Toptal Review: Be A Freelancer and Travel the World

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Becoming a freelance developer can seem like a huge step if you’re in a cubicle every day of the week with the same office, commute, and co-workers. However, there is a way to gain more freedom and flexibility than in years past. You can become a freelance remote developer or designer. Toptal can be one way to do it. In this review, two Toptal freelancers share their experiences.

What it's like to be a freelancer and travel the world

Remote work has increased by more than 159% when compared to the mid-2000s. In the digital world, clients can accommodate designers and developers from all over the world, finding expert skilled workers from across the world. Faster tools and cloud computing have made it simpler and more accessible.

Modern talent services offer more opportunities to work remotely than even a few years ago and you can take advantage of it.

In this article, you will meet two freelance remote workers who use Toptal to connect with clients and do fulfilling work while working remotely. They explain their work before Toptal, what it's like working with the Toptal service and clients. 

Toptal Review by Alejandro Hernandez

Alejandro Hernandez

Why was working with Toptal appealing to you?

Before I even started the process, the first thing I noticed was the salary. At that time it meant a 1000% raise in my salary.

I thought I was dreaming. This is not real. It was a very nice dream. And for the past nine years, it has been really interesting. For the past three years, I stopped taking clients outside of Toptal, because of the stress beyond developing software, like taking payments and receipts and everything around it.

And negotiation? Toptal takes that part out of it.

What is your background as a developer?

My past includes languages like .net, Ruby, and Python but since 2009, my main focus has been on Javascript, which I started learning in 1997. Take into account, the Javascript language was started in 1995. I try to work exclusively with Javascript and the technologies around it.

How has it been working with clients through Toptal?

Most of the clients are great, and a few are marvelous.

It’s really unimaginable.

There are different sized clients within Toptal, sometimes it’s a startup and sometimes you're in the middle of a big company with a lot of teams and a huge project.

Now and then, there are clients that let you express your creativity. Not everyone has the inspiration to create a design solution at the same time. Being able to manage my time through Toptal gives me a lot of productivity that wasn’t there before.

At Toptal, we have this superpower: you can select your next project from a long list and you can take your time to make the best decision. They really care about you. It’s really important because it makes a match between a client and a developer. If at any time you need to take a break, you can always count on your recruiter to help.

Thanks to this, an engineer can enjoy 100 percent of their engagement. Go to another company and you won’t find 100 percent satisfaction from their engineers.

Also, with Toptal, there is a different approach to software development. Usually, most of the companies are like software factories. Toptal is different. Their product is their talent. They have quality assurance of the talent that they can provide to the client.

What have you been able to do with Toptal since you’re not in a traditional work environment?

At first, I was scratching my head about Toptal not having offices in every part of the world, but then I started traveling. Toptal organized road trips throughout the world and suddenly I was giving talks in Portugal and in different parts of Europe and it wouldn’t be possible in any other way. I was working while visiting other cities and enjoying my life, doing what I like to do.

I am a software engineer, but I define myself as a person beyond that. To be able to do what you like and to do that while you’re traveling and visiting new places is awesome.

I’ve met a lot of people from different countries like Russia and Slovenia and every part of the world. We’ve had different cultures and it was fun to meet them. And they also worked for Toptal.

When we were organizing these trips, we were adding fun things like surf classes or polo. To do that with people you just met from different countries? It’s awesome.

How has the Toptal community helped you?

The community is pushing you to learn and try new experiences. In Slack, we have a fitness channel and everyone is always telling you different places to go for a run in different parts of the world.

I am doing tai-chi and meditation and it is quite fun. I’m actually planning on traveling to the United States and visit one of the masters there while also working for Toptal.

This year, I’ve visited Brazil, London, Paris, Malaga in Spain, Columbus, Ohio. That’s not a normal schedule for an engineer in a normal company. Being able to travel that much while working is an incredible thing.

Anything else you’d like to share about Toptal?

In the past three months, I met a group of women in technology and they have a study group for programming. I’m helping and mentoring them trying to return something to my community and help them to learn programming and to get their level to an international level so they might be able to join Toptal.

Toptal Review by Darius Krisiunas

Darius Krisiunas Surf Room

How did you get into design?

I started making commercial, client-facing design around 16 years ago. I began with graphic design and quickly moved to the web; I liked it much more, partially because it allowed me to animate things with Flash.

From that point, I concentrated on web design and spent six or seven years working for a couple of digital agencies in Kaunas, Lithuania.

What has working in design been like for you?

Around 2008, the recession hit quite heavily on design industries and so I lost my job. I started to freelance for my own clients. I liked it so much more than working for agencies! You can do extra hours to make the project much better.

If you care about quality, I feel like you can do a better job. You may earn less money but it looks better on your portfolio.

Soon after, I moved to London for an in-house job at an agency for doing marketing for theaters.

I started to work with my wife, as she is a designer as well. After working some weekends, we thought we could do it together. So we did! For around five years, we worked for startups and big brands in London, having great fun while making product design for Google and making pitches for Red Bull!

How did you hear about Toptal and why did you decide to try it?

Around then, I heard about Toptal and many people were talking about how it was good for freelancers and they had nice clients.

I applied for Toptal in my free time and it was doing test projects and things like that. I was able to get one on an education platform and my Google experience helped me with that project.

Any tips for those considering Toptal?

Toptal helps onboard and get new designers in the system and helps them find projects. After that, I started looking for new projects myself. It took me a little while to understand the basics of that and the best way to do it.

It helps if you have related experience for your projects. It does matter what you write in your application, so be careful what you write in there.

When you start working with recruiters, you can make good connections with a few of them and if you do the job well, they will often suggest other projects for you, if it fits your capabilities.

What has working with Toptal been like?

After I joined Toptal in 2017, I finished up all my personal and Toptal projects and then took a long sabbatical. I traveled to many places including India, Japan, Bali, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and many others.

Then, I spent all of 2018 working for Toptal clients only and did around eight projects in one year, including project design for web and mobile apps, also a desktop application for startups and some large companies.

This year, I’ve spent most of my time working as a designer for a large Fortune 500 company. I was on a team of three designers working on their new website.

What has working for Toptal allowed you to do that you may not have done in a more traditional work environment?

As a freelancer, you can choose your place to live, but even more so with Toptal. If you’re a solo freelancer, it’s likely you will have to meet clients in person, but with Toptal you can live anywhere, in places like Bali so you could surf in your free time!

After I joined Toptal, I made my first ever surf session at Mallorca. I just loved it! I thought this was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Later on, we did that sabbatical including places like Hawaii and Bali and you can do a lot of nice surfing there off course.

I love traveling and wanna do more of it. Next on my list: Central and South America. Working with Toptal totally lets you do it.

Conclusion: Where Will You Work Next?

Are you interested in pursuing more freedom as a freelancer or desire more flexibility in your work life at home? Managed marketplaces and talent services like the ones featured on DevelopersForHire can connect you with a greater variety of projects than you may normally get at one company.

Take advantage of the great tech and tools around you and try contracting with some of the best companies in the world.

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