Ajoy Kumar Singha

It has been almost a month my L1B visa application was rejected. I want to share my experience and feedback on the whole visa application and approval system.

Application Process: Since mine was a L1B visa, my organization scheduled the interview after I filled the online application. The application fee includes two parts – one a demand draft of Rs. 23500/-  ($500) and another demand draft of Rs. 105700/- ($2250). The fee was paid by my organization.

Interview Day: You will see a huge gathering outside the consulate. The security guards will try to drive you out if you reach earlier than your appointment time. At the check point you will need to switch off your mobile phone and submit the security personnel. You will be issued a token number. The first thing they will check is supporting documents for your visa application. Expect few questions on name change, organization name etc. The interviewers at this point will most like be an Indian.
After this you submit the fee at a different counter. Once fee is collected you will be directed to finger scanning section. All the ten fingers are scanned in a scanning device. Here US consulate does not trust any Indians. So the person who will supervise the scanning activity will be an US citizen.
One thing I noticed about those interview windows is that there is glass separator between interviewer and interviewee. The mic and speaker system they have installed to facilitate communication between the interviewer and interviewee is of not very good quality. In a standalone isolated place the system would have worked well but with 100s people standing and seating (and talking) just 5 meter behind you makes the sound of the interviewer less audible. I simply call this #FAIL in twitter slang.
Once your token number flashes in a window you go to that window and submit your passport and supporting document. The interviewer will ask you a range of questions (for L1B visa) like how long you have been with your organization, what is the team size, who is your client, what does your client do, what is your role in the current project and the most important question are what is the special skill that you have and what you will be doing in your client location.
I have been told that I should prepare answers for those above questions and specially the last two questions. Let me explain why these two questions are important.

Question: What special skills do you have?
Why is this question asked: L1B visa is a special kind of visa given to specialized skill professionals. The skills those are not available easily in the US market. So if you are applying for L1B visa you should have special skills that no one in your organization has and the skill that is rarely available in US (at least US consulate think so).
How do companies ask you to prepare for this question: They will ask you to mention the tools and utilities such as “company proprietary tools”, non-existent technologies and virtual roles that you perform.

Question: What will be your roles in client location?
Why is this question asked: They want to see if you are going to do something that cannot be done by the client employees or any US citizen there. If you are going to do very generic roles such as requirement gathering, onsite offshore coordination work then they will not be convinced.
How do companies ask you to prepare for this question: You should mention something that is unique (or at least sounds unique) while answering for this question. Tell them that you are the only person who knows about that tool and nobody in the earth have that skill. So your role is unique.
If you can manage to bluff these two questions you are likely to be granted an L1B visa. If not, they will ask you to apply again for individual category visas. If you are rejected they will keep the visa application fee.

Few observations that I made during my interview process - 
  1. The glass partition at the visa window is bad. The interviewer’s voice is not properly audible to the candidate. They can arrange a head phone with mic instead of cheap speaker system.
  2. There is not enough sitting space for candidates. People standing and haphazardly standing behind the candidates make the interviewer’s voice less audible.
  3. The interviewer is not technically qualified to judge every candidate’s “special skills”. Even if candidate bluffs about a tool called “ASFT” they will not able to able to catch that. (Purely my opinion and the ASFT mean Ajoy Singha Fake Tool).
  4. Visa rejection rate is higher than 90% for L1B these days. Two years back it was not so. I do not remember to have met anyone whose L1B was rejected from my organization during 2006 to 2009. But today I am eager to meet someone whose visa was granted.
  5. High visa fee. US consulate is making big money by rejecting enough number of visas. This helps them fight against Osama and Saddam. Do you want to pay that huge amount for getting rejected?
  6. Why do we require unique skills and tools to convince you? There are enough software projects where a common tool can be used to do unique work. Every software requirement is unique and those can be achieved by common tools. It is the human brain that helps it created. So tool cannot be unique always.
  7. It is almost impossible to convince you about my project and special skill in a 3 minute interview (unless I am Rajanikanth or Digvijay Singh). You cannot judge me whether I have special skill or I am a plain chap with those two questions.
  8. If every Indian applying visa could have been replaced by an American, you would not have allowed outsourcing. We are cheap, disciplined, committed and highly skilled than the billing rate that our organization charges you. That’s why you do or allow outsourcing.
  9. So you think Indian L1B applicants have suddenly become less specialized in their skills in last two years compared to 2006-2009? I can cite numerous people who cannot write a good email in English, who have been granted the same L1B visa during those 3 years. And now you are rejecting every possible application. Can you publish a data how many L1Bs were rejected in last one year/month/day?
  10. You may tell me most of the software work can be done from offshore as we have high speed internet, applications to collaborate real time, video and voice chat, remote infrastructure access etc. Plus we are committed enough to wait for your morning (our mid night) status meeting call. So even without physically being present in the US land we can achieve almost anything in a software project. I have just one question – why was Obama required to be in India when he could have just done a video conferencing with the people he wanted to talk and video recorded the placed he wanted to visit?
I am not writing this post because my visa was rejected. I have many collaborative works to do in India and I am part of many initiatives in Indian software testing domain. Many testers were happy that I am not leaving India. If I had left India, many of my work like my weekend classes, Testing Circus magazine, Testers Monthly Meet (in India) would have hampered. My visa rejection was blessings in disguise. But I feel the whole process of visa application and selection mechanism is wrong. US authorities are doing atrocities that they do everywhere. Let me tell you - Indians are not dogs. We are not beggars. Think about a situation where all Indians working in the US returns back to India and India stops outsourcing business. Will US be able to survive? We are major consumers of US based products ranging from Microsoft Windows 7, Hardware processors, to Cola Cola and Pepsi. If you do not respect Indians, time will come where Indians will produce their own products and US based companies will have hard time saving their ass. Learn lessons from China. So treat us techies as human beings.

End Note - my Indian readers, please feel patriotic and my US friends, please throw tomatoes, chappals and eggs on me in the form of comments. 

Update - US Embassy issued a 3 year H1 Visa to my and my family members. - June/2012
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Ajoy Kumar Singha
I have been planning this post for a long time. For those who do not know – I teach software testing on weekends. I have reserved a room at my home for training purpose. In the beginning of 2009, I met a guy online. He was looking for training institute in Delhi. He was fresh out of B.Tech College and was interested in software testing. He asked me if I could suggest a good institute in Delhi. I knew lots of institutes which trained people on software testing. I suggested few institutes near his locality. After few days, he contracted me back and informed that one particular institute was asking for Rs. 40,000/- for a three months training. I enquired about the course content and found that it was nothing but some theory classes with session on 2-3 branded automation tools. I offered to teach him the same content free of cost and he would pay me only Rs. 3000/- when he landed in a testing job. That’s how he became my first student. He is now working in a reputed organization and performing very well there. I did not take any fee from him because that’s how I started teaching software testing on weekends.

There are 100s of institutes in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida offering software testing. I do not mind more institutes offering software testing or any other courses. But I want to highlight few basic problems that these institutes have –

1. Trainers – The trainers teaching software testing in these institutes are less experienced or have never tested software in real life. It is also unlikely that they left their full time software testing job and started teaching. I sometimes doubt that they are teaching in institutes because they are not able to clear software testing interviews to get into a full time testing job. How much do you expect to learn from these guys?

2. High Fee – The fee charged by these institutes are very high compared the quality of training they provide to the trainees. Remember the fee includes their high advertisement cost, air conditioned class rooms, and salary for that good looking receptionist at the front desk.

3. Quality of Content – I really don’t want to comment on this. What they (most of them) teach is few definition based/theoretical concepts and few lectures on record and playback features of branded automation tools. They never put trainees on actual projects or ask them to do hands on testing. How will student learn to test actual software if they do not get any real project to work on?

4. Fake Experience Certificate – I can bet most of the training institutes that I know provides fake experience certificates to their students with few extra thousand rupees. They help background verification process; provide appointment letters, visiting cards, fake official email id, salary slips and even identity cards. The training institutes are not entirely responsible for this. This process of faking experience is also fuelled by bad hiring methods that we have in our industry. Some how these institutes are polluting our testing community by providing fake experience certificates to badly trained software testers.

5. Placement Assurance (Assistance) – Few institutes claim to provide 100% guarantee (or in a legally correct nomenclature 100% placement assurance). LOL. No institutes in this world can guarantee 100% placements for their students. How come these institutes are promising 100% placement assurance? Do not believe in their fake promise.

Then how is my class different from other institutes?

1. We are a group of testers who are working in organizations, doing testing from the day we joined those organizations. We are testers by choice. We attend testing conferences and interact with lots of testers and try to learn from them. We have tested various software, applications and products. We write blogs and follow other testers’ blogs. We are the people behind a monthly software testing magazine called Testing Circus. We have a full time testing jobs and if we want to change jobs we believe it will not be a tough job for us. We are fully committed to our Monday to Friday jobs and we teach only on Weekends.

2. Our fee is nominal and we even teach for free. We do not have decorated class rooms and air conditions. We have our laptops and a white board and lots of hands on exercise for you to practice. No receptionist and no sign boards. Our classes are in drawing rooms/basements of abandoned shops etc.

3. Content is mostly practical oriented. Less definitions, more hands on exercise. Practical projects and bug hunting sessions. We encourage our students to join Weekend Testing and uTest.com etc. As a bonus we also train students to improve communications skills – both verbal and non-verbal. We have trained students, who once attended other institutes with huge course fee and did not find satisfactory learning, joined our training. They are now placed in India’s top 5 software services companies.

4. A big NO to fake experience certificate. We do not and we cannot provide any document which may prove that our students are experienced in testing. We do not provide even course completion certificate. However, we ask students to mention in their resumes that they have learnt testing from us.

5. We do not promise 100% placement. It is entirely the responsibility of students to hunt for a job. We do inform students where vacancy exists and where they should or should not apply (yes, there are few companies where do not want our students to work). Fortunately or because of our teaching style, most of our students get placed before they even finish their course. Few organizations even contact us if we have students ready who can work for their organizations. I am not lying.

I have emphasized this earlier also. We, the experienced testers, should start teaching students. There is huge demand for testing trainings. The fake teachers and fake institutes are spoiling this market. They are helping injecting more fake testers into testing industry. We must stop this.

Teaching testing along with your full time job means screwing your weekends. If you are reading this blog, the chances are that you might be the one who can spend an hour in weekend for teaching. The fake teachers in fake institutes anyway do not read blogs.

Ajoy Kumar Singha
I have been planning this post for a long time. Moolya Testing has given me the boost to write this now.

Do I want to win the T-shirt offered by Pradeep, Santhosh and the team? Yes, anything from a great startup with great people and great ethical values would an award worth winning.

So I must share something for which I did not get recognized from my organization. I have many. Randomly chosen 3 stories.

Story 1 – November 2006.

I had just joined my new company then. We were testing an enterprise content management product. That product is a platform independent product of a top listed IT company in the world. Whole lots of patch releases and lots of regression cycle were going on in various application server and operating system combinations. I was just learning the product and how to run the product in UNIX systems and J2EE based application servers. I must say we had around 105 platform (OS vs App server) combinations to test. The product was also using a legacy system as storage engine for enterprise contents.

If you remember starting summer of 2007 US government changed the daylight saving time (DST). From 1987 to 2006, daylight saving time in the United States began on the first Sunday of April and ended on the last Sunday of October. The time is adjusted at 2:00 AM (0200) local time.

Since 2007, daylight saving time starts on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November, with all time changes taking place at 2:00 AM (0200) local time. DST implementation varies from region to region. This means all the computers running with US region configuration had to adjust 3 weeks. Operating systems were pre-programmed to adjust old US DST system. Also application servers, Java Virtual Machines, Legacy systems all had to release their patch/service pack to implement the new DST system.

In our product we had a feature with which we could add annotations to the documents. This is a time sensitive feature. Whenever someone annotates a document it captures the timestamp. So in a workflow application where there are SLAs defined at minutes, these timestamps are very important. So introduction of new DST system with 3 weeks of adjustment would potentially cause problem to our timestamp feature. At the end of 2006, just before 2 months from the implementation of new system, my product development team was very sure that since it was the responsibility of OS, App server, JVM and legacy system vendors to update the systems to fix this problem we had nothing to do and no code changes and hence no testing would be required.

We were carrying a risk of not testing anything for DST. I did some R&D by downloading the available patches and setting the clock forward to 2nd Sunday of March 2007 and looking at the changes. I bumped into some problem during the experiment. I reported this to our product manager. He discussed the things again with development guys but I failed to convince them again. Needless to say I was the only tester in the whole product team with 8 developers. I was new to the team and they are sounding more technically advanced than me at that point of time.

In next one week, I sat late in office trying to set up a small test lab – where all the machines had software with DST patch updates. I deployed our product and set up a small work flow with in the application. I advanced the system dates to 2nd Sunday of March 2007 and reproduced the problem. I captured this information in details. Then I took help of a developer friend from our ODC, not from my dev team to look into the code of the product (I am a no-coding guy). He took 3 nights to come up with the solution. He made a one line code change and we rebuild the product. I deployed the new build in the test lab and tried to reproduce the problem. No I could not find the problem. That means the problem was in the code itself not with patches.

Next morning, I sent out a detailed email mentioning what I found and what code changes we made. I was scolded for sharing the code information with other team’s member. They never recognized the problem I was trying to capture. Later the development manager took 2 months billing for 3 resources from the client sent the patch with my code change. Officially I never got recognition for this story. But I am happy that I saved the organization from some embarrassments that may have happened if I had not rebuilt the product.

Story 2 – August 2010.

I wanted to initiate and take care of a very popular event in software testing. Actually I wanted to head the NCR chapter of that community. I had no direct contact with the founders. I was talking to somebody who was in NCR that time. I asked him with my proposal and he seemed to agree. I was expecting a reply from the founders but I never got to hear from anyone. I was very frustrated because my repeat emails were not answered. One night I decided that I will do something that would one day surpass the popularity of that event. That was how Testing Circus was born in the mid night of 14th/15th August – the independence day of India.

I have been publishing this magazine from last September onwards. I have received many positive and negative feedbacks for my work and effort. I started a truly Indian magazine dedicated on Software Testing. The magazine is aimed at educating professionals at basic levels. That’s why you would not see many pedantic subjects and you would find features like test case writing, QTP code corner etc. Interview with tester is aimed at encouraging new testers to get advice and future trends in testing. I also wanted to let learning testers know who all are there in twitter who are well known in testing domain. This I assume would help networking with other testers and mentors. I have always tried to balance articles from expert people plus encouraged a newbie to write something for my magazine. This is how I wanted to cultivate and encourage new people to write even though it means rewriting the whole article by me and asking him to learn from that and do the same thing again.

How do I collect articles from experts? Few people have always supported me by giving articles and giving permission to print their interviews. I try to write to experts to give articles for the magazine and I have been doing it constantly. I just do not want to copy something from their blogs and re-print the same in Testing Circus. Sometimes people respond, sometimes not.

How do I manage time between my full time job as a project lead and weekend training sessions at my testing coaching class as you might know I teach testing on weekends at my drawing room? Mostly I work at nights for Testing Circus; not hampering my job at office. That means I sleep few hours less than average IT professionals of my age.

What am I getting? No monetary benefit. No Google ads. No paid ads. I am getting few positive and lots of feedbacks that say I should improve. Also my organization never seems to care about my initiative and it has never given me any impact on my appraisals. But I am happy.

Story 3 – November 2010.

We knew one another and have been talking over phone and twitter but we never met or all planned meeting actually never happened because of some reasons or others. But SoftTech Software Testing conference on 13th November in New Delhi actually helped us meet physically for the first time. There we hatched a plan – to have regular testers meet in NCR Region on a monthly basis and of course a free event for test enthusiasts. Today we proudly call NCR Testers Meet (NCRTMM) as our brain child. Two Vipuls (Vipul Kocher and Vipul Gupta) and I cultivated the ground for free testers meet in NCR and we started the journey on 18th December in Noida. Today we are four meets old and we have 410 registered members. We are planning for a full day conference in April in Noida to be attended by speakers from all over India. Thanks to our venue and food sponsors. We are actively supported by Indian Testing Board. We have plans to open a Software Testing Book Library in every city monitored by us. The concept of NCR Testers Monthly Meet is replicated in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. Wao! – I am loving it.

My organization hardly knows about this initiative. Even we officially tried to convince the point-of-contacts to sponsor the venue for our meet; we never got any positive reply. But I am happy again.

Sometimes you do not do things to get recognition from your organizations. I believe many such stories exist in Indian Testing Story Book. It is our passions that drive us to do new things, experiment with newer ideas. If I am doing some good work in Indian Testing Domain then it is because of advice, criticism, encouragement and support that I received from few people. I will name those people in a different post.

If I win a T-shirt from Moolya Testing, then I plan to give away that to another passionate tester in the April NCRTMM Conference happening in Noida.

If you have similar stories, share that in http://moolya.com/blog/2011/03/14/10-t-shirt-giveaways-from-moolya/ You might win a T-shirt too.

NOTE - I won the competition and they gave me Two T-shirts actually, instead of one. :)