Finding freelance jobs: 6 sites for talented techies

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TopCoder

About the service

TopCoder uses programming competitions to build professional grade software for clients ranging in size from individual entrepreneurs and start ups up to the Fortune 500.

How it works

TopCoder's platform allows transparent competition among a self-selected community of professional and skilled developers. Each piece of work or project is a competition. A prize amount, rules, requirements and timelines are set and a discussion thread is created to support that competition.

Not every submission is going to win a cash prize (first and second place are typically awarded prizes) but all submissions receive feedback from a peer review process involving multiple metrics on a scorecard, which provides valuable information on how a submission could have been improved. Besides cash awards and skills improvement, members receive a great sense of community and collegial support from each other.

at a glance

TopCoder

In-demand skills

Apps such as Widgets, iPhone, Casual games, Social networking, Viral marketing; and technologies such as Ruby, Php, Java/.Net, Flex/Flash

Earning potential

Prize amounts can run from $10 to $10,000

By the numbers

  • 189,000+ members
  • 200+ countries
  • 120 active contests

Barrier to entry

Performance is the key, as well as good citizenship. Members' success is limited only by their ability and performance. TopCoder is a total meritocracy.

Words of wisdom

Don't get discouraged, says top component contest earner and full-time TopCoder Michael Paweska. "There is a lot of info out there to help you, and there are tons of examples. Study them, and ask any question that comes up, even process questions."

Patrick Coleman also emphasizes the importance of asking questions. "Do as much as possible - as with anything new, the learning curve at the start will be steep, you'll probably lose a lot of marks for small things, but if you persist (and ask reviewers for ways to improve) then these will disappear, and the overall quality of your work will get much better," says Coleman.

Average gig

All work is done online, so where a member is physically located in the world is pretty much irrelevant to TopCoder. At the low end a bug race may take only a few minutes, with Marathon Matches sometimes lasting several weeks. Obviously there is a great range of skillset requirements depending on the type of competition. But because TopCoder’s methodology breaks units of work down to the most granular level possible, most pieces of work can be completed in a few hours or days.

Asked about his most interesting project Patrick Coleman was torn between Configuration API or Base Exception 2.0. "When you know that the winning design will be used by so many people in many different ways," says Coleman "it forces you to be very abstract about your approach, and focus a lot on providing generality without too much complexity."

The ideal candidate

TopCoder has many members who earn a respectable living participating in competitions online. Most members take advantage of the platform to earn money during spare cycles of their 'real job,' in-between jobs or around their course schedule. TopCoder is proving very popular for professionals seeking to 're-tool' themselves by exploring new technologies or concepts – something that increases their value in the marketplace and keeps their resumes fresh.

Now a Google engineer, Patrick Coleman doesn't have much time for TopCoder competitions, but over the 3 years he competed, he was a full-time undergraduate student. "Being a CS student helped as there was sometimes some overlap between the subjects and the technologies I was designing," says Coleman. "There were a few issues when tournament and exam schedules collided, but usually it was possible to work around these."

Next up: CrossLoop

Also in this series: Elance | TopCoder | CrossLoop | RentACoder | Guru.com | LivePerson

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