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Last Updated: April 2016
11 minute read

international grad

Opportunities for International Grads

cross-posted: on Medium

This is the post-form of a workshop/presentation I gave at my alma mater, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Reflects the situation between 2013 and 2016, that I am familiar with.

See the slides here.

In addition to prose-form of my slide notes, this will include key Q&A points from the audience.


As an international student (Olin graduate) in America, what are my career options and challenges? How do I approach challenges I may face that my US-resident peers may not? How to leverage the Olin community and other resources to make the best choice.

Points of interest

  • Internships
  • Taking a semester/year off (dark side – dropping out)
  • “Trying stuff out”
  • “Move first, figure out work later”
  • If you want to start a company, your OPT might be your best shot

Points for international students

  • Cofounder vs Employment
  • Answer: Do you want to base out of the US?
  • Why you’d want to base out of the US
  • Reasons not to be based out of the US
  • Research your options, pros and cons (IANAL) – Taking a year off – The foundry – Your OPT
  • Network
  • Come to Silicon Valley
  • Explain, be ready to trust
  • When it doesn’t work out?

Points for students who may want to work with internationals

  • Recognize what they bring
  • Recognize the challenges and limitations, and that you have a privilege
  • Recognize the costs associated for them, you, your team
  • Commit and follow-through, be trustworthy
  • When it doesn’t work out?

Points for support network: Professors, College, etc

  • the side that encounters the problems don’t know the solutions, the side with the solutions doesn’t realize the problems
  • College: Many of the resources sideline international students – NASA, defense contractors, several internship providers are reluctant – Olin will work with international students to recognize these, bridge the gap
  • You may not be able to help. It may sound like whining.


(feel free to skip this section)

Hi! I’m Keerthik . Feel free to call me K. I'm an ECE class of 2011, one of the very first international, non-resident students to be accepted to and graduate from Olin.

«DISCLAIMER: IANAL. Please verify official relevant USCIS documentation and/or seek licensed legal counsel before acting on any advice here»

Before I go any further, I have to put this up here. I will talk about some immigration law to outline examples or provide context, but I am not a lawyer, and none of what I say here is to be construed as legal counsel. Some will be different based on your personal circumstances like nationality, etc. So please double-check with official information from a licensed immigration lawyer and up-to-date USCIS documentation before acting on any advice I give here. This is so important I’m going to leave this at the bottom of every slide hereafter.

That said, I’ve put in countless hours since 2008 researching and working through different aspects of immigration, and more importantly, side effects of dealing with it.

Questions for you

Before I run my mouth, I want to get a sense of what would be most important to my audience here

  • How many of you are non-US residents? [The rest of you, I really want your input on what you want to learn from me]
  • How many of you are dead certain you’d want to either start your own company or join a startup you have a close relationship with, if you could?
  • How many of you are strongly considering leaving the US for more than 6 months after graduating?
  • For the rest, what are your plans? I have a personal policy for life – have a plan, and expect nothing to go according to it

I’m about to graduate, I want to work for Huli

More power to you. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to explore with the resources of Big Tech. Keep your immigration status in mind and always work on securing yourself for all eventualities there. I know multiple people who had to

I’m about to graduate, I want to work on my own thing

Do it. The most important talent for the founder of a company is to be able to face any odds. Being international presents some additional and very signficant challenges. But you shouldn’t let them stop you. If you can overcome them, it means you have what it takes.

I’m about to graduate, I want to eventually work on my own thing, but I don’t think I’m ready and

Do it. Normally I would say “ok go work at Google for 2 years, meet some smart people, get bored out of your skull in a cubicle job, then quit and start your company with a fat bank account”. This does not apply to international students.

Where you are matters - Come to Silicon Valley

I can’t speak to every career path and its relationship with every location, but more often that not, location matters.

Know your options

So the US immigration atmosphere is a bit of a nightmare these days.

  • get your OPT, and then
  • BigCo, get a H1B
  • BigCo outside, 2 years, return on L1 The less known ways
  • startup, H1B, L1 or O1A visa more recently, https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-proposes-rule-to-welcome-international-entrepreneurs [1]
  • Leave, don’t worry about it

It’s Getting Better…

… but never count on it. Keep an eye out. Pay especially close attention to newly-minted official news. If it’s a new restriction, it’ll be stricter than it ever was. If it’s a new liberation, it’ll be free-er than it ever will be. This is just my experience of how USCIS operates on its policies over time.

Know your limitations

  • never fully welcome
  • paperwork hell for life
  • cultural sacrifices

Founder vs Employee

This is something very important to learn about yourself as an international student. When I was a student, I didn’t think I’d want to be a company founder.

The N-word

We should be raised to despise it, and never use it among polite company. Networking. This is a whole other topic that is important for your career in many ways, but its power in immigration is irreplaceable. Fundamentally, we are in a position with frustratingly little power as immigrants. The American promise of “you can do whatever you want, be whatever you want” explicitly does not apply to us.


When it Doesn’t Work

As I mentioned, have a plan, expect nothing to go according to it

Get in touch with me @keerthiko, facebook.com/keerthik, keerthiko@gmail.com, keerthik.github.io. Find these slides and the talk transcribed here: keerthik.github.io/essays/internationalfounder.html


Advice in life story form – When I was a student, I didn’t think I’d want to be a company founder. I always thought I’d known what I’d want to do with my life – make computer games. Growing up with middle class educated Indian parents, they deftly guided me down a path towards computer programming and engineering, the path du jour of a cushy office job. Ideal for predictably eventually buying a house and having babies and stuff.

This is a question for you to answer, but it’s very important, and give it serious consideration. The fact that you’ve shown up here means you have at least entertained the thought in the back of your mind. That’s already more than I did, and here I am now.

I highly recommend working at the closest thing you can find to the kind of “employment” you are considering for an internship. If you want to work in a big 5 software firm, give serious consideration to a Google/MS/IBM/Apple role. No matter what you feel like posting on social media about it, brutally honestly extrapolate that experience 5 years and think about how you’d feel about that. Keep in mind to be realistic, the grass is always greener on the other side, etc.

Why I ask this. For the more typical Olin grad, I would recommend working at a BigCo first, put a 1.5~2 year re-evaluation deadline, maybe work as an early employee for a startup, and then found a company after having learned a lot, figuring out what works best for your style and skills.

«««< HEAD For international graduates, I’d say this is backwards, and this is greatly a function of the current immigration environment. Ironically, the best opportunity you will have to start a company is right after you graduate. The OPT is the most flexible work authorization afforded international students. You can work for a big company, you can be a freelancer, start your own company, or most things in between. But some of these give you more long-term flexibility than others. Starting a company or being one of the first 5-10 hires of a team means you get to play a critical role. And this is not for some personal/professional-growth reason. I wish this weren’t the case, but realistically, if you’re planning to work outside of your home country, immigration has to be a primary concern in your career planning. I didn’t do this, and went through a fair bit of trouble as a result, but lucked out eventually.


Go to conferences: http://ghc.anitaborg.org/2016-attend/conference-overview/

Slides intro disclaimer audience data - internationals audience data - locals - so how you may feel during this panel, is how internationals feel all the time in america andrea - location matters (company and job). so figure out where the intersection of your career and social needs are best met. I can speak mostly to America/SV rui - conferences, networking outside Olin network - Olin community is good, these relationships help you in immigration grads - pretty sure big tech job? - be aware of visa conditions, switching jobs, permanent residence grads - startup? - do it. OPT is best time, visas get complicated, entrepreneur parole grads - in between? - normally would say bigtech, but because OPT is most flex, i say startup limitations - taking “time off”, going part-time, hobby projects startup limitations - time-cost dealing with immigration, HR things – taxes, healthcare, loans, rent, etc, all complex as non-resident

undergrad - ? othergrad quotes x2 -

======= For international graduates, I’d say this is backwards, and this is greatly a function of the current immigration environment. Ironically, the best opportunity you will have to start a company is right after you graduate. The OPT is the most flexible work authorization afforded international students. You can work for a big company, you can be a freelancer, start your own company, or most things in between. So if when you look out at industry right now and can’t find or land the dream job, but you have a fair idea what it would entail, consider starting it up.


Entrepreneur Parole Summary: - New startup entity (< 3 years old) - Atleast 10% stake - No more than 3 applications per startup - Atleast $345,000(VC, Angel, Incubator) or $100,000 (govt grants) or show public benefit if less funding available - Initial stay for 2 years - Employment authorization only from startup - Minimum salary at 400% poverty level - Spouse gets EAD, but minor children do not.

After 2 years, 3 years extension - Atleast 10% ownership and active role in startup - Atleast $500K additional funding OR $500K revenue with 20% growth OR 10 Full time Jobs

«««< HEAD “You may submit comments directly to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by e-mail at uscisfrcomment@dhs.gov. Please include DHS docket number USCIS-2015-0006 in the subject line of the message.” ======= Alumni: I am (tentatively most likely) doing a talk/presentation at Olin on being an international-student-turned-founder. A big part of this is understanding what non-internationals