So, a couple of months ago I recorded my first impressions of Toptal’s screening process. I’m happy to say I made it through Toptal’s full screening process and am now a “Toptaler”.
Does that mean I’m really one of the “top 3% of developers” as Toptal would like people to believe? Who knows? And what would that mean, anyway? Top 3% of web developers? Top 3% of software engineers? Top 3% of computer-science types? More to the point, does Toptal’s screening process plausibly guarantee any of this?
This much is true: Toptal in some ways goes far beyond the traditional interview/screening process to which I’ve subjected many engineers over the years (and to which I myself have occasionally been subjected). Some of this has to do with advances in technology – principally the use of timed online coding exercises. However, the biggest difference in Toptal’s process is the addition of an “evaluation / demo project” in the latter part of the screening process.
Perhaps I’m just too meek, but I have never had the moxie to ask a job candidate to do a full project (for free) just so we could evaluate their work. It’s a great idea, but I think most job candidates would balk in a traditional hiring environment. However, Toptal asks the candidate to do just that. Here is a rough outline of Toptal’s interview/screening process:
- First-round screening interview (1/2 hour online)…probably just to evaluate English language, communication, and general personality.
- Timed online coding test (hosted by codility)…three problems in 90 minutes.
- Second-round technical screening interview (1 hour online)…includes a couple of timed coding exercises where the interviewer watches you work (not that different to what I’ve put many engineers through over the years in face-to-face interviews).
- The evaluation / demo project…The candidate is given up to two weeks to code a demo project from scratch based on some specifications provided by Toptal. The candidate has a fair amount of flexibility in choosing the shape (language, framework, etc) for the solution, but it’s still a bit of work (more on this below).
- A final technical interview (1 hour online) during which the interviewer reviews the demo project.
Start-to-finish this process took me about 3 1/2 weeks. Toptal has a nice page summarizing the process here.
I think the evaluation / demo project is a great idea. Over the years I’ve wrongly inferred competence in a small number of engineers who “interviewed well” but were not really that adept at coding. By adding this project Toptal is a) (mostly) removing that uncertainty, and b) filtering the candidate pool down to those people who are really motivated to work with Toptal.
If nothing else, getting through the process successfully is something of a confidence-builder.