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Tell HN: My own version of the American dream
84 points by hecontreraso on Sept 21, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments
I have spent the last year, thinking about how I'm going to spend the rest of my life.

I started to work as a software developer in government in my country, but found that entrepreneurship is really my thing. So I quit my job and began my own startup. I learned a lot about how to start a company, but the reality hit me like a truck. Colombia is a really tough environment to be a tech entrepreneur. (Very low purchasing power, internal conflicts, the government doesn't help, etc.)

So although I have felt frustrated, I'm a big dreamer. And I'm willing to leave it all to achieve my dreams.

I wish to make it big in one of the best places in the world to be in tech: SF. (I'm in love with this city). So I studied a lot of english the past months, saved some money, and sold some things, to travel to SF and pursue my dream.

My goal in this trip is to find an opportunity to join a good startup. It would be awesome to get a internship as a developer, some short-term job (I can stay up to 6 months in U.S.), or even a remote job.

I'm have Ruby on Rails and AngularJS skills. Not an expert yet, but I have code some projects.

Just wanted to share this with you guys, because this is the board of the best entrepreneurs community in the world. If you know about some opportunity, some startup to write at, some place to visit, or some advice for me, It would be hugely appreciated.



Sorry to be negative, but it will be almost impossible for you to get a job here this way, unless you are from a country that has a flexible work visa arrangement (Canada, Australia, etc). In fact, you could get banned from entering the country for 10+ years if you lie as to your intent for entering the US and you get found out. And if you tell them your intent is to find a job, you will also be denied. It's a no-win situation.

No companies can hire you, unless you already have an existing H1B. If they want to sponsor you, the earliest they could attempt is April 2016, for work in October 2016. And this is if you have a university degree to qualify you for H1B.

You could apply for graduate school, that's probably the easiest way in, and then once you get your degree, you could go on OPT, which gives you 19 months to get an H1B.

Or you could marry someone in the US, but if it's deemed fraudulent, then you would also be barred from entering the US as well.

You could join a large company that has offices where you are, and then transfer to the US on an L1 visa, which would give you a green card very quickly, and then you could quit and do whatever you want afterwards. However, there is the option that the company could take back your green card if you leave too quickly after getting your green card.

Again, sorry to be so negative, but just coming to the US and looking for a job will not work, not in this environment. You need to do it properly, but unfortunately, there is a very slim chance of actually getting a job.

To add to that, even if a company is willing to sponsor a H1B visa there's no guarantee that would actually get one. It's lottery because there are too many applications. Without an advanced degree the chances are 40-50% I believe.

I agree that going to university in the US is easiest way, but it's also quite expensive. And there's no guarantee that you would get a visa after that. In fact, many of my friends were forced to go back to their country after finishing their full degree in the US because they couldn't get an H1B, and that includes those who went to highly-ranked universities.

IMO your best chance (besides marriage) may be to 1. Get an advanced degree and 2. Build a highly valuable skillset that US companies are looking for. App/Web development is great, but there are many people who can do that and you'd need to be extraordinary for any startup to go through the trouble of sponsoring an H1B. On the other side of this are PhDs who solve hard problems at big companies. These are more likely to get a visa (in fact, the US is very good at taking away all the best researchers from other countries ;))

The chance without advanced degree is actually about 25% (it has been decreasing every year).

The American wake up.

As an American, if we continue to turn down would-be immigrants like this, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

As an immigrant, I do think the American immigration system is broken (especially around H1Bs and for US university grads), but just letting anyone in isn't the solution either and would do more harm than good.

OP should apply for the DV lottery. It's a long shot but it could happen.

OP should work for a fully remote company; most pay international workers as contractors.


I think that's my main option right now. I'm planning to visit some startups to have interviews, but not sure that it will work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S.

BTW, that's an amazing link, thanks a lot for it

Colombia is inelegible for DV lottery.

Hey, you should talk to Andres Barreto, I'll intro - j@jasonlbaptiste.com He runs a small seed fund and connects Colombian engineers with US startups. It's a great program and I've hired from it before.

Ps- ignore any discouraging comments. Fight hard and you can get what you want. Best of luck

A little word of caution. You haven't mentioned your visa situation, but given that you said you can stay for 6 months I'm going to assume you are on a B2 visa.

When you arrive in the US, be ready to explain why you are NOT planning on moving here or finding a job. You aren't coming to SF to look for work, you're coming as a TOURIST and are going to see some sights, and then head home. Also, the longer you say you are going to stay in the US, the harder they will grill you. I would even suggest booking a refundable/changeable return flight a few weeks after you land, and say you are only going to stay for a few weeks. You can always "change your mind" after you get here, because they will almost always stamp you for 6 months in your passport regardless of how long you say you want to stay.

Remember: it's against the tourist visa rules to even THINK about working here or look for a job. So do not mention anything about looking for work, or wanting to live in SF, or even that one day you would like to live here. As far as they should know you love your home country and can't wait to get back there. It also helps if you own property or have dependent family in your home country (this gives you a reason preventing you from illegally immigrating). Failing this, get a letter from an employer saying that you have been granted x weeks vacation and will be expected back at work on a particular date.

If you haven't applied for the visa yet, then get your story straight, and everything above applies x10 for the visa interview.

Take it from someone who learned all this the hard way :)

Now, with that out of the way I would love to meet up when you get here. If you're interested, my email address is in my profile.

Sorry, but this is terrible advice. You should not be counseling someone to lie when they enter into the US. You literally could get them banned from entering the US for many years, or even permanently, if their lie is caught by the agents. And these agents are trained to catch liars, so if the OP uses your advice and gets caught up in his lies, he could be turned away without any hesitation.

I'm not suggesting anyone outright lie. I am simply saying that your reason for entering the US must not be to look for work, and that it helps to bring along evidence supporting the fact that it would be impossible for you to stay here anyway.

This is fairly well known in startup circles, in fact YC themselves have an internal guide for how to speak to US immigration. The important thing is to know the terms of your visa, and not say anything which could jeopardize that.

I also don't think OP's case is completely hopeless. There are plenty of companies which will sponsor you on a J1 visa, which will usually buy you enough time to apply for an H1B or O1. If he wants to come visit SF and meet/network with people here, then he definitely should do so.

Might actually be better for him, judging by all the immigration horror stories. America is great, but not for most foreigners...

I sent you an email. Cheers!

Does it have to be the US? What about Berlin or Paris? http://www.bamf.de/EN/Infothek/FragenAntworten/BlaueKarteEU/...

In a nutshell, if you find an employer willing to hire you for a regular paid high-tech job, you will get a work visa, aka "Blue Card".

I was about the make the same comment. There are plenty of other tech centers around the world, although SF is one of the better ones. Berlin and London are also pretty good and vibrant. You may also try to look at the 2nd tier tech cities in Spanish speaking countries such as Barcelona may be another option.

Seems like a cool idea, but would I have to learn german or french? I just know english and spanish right now. Thanks for the advice!

So you get a job at a decent startup that actually has viable potential (likely not), get 1% equity (likely half that, since you said you're not an expert), work super hard effectively two full time jobs hardly making ends meet, and then your startup beats all odds (likely doesn't), and gets acquired for 20 million dollars (likely less).

You've just made $200,000 before taxes. Was it worth the risk and the effort?

Correct me if I've got my assumptions wrong please. Chance to unicorn doesn't count, coz at that level of probability he might as well just keep buying the lottery.

Yep that ain't likely to work. For every success story there are 99 failures.

Get a popular cert. Work premium contract jobs (£600/day here). Screw the market hard and retire after 20 years with some reasonable cash. Sure you're not going to be Musk or Zuck rich but how much money do you really need?

Take equity if someone offers it but not in lieu of hard cash. I've made about £20k in equity pay outs which isn't a whole lot of money really.

I know no one who got anywhere working hard. It was all sly opportunistic stuff and luck.

It's practical and you'll be right 8 times out of 10. But it also assumes that the only motivation for starting a company is money.

I'm running a startup that solves a very real problem lots of people have. The money is a nice bonus, but the real thrill is being able to solve a problem.

If you have an engineering brain, you know this as well: solving a problem just feels good. Doesn't matter whether the problem is fixing a broken faucet or helping people manage car repairs better (what I'm trying to do).

So for me, the real benefit of running a startup is that you get to solve a problem you care passionately about. If you can do that at someone else's company (and get paid handsomely for it), then by all means, go ahead and do it. But if you can't find companies solving the problems you care about, then you have no option but to roll up the sleeves and solve it yourself

You're right. That's the thing though; don't expect to make any money out of doing anything you love. The phrase "labour of love" is very appropriate.

Currently I'm digging a large financial company out of a big hole full of poo that they dug and then tried to swim in and decided that they didn't like it. If I'm honest, I really don't care about that but it pays the bills. I prefer fixing and replacing bits of my friend's Macs for nothing and playing BOFH on all the kit in my house.

Puranjay, sorry for off-topic, but your startup idea intrigues me. Let me know if you have a website or something I can look at. Thanks.


I'm about -$15,000 after three startup acquisitions (cost of buying stock options when I was laid off/quit).

A delightfully cynical take on it all. I have to agree!

I burned two startups first so consider it experience :)

What do you use to find out which certs are popular?

Two thoughts:

1. Look at places like Stack Exchange to see which sub-fields are getting a lot of questions.

2. Look at tech jobs listing sites and see what they're including on their nice to have / must have lists in their listings.

Err. Keep in mind the OP is from Colombia, is interested in entrepreneurship, and has big dreams. And s/he is probably young. Can we all leave the cynicism for later in life? If you think someone's dreams are a mistake, let them try and fail.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I've heard is: "Don't run from problems. Run to solutions."

Perhaps if you look a little harder, you can find a solution in Columbia?

I'd like to point out that moving to San Francisco is not a solution. You state: "I'm a big dreamer. And I'm willing to leave it all to achieve my dreams."

There's a huge difference between chasing a dream, and running a business. San Francisco is a very expensive place to live. A salary that's the envy of most of the United States won't even cover basic expenses in San Francisco. It's simply too expensive to subsidize people chasing dreams; and believe me, there are a lot of people in and around San Francisco chasing their dreams.

So, IMO, learn the difference between chasing a dream and running a tech business. Solve your problems at home before you move; or if you do move, find a place that's cheap enough to let you learn how to run a business.

There are a lot of good reasons to move to San Francisco. Wait until the city offers you a tangible reason to move there; because the best place to be a dreamer is to live at home.

Thanks for your answer I would like to get a remote job in a SF company. I'm planning to visit some startups to have interviews, but I'm not sure that is going to work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S.

Where do you think that I could begin?

Best advice in this thread

Hi Stephen,

Congratulations on your great aspirations and willingness to pursue them with hard work!

If it doesn't work out for you in California, I suggest moving to Buenos Aires. Although I am from California, I lived there for many years and it's a great city with tons of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial spirit as well as hacker and programmer culture. In some ways, it is much more of an entrepreneurial place than anywhere in the USA, in my opinion, due to the fact that people have necessarily developed more of a DIY attitude. Best of all: Colombian immigrants/expats are much more welcome there than most other places, especially the USA. In fact, I heard that Colombians can attend and graduate from the University of Buenos Aires (which has an excellent Computer Science dept.) so you may be able to get an education there also. FYI, University of Buenos Aires is more or less FREE. If you have skills and can show that you are developing them quickly, I think getting a good job as a software developer there should also be possible. I'd checkout Globant, OmbuLabs and Inaka first. They are software consultancies with good reputations.

Good luck and keep going!

I have the same story with you, I also came from a small country with has nothing special in IT, and working as a Software Engineer in the US is a paranoia dream for me. Except one thing (luckily for me), my family immigrated to the US and I have to follow them.

If you are still looking for a job in SF (or anywhere in this Bay Area), go ahead and create an impressive profile on Angel List (https://angel.co/jobs), this is the website for startups company looking for developers, and I got my first job after 2 weeks in the US by this way (they found me on this site when I was in my home country, and ~1 month long phone calls/interviewing/testing/waiting...).

Spending your time create/contribute to some cool project on Github should help, the people here love that. It's the best way to prove yourself as a good developer.

We all have a dream to live for, and it's great to meet and sharing with people who has the same dream as I have.

Good luck to you, and welcome to the Bay Area ;)


Henry Tr.

Thanks Henry, that's very friendly of you.

I think that I'll visit some startups, looking for a remote job when I arrive to SF :)

Everyone is telling you that basically America is a no go. Try Canada. Vancouver and Toronto have small but growing startup scenes, lots of big companies opening offices up north as well. Canada is pretty welcoming to immigrants, as long as you're earning enough to pay the fairly high taxes.

Do you necessarily need to go to the US now? Since you don't have a Visa, that is really complicated. You cannot legally work with a b2 visa, if you do that, it can jeopardize future opportunities in the US. I would not recommend this path, not now at least.

I would recommend you to get more experience in the start-up environment first, get a good resume, and then apply for a H1B in the states, if that's your ultimate goal. If you can't find start-up jobs in Colombia, have you considered moving to São Paulo, Brazil? You're a Mercosul resident so it is easier for you to get a work visa in Brazil than in the US. Brazil is currently going through a crisis, so things aren't easy, but there's still a vibrant entrepreneur market. It's not hard to find technology jobs there. It is a good place to get experience in more modern technologies and in entrepreneurship.

Seems like a cool Idea. I'll explore it. Thanks

South American here did something similar and I can say one thing: the American dream is dead... at least for immigrants.

With unintelligent politicians and immigration policies, it's REALLY hard to start your own company. Even if you raise 1M+ still is REALLY hard to get/transfer your H1-B visa. It doesn't matter if you're the CEO. I know it seems ridiculously stupid, and it is.

In addition, things will NOT get better. People like Trump and other 'fake right-wing socialists' will continue to maintain an idiotic immigration policy and there won't 'be a way'. South Americans(even if legal) feel disdain and hatred in the disguised eyes of niceness.

I would EXTREMELY suggest you to consider certain EU countries with a more reasonable immigration policy. My experiences have been great and never did anyone looked down on me because I'm hispanic or that I speak Spanish(duh).

Thanks for your answer :) I have two options in mind right now. Some good friend, who also lives in SF, suggested me to search for an internship. It may be technically illegal for me to work there, but he told me that fortunately some startups won’t care, and I could give the company the option to get paid in my country as if you were an overseas contractor.

The second option is to get a remote job in a SF startup. I'm planning to visit some startups to have interviews. But I'm not sure that I'll work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S.

What do you think about this? Could it work?

Thanks again!

Hey, there's plenty of blame to go around. "Comprehensive immigration reform" is a buzzword meaning "either we solve all immigration problems or we solve none of them". Trump and other knuckleheads notwithstanding, there is wide acceptance on both sides of the aisle that immigration should be easier for high skilled people and entrepreneurs.

Well Stephen ... it's ironic (to me) that you view SV (and more generally the US) as your technological Mecca when I've been considering where I might live if my government continues to engage in practices I can't endorse. The great thing about "software eating the world" is that you can make if from anywhere. I'd recommend you develop your on-line presence and start networking (virtually is fine) with those you wish to emulate.

Either way - Good luck!

But SF is already overfull with techies talking about how to make the world better why swerving away homeless people lying on streets. Why do you think joining the crowd and making real estate prices even higher is the best application of your abilities?

You have done a lot, so congrats. Now you should refocus to make your dream really happen imho: have a look at countries near home (Argentina, Canada?) and try to climb the ladder from a friendlier environment instead of risking wreckage in a pond that basically does not need (saturated with techies) and does not want (severe visa issues) you yet. Good luck!

OK, forget about the visa things. It's another story. Many people here give an advice that just find a company in the US that has office in our hometown, or do a remote work with US companies. For me, I did it. And now I'm working in the US. There are many huge different. The most important thing is the developer's culture, since developers here in the SV keep asking something like: "What's that company building?", the developers in outsourcing countries just ask: "How many (outsource) projects does this company having?" Just a simple thing like that enough to see the big different about the environment. That's why I think we should choose SV instead of remote work.

Come as a tourist. You do not need to be physically in SF to run your business. In many countries (not all) you can continue to work for your startup or clients outside the country. In fact, you should have an existing startup established in your country.

Startups and self employment are truly a great way to open doors and attract others. I recommend everyone start one at least on the side. Traveling is good for networking. Think of it that way!

I don't understand why you'd need to relocate to work for a startup. I can see how it would be really exciting, for sure!

But...can't you do the same work remotely from your home country. From a place that doesn't cost $4,000/mo in rent?

Thanks for your answer.

I would really like to get a remote job in a SF company. I'm planning to visit some startups to have interviews, but I'm not sure that I'll work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S.

Where do you think that I could begin to search?

I think your best bet is to build a highly valuable skill-set that makes it worthwhile for companies in the US to go through the trouble of getting you a Visa. You need to differentiate yourself from talent they can find domestically without the visa hassle.

In the interim, look at joining startups in other countries where you can build that highly valuable skill-set. This is self-promotion, but check out our startup, engageSPARK, where we use highly valued skills (GoLang, Docker, Microservices, AWS, Thrift, Django, etc) and based in Philippines. And, at the same time, help build a startup with American founders that is working on poverty alleviation. :)

Not at all sure of the legality of this, so if someone else can comment that would be good. If your are coming to US, I would recommend you try to find a remote working job at startups,and then go back. The visa situation being what it is, as others have suggested, doesn't really leave you with that many options. Also it is arguable whether being physically present in SF would help that much to offset the cost of coming and staying there for whatever time required.

Thanks for your answer akshat!

That's what I'm planning to do, but I'm not sure that I'll work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S. Where do you think that I could begin to search?

Even if you cannot easily get a visa to work here (as some of the comments mention), you could still write apps for the US market, I guess.

Interesting strategy idea: Work remotely for a SFO company for months/years at a time, then visit SFO as a tourist between jobs. There are also other interesting places to visit in the USA while between jobs or contracts.

Thanks for your answer :) I would really like to get a remote job in a SF company. I'm planning to visit some startups to have interviews, but I'm not sure that I'll work. Seems like most startups hire remote workers only from U.S.

Where do you think that I could begin?

Connect with US companies that have dev teams in Colombia and be careful with shady headhunters.

The American dream is a lie bought on credit. Just an FYI...

I have similar story. Cheers.

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