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Nigerian Software Engineer Detained at JFK Airport

Trump Administration is involved in several controversies ever since the new President took the oath. Celestine Omin, a software engineer detained at JFK airport. He came up with one of the most unusual places to get his engineering capabilities tested. To many, after the Trump ban on Muslim countries, this comes as a follow-up.

Software Engineer Detained at JFK Airport belonged to Nigeria

Software Engineer in AJK AirportIt was the fateful day of Feb 26th, 2017, when Celestine Omin got entangled in an uncalled for clarification. The software engineer detained at JFK was visiting the US for the first time. He had been working for the last six months with Andela, a company responsible for connecting top African talent with top IT employers in the US.

Once he landed at the JFK Airport, he waited for 20 minutes before reaching the front line to have his first encounter with a US Customs and Border Protection officer. The officer asked him a string of questions. Omin suddenly realized that getting into the US was in itself a great challenge.

After questioning the Nigerian software engineer for a few minutes, the US Customs and Border Protection officer escorted Omin into a small room. One more hour passed after which another Customs officer showed up. The new officer asked Omin that his visa said he was a software engineer and if that was correct to which Omin nodded yes.

Once this new officer confirmed Omin was indeed a software engineer, he gave him a piece of paper to answer the following questions.

“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”

“What is an abstract class, and why do you need it.”

Omin, who had been traveling for the last 24 hours, seemed baffled as he thought these questions could have multiple answers. Omin said that he thought the officer, who had no relation to the IT industry, just Googled up “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

Omin, tired and flabbergasted by the behavior of US Customs and Border Protection officer, tried his best to answer the questions and handed them back the paper in 10 minutes. The officer who asked the questions suddenly declared his answers were wrong. Omin said that every time he asked the officer why he asked him these questions, the officer hushed him up. He said had he known about this, he would have prepared better.

Omin believes the answers he gave to questions posed by the Customs and Border officer were technically correct, but he was not able to understand them. By this time, Omin, already disappointed at his chance of working in the US, was already planning to go back to Nigeria when the officer suddenly let him go without giving any reason.

Here is what the officer said to Omin.

“Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me.”

Omin later came to know that Customs officials also called his employer to find out more about him. The Co-Founder and CEO of Andela, Jeremy Johnson received the call and defended Omin.

“We seek to play by the rules, but we can’t respond to rules that are ad hoc. We want to make sure that our team members around the world know what to prepare for and don’t get unnecessarily hassled for their work”.

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