This Company Had A Stirring Response To Their Nigerian Employee Being Held At The Airport

They made him take a coding exam to prove he was a software engineer.

Over the weekend, a Nigerian software engineer was held at John F. Kennedy International Airport upon his return from a business trip, after a grueling 23-hour flight from Lagos. Immigration officials reportedly told Celeste Omin that he didn't look like a software engineer, and made him take a coding exam to prove that he was. 

"I was just asked to balance a Binary Search Tree by JFK's airport immigration," Omin wrote on Twitter. "Welcome to America." Omin's experience was met with outrage and disbelief on social media, and thousands shared his tweet. 

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On Friday, Omin's company, Andela — which connects developers from all around the world, including Africa, with global tech employers — spoke up about the incident. Andela's co-founder and CEO Jeremy Johnson penned an open letter on LinkedIn titled "What An Engineer Looks Like" that urged America's leaders to recognize and embrace the talent that comes from every corner of the world. The letter was also signed by COO and co-founder Christina Sass.

Johnson wrote of the robust labor force in African countries, and how their growth can help make up for America's "lack of technical talent." Celestine, he wrote, was not seeking to immigrate to the U.S.; his life and family remain at home in Lagos. 

"American companies are fortunate to have the opportunity to convince people like Celestine, of whom there are far too few in the world, to work with them from afar," Johnson continued. "If anything, they need much more of them if they intend to overcome the deficit in engineering talent."

Johnson called for people to dispel their preconceived notions of where talent comes from. 

"If leaders in this country — from established CEOs, to newly minted founders, to government officials — don't embrace the fact that talent is not based on what you look like or where you are from, as the tech sector so fervently has, we will be left behind. Celestine, who followed all the rules, deserved better. If we want to maintain our position in the world or, better yet, enhance it, we need to do better," Johnson wrote. 

"The smartest tech leaders today understand that talent is evenly distributed, and that tomorrow's 10x engineers will not just be young men in hoodies coding into the night on Ivy League campuses. The technologists of tomorrow will be every race, gender and religion, and they will hail from every corner of the globe — from Silicon Valley to Sub Saharan Africa."

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