After a good amount of thinking and self-reflection on the topic, I realised that most of the issues I raised in this question was coming only from a personal, rather than a professional perspective. Hence the moderators put this question on hold because of the highly personal, subjective nature of the problem I tried to talk about. I was thinking about rephrasing the question but I could not really find a possible way to manifest the question in more objective way so it can be the subject of a discussion where answers can be back up with some sort of evidence or references.
For the sake of those who are still interested, I am trying to give a summary of the discussion emerged from this question:
- a 4 hours pre-interview, offsite programming test is not usual but
- many people pointed it out that for some companies you would interview for much-much longer than that all together
- it is our personal decision if we take a test or not, and we can evaluate this based on our circumstances and the perceived benefits of getting hired for the company
- all companies are different, as people are, and it can be perfectly reasonable for a company to employ a longer pre-interview offsite test, if that is what fits their needs or circumstances
I wanted my original question to be about how reasonable to expect 4 hours from me, and how ethical to give out a problem so the solution (not the code, but the design) can be possibly used for the company. As I can now see both of these questions can only (at best) be explored in a forum discussion, rather than using a question-answer type community tool like stackexchange.
However, I found all your answers valuable and thanks for sharing.
I am interviewing for several positions, and most of them include a pre-screening phase where I have to submit a coding test before the telephone interview or the onsite interview would take place. I have pretty much got used to this idea, and find it quite reasonable that companies expect me to do this so they can check what type of work I can produce on my own.
Generally, my experience is that these type of coding exercises are mostly small programming tasks. Do some logic, maybe implement a small algorithm, open a file and read/write data, stuff like that. Even the most simple task can be implemented with nice separation of logic, testable components, etc, to see how the candidate is coding, generally how well he is prepared for the type of job a company want to fill in.
Recently I came across a company who sent me a coding test with a whole page long description of their exercise, asking me to solve a real life problem of their business (I don't want to say specifics to protect the company, but the test was pretty much about what they do). They described a pretty complex system to implement, included real data, and in the end they concluded that the coding test should not take more than 4 hours.
Is it reasonable from a company to expect me to spend 4 hours working on their dummy assignment in my free time, even before they would say hi to me? (the recruiter sent me the coding test)
Don't get me wrong, I am motivated to find a new job and new challenges, but most companies expect me to spend maximum 1-2 hours on a task like that, and such tasks has always been far less complicated.
What I came up as a conclusion with this company is that either:
1) My motivation is not good and probably they are looking for someone else
2) They do not respect their future employees to expect such a long coding tests to do even without saying hi to them
3) They just want to give out one of the problems they work on and see if there is an enthusiastic young fella who would solve it for them for free (again, don't get me wrong I am not a conspiracy theorist but I have heard such stories ...)
How much do you think is reasonable for a company to expect candidates spend time on their dummy coding tests without talking to them? What is your experience generally?