Mikaela Reyes
Mikaela Reyes

From Near Deportation to LinkedIn PM

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Last week, I changed my job status on LinkedIn to “Product Manager at LinkedIn” (And yes, it gets even more meta as I shall be posting the link to this on LinkedIn). It’s only been 3 weeks and I am already so happy to be in a company with a mission and values I strongly align with.

What this change of status completely misses out on, however, is the anxiety-inducing, soul crushing, & emotionally fluctuating period I faced 3 months prior.

Oh, it’s a story. Let me tell ya.

I was facing imminent deportation…

Around the end of June, I was pretty sure I was getting deported. I didn’t receive the H1B visa lottery, and so had no choice but to get booted.

At this point, I was pretty okay (and actually quite excited!) to leave – I had job prospects in countries where visas weren’t going to be an issue and could also live much closer to family.

Until a tiny detail changed everything…

But, I started to hear rumors that my major at Wesleyan was now considered STEM, meaning I could extend my working visa for another 2 years.

So I thought about staying for a while longer…

An existential crisis, a very extra pros and cons list & a bajillion phone calls later, I decided I would file for the extension.

If I were optimizing for growth & impact in my early tech career, the Bay Area was the place to be. I still had so much to learn, and the next foreseeable time I was going to be given the opportunity to be here was if I could justify spending $100,000+ towards a master’s degree. That’s a lot of 0s.

But something was amiss.

I started filing the documents with my company. I had to write & send all my documents before the approaching deadline, which was coming up in a month.

A week after we started the process, however, we found out my company was not E-verified, a hard requirement for the visa extension.

It was 3 weeks before my deadline. To meet it, I had to find an eligible job in a week.

(If visa + job stress weren’t enough, I simultaneously had to move out of my current living space. It was a difficult July.)

Thankfully, some wonderful souls came to the rescue…

Luckily, a coding bootcamp I was part of the year prior had a spot open. They took me in, filed my visa docs and, hence, kept me in the country. I mailed my papers just 3 days before the deadline. Phew.

(One of my friends also saved my homeless butt by letting me bunk at his place for a month and a half. Forever indebted to you, bud!)

But the work was only beginning.

My staying in the US was not without risk. If for some reason the immigration officers thought I was unfit to stay, I could get kicked out in a snap. I also had a deadline for finding a more permanent job (after this temporary one) because I only had so few unemployment days to accumulate.

I still took the risk.

The next two and a half months were consumed with the soul crushing job hunt. I was caught in what I call “Early Career PM Limbo:”

  1. I was technically only one year out of a PM job, competing with more senior PMs;
  2. BUT I was also already one year out of a PM job, ineligible for associate-level programs geared towards new grads and with cycles starting way too late for my timeline.

I was at the lowest of lows…

Those two and a half months were crippling. To illustrate, here are some (un)quotable quotes out of my diary:

  • “I just want to be with my parents and curl up in a ball and cry.”
  • “Will everything be worth it? Will I even get a decent product job? Is it even worth it for me to stay in this country and experience even more of this anxiety?”
  • “When you feel relief that all the stress and anxiety is gone, but really, everything is just getting started… Sure I’ve mailed my visa docs and I feel a little more secure about some things… but I still have to apartment hunt + job hunt + fix my financials on a tight budget in an extremely expensive SF + wait wait wait for my visa extension to get approved.”
  • “Being here is so difficult.”
  • “My career is a mess and it’s only just begun. I’ve got no job. I’ve no sights set for the future. I’m leeching off a friend’s home. I’m hardly eating any food! I’m only getting rejections, even from interviews I feel really good about. I’ve nothing to look forward to. I’m slowly losing sight of what’s next.”

Dramatic, huh?

Until someone took a chance on me!

Buuuut, approximately 20 rejections, 52 mock interviews, an insane acne breakout, & some crying sessions later, I got a job! I am so grateful that someone (very awesome and great) took a chance on me.

Now I’m at a better place…

I’m 3 weeks into my new role as a PM at LinkedIn (& loving it!)

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We have a status meeting every week where I find myself in a room full of top execs and senior leaders. I am by far the youngest & most junior. While impostor syndrome constantly clouds my mind, I also like to think I worked my butt off & deserve to be in that room. (Yas, owning it).

I am extremely excited by the challenge, fueled by a powerful mission & eternally grateful to have been given this chance to provide economic opportunity for the global workforce.

And I’m extremely grateful.

There is a very long list of people to thank. Most grateful for:

  • Darwish & Abhi for employing me & for being THE prime reasons for my ability to stay in the country
  • Paul & Mike for generously letting me bunk at your guys’ place for more than a month
  • Dad!, Jacky, Mikel, Haenah, Paul for the monumental emotional support & push
  • Daniel & Reah, my favorite mock interview buddies!
  • Mitchell, Dhrumil, Amy & Rohan for helping me out with the LinkedIn process
  • Monica, my manager, for taking a chance on me! 🙂

A few more things I am grateful for as an onset of this job hunt:

  • The week I started at LinkedIn, 4 friends I was job hunting with and helping out also got PM job offers!
  • I met and got close to 3 new friends as we exchanged job hunt struggles.
  • Another company that gave me an offer MADE ME A VIDEO telling me how much they wanted me to be a part of their team! How humbling.
  • I joined the Female Founder Track of Dorm Room Fund. I would not have heard about this opportunity if I had not been searching for my next role.
  • I wrote a lil something to help others in their early career PM journey & received heartwarming messages from women saying how inspired they are by my story. My hope is that these ladies soon have inspiring stories of their own!

To seal the deal, last week, I finally received my visa card. I can now travel outside of the U.S. (see ya, Manila) & keep working for at least two more years without risk of deportation. Anxiety extinguished (for now)!

“It only adds to the story.”

As I was in the throes of all that mess, I kept telling myself it only adds to the story, Mika, it only adds to the story, a phrase a mentor offered me as I was once going through a very rough patch. If I’m being honest, I’ve been waiting to write this post because it would mean that 1) I was finally out of the soul crushing journey and; 2) I could justify my hardship with a story worth opening up about.

And yay, here it is! Some key things I hope to leave you, dear reader, with:

  1. Kudos to all those who faced and continue to face visa struggles. It’s SO tough. Whatever success you achieve, you are 10x more worthy of it because of the extra hard work you put in (and plethora of documents you had to deal with) compared to your peers. Own it.
  2. It was very easy for me to feel that everyone’s lives were so great and only mine was shitty because who likes to post about the shitty times? But here’s a gentle reminder that life is TOUGH and others are going through hard times too (probably even harder times!) Job status changes (and all other things social media, really) hide what’s really happening. Let’s never discount all the hard work and grit that happens behind the scenes.
  3. People are GREAT. Wow. This story is only worth sharing because of the generosity of a handful of angels. I am so thankful to all those who took on a chance on me (when they really had no reason to!) Thank you thank you thank you.

When things got REALLY tough, I always went back to my dad. He kept reminding me that I was luckier than 99% of the world – while I was struggling to find a job, others were struggling to find food and water, their lost families, a sense of safety – more pressing things that I was lucky to already have fulfilled. While I didn’t want to feel better about myself by thinking about the misery of the rest of the world (lol), I was reminded that I was working hard despite all this anxiety for a bigger mission – to reduce the struggle for others who may not have the same opportunities I’ve had. That helped me chug along.

I’m very lucky to be at a company that helps me fulfill my personal mission, in the role I was gunning for and with a team and organization I know I will grow immensely in. I cannot wait for what’s to come.

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