The last seven months have been a weird time.
I started off the year with the knowledge that the startup I worked for was running out of money. This was not huge in itself as most startups are defined by their time to live, or their "runway." It did mean that most of the team got dropped before the next major version of our iPhone application hit the store. The new API went in the bin and the iPhone codebase went with it.
The plan was to stop flogging the dead horse, create a new idea, mock up or build an MVP and try to seek further funding to create that idea.
Many people would have just jumped ship at that point. I had invested a huge amount of time and effort into this company, and I wanted my riches. Realistically, I wanted my O-1 visa which the company had decided to apply for. The O-1 is the hardest visa to get for working in the USA, and has a great name to boot: "Alien of Extraordinary Ability."
Most folks get a H-1B working visa, but the selection process had changed that year. It went from first-come first-serve, to a lottery. That unfortunately meant the process could take years, instead of months. It would leave me stuck in England, away from my girlfriend and my friends. It is rather difficult to accept a change like that after I have spent two years making a brand new life here in New York. It made me stick around when a more logical choice would have been to go home.
Ironically since drafting this article a few days ago my girlfriend and I have split up.
Some new ideas happened at Kapture. We spent some time fleshing them out, I worked on some prototypes and built some kinda cool stuff, but in the end I was back in the UK. While I was there I was freelancing, waiting on a "We'll let you know when we come up with a new idea for you to build." from the company. I figured I would just focus on getting my visa sorted out, have a little holiday and we could get back to work when I returned to the States.
I worked my ass off to get this O-1 visa. I was so fucking excited, ecstatic and grateful to get it too. Not only did it mean that the US government thought I was "extraordinary," but the support from the PHP community was amazing.
The PHP community proven itself capable of great things. Everyone that replied to this tweet helped believe it or not. I had so many people say they had used and benefited from my code that we actually supplied the replies as evidence. The support also came in the form of letters of recommendation, emails, introductions to people.
These names stuck out, and everyone on the list will be getting a bottle of something through the mail when I'm not financially crippled.
Wrote an email explaining how many hours of development time my various bits of code save him per week. Immigration people like provable numbers and stats, and proving I have saved people time or money is a good quality to have.
Anthony wrote a great letter of recommendation at short notice and even picked up the whiskey tab while we worked on it. Star.
As Managing Editor of PHP for SitePoint, Bruno was able to say a few positive things about PHP The Right Way. He reviewed the book a while ago and spoke of that, and talked about my contributions towards PSR-4 and the FIG in general. This helped a great deal.
Cal was able to confirm my position on the FIG, and said I was doing good stuff helping out there. They liked that.
Another letter of recommendation saying he's seen my name pop up a few times on the articles hes posting recently. Chris was amazing here as my lawyers played the back and forth game about 10 times, even needing a 2nd letter for some damn reason.
Chris let immigration people know that Apple had been using my CodeIgniter Rest-Server and a few other bits and bobs for a while. Super handy.
After tweet-panicking about needing more evidence, Jamie wrote a letter from Rackspace. He explained why and how Rackspace was a big awesome company, and had been using a bunch of my code internally. That one came out of the blue, and was so useful!
Jamie wrote an email explaining that my CodeIgniter libraries and PyroCMS had saved thousands of British pounds in development costs.
Josh wrote a great letter explaining that I had been a big help to him getting PHP The Right Way, making "substantive additions." This ticked a few criteria about influencing my peers or something.
Mark wrote a letter saying I'd helped his startup Blooie at an early start. Cheers fella!
Michael wrote an awesome letter saying that they use many FIG standards at Amazon Web Services, and will be using PSR-4 soon. This in turn helped me because it showed support for something I had involved with. Tenuous, but amazingly helpful.
Ryan Beck & Steven Wade
Ryan has helped me out massively twice now. His company Fueled gave me a huge chunk of sponsorship money (over $1k) for a charity bike ride back in 2013. I went out to do some free consulting for them. Now, they've written me a letter saying how helpful that consulting was to them, and wrote a bunch of nice stuff to try and convince immigration to let me stay in the country. Being ex-military was useful too.
Steven made all that possible by putting us in touch and chasing Ryan to get the sponsorship and letter sorted. Absolute champs both of them.
Ryan runs a company called AI Web Systems, which has just acquired PyroCMS. They use PyroCMS after ditching all other CMS' and have been contributing for years. Ryan wrote about how useful that product has been for them, again saving X amount of time and money every Y.
Jerel wrote a great letter saying how he had been working with a local county on their emergency dispatch systems. As previous owner of PyroCMS LLC he explained again how useful PyroCMS had been to him over the years and how he has used it to make a living.
I only worked for Jim at Deep Blue Sky for three months, but since then he has spent more time than that writing me letters of recommendation. Sorry boss. One day I'll work my life out and I can stop pestering you. Beers again soon.
I "had to" get Jordi to look into his stats for Packagist and tell me how many Composer packages use PSR-0. This let us say that a certain % of all PHP packages used the old autoloading standard and would more than likely upgrade to use PSR-4. The answer was about 16k out of 21k, but how fucking tenuous is that?
Apparently it really helped.
A Kapture investor who works for Facebook. Another reason to stick with Kapture, as having a big name at Facebook support my visa helped.
Short but sweet email saying every product he's built over the last few years has had a bunch of my code and saved them a bunch of time. Thank you!
I met Zach through Kapture people but we'd known each other on the internets for ages. He wrote about how I had helped out with CodeIgniter and gave some stats about FuelPHP and PyroCMS downloads and usages. He has had some great success in the New York startup world and explained about what he had done.
"Big whoop, so they wrote a letter."
Each of these letters required approval from my visa lawyer, who knew exactly what immigration wanted to see. This led to a fair bit of back and forth with everyone, as not a single first draft got accepted. It was heart-breaking for me to have to pester these legends with my own personal bullshit, but luckily everyone was cool with it.
So that was that. I got my visa, I got into the States, and before I could even finish my catchup drinks with various friends guess what?
Kapture has gone bees-wax. It is an ex-startup.
Ok, well I can just transfer this visa to a new company, right?
Unlike a H-1B which is transferrable, a change of employer under an O-1 requires a brand new petition. That means literally starting again with the O-1 process, which last time was like a part-time job for 6 months.
I made quite a large and stupid assumption, and it is one of the factors that right now are contributing to this fucked situation. If I had known they were not transferable I would have just said "fuck it" and jumped ship on Kapture back in bloody January.
I have a few things to focus on.
A new visa
Trying to find a visa lawyer who will let me pay in installments, because I don't have $8k tucked in my ass.
Made In Production
The t-shirt empire needs to expand. We need more shirts, womens shirts, a new website and a new fulfillment solution. It started as a bit of a silly experiment but I believe it could be a real business.
Build APIs You Won't Hate
I need to get a proper site up and get a print version of the book out. The royalties from LeanPub have been covering my rent for the last few months, and without it I have no idea what I would have done.
I'm going to sell everything I own pretty much. If I stay here I'm going to get a smaller apartment, because I can't know where I will be. Paying over $2k a month for an apartment you are not in is devastating.
I have a conference coming up in Spain at the end of the month. I've nearly cancelled it a few times because I am not sure if I can even get back into the US afterwards, but I refuse to let the organizers down. I'll cross the re-entry bridge when I come to it.
One day, this visa drama will be over. And when I have my new, valid, O-1 visa I will get Dayle to hold it up for his new Tumblr. One day I will be vaguely in control of my life and not have it held on a thread by whoever happens to control my visa.
I am trying to avoid panicking my way straight into a 9-5 job that I'll regret taking, and I am trying to avoid slinking back to the UK, where I was depressed for years. New York makes me happy strangely enough, and my new friends are amazing. They even let me come over at 6am when I wake up in Queens after falling asleep on the train, let me sleep a bit then take me out for coffee and bacon. And more beer.
On that note, I'm going to meet a few of them now and teach them all about my new thing: Tequila spiked Cider.
Give that shit it a try when you don't have anything else to do for a while.