Trials and Tribulations of US Visa

In 2019, as the year came to an end, I got to make my first trip to the United States of America and specifically New York & Las Vegas. But this post is not about my trip. It’s about my experience procuring the B1/B2 Visa that I am going to write about.

I’ve been holding onto this blog post for a while, as Arpita (my wife) was also applying for Visa, and I didn’t want this post to flag any concerns. But now that she has got her visa as well, I hope it’s a good idea to share my experience with the US Visa application.

Earlier in 2018, when I was working for Dabble Lab – I had a few client meetings lined up for which I was planning to travel to Florida. My travel plan all set up, I applied for a visa at the Mumbai US Consulate. For the uninitiated (and my dear friends born in First World Countries), as an Indian intending to travel to the United States, you have to :

  1. Fill up a form detailing all your international travels, relatives in US, salary, purpose of travel and social media accounts.
  2. Pay a one time non refundable fee of 160$ to setup an interview with the consulate.
  3. Appear at the consulate office to provide your biometrics
  4. Appear at the given interview date and explain your reason for travel to US to the consulate official (who in most cases is a U.S Citizen). Based on your reasoning, the consulate official decides if you get the visa or not.

Looking for some advice online on how these interviews are conducted, I soon myself found thousands of forum posts looking for explanation on why their visa was rejected. This did not help as I was really hoping it would be a formality, and all the posts suggested anything but so.

On any given day, it’s easy to see at-least 3-4k people apply for the visa. On the day of interview, I reached the consulate and stood outside for almost two hours before I reached the counter for my interview. While there are facilities inside the consulate, the experience can often be jarring and dehumanizing.

For my first interview, The consulate officer took my passport and started his questioning from behind the glass window.

  • Consulate Officer : Your Name
  • Me : Karthik Ragubathy
  • C.O : And you are traveling for <Company Name>
  • Me : That’s right
  • C.O : What’s the purpose of travel?
  • Me : I am meeting clients to <state business purpose>.
  • C.O : Have you ever travelled before internationally for work?
  • Me : No

And after a couple of clicks on his computer, the officer turned to me to inform that my visa application is rejected without sharing any detail. Disheartened, I went back formulating theories on what might have gone wrong with my profile.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was a freelancer? Or that my raspy voice after having no water for a while did not sound soothing? Definitely the fact that I was not married didn’t help either. The trouble is, I could have speculated all I wanted, and yet not know the specific reason on why the officer rejected me.

But more than the visa getting rejected, I was upset about not getting to meet my then clients in-person. Applying for the visa takes a good amount of travel, arranging documents and some considerable time investment, all of which is rendered futile if you don’t get the visa.

A while later, I joined Amazon and my first international travel came in the form of a trip to Australia for a team summit. Having made my first international work trip, I was a bit more hopeful that my visa this time will be approved.

After all, I was now

  1. Married
  2. Working for a reputed company (and hence won’t receive salary, if I am not in India)

This time I had booked an interview at the Chennai US Consulate. The US Consulate here was slightly smaller and I was getting to hear bits and pieces of people’s interviews. Everyone’s personal lives, salaries, problems laid bare in a bureaucratic fashion.

The Lady in front of me had a U.S Visa and was applying for a renewal. Her teenage daughter, who was born and studying in the US was moving schools and she wanted to help her out. But due to the lady staying for a reasonably long amount of time on her visa, although within the visa limits, she was being rejected. She stood there as she debated with the officer, who assured her that daughter will do just fine and take care of herself without her mother being there.

As the lady went back dejected, I walked up to the window just hoping for nothing. The officer took my passport and started his questioning

  • C.O : So you work for Amazon, huh?
  • Me : Yep
  • C.O : What do you work there as?
  • Me : As a Solutions Architect for the Alexa Team
  • C.O : And why do you intend to travel to the U.S
  • Me : Business Meetings
  • C.O : And where will you be flying to?
  • Me : Seattle
  • C.O : And what is your compensation package?
  • Me : $XX
  • C.O : And how much is that in Indian Rupees
  • Me : Rs XX

And then after a couple of clicks, he took the green slip and handed it over to me and informed that my visa application has been accepted. Relieved, I left the consulate and let it sink in, that at least for the next 10 years – I won’t have to face this situation again.

Look, I am all in favor of screening applicants before they enter a foreign country. But it should not be at a loss of productivity and being kept in the dark about rejections. I know of friends who have had their visa rejected thrice and they just ticked the same bar that I ticked.

At the least, for official purposes, the consulate should offer clear reasons on why the evidence is not enough and what the applicant can do to provide more clarity. Otherwise, it all seems to be based on randomness and on which side of the bed the consulate officer woke up on.

Shortly thereafter, I made my first trip to the United States and it was all kinds of awesome. But that’s a story for another day.

Advice for Students

At my job, I sometimes get the chance to budding student developers. After the workshops, their questions usually revolve around a career in tech and getting started in the industry. I thought it would be a good idea to list down what has worked for me, so I can share it the next time someone asks me for this.

Before you start reading the post, I want you to keep in mind that I am a victim of confirmation bias. I believe that I was able to grasp some opportunities because I was the right person at the right place at the right time.

Some of the points in this blog post may or may not work for you. Some might work for you in short term, and some may take longer than anticipated. I want you to apply your own discretion and not follow my advice blindly.

Join a Student Ambassador Program

When I was in college, I got selected to be a part of the Microsoft Student Partner program, and that has helped me in my career in more ways than I can count. Almost all of the big tech companies have some form of Student Ambassador Program. Getting selected as a Student Ambassador brings you one bit closer to the industry and helps you understand the current trends that companies are looking for.

These programs also have a high bar for selection, and for many of you will also give you, your first interview experience.

Once selected, you will be expected to set up a tech club and/or speak at your / nearby colleges about their tech. This gives you the credibility to speak at different places on behalf of the company, and at the same time helps you improve your organizational and public speaking skills.

Don’t be restricted to doing these activities at your institution. Take the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and speak at nearby institutions.

Keep in mind though to be extremely focused on what you want to be doing with these credentials. I’ve seen students who get selected into two or three of these programs simultaneously and then struggle with meeting the expectations for even one of them. Being part of multiple programs does help you have a fancier LinkedIn title, but doesn’t really count much in terms of career prospects.

Obligatory plug about a program that my team runs : Alexa Student Influencer. The ASI program looks for individuals who are pursuing college and have interest in Alexa and Voice UI in general.

Work for a small company / startup

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to work with big companies, but do not ignore companies with a small employee count or for not having a brand name.

Inside a small company, where time and resources are limited, you get to completely own and deliver projects. In big companies, this is rarely the scenario until you’ve spent a considerable amount of time gaining trust. Small Companies operate with quite a bit of restraint and extreme focus, and give you a clarity of what kind of career you want to pursue going ahead.

In college, I worked for a small company run by a good friend, Sachin Palewar – and got the autonomy of working on projects from scratch and we won some cool awards as well.

Resumes are dead. Personalised Profiles are in

One common thing that I have seen students do is, apply to a host of jobs with the same resume. I remember this one student candidate, who emailed almost every company in my town and put all of them in the email CC list. Needless to say, the rejection to his resume was quite a public spectacle with everyone hitting reply all.

Jobs are not a “One Size Fits all” market. The skills required to do one job might not be even a consideration for another job. So when you send a general resume, do not be surprised if you get a random response, or worse no response at all.

As a potential candidate, start filtering jobs that you are truly interested in and understand the expectations of this role. Once you have a grasp of the role and responsibilities for the position, create a personalised profile that highlights why you are the best fit for the role.

One suggestion that I have is to use keywords from the job description and use them in your resume.

For ex : If the job description says “The candidate will be expected to launch and manage EC2 servers and continuously monitor the performance for the application.” And if you have done that somewhere – highlight that in your profile like “Launched and managed servers at my internship at Example App and was responsible for monitoring during high traffic incidents.”

Think of the manager who is hiring for this role. They want to hire someone who is a close fit for this role. While freshers are not expected to know a whole lot about the job, the fact that you have done something similar in the past tilts the scale in your favor a bit.

If you have not done something that fits it, don’t try too hard to fit in your experience. It doesn’t look good trying to lie on your resume.

Look for Personal Recommendations / References

Once you have a personalised resume, there are still chances that it may be overlooked for some reasons. One way to get in to the interview shortlist is by seeing if you have someone from your network who works in the team / knows the hiring manager.

And if you know this person well, ask them if they can recommend you for this position. The key to doing this is by building a good professional network. I got into my current position, because of a recommendation by Sohan whom I had met at couple of events.

Having someone on the team who recommends you gets you someone who can follow up on your interview, and also give insight into the team culture. If you don’t have anyone on the team, the alternative is to reach out directly to the hiring manager / someone from the team. But keep in mind to not overdo this.

I have seen someone who reached out to 3 different people asking for the recommendation, and after they forwarded the resume – they found out that the person had already reached out to the manager and were told they are not the right fit.

Drop a simple email / message on the lines of

“Hey xxx,

A brief intro about yourself and a short description about your profile. I saw that you are hiring for yyy job and I think I would be a good fit for it. I have applied for it, but am yet to hear back and wanted to reach out to see if the role’s still open.

I know you are busy but I appreciate you taking out your time for this.

Thanks zzz”

Candidates who reach out directly and are able to express excitement about the job role catch the attention and thereby getting those interview rounds as well.

Personal Branding

Regardless of the opportunities you are looking for, it is quite important to have a personal branding. Personal branding can be achieved in the form of Twitter, Blogs, Stack Overflow and other similar sites.

Participating actively in Stack Overflow forums, blogging about programs & events you’ve participated are a showcase for your technical skills. I would highly recommend getting a personal domain name, and matching user IDs on the interwebs (Ex : I am pkarthikr on most places on the Internet).

I’ve had a few people reach out to me for opportunities after they read a blog post / tweet thread of mine, and it’s all because of the personal branding efforts.

Stay Healthy

This is something I regret not doing during my college days. For a long time, I had to struggle with my habits and health till I got it right. I am still not there, but things are better than a few years back.

In College, I’ve stayed out at midnight, hanging out at eateries and sleeping at odd hours. All these things, while never affecting me in the moment, took it’s toll later on. To be capable of doing good work, you have to be healthy.

Make sure, you have

This is not to say, you forego the fun stuff. Just be cognizant of the tradeoffs you have to make for this fun.

Stay Positive

I don’t want to sound philosophical, and fair warning, I have not practiced this either. But the idea for the entire blog post came up, after I heard from a student who was frustrated finding job opportunities as he was graduating out of college.

When I was going through the placements seasons in college, I was apprehensive and demotivated as well. It’s natural to feel that way, but take it in stride. If you get rejected somewhere, see if you can find out why you were rejected and improve yourself on those areas.

In an industry that changes technologies every few years, we have to continuously work on where we lack, and improve ourselves. That’s the way to be relevant in our industry.

If you’ve stayed till the very end of this blog post, and find yourself in the similar spot like the student I was talking about – feel free to ping me on Twitter. I am always up for a quick chat and help wherever I can.

My Experience – AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder Exam

If there’s something that brings me back memories of the good-old college days, it is definitely not the exams. From my school days, I do not have a good record of performing well in the exams and that record has extended all the way until the last exam I gave, 8 years back.


My Journey into the Voice First World

Every now and then, I get questions about opportunities in the Voice First space, and if they can make a career out of it. I thought it would be a good idea to detail my journey so far into the voice first world and the opportunities I came across, to give a broad answer to the questions I get.


Switching off the lights

Earlier this year, Animesh and I, took the tough decision to stop QICE & Learnflow – the companies that both of us started 5 years back. I write this post as a sort of timeline, on how we went from starting up our company to winding it up a few months back. I also plan to write about the lessons learned from all this.


Securing your WordPress Site – Wordcamp 2017

As a developer, I have in the past spoken in front of College Students and undertook Corporate training programs – but my first talk at a conference was quite an experience. Having set up multiple WordPress sites over the years for my clients, and having some of them hacked – I decided to speak about common security measures.


Geeking out at Wordcamp Nagpur – 2017

I was recently at the first WordCamp Nagpur – 2017 as a speaker, speaking on “Securing your WordPress Sites”. While Nagpur has had little tech events and community meet ups, this was one of the biggest tech events to happen in Nagpur’s tech scene for a while.


Easier Webhook Testing with ngrok

Picture this scenario :

You have built a web app that has webhooks from other service. But everytime you want to test it out, you have to deploy your app, and keep a look out on your logs as the request trickles in. 


You are working with a mobile developer in-house, and you both want to test an API. You deploy the app, even if it is a minute change and then wait to see if all works properly. 


When CURL fails

Every once in a while, as a programmer, you seemingly come upon a problem that flummoxes you, irritates you and takes you through a wide array of emotions – and in the end when you solve it, makes you look back and think, why did this issue even take so much time to fix.


Homo Deus : A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Buy on Amazon

“Having reduced mortality from starvation, disease and violence, we will now aim to overcome old age and even death itself. Having saved people from abject misery, we will now aim to make them positively happy. And having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.”

Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus is a book that doesn’t shy of making bold predictions about the future of humanity. Harari captures in detail what an apocalyptic future might look like centuries or even decades from now.