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What I Know About Immigration and Fostering Innovation

The current political climate and debate over immigration bans makes me think of my own experience with immigration.

I came to Silicon Valley in 1994, when the Internet industry was beginning to revolutionize access to information. In apartheid South Africa, I grew up under a system where it was illegal for the state-controlled media to publish a picture of Nelson Mandela.

This taught me that a free and fair press is critical to exchanging ideas and fostering democracy.

At the beginning of my career, I had an H-1B visa, then an O-1 visa. It took 13 years to get my green card. It was worth it to be able to work in the center of global technological innovation, Silicon Valley, a place built with an emphasis on meritocracy and diversity – things that are the future of our economy and our country overall.

I’ve worked with talented people from all over the world – one of my closest friends at Google is an incredibly talented product manager who is the Muslim son of a refugee from Iran. It’s deeply offensive that he could be banned, and it’s the opposite of everything that makes America great. No part of me thinks this is the future of the country. Ex-NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden called the proposed immigration ban an abomination, and I agree.

You don’t have to look hard to find American innovators with immigrant backgrounds. Half of current U.S.-based startups valued at $1 billion or more were founded by immigrants. And this is nothing new: In the 1930s, Jewish scientists who fled Nazi Germany helped increase U.S. patents by 31%. Germany’s loss was our gain – those refugees included Albert Einstein, Otto Loewi and Max Bergmann, who revolutionized their respective fields.

Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee. Think about that.

About twenty percent of Turn employees are immigrants, myself included – and we’re incredibly proud of that. My team is a reflection of Silicon Valley’s philosophy, the idea that talent should be embraced regardless of background. This country was built on diversity, and a single U.S. president can’t change that.

It’s important that the ad tech and tech industries come together and put our full support behind colleagues and their families who may be affected by this proposed ban. One thing that a career built on collaboration has taught me is that the Silicon Valley innovation engine is unstoppable, and we’re much more powerful together. Get in touch if you want to talk.