Getting into Toptal: Interview
How Toptal.com interview works, how to prepare for it and what to expect.
A couple of months ago a friend of mine mentioned Toptal.com. The first time I opened the page it seemed like a classic, but fancier www.elance.com clone. I did not even bother to read more back then. However as I found out later that day, nothing could be more far from truth. There are three major obvious differences:
- Toptal.com is apparently used by some really interesting clients. AirBnB, ZenDesk, Pfizer, Art.sy to name a few.
- Nearly all jobs are long-term and remote, no per-projects gigs, where you compete with low-cost offshore shops.
- As a developer you first have to go through a strict interview process. Only 3% pass it.
Of course my instant reaction was, I absolutely have to try this one on my own to see where 97% of developers fail.
Here is my experience:
- The first interview was a 10-minute Skype talk with some guy, that probably only checks if you speak a little bit English. You will chat a while about what you do, how much time you have for work and what hourly rate you expect.
- After that I received an email with a link to a codility.com test. 90 minutes for 3 challenges. One easy, one medium, one tough. I would not recommend starting to solve these kind of challenges right away. As I found out later, this was actually the hardest part of the interview. These are algorithmic challenges, the kind of you probably only seen at a programming seminar in school, if ever. I strongly recommend trying out some challenges on codility.com/programmers/lessons/ first. No cheating! Google only after you get really stuck. And pay special attention to special and edge cases, since example inputs are almost always only the obvious trivial cases. Don’t blindly trust solutions found at StackOverflow or somewhere on the web. Multiple times I have found messy or just plain wrong solutions out there. Here are some of my Codility solutions with tests. You are welcome.
- After you submit your Codility test (and really make sure you submit it, since the UI is a bit messy) you will NOT see your score right away. So you just wait if someone even gets back to you. In my case a Hungarian guy responded almost immediately, that I passed and scheduled a live-coding shared-screen session.
- The live coding session consists of two algorithmic challenges, which in my case were a lot easier than the three from Codility. You use your own programming environment, so everything gets done much smoother. Pro tip: Save yourself an embarrassing moment, and double check if you put the jack from the headphones in the right place.
- After passing the live coding session you get another assignment. This time you have to build a simple ToDo list app using Ajax, sign up, priorities with simple REST API. You can do this anytime you want, you just get access to Toptal’s gitlab where push the solution later. After that you schedule the presentation with a Toptal interviewer.
- The last step of the interview is the project presentation, again using Skype screen share. You will have to try out some edge cases and show some of your code. I recommend to “overdeliver” this one. Make everything perfect. Make the code clean, write tests (you should anyway), use transactions, ajax testing, etc. Have one or two tricks to “show-off”.
- After the interview you discuss your pay rate. This can be a little intimidating if you are not used to negotiations. And as a matter of fact many developers are not good at this. So make sure you know your desired hourly rate beforehand, but keep it reasonable. Toptal has to
If you liked this, use my referral link to apply and good luck!