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I've been doing assignments as part of my job applications to join tech startups in past weeks and I've noticed a lot of times they don't even get back to me with a feedback. This has happened so frequently to me and people around me, that got me thinking if it's a new trend for companies, especially tech startups, to just outsource their projects for free.

I might appear skeptical but that's because based on my experience most of these assignments are closely related to their app like integrating something to it / integrate it to some other services and etc.

As an example this is taken from the last assignment I received last week:

It’s important that this is a standalone and framework-independent library so that we can use as a third party library in any framework we like.

This whole thing, if true, is very frustrating and I'm keen to find out if they can actually use my project without my permission and if I can do something to prevent it? I'm aware in most cases it's even impossible to find out whether they are using my piece of work since they are based on close-sourced projects.

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    To get back to you with feedback about your application and to use your code are two completely different concerns. About the former: yes, it seems to be pretty normal. – Adriano Repetti Jan 27 at 11:24
  • Do you have any evidence that they are using your code in their systems? I've heard this claim before but it doesn't make sense. You don't have significant knowledge of their systems to write production code and they would probably spend as much time integrating your code as having someone knowledgeable write it themselves. – cdkMoose Jan 28 at 16:41
  • @cdkMoose I think I had included too much info in my question and got people into confusion. Removed the unrelated part. To be clear, I never leave a review on the websites that companies are using my project, I just mention that never gave me any feedback which I think is disrespectful. – Mr. Robot Jan 29 at 20:44
  • @cdkMoose plus, in the age of microservices even one small assignment can be easily integrated to their system after an hour of code review maybe, right? And, I always include test suites in my projects! So, there you go :) – Mr. Robot Jan 29 at 20:48
  • Just add a license to everything you produce for the assignment or don't interview for companies that use assignments – jcmack Jan 29 at 21:20
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Skipping the concept of submitting assignments as part of the application process for a moment...

Everybody searching for a job finds that a significant number of companies never respond, or they issue a short response via email or website that you haven't moved to the next stage. Sometimes it isn't a lack of response it is a very slow response, my record is over two years later they said my application was finally reviewed and would not move to the next phase. Sometimes this ghosting happens early in the process sometimes it is later in the process.

Everybody who is trying to hire somebody finds a significant number of people ghost them. They don't respond to a request for more information, they skip telephone screens, in-person and Skype interviews. It happens at all stages of the process. Some have even not responded to an offer letter, or failed to show up for the first day of work.

The more time and energy you spend in the process the more the ghosting hurts. The pain from ghosting is different from the pain of not getting selected. When you submit an assignment, but still get ghosted, you then expend further energy trying to get a response.

This isn't a new trend. There have been complaints by applicants for decades that some of the questions being asked of them felt like they were be using to help the company, not as a way to evaluate them. Building contractors, and landscape designers have felt that people use their detailed estimates as a guide for the company that ultimately gets the job. They pay the one with the cheaper labor to follow the best design.

One way to avoid the situation is not to do the assignments. Of course that means that you will apply to places, and then not complete the entire application process. Just don't ghost them - leave them short, polite note saying that your policy is not not submit long assignments.

  • You've made some excellent points, thanks! Regarding your suggestion for only accepting short assignments, it's ironic because most of them claim the assignment takes only a couple of hours to make sure you accept it, which in most cases is impossible unless you are Jon Skeet! :) – Mr. Robot Jan 27 at 20:50
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I've been doing assignments as part of my job applications to join tech startups in past weeks and I've noticed sometimes they don't even get back to me with a feedback.

Unfortunately this seems to be more common than it should be. Move on, you learned a valuable lesson about those companies.

I've actually started contacting them asking for a feedback and raising my concern that their behavior is unprofessional and unethical and that I deserve a feedback regardless of whether they liked my assignment or not.

If this is the wording and the tone you used in your emails then you have good chances you burned a bridge. It might not be a problem but should try to be professional even (and especially) when they're not.

But I guess I can't do anything about that, apart from leaving a review on Glassdoor or Google Maps and let the future applicants know what they might expect.

You're perfectly right. Just remember to be professional and factual, future possible employers will also read what you wrote and you don't want to be labeled as a resentful troublemaker.

But my main concern is whether this is a new trend for companies, especially tech startups, to outsource their projects for free?

I can't even start to make sense of this. How is this related with the first part of your question? Is it because you didn't receive any feedback?

Be extremely careful with this kind of assertions if you are planning to write a Glassdoor review; some companies take, rightly, their reputation extremely seriously and this should be discussed in a court or not discussed at all.

  • Thanks for your reply! But why do you think I care for a company's reputation if they don't care for my time? In my point of view, if I (anyone) spend a weekend doing an assignment I was asked for from a company, I deserve a feedback - regardless, feedbacks on Glassdoor are anonymous and if I'm telling the truth why should I be afraid even going to a court? I'd love to do that if it stops a company from treating people like this :) – Mr. Robot Jan 27 at 20:42
  • Well, the point is that they will try to defend their reputation. It might be in a court for serious offences (unlikely in this case but it's just a guess) or simply ruining your professional reputation. Not a risk (or a battle) you should take unless you have evidence of what you're saying (not to mention that it's a serious accusation you shouldn't do lightly). About their feedback...I sympathize and I agree and a Glassdoor review (only about that) might be appropriate. Side note: an assignment that took one full weekend is IMHO way too much (unless you're applying for a high level... – Adriano Repetti Jan 27 at 23:00
  • ...position but each one has a different threshold about this). – Adriano Repetti Jan 27 at 23:01
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    @Adriano Seriously dude????? Glassdoor review in the court?review is the OP's opinion and not a fact!! – Ssein Jan 27 at 23:02
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    ...and unless you know, for a fact, that they used your assignment, and didn't have the legal right to, then you're basically committing by-the-book defamation if it turns out it's not actually true, and you're opening yourself up to a big lawsuit. Keep conjecture to yourself! – dwizum Jan 28 at 14:29
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Whatever you wrote, you are the copyright holder. If they use your code in a shipping product, and you got a good lawyer, they are in for a lot of pain. You can stop their product from shipping, or you can sue them in the USA for up to $150,000 in statutory damages. So your guess that you cannot do anything about it is not right.

It's absolutely not impossible to find out if they are using your code. If this goes to court, you can ask for evidence, and they will have to produce the code of their shipping code, and then some expert can look for your code.

  • Many companies will have you sign a contract before giving you the assignment with one of the stipulations being that you'll be transferring copyrights to whatever you submit over to them. – 520 Jan 28 at 9:17
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    @520 The contract doesn't necessarily hold water in court. Just because you signed, it doesn't mean the signer had enough understanding of the law to understand the implication. Pro-bono work should've been stated by the provider, not by the receive. In an interview scenario, you're suppose to compensate for work even if the person is not hired. Having a potential candidate forfeit over free work is predatory in nature, and unlikely to be successful even if you signed a "contract". (Note, I'm not a Lawyer). – Nelson Jan 28 at 9:46
  • It really all depends on the paperwork you sign when submitting the application. I would expect to see a clause assigning the employer ownership of the work, or at least the right to use the work. – Simon B Jan 28 at 16:13
  • I'd be REAL reluctant to sign a contract that called for me to do unpaid work and not wind up with the copyright. Moreover, depending on jurisdiction, this could get the company into trouble anyway. – David Thornley Jan 28 at 19:15
  • @SimonB Actually, it also depends on the laws in force. The first step would be to consult a lawyer in any case. – David Thornley Jan 29 at 20:54

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