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Singaporean Malay Engineer Headhunted By Boeing US To Design Sensitive Airplane Software

Muhd Hilwan, a local software engineer with 14 years of experience in his field, was offered a position by Boeing as a F-15 Mission Systems Software Engineer. He’s currently working for a major fintech company in the US.

F-15 Mission Systems Software is the world’s fastest mission computer and modern sensors for commercial and military airplanes. The F-15 customers include countries like Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea.

In an exclusive interview with our Plan B reporter, Hilwan shares his thoughts on being offered a sensitive role as a minority.

COULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND?

I am a Tech Lead Software engineer for a major fintech company in the USA. 

I have been an engineer for 14 years in total, 10 years in Singapore and 4 years in the USA.

I started out as an Interactive Media Developer in 2008 where I was paid SGD1700 monthly. It was during the asian financial crisis. I worked my way up and by my fourth year, my salary doubled.

HOW DID YOU GET THE BOEING OFFER AND WHAT DOES THE JOB ENTAIL?

Let me clarify that I was approached by a recruiter from Boeing, I have not gone for the interview. However, from initial conversation, they can only accept Green Card and US citizens for the position. I am neither.

A green card is a US permanent resident card which allows an individual to work and live in the USA permanently.

The job entails designing and implementing new capabilities in the F-15 Operational Flight Program for both the United States Air Force (USAF) and international customers.

DO YOU INTEND TO APPLY FOR US CITIZENSHIP FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY? HOW DIFFERENT IS IT WORKING FOR A MAJOR FINTECH COMPANY THERE AS COMPARED TO YOUR HUMBLE BEGINNINGS HERE?

I am making my way towards getting the green card and the recruiter said to keep in touch.

Honestly, it is similar. I took a 20% pay cut initially when I accepted the job offer here. There’s also the 28% income tax that I have to pay and health insurance worth $1500 monthly. Then there are other expenses like rent, buying a car and sending money back home, paying for my HDB in Singapore, it was not easy. They paid me way lower than other engineers but I took it in my stride.

However, within 7 months of proving my worth, I was given a 28% increment. I was given another increment 2 months later.

Now, I am earning close to twice what I was given when I started 4 years ago.

It’s all about perseverance and showing your capabilities.

AS A MINORITY THAT’S BEEN SCRUTINIZED AND STEREOTYPED AS BEING UNABLE TO BE TRUSTED WITH SUCH SENSITIVE POSITIONS, HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU WERE APPROACHED BY BOEING?

I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel anything. I feel that I am recognized for my skills and came a little closer to touching an F-15 Mission System Software which is something I could only dream of. I know the green card is a hurdle but I will overcome it in a couple of years.

Will I ever be offered such a sensitive position back in Singapore? Frankly, don’t dream of it. It is a known reality that we minorities have to overcome. The key is not to let it overcome us.

COMPARE YOUR EXPERIENCE IN APPLYING FOR SIMILAR POSITIONS IN SINGAPORE.

Singapore is known to be very practical and therefore they will only invest in you if you can prove yourself. And as a minority, sometimes we need to go the extra mile. Once you’ve proven yourself, you’ll be treated as an asset.

I’ve been blessed to have worked with countless managers who were from the majority race in Singapore but were willing to believe and invest in me. 

But like I said, it takes dedication, willingness to go the extra mile and having good work ethics. I had to go through a lot like sacrificing my weekends and earning lesser pay initially but it made me stronger. My first job back in 2008, I was earning SGD1700 and it doubled in my 4th year with the company. Wherever you are, it boils down to perseverance.

Reporter’s Opinions: It’s an open secret that brown people anywhere rarely get opportunities in such sensitive areas after 9/11. Call it prejudice if you will.

Even here, it is rare to see a brown person in the air force or other sensitive military areas.

But Hilwan proved that if you’re capable, your work speaks for itself. You will get that opportunity that one can only dream of if you’re a minority.

I really hope he gets the job eventually because he deserves it and he will be an inspiration to other Malay-Muslims in the future.

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Belalang Biru

Written by Belalang Biru

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