Engineering Open Source Tools and Code at Toptal

ToptalI stumbled upon Toptal the other day and wanted to share a valuable resource I discovered.  Toptal is a site that helps companies hire and manage freelanced engineers.  The site was very slick and well organized.  Almost made me wish I needed to hire some engineers so I could get the experience of working with them.  However in this post I wanted to share about a resource I found and not their actual hiring service.

As an engineer I am constantly searching for new and unique online tools.  I firmly believe that when you have the right tool you can tackle practically any problem.  I also believe firmly in using either an Open Source or Paid product when your time is more important then developing the tool yourself.

That’s when I stumbled upon the Online Tools list by Toptal.

This is more then just a link bait list.  Many bloggers today will follow the “Top 10” craze and create a short list with a line or two explaining each link.  This list is more.  Toptal actually provides related tools and feedback on the tools.

First they segregate the list into general categories.  Top level topics include, game Development tools, Data Mining, Geospatial / Mapping tools, Authentication, Social Network interactions.  Within each top level category is a collection of open source code and tools to help accomplish common problems that developers need to deal with.

From the list I learned about several new tools I hadn’t heard of before.

  • Cesium is JavaScript library for creating 3D global and 2D maps in a web browser without a plugin.
  • Pygal is a dyanmic SVG charting library written in Python that supports a wide array of chart types and lots of customization options.
  • Wombat is a lightweight Ruby web crawler that extracts structured data from pages.

Toptal doesn’t stop there though.  After they list their resource, they then provide their opinion of what they thought of the tool.  This can be invaluable as an engineer doing your initial research on a specific tool or piece of code.  For example, here is what they listed as their opinion on the Wombat project mentioned above.

What we think: Ideal if you don’t want to deal with all the complexity of getting the page and parsing it into your own data structure. Wombat handles all that for you and provides you with its own set of structured data. Great if that’s what you want; can be a bit frustrating if you want to “get at the guts” yourself. But well designed for what it does and for its intended audience.

As an Engineer with limited time to download, install and do a test run of several products, having this initial feedback and assessment of a code snippet is invaluable.  Well done Toptal.

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