September 21, 2015

Tech (and others) talent vs immigration: the ultimate US fight

I am not a big boxing fan. In fact I have only watched one fight in my life (Pacquiao vs Mayweather a few months ago, of course) so I do not understand much about it. However, over the last months I have learnt a lot about fighting and related tactics. So far I have lost, but there are a couple of rounds still left.

A lot - see this article for illustration - has been written about the shortage of talent being a relevant challenge for the tech industry these days in the US. There is a real need to fill thousands of roles and no domestic talent is often available. This obviously harms growth and development, which is critical for startups. In this context, tech companies face a very complex legal environment when trying to fill that gap with qualified foreign workers. Obviously, I am sure that other industries feel similar pain and would also benefit from tapping foreign talent in an easier way.

Shortly after I graduated from b-school in New York in 2008, the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) was passed. Billions of dollars were funneled to troubled US banks (main MBA hirers at the time) which, in practice, were prohibited to hire foreign workers without tapping the American workers' pool first. As much as this hurt back then, I totally understand today that a government wants to be protective of its own citizens and put its domestic labor force to work after pouring so much money in. 

But today the situation is completely different in America. Unemployment in the US is at around 5% (which, once frictional unemployment is subtracted, results in almost "full employment") and lots of companies are unable to find what they need within the domestic labor workforce. A massive legal spider web makes it super hard to hire foreign workers: the universe and variety of visas is crazy, the calendar is crazy (e.g. why an H-1B visa that you get in April is not activated until October?), costs are crazy, etc...In short, regulation acts as a huge deterrent.

It is clear that living in a country that is not your own and where you live and work in a foreign language is tough and requires anyone in such situation to compete with local talent. At the same time, it is obvious that companies themselves want to hire the best and, if that means hiring non-national talent, it should happen at their own risk. Such behavior should not be prevented just because of administrative burdens, in particular at times when there is almost full employment, as I pointed out before.

I am a JD, have an MBA from a top US school, have worked for reputed employers, have lived in the country for almost 5 years during which I have significantly contributed to the US economy on a daily basis, have paid taxes deriving from pretty high salaries, have complied with my social security obligations and kept a clean criminal record. Today, that is not enough to get a work visa. I went one step farther and secured a signed offer with a thriving New York-based startup who was kind enough - I often pinched myself in disbelief for their amazing loyalty and care - to go through the pain of sponsoring me a visa. I quit my job and was ready to join. However, 3 months of paperwork and administrative fighting later, my visa was denied (it is in the appeal phase now) and I left (who knows if it will just be temporary) the country.

There is a lot of discussion these days around immigration in the US thanks in particular to pretty unfortunate comments by characters such as Donald Trump. It is a fact that there is a lot of illegal immigration in the US but it is not less true, in my view, that it would be hard for the economy to work as it does without having such illegal workforce contributing its long hours and effort as it does. But that is a different debate.

It's a bit of a paradox that illegal immigrants are in practice allowed to work in the country and that when you try to play by the book - having, supposedly, all the qualifications and a job offer in place - you face the risk of being kicked out. As I tell my friends, these are the rules of the game and you have to accept them from the outset and regardless of the final outcome. When you go into the ring you are going to be hit, whether you win the fight or not.

I'd advocate for a framework where more flexibility is given for hiring qualified foreign talent. It is bad for US companies trying to grow and thrive; it is bad for foreign companies that want to settle and generate wealth in the US but are not allowed in many cases to hire who they need; it is bad for the international candidates, many of which are US educated and committed to making an impact in the country; and, ultimately, it is bad for the US themselves, in terms of foregone taxes and significant contributions fueling the economy (salaries in tech are traditionally high), among others.

My "round 12" is about to start, let's see what happens - Ding!

September 13, 2015

Learning from tech leaders I admire

Today I have read a very interesting piece that Fast Company - one of my must-read publications -  has recently produced on Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick. It is priceless to better understand the company's ethos and driving forces. This has led me to think a bit about some of the people in tech I admire.

When it comes to leaders in the technology space, a few names come to mind quickly to the general public. A simplified classification I have come up with - Forbes, for instance, has its own ranking of "The Richest People in Tech" - would break down such leaders in three groups:

(1) those who are no longer active or in executive roles but whose influence is still undoubted today (Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates);

(2) those who have rather recently disrupted the world (and continue to do so) and have already significantly cashed out (Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban); and then

(3) those whose companies are on the verge of becoming - to some extent they already are - the next big thing (Travis Kalanick, Elon Musk, Brian Chesky)

Week-in week-out I read a lot of stuff about many of them. And there is always stuff you can learn and try to apply to your more mundane existence. Some takeaways for my own sake are the following:

- long term vision vs. short term profit: I love Amazon's Jeff Bezos' approach to this and how he continues to drive innovation at Amazon by continuing to invest heavily in new services and products (Prime, Amazon Web Services, you name it...), instead of giving in to The Street's pressures for boosting the company's present stock price. At the end of the day, and as obvious as it sounds, the latter will be accomplished if things work out just fine - the last months' stock price evolution being a good example.

- challenge the statu quo: I am gonna go with Uber's Travis Kalanick. I love his strength to challenge what is widely perceived as a legally-protected dated monopoly (i.e. cab service) in pretty much all countries around the world. When customers love your service the regulators can do nothing but ultimately changing the rules of the game.

- dare to dream: nobody in my view is better at this than Elon Musk. From the hyperloop train to life in Mars; from space "tourist" travel to the perfect car. If I had to pick one guy as "the" visionary, I'd pick him. Such "visions" are sometimes broadly praised and some other times hammered. However, few people feel indifferent.

- learn, learn, learn: when Mark Zuckerberg started to take the stage as Facebook's CEO and main spokesperson he was widely criticized for his relative weakness with presentation and public speaking skills. He has invested time and effort in getting better and the results have been evident, his notorious recent presentation in Chinese being a great example. Just because one is at the top of the world does not mean that he knows it all. Be humble and never stop getting better.

- be generous: you can call tax planning...or you can call it giving back to the community. Or you can argue that it is a bit of both. But the huge contributions that the likes of Microsoft's founder Bill Gates continue to make to try to make the world a slightly better place should not be unnoticed.

These are just some ideas. There are a zillion others. But I do know that working for and/or with someone you admire and look up to makes your work more rewarding. Plus it commands an extra "something" that at the end of the day results in self-improvement, additional commitment and increased loyalty. 

September 8, 2015

A millenial trapped in a Gen Xer?

It is not easy to look back and self-assess one's career and progression. It is even harder - in particular in countries/societies that are rather traditional when it comes to what is considered "right" (college degree - job - wife - mortgage - kids = stability) - to take a detour in your career as you grow older. People, in particular those from older generations than mine, tend not to understand the rationale and motivations to abandon the "right" path.

It is obvious to me that such decisions are, to some extent, driven by your personal circumstances. If you have no financial (mortgage, student loans) and/or personal (spouse, partner, kids, sick relatives, etc.) obligations, there is more room to take chances and risks that otherwise you wouldn't. And a bit of common sense is always appreciated, as in any other area.

I can speak about all this based on my own experience. In my mid-late twenties I left a promising career as an attorney at one of the main global law firms to switch paths and to go on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of studying a top full-time MBA and living in New York. Now in my mid-late thirties I have quit a stable, very well paying job at a top firm, to (at least try to) pursue a career in technology/startups, and to even explore launching my own business. It is that time of my life where I need to feel passionate about what I do, experience a feeling of belonging and enjoy doing whatever it is that I do. For me, now is the right time. It is probably the only time in my life so far where my personal circumstances, my aspirations and my degree of risk aversion (whatever that is) are aligned.

Kleiner Perkins' view on millenials
Call it wishful thinking, call it dissatisfaction, call it not settling for just money... or simply call me a millenial in the body of a (late) Generation X guy. From a values standpoint, I feel much closer to the former than to the later (for whom the future is gloomy, according to Bloomberg), maybe I should have been born just a few years later...

Over the last 4 years I have continued following closely, becoming increasingly acquainted and further embracing my passion for technology and the startup scene (as I predicted in a post in 2011, I have for the most part been monitoring all this activity via Twitter instead of by blogging). All this has led me to work hard - reading, networking, interviewing... - to give one last try at making a professional move into such space.

A few months ago I signed an offer to join a great NY startup. All seemed to be ok until US Immigration Services came my way by denying a work visa - it is no relief (it is actually quite sad), though, to see that a lot of people in the startup world are facing similar issues in the U.S.. This is one for the next president to address.

This is the somewhat uncertain situation where I stand now, yet more energized, committed and optimistic than ever before.

September 4, 2015

Back to blogging 4 years later

Time does indeed fly. It's been 4 years since my last post and a lot of things have happened since then. I have now decided to resume my blogging activity as a new chapter of my life opens up. Big decisions have been made and I am eager to find out what is coming next.

In the coming months, I am counting on being able to use some time to write and it just feels right to get back to this.

Since 2011, even if my professional activity had little to do with it, I have continued following closely, becoming increasingly acquainted and further embracing my passion for technology and the startup scene. As I predicted in a post in 2011, I have for the most part been monitoring all this via Twitter. All this has led me to work hard - reading, networking, interviewing... - to give one last try at making a professional move into this scene.

Everything was flowing nicely until US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) came my way by denying a new work visa. I see this as just a hurdle that has given rise to the somewhat uncertain situation where I stand now. However, I am confident to overcome this; in fact I feel more energized, committed and optimistic than ever before.

New stories coming soon. Stay tuned