My, My Qualcomm (and Others?)

When I testified before the House in 1998 on H-1B, Qualcomm executive vice president of Human Resources Dan Sullivan happened to be sitting next to me at the witness table. I was a bit taken aback by his raw, gloves-off style. Ever since then I noticed that, among major tech firms, Qualcomm has generally been the one to make the fewest of the obligatory protestations, “Oh, we’d love to hire Americans instead of H-1Bs, but very few Americans are qualified.” So I read with interest this article in The Register  titled , “SEC: Qualcomm Hired Relatives of Chinese Officials to Seal Biz Deals.”

Here are some excerpts:

  • One official asked Qualcomm employees to find an internship for her daughter studying in the US and the company obliged, acknowledging in internal communications that her parents “gave us great help for Q.C. new business development.”
  • Qualcomm provided a $75,000 research grant to a US university on behalf of the son of a foreign official so he could retain his position in its PhD program and renew his student visa. Qualcomm also provided him an internship and later permanent employment, and sent him on a business trip to China (during which he visited his parents over the Chinese New Year) despite concerns expressed about his qualifications for the assignment.
  • The son’s initial interview for permanent employment resulted in a “no hire” decision because he was not “a skills match” and did not “meet the minimum requirements for moving forward with an offer.” Those who interviewed him agreed “he would be a drain on teams he would join.” A human resources director still advocated for the hire, writing, “I know this is a pain, but I think we’re operating under a different paradigm here than a normal ‘hire’/‘no hire’ decision tree. We’re telling this kid … we don’t want to waste time or extend any extra effort in this favor [the telecom company] has asked of Qualcomm, and then turn around and ask the same person we just rejected to do us a special favor.”

Well, this explains in part (though far from completely) why I’ve seen so many weak foreign students hired — and much better-qualified Americans passed over.

And those readers of this blog who are techies will recognize immediately the language in that third bullet, because they’ve been rejected so many times for jobs they are highly qualified for. Again, this is mainly due to the age issue and not to the Chinese “princelings” (太子黨), but I’m sure that my techie readers will appreciate the rich irony.

Actually, I now wonder about the earlier stage, gaining admission into U.S. universities in the first place. Maybe a lot of influential people are pulling strings there too, to get mediocre foreign students from third-tier schools back home into well-known U.S. institutions.

Plugging “Qualcomm engineer” into LinkedIn just now, I saw a number of odd transitions, such as one engineer who had gotten her bachelor’s degree at Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya (huh?) but somehow got into Cornell for her master’s. Could be that she was a genius standout at that Indian school, whose talent was duly recognized by Cornell. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy is a former Cornell trustee, and that there are probably numerous such connections that well-heeled students in India can exploit.

Many years ago, when I was handling graduate admissions for my department, we had an applicant whose father had a prestigious government post in East Asia. She had decent but not outstanding grades at a small U.S. four-year college. But out of the blue, a famous ethnic Chinese scientist called me to press for her admission. He couldn’t supply any information about the young woman’s academic talents, but assured me that she would work out.

I must state here that Qualcomm hired a really brilliant grad student of mine from China a few years ago. I served as a reference for him, and gave him an enthusiastic recommendation. But I am sure that most foreign students hired by Qualcomm, as with the industry as a whole, are ordinary people during ordinary work.





13 thoughts on “My, My Qualcomm (and Others?)

  1. Qualcomm used to interview plenty from my alma mater in the mid-late 1990s. That pretty much stopped in the early 2000s and I haven’t seen them back (although one Indian guy from my school managed to get hired there on a H-1B). My own personal applications have been ignored. Qualcomm is outright lying if they are making the claim that they can’t find appropriately qualified domestic engineers when they aren’t even looking for them, or interviewing people in good faith.

    Shame on them!


  2. In my 30 years of software development experience I’ve seen the market go from what you know to who you know, so this does not surprise me at all. I guess this is just a reflection of our society at large as we become like the rest of the world through globalization. There are a couple people I know that did not have the knowledge or will power to contribute technically to the project we were working on time that are gainfully employed while I sit at home long term unemployed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, all the private universities have been “selling” Master’s degrees for quite a while, with foreign students as the major “customers.” Lately, it’s gotten even worse, with special Master’s programs with even lower bars for admission, aimed at foreign students.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I went through University, a Masters or a PhD was always a ‘research’ degree including a thesis which was subject to an oral defense/examination. There was no option to merely take a bunch of courses and get a MS.

        In recent years, I’ve been informed that a lot of schools, even reasonably reputable ones, have not only dropped the thesis requirement, but don’t even require participation in original research as a condition of receiving a graduate degree. An extra year of courses (that are largely re-hashes of what is taught to domestic students in 4th year of CS or EE), and wham, one has a MS.

        Of course, the foreign students typically will take a few years to complete even this, but only because they’re pimped out by their professors to their corporate ‘sponsors’ (which include many of the big brand-name H-1B abusers), or are “working” for their professors on their research projects. No wonder American students don’t want anything to do with MS or PhD degrees when they’re subject to this sort of exploitation.


        • Yes, in our program, we used to advise MS students to do the research option rather than the exam option. Now very few do research, as far as I know.


      • It takes a very strong leader in a department to go against the university graduate school leadership and even some of his/her own faculty to maintain high standards for entering students.

        Another place where leadership at the university level is lacking is the use of unpaid “internships’ after graduation as OPT so that the graduates have the time to find a “real” job.


  3. Happens more often that you’d think. Such a sad state of affairs really. I also know of a high ranking politician’s son from India who got admitted into Stanford just because they gave it a $5million donation. They also admitted another relative of his to Stanford GSB. I come from an upper middle class family and had to bust my ass off at a top 10 university while I watched most of these rich politician’s kids from India while their time away. Oh well.
    On a side note professor, I really liked your ECS 50 (?) class. Good lectures and notes and love that you stress on insight and intuition. I also see your point these days on how an influx of H1-Bs (as i’ve seen idiots from my class in India end up here) will actually end up hurting US innovation as more and more of these families stress on rote memorization to master standardized tests. It’s a snowball effect.


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