It's been more than a month since I've written anything here, but it's with good reason. This past January 28, I started working in New York City - with Ruby on Rails, nonetheless! I'm really, really excited for this new opportunity, since I spent at more than half of 2007 trying my luck to land something outside of Puerto Rico. While I am a bit sad having to leave all my family and friends behind, they understand how much I wanted this and fully support me. I'm just happy I'll be able to showcase my skills here in the United States, where undoubtedly I'll have much more opportunities to do everything I wanted to do.
I wanted to write this post, in case someone lives outside the U.S. and is looking for a job here for whatever reason - like looking for more money, looking to work with some specific technology, etc. Trying to land a job outside of your native country is really difficult, as I personally found out these past months. Here are a few pointers that you can use as a guideline if you're in the same boat as I was.
Have a strong desire to move and be away from family and friends
This doesn't have anything to do with programming or anything related. But this is a major hurdle you'll need to clear before even thinking about anything else. I know a lot of people in Puerto Rico who wish they could go to the U.S., yet when I ask them why they haven't planned it, they say they can't (or don't want) to leave their families behind, or maybe they don't have the cash to plan something, or some other issue. While I understand them, though I can't relate to them (I'm single, never been married, no kids), I truly think that if they really want something, they can achieve it, no matter what. There should be no types of excuses at all if they want to move. When there's a will, there's a way.
Also, make sure you let any prospective employers know about your desire to move, most likely on your expense. I have a feeling I was overlooked by some employers because I lived so far away. Also, it seemed like a lot of people thought Puerto Rico is a Third World Country on the other side of the globe, possibly millions of miles away from the U.S. I even had one prospective employer E-Mail me saying that they liked my resumé, yet before interviewing me, they wanted to know if I had a valid passport to enter the U.S., along with a work visa. For those who don't know anything about Puerto Rico: we're a U.S. Possession, meaning that we are American citizens. We don't need passports to enter the country, nor work visas to be employed here. So make sure the people you're sending your resume to know that.
Don't have your sights set on one place only
When I first took my decision to move to the United States seriously (at New Year's Eve last year), my heart was set on California, specifically San Francisco. I wanted to go there because it seems like all the tech companies are stationed there, or at least the ones using the "coolest" technology (well, at least cool to me). I did get a couple of phone interviews with some companies, but nothing ever came out of it. It's when I started to send resumes all over the U.S. where I got even more responses, until I landed my current job in New York. It turned out to be even better, because after I got the job, my cousin called me to let me know there was a spare room in his house in the Bronx, which is where I'm at until I get my own place. I have absolutely no family in California, which meant that if I got a job there and my employers didn't help with the relocation costs, I would be looking at getting a hefty loan just to fly out there and find a place to live. In short, look everywhere you can, everything will sort itself out in the long haul.
Make yourself known
In this world of Open Source, it's relatively easy to join up on a project and help out. There are even some projects that are on the death bed, since the original author doesn't have time to continue working on it. So this is a great way to achieve many things at once, like getting more practice in a particular technology, and helping out with the Open Source movement. This is an excellent way to have your code out in public, where prospective employers can check your skills out first hand.
Granted, I didn't actually do this, as I didn't have much time to hack away at some project at the time. But I did try to make myself known with other tactics. Blogging, for example, is ridiculously easy to do. You can write articles about what you know about programming, showcase your writing skills (which I think is very important, but more on that some other day) and even allow a glimpse of your personality, all in one swift move. I really recommend employers looking for new talent to check if they carry a blog, if you don't do so already. Of course, this shouldn't be the only thing to taken into consideration when hiring, but it can tell you a lot about a possible future employee before even talking to them personally.
Another thing I did was try to make my own web application. Unfortunately, I haven't finished it yet. It's more than half-way through. But I had to stop once I got my current job and had to prepare for the big move from the small island to the big city. But returning to the subject, creating an application using your desired programming language for, no matter if it's freeware or some type of paid service, will definitely give you an edge over others who don't take the time outside of their job to do such a thing.
Don't think twice, and have fun!
As with every drastic change in your life, it's perfectly normal to be freaked out at getting into brand-new things. But as I mentioned above, you need to have a strong desire to do this. I think it's also normal to question yourself from time to time, but if it's a constant preoccupation in your mind, then simply don't try to get a job outside your country until you come to grips with it. I was nervous when I arrive to New York. I just kept thinking on the plane "How will my life be over there?", "Will I like the city?" or even "Will I be happy at my job?" But in the three weeks I've been here, I'm happy to say that my life has been great so far, I love New York City and I couldn't be happier working with a cool technology with some very nice people. It's been a blast up until now, and I have absolutely no regrets at all.
So this definitely is not a complete list of things your should consider if you want to move to the United States. But these are things that I had to work with myself, and I hope someone could benefit at least a tiny bit by them. So best of luck to any and all of you who want to make the "big jump" like me!