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Applying to Toptal as a WordPress Developer

November 23rd, 2020

A few weeks ago, I completed the process to get accepted into Toptal as a WordPress developer. I had initiated the process years ago but ended up putting it on hold due to a temporary full-time engagement I took on that made having any extra hours to potentially fill via the platform a non-existent possibility. I had forgotten about it until a friend of mine shared she had successfully gone through the process for a different type of web development so I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. As a freelancer, the more irons in the fire, the better.

The Toptal application process is known for being more strenuous than other job platforms in terms of skill evaluations. Everyone who gets listed on the platform has passed multiple screening rounds that are everything from a simple verbal interview to live coding.

I tried to do a bit of research ahead of initiating the process again, but failed to find any information specific to the WordPress application process. I found a lot of articles on more general web development or a different specialty but nothing that offered any insight into the WordPress process itself. That being said, while I obviously can’t share all the details of what went on, I can give a high level overview to help those that may want to give it a whirl.

Screenshot of Toptal screening process overview
Overview of the Toptal screening process explained via their website

The first interview is the easiest part of the entire process.

Despite Toptal claiming only just over a quarter of applicants pass this stage of the screening, the initial interview did not seem like much to stress over. If you can talk clearly about your skills & experience, like you would in any interview, then you should be good to go in this area.

Second round is coding exercises and questions.

If you pass the first interview, you’re invited to do the first technical screening. This second overall round is made up of three coding exercises and approximately 30 or so multiple choice questions. You have 90 minutes to complete it.

This is where I failed to locate any WordPress-specific examples going in so I wasn’t sure where these would land. Even in the WordPress ecosystem, there’s different types of specialized development such as those who develop plugins vs. more someone like me who primarily develops WordPress themes, so there was just a lot of ground that could be covered.

Obviously, Toptal can change their process at any time and I can’t get too specific here but I will say at the time I went through this process, the coding exercises were more general PHP coding exercises vs. WordPress-specific coding exercises. They weren’t asking you to solve querying in content from WordPress in a specific way or anything along those lines, it was more generic PHP exercises. If you want to nail the coding exercises of this stage, I’d recommend running through PHP coding challenges on places like Hacker Rank.

The multiple choice questions, however, were all WordPress or front-end development-focused. If you regularly do WordPress theme development, I wouldn’t stress the multiple choice aspect of this stage. These multiple choice questions were the second easiest part of the process. I probably answered all the questions here in the time it took to do a single one of the coding exercises.

Third round: steady your nerves.

If you pass the coding questions round, then you’ll be invited for a third interview with a senior engineer. During this interview, you’ll talk more about the process so far and your experience overall and you will be asked to code multiple WordPress-related items while on sharing your screen, outside of your own preferred development tools.

Of the entire process, this is the biggest hurdle, in my opinion. First of all, it is enormously stressful having someone watch you code — or at least I find it to be — so you have that baseline elevated pressure for the entire exercise. Second of all, this process was truly eye-opening to how much of a crutch I’ve made development shortcuts in my process.

I build WordPress themes all day long so naturally, I’ve set up snippets to make parts of my building process more efficient. However, in this stage, you aren’t coding in your preferred code editor, you’re coding in theirs. So it was a bit of a jolt trying to get the muscle memory of my hot keys out of my system and write the code from scratch.

I wouldn’t say the WordPress coding exercises you’re doing at this stage are super tough or anything, but it may be something you haven’t coded in awhile and, again, make sure if you’re anything like me and you’ve set up shortcuts for some snippets and similar that you’re comfortable coding those out from scratch.

Final round: a WordPress development project

If all goes well in the live coding interview, you’ll be sent details on a final project. Mine involved development of a plugin to achieve specific functionality in WordPress.

Again, because WordPress development varies and you may specialize in themes vs. plugins, this could be easier or harder for you based on whether it’s 100% in your wheelhouse.

Since I do theme development, the core underlying functionality of what I needed to code seemed relatively simple, but it was removing it from being executed within the theme and setting it up as a plugin that was the challenge for me.

Once your project is completed, you have to do a final interview with a senior engineer where you present your project as if you were presenting it to a client, presenting the backend functionality, front-end display and walking through aspects of the codebase itself.

If you truly coded the project yourself and didn’t have someone else do it for you or just copied & pasted in code where you have no idea how to explain what code is doing what, then you honestly shouldn’t stress about this part of the process. I personally found it largely less stressful than the live coding interview.

“Welcome to Toptal.”

If your final project and its presentation go well like mine did, you’ll hear the words, “Welcome to Toptal.” This will kick off the final steps of getting on the platform like setting your rate, filling out your profile and similar.

Overall, the process was interesting to go through as, while I’ve done plenty of technical interviews with various agencies I’ve worked with, I don’t think I’ve done many technical assessments at this level so I’ll admit, the validation of passing felt truly awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing what the platform has to offer.

If you’re interested in becoming a Toptal WordPress developer or are interested in using the platform as a client to find vetted developers for your next project, check them out!

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