Chapter 0: Intro
Hi, and welcome to my Medium. I’m an illegal immigrant (or undocumented as some might call us) in the U.S., living in the Bay Area, working for a startup, earning a six figure salary. A pretty rare story apparently, and many friends and acquaintances have asked me for months to write about it. It is obviously not an easy topic to write about, not looking forward to reactions like what Mayte Lara got, but I figured, what the hell, it’ll give you a different perspective on things, or maybe not, whatever, maybe knowing that if a college dropout, illegal immigrant, can achieve what I did you can too.
In this intro I’m gonna talk about how I got to SV and why. In following posts I’ll get to expand more in what’s like to get a job and survive in the U.S. as an undocumented the legalest way possible. BTW, I write a lot of JS daily but very little English, and it’s not my native language, so prepare for poor writing.
About four years ago, I had a regular job back home as a software developer, leading a small team of people, it was OK, comfortable life; we had a maid in my apartment, lived with my girlfriend in a pretty big studio, we had a very cute dog, it was a job in banking, so pretty good job security and benefits, some drugs and good partying, and the chance to travel around the country every now and then.
But I wanted to attend meetups, conferences, get a chance to learn from people better than me, and the developers/startup community back home wasn’t big or interesting enough for me. Also, software development is not a fashionable profession there, the waterfall system is predominant, sales and marketing were practically our bosses, pretty stressful and demanding.
I decided, well, let’s try to go to Silicon Valley, so I applied to a few positions, unsuccessfully, companies don’t just casually bring people over from other countries, requesting an H1-B is complicated and expensive, and the way we worked back home is pretty different so I wasn’t familiar with many concepts and tools that are common here, and many startups here don’t count your experience in LaTam as real.
That was my first block, and to get over that I started freelancing for U.S. startups remotely. That gave me the chance to learn more of the tools that were cool; back then it was Rails and Backbone. I built a few projects and I had a better idea on the work ethics and procedures that U.S. startups have, which was pretty different to what I was used to.
Getting to the U.S.
Tried applying again to a few companies, most would straight out never answer when they see you’re in a different country and have never lived in the U.S. and the few that replied would be hesitant to move forward knowing all the paperwork and hassle that it is bringing someone to the U.S. Specially someone like me I’d say, because I didn’t finish college and was as self taught developer.
I decided to start saving money and was planning to go to the U.S. about a year later, I figured, if I can be there and interview in person it will be hella easier. This was not a simple feat considering my salary back then was $1800/month (which a lot of money there but probably nothing here) but I was trying.
Everything had to happen a lot earlier apparently, because just when I was making that decision a friend told me about a hackathon that was happening in a few weeks, the prize was a plane ticket and the opportunity to tour Silicon Valley. We participated and won that contest. The prize was extremely disappointing, they gave us less than $2000 to cover the expenses of 4 people, that amount was barely enough to pay for two plane tickets given how sudden everything was. But I still decided to come, coming with a contact here would be much better than nothing.
The plan was to come over, check out the tour and make friends with that program that lasted 10 days, try my best to get a job on the 4 weeks runway I had, if I did I would stay, if not, I would go back home and use the information gathered to try again later.
I had literally zero research into anything, mostly because I’m an idiot, but also because I prefer things like that, i didn’t know it was fucking freezing in the bay area and packed zero sweaters and almost no pants; I thought Silicon Valley was a neighborhood and not a gigantic area, that everyone knows what startups are and that finding a job would be dead simple.
How did it go?
Luckily I’m a friendly gal, and people here are super friendly too, some people took pity on me and my hopelessness and decided to help, others were interested in the story, with other we just had a lot of fun together; but overall making friends and networking was simple. Luckily too, finding events with free food and beer was easy, during lunch hours, dinner and sometimes the whole weekend, that helped me stretch my runway for a big longer.
Startup weekends, hackathons, meetup.com, angel.co, etc, there are so many useful resources around here. It took me 5 weeks to find my first job. Once I had that, I found a room in an apartment to have a more established residence, my first job kinda sucked, so I quit 4 weeks after and the rest will come in a future post.
PD: Someone pointed out to me that it was better to clarify, obviously I’m not the person on that stock photo, also, I’m probably not even a woman, I believe my name, age, country of origin and gender are irrelevant to the story, but if you believe otherwise lmk and why, and I’ll think about disclosing that.