After landing, Omin waited for 20 minutes and then reached the front of the line, where a Customs and Border Protection officer asked him a series of questions. It was here that Omin realized that the job might be challenging, but getting into America could now be impossible. No one at Andela had prepared him for the new reality.
After a few minutes of grilling him about the job, the border agent escorted Omin into a small room and told him to sit down. Another hour passed before a different customs officer came in.
"Your visa says you are a software engineer. Is that correct?" the officer asked Omin in a tone the engineer described as accusatory. When Omin said it was right, the officer presented him with a piece of paper and a pen and told him to answer the following questions:
- "Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced."
- "What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?"
To Omin — who now hadn't slept in more than 24 hours — the questions seemed opaque and could have multiple answers. While he is a skilled software engineer with more than seven years of experience, Omin later tells me that the questions looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like, "Questions to ask a software engineer."
(The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency did not respond to multiple requests for comment made by LinkedIn over phone and email by the time this story went to press.)
With no context or guidelines on how to answer the questions, Omin, "too tired to even think," sat down and tried his best. But when he handed his answers back after about 10 minutes of work, the official told him his answers were wrong. "No one would tell me why I was being questioned," Omin told me by phone. "Every single time I asked [the official] why he was asking me these questions, he hushed me… I wasn't prepared for this. If I had known this was happening beforehand, I would have tried to prepare."
"That is when I thought I would never get into the United States," he told me with noticeable fear in his voice.