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Things Engineers Do to Move to the US
April 27, 2015
Pursuit of the American Dream is probably the most visible in Silicon Valley than any other place. You hear inspiring stories about entrepreneurs who risked everything they had and struggled for years before eventually becoming successful. The dream is still alive in the Valley where people are willing to back underdogs and give them a chance to prove themselves.

Yet access to this dream is restricted by immigration laws. Even when the Valley is facing a supply problem and is desperate for hiring engineers.

Paul Graham, makes a great point in his essay on immigration:
But this whole discussion has taken something for granted: that if we let more great programmers into the US, they'll want to come. That's true now, and we don't realize how lucky we are that it is.
After finishing my undergrad from Pakistan, all I wanted to do was to move to the US — ideally by starting my PhD at a top US university. Admissions to top research universities are very competitive and I needed more research experience. US immigration laws make it impractical for US research labs to hire people from outside the US. Laws are a little better in Europe.

I came across an opportunity where I could go and work in Sweden as a visiting researcher, but they didn't have a research grant to support my salary. I hustled my way, by pretending that my university in Pakistan will support me (they couldn't) and moved to Sweden knowing I couldn't even possibly feed myself for long. One step closer to the dream. Check.
McDonald's Filet-o-Fish burger sometimes called "McFish" in Europe.
I stayed in a rented basement and lived on free coffee and snacks at the office and combined my lunch and dinner into one meal a day: a McFish burger. Every day, for the next four months. By the time I was done, I walked away with three research papers (one of my most productive academic stints) and a noticeably weakened body.

The research work done in Sweden, led to another research job in Europe (this time paid!) which led to my admission to Princeton for my PhD. I met my co-founder, Ryan Shea, at Princeton and our startup got accepted at Y Combinator. Now, I'm proud to say that we're creating jobs in the US. Paul Graham's essay made me think about all the other programmers and engineers out there who'd happily go through hardships to move here.

Why are we keeping our gates closed to them? They will not keep knocking forever and start moving to a tech hub that's immigration-friendly.
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Muneeb Ali
Dr. Muneeb Ali is the co-founder of Stacks, bringing apps and smart contracts to Bitcoin. He serves as the CEO of Hiro that is building developer tools for Stacks. He received a PhD in distributed systems from Princeton. → Learn more