)
  • UI/UX best practices/making quality design decisions on the fly
  • Comfortable working with command line

Traits that matter to us:

  • You work well with others. Teamwork and respect for others define our culture.
  • You care about your work.
  • You are not afraid to step outside your comfort zone.
  • You are a good learner/problem solver.


Specialization: Core Commitment: Part-time (20 hrs/wk) Job Type: Remote Client's Hours: 3:00 PM – 8:00 PM Workday Overlap: 3 hrs (3 hrs required) Time Zone: New York, 5 hrs behind Est. Length: 12+ months Languages: English Desired Start Date: Jan 27, 2021

I took part in one interview with the client's CTO, and by the next day, I got the decision that they accepted me for the job. I was due to start on Monday the following week. Since the job was part-time, the trial period was only one working week (Monday through Friday). Since the engagement was part-time, I didn't have to log timesheets, which I understand is tiresome for some people.

The Toptal Trial Periods

In retrospect, the job posting was roughly two or three weeks old, indicating that something wasn't right. Job postings that are old end up ignored in the platform. If you look at the engagement description, it lacks details on what the company does, which is not great. If you hire freelance developers, you should give as much detail on the company and its responsibilities as possible. I was likely the only candidate applying, which explains why I got the job faster.

Trial periods in Toptal are weird. They are short, but having someone onboard into a company takes time, so I spent most of the time during mine meeting some people and setting my environment up. I passed mine with no issues, but further down the line, I saw the CEO reject another Toptal talent (or two, I can't remember) after their trial period.

Working with the Client as a Toptal Talent

The work I did with the client was simple. It was developer-level work, not software engineer-level work at first. I found this to be demoralizing since I'm aware of my abilities. It is understandable because the client was looking for a developer to fill in some gaps and not develop more complex stuff (at that time).

I worked as part of the team (staff augmentation) instead of doing a standalone project alone, which was a huge advantage. The company is in the United States (New York), so it was a two-hour difference with Argentina. It was also a fully remote company with a small remote team. It was my first fully remote job since my previous company had been doing hybrid work.

As time passed, they started to develop some internal products. After realizing I could do much more, they moved me into a role with significantly more decision power and engineering decisions, which was highly satisfying. I was in charge of all the infrastructure work and a significant portion of the development work of this product. We worked on a Content Management System (CMS) and Website Builder (link here).

After one year of working there, one of their clients acquired the company. It meant that everyone but the CEO, another Toptal freelancer, and me moved to work for that other company. It meant that I was the most technical person in the company by that point, but there was a gap between the CEO and my role, which wasn't ideal. We also lacked a dedicated project manager, which made prioritization harder.

Negotiating Raises for an Active Engagement

Getting a raise in Toptal is not an easy task. Once you have set your hourly rate for an engagement, it's frowned upon to ask for a rate increase before the one-year mark. Because of this, I waited for the one-year milestone to ask for a raise.

To ask for a change in the hourly rate, you need to contact your Toptal job matcher and ask him to request a rate increase. You have to provide a list of reasons why you want to change the rate and why you deserve it to be changed.

Since I started with a low rate (on Toptal's scale of hourly rates), I asked for a 50% increase, which made sense then. The Toptal matcher said this might be too much, but he agreed, given the current rate. You cannot discuss this with the client, but the client agreed to the rate increase quickly.

Six months after that, I requested another rate increase, mostly because I was doing a lot of work around the entire company's technology. The client also agreed to this rate change quickly.

You should keep track of all your successes with the client so asking for raises can be faster and with less bureaucracy.

Contract Buy-Ins

There's a hidden mechanism nobody tells you about in Toptal. Clients can buy your contract from Toptal. It means you start working directly with them as an employee or a direct contractor. It is not common in short-term Toptal projects since it's a big commitment for the client (around 20k to 30k). Supposedly, if you spend more than one year working with them, the price goes down to roughly 15k, but the client inquired, and they didn't offer him that.

It is an ideal scenario for someone working through Toptal. It means you can earn more without the Toptal fee for clients.

Getting Out of an Active Engagement

The etiquette for getting out of engagements is to give the client two weeks' notice. I did that and spent a significant portion of my time helping them hire someone to replace me.

In the end, they were grateful for my contributions and my help in building the company.

What are some of my Toptal insights?

Become Essential Quickly

Since you don't have a notice period for clients firing you, you should account for it. It's good to prove that you contribute and are essential quickly. If you do so, it will be harder for the client to remove you from the project.

Communication is Essential

Good communication with the client is essential for the project's success (and your own). It's one of the first things they teach you during your Toptal introduction.

In the case of my engagement, we didn't have regular meetings, which made it harder to be more in touch with the client's culture and teams.

Keep in Touch with the Community and Meet Up

The Toptal community is enormous, and they live in almost every country. I've met with Toptal freelancers from many different countries. It's a great way to meet people in a new city.

Since the community has a lot of experts (e.g., Toptal finance experts and project managers), you can ask their different channels for advice if you have questions about other areas. I met a lot of exceptional talent in Toptal, so it's worth getting to know people.

Leverage the Toptal Blog

The Toptal blog is a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of your knowledge. The blog reaches thousands of people, and you can easily rank first on several terms, which is a great way to promote yourself.

Use the Certifications Programs

Toptal has programs to enhance your software developer or engineer skills by paying for certifications. Although they only pay for a certification exam if you pass it, it's a great way to finance your learning and certifications.

Work Directly for Toptal

If you enter the network, you can become one of the internal Toptal employees under the right conditions. Sometimes, Toptal posts remote jobs in the community Slack. All their employees are remote workers. You can even become one of the employees under the Job Matcher role.

Closing Thoughts

I know people doing fully remote work, and they have problems balancing work life quality and productivity. Even though I tend to favor hybrid work over remote work for the work life balance it offers, doing remote work for Toptal has its benefits.

If you have the opportunity (or the interest) to apply to Toptal, I highly recommend it. It's a compelling way to get experience consulting or as a freelance developer for clients, and it's 100% remote work. You can also use it to try different industries to get a feel for different ones. If Toptal doesn't work out, you could use a Toptal alternative (Andela, Torre, etc) to get that developer experience. Note that if you worked at Toptal, it's common for a Toptal competitor to try to poach you.

Use my referral code so you have a higher chance of entering the freelancing platform, and we both get a commission. Read more about the process in the blog post on my Toptal review and Toptal interview process preparations.