I'm a freelancer with moderate experience (10-15 projects). I have never worked in a bigger company. Do you think that applying for Toptal would be worth the effort?
I’ve worked with people from there before. It sucks to find someone you really like, but can’t bring then on to your team full time (their contract prohibits you from working for a client until you stop working with Toptal for a year or something).
If you any intentions of joining a team in the future, I’d look someplace else. Otherwise, the guy we worked with was really happy with Toptal, aside from not being able to leave them.
I'm interested in the same question, but from designer side :).
Been a designer there for about a year or so. It's been decent, mostly tech start ups with some larger companies, had a relatively consistent stream of work coming from them. Feel free to ask anymore questions.
How is the interview process?
Was fine. I joined before they had a format process though.
It's now a bit tougher and have several stages they vet applicants for.
Why did you stop working for them?
I didn't say I had? I still take on work with them from time to time,
I work as a designer on Toptal so I can share my experience.
I've joined Toptal community when they only had developers (since I consider myself a "front–end designer" as well, I loosely fit as a developer ;) so I didn't really had to go over the whole design process later so I can't speak about the design process in general. When Toptal for designers became active, I moved my acc there and had to rework my portfolio which makes sense. I got some valuable feedback in presenting a portfolio which kept me more focused and was quite helpful.
Toptal clients are diverse, you can land an hourly or part-time job, or a 1-2 week or month full-time job. Everything goes. The good thing is clients are screened, but in the end, your communication skills will help you when dealing with clients on interviews. Depending on your skills and working preference you can find a steady flow of work, although if you are a little bit picky (I am :)) you can use the extra time to work on yourself while waiting for the right client (I try to focus on design mostly so I target jobs where I can deliver everything from consulting/design to HTML/CSS code — which can be scarce at times).
Toptal community (other designers and developers) is really a nice one. You can write blog posts and share on their blog for wider reach and they can help you with editing the post etc. One of my articles detailing my process was published there and I got a lot of great feedback https://www.toptal.com/designers/ux/make-design-decisions-in-your-browser-my-process-for-designing-websites (shameless plug). There is also a vivid Slack community where you can ask for feedback, discuss things etc. and also regular gatherings or drink meetups (depending on the activity in your area — Croatia is quite active :)).
The downside (one of), as Elliott suggested, is the contract that has certain restrictions. But let's be honest, it's not really fair (on your part) to just go and work full–time for the client they matched you with in the first place. I think there's a fee a client can pay to hire that specific designer or the developer. On the other hand, I don't mind that, since my Toptal profile and articles I write are public, so if anyone wants to contact me directly — they can do so by Googling my name and visiting my personal site. Seems like a fair trade. I combine working on Toptal with working other freelance projects which is a deal breaker for me because I don't want to rely exclusively on a single service.
Hope it was helpful.