Twenty-Twenty: From the Perspective of Bilal (Year Review)


This seemingly very satisfying number to write and say was supposed to be a very different year from what it turned out to be. Even writing about it is quite difficult because I really have no idea on how to process this whole year. There are just too many events that occurred in the past rotation of the earth around the sun that are quite overwhelming to break down and assess. Never the less, I'll try my best to break down the year (after it broke us all lol) in chronological order from my perspective. I'll try to evaluate how I navigated through the ups and down from all the internal and external factors and how that affected my career, my personal relations and my general outlook on life.

Pre Twenty-Twenty

Just to preface, I want to go over what my expectations were of the incoming year at the end of 2019 when I just finished university and was planning on taking off my career.

It was late 2019 somewhere around end of November, I just had my convocation. Little Bilal was full of life and optimism, of course he would be, he was getting himself out of this place called International Islamic University with the added bonus of earning Bachelors of Engineering Degree with him. Life was good, I was surrounded by my friends and family. There was a belief in me that anything that I set my sights on I would go on to achieve. I know I sound very cocky but hey cut me some slack the next year did more than enough to humble me. At that point in life I wanted to jump start my career in engineering, build connections with new people, personal and professional. I wanted to travel around with my friends , go to places, play sports, climb Mount Kinabalu. To read, to learn to be break free from the stressful routine I had in my uni days which forced me from doing a lot of things I enjoyed before university. Twenty-twenty was supposed to be the year I stepped into a new phase of my life, where I worked on myself, worked on my career and new experiences in life. Spoiler Alert: I still managed to achieve couple of goals career-wise I had in my mind yet many others had to be abandoned or just became unfeasible. In a growth mentality failures or lack of something being accomplished are seen as just opportunities to learn and grow thus I have no hard feelings on twenty-twenty.


New Years Eve was very uneventful like always, I was probably browsing the internet on my laptop. As the clock struck 12:00 to enter this fateful year, I tried peaking outside my window to catch a glimpse of fireworks but to my bitter disappointment and lack of surprise, I only saw the facade of the hotel that was right opposite to my apartment block. Perhaps this feeling foreshadowed for the rest of the year, I always knew this hotel would block any view of the fireworks as this building blocks most of the sunlight throughout out the year. Yet I was a little hopeful maybe the building would suddenly not exist or I could watch the reflection of fireworks on the glass windows of the hotel. Maybe I'm sounding a little too desperate to see fireworks smh. Coming into January I had made a bold decision of refusing to accept a full time offer at company where I had done my internship. It was a decent company with smart people, I learnt quite a bit during my three months there but I was a little upset with what they offered me in compensation and I felt I was worth more than what they were offering. When it comes to your first job it shouldn't just be about the money as learning and gaining experience is of utmost importance but its never good to short-sell yourself especially if you are confident in your abilities. So yeah I ended my internship on the last day of December 2019, and I started the year jobless. The rest of January was all about applying to as many companies possible on all the different job listing websites. It takes some heart to apply to companies knowing that most of them will not even consider the application because you are not local. Nevertheless mans gotta try.


Nothing much had changed in February still applying to companies, shooting my resume left and right but getting little to no responses in return. Quite disappointing and the pressure was mounting on me as my Student Visa was going to run out soon and I had to find a company that would sponsor my stay in Malaysia. There were a lot things going on in my mind about what I would do if I didn't get a job. Doing masters was also one of the option, something which I had decided I would eventually do to further my career but not right after my Bachelors Degree. My parents were also telling me to get in touch with the company where I did my internship to say accept the offer I had previously declined. No way I was going to do that, my Saaien Saghoro pride would never allow me to do that. Besides I had a first look of how people could turn 180degree after my interaction with that company. Certain someone aka my supervisor said that if it didn't work out at his company he would help me get in touch with me to other companies such as AirAsia and Grab as he knows people. LOL as it turned out after I refused the offer at that company, he didn't even bother replying back to my texts he would just leave the message on seen. Maybe he wasn't in the capacity to help me out but bro why the bold claims before that he got "cable" in these big companies, maybe he overshot his own worth? I know he is not obliged to help me but a simple reply could've gone a long way and kept things cordial. It's all cool dude, I'm doing fine for myself after the internship and thanks a lot of giving me the opportunity to learn about MERN stack at your company. I quite enjoyed my time there.


Breakthrough alas, I got a place to work....kind of. It was an internship position at this small company operating out of a SOHO apartment behind IKEA in Damansara. It was not a full time gig but the company said they would offer me full time job or if I continue with them and they would offer me equity at the company. I knew this wasn't the solution to my visa situation but I took it rather than sitting at home and doing nothing. I was working as a React Native Developer, on this new dating application. Yup, you read it right, I've worked on a dating application. Not many people know this tbh, don't think I specifically mentioned what my company did to my parents either. It was a revolutionary dating app where it used blockchain and smart contract to interact with other users. It did learn quite a bit from that experience and the guys who worked there were pretty chill too. I didn't work there for long enough to write it in my resume but it makes for an interesting story to tell people. March was the month where things really started to get interesting and I really mean it. COVID had reached Malaysia and it was a full scale global pandemic, there was so much confusion about how it spreads and its affects and what not. I remember going to my internship and my boss was coughing and sneezing like crazy, and I couldn't help but wonder if he got "the 'rona". The initial cluster that spread Covid-19 in Malaysia , Sri Petaling Tabligh Jamat, was not too far away from my workplace and the mood was very uneasy in general about going out to places. My coworkers planned on going to IKEA on a Friday for dinner, and I felt so uneasy being in the public because "I don't want to catch the rona, I don't want to die..". Nah I'm being dramatic here but still those were some unsettling times. Something else also happened in March, I got a full time job at this company in Johor Bahru based in Singapore. This might've been the most interesting to happen to me all year. This young Singaporean gentleman with seemingly a lot of money wanted to expand his business into the software industry and he was looking for talent to build up a team. I happened to be the first one of his hires and suddenly I was the Head of IT at this company. The next whole month is dedicated for that story.


This might've been the most stupidest thing to happen to me in twenty-twenty. Sometime around early or mid March I received a call from this individual telling me that he in responding to my application for IoT Application Engineer. I'm like great, thats good news for me. I had an extensive phone call with him on a Saturday which probably went over for an, he was representing a Singaporean company which had a branches in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and somewhere else. He told me their businesses and that they wanted to go into software industry as well. I was quite pumped about, first about the prospect of getting a full time job and second about the scale of the projects he was talking about. I consider myself being an ambitious person too and listening to him talk about all these big ideas was quite exciting for myself. He also absolutely loved talking, he would go on and on and on about the same thing and explain the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (this man was obsessed with this triangle). This is all great but there is a catch, they company had like no experience in software development, he had a consultant but he didn't like working him for some reasons that I'm not going to go into. Anyway I started working at this company in April remotely due to the MCO, I was actually supposed to move to Johor Bahru. It was fine initially I got an introduction to the company and what they did. From what I remember they acquire technology from China and resell in the SEA market, this included LED panels, electronics. The best description of what products they sold is basically the unnecessarily high tech "Made in China" solutions that you see your parents get on their WhatsApp groups. Within the next couple of days, I was getting multiple assignments like, creating a Smart Home Application, integrating API by some Chinese smart home OEM. Building a mobile application for Job listings, in other words, a job street clone. And for icing on the cake, I had to create a frontend application to integrate this draconian software that made headlines worldwide for its invasion on privacy. But wait, I can put my morals aside for food on my plate, the api was all in Mandarin. Granted I took Mandarin for foreign language in school, I still can't read Chinese characters or remember any Chinese for that matter. Do you remember I said they wanted to expand into software industry, that meant I had no one to get help from either. The pressure I put on myself was creeping exponentially and it wasn't aided by the fact that my boss only knew about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. During my first week I received an interview call from Tigerlab, I was given a task to complete for the job. I spent my whole weekend working on it, and feeling confident with my work, I submitted my resignation to the Singaporean company before I even got back from Tigerlab. Yes, I (also) like to live life dangerously. Luckily the gamble paid off and I got the job at Tigerlab Sdn Bhd, the leading insurance tech company in Malaysia with clientele from all continents, expect Antartica. The penguins just have some certain demands that we couldn't fulfil even after rounds of negotiations. Joining tigerlab was quite a unique experience as I joined them right in the middle of MCO and I had to introduce myself via a slack message on the general channel. Professionally tigerlab takes a huge chunk of my year so I will now try to recap some personal experiences as well.


This month started off with the government announcing easing of movement restrictions as the number of covid cases were decreasing. Th easing of restrictions allowed people to travel between states and giving businesses permission to bring back their employees . Since the MCO was announced I was living in Kuantan with my parents but with this announcement it meant I had to go back to KL immediately . Since leaving for university in 2015, I rarely had a chance to stay at home with my parents and siblings for an extended period of time because I used to take summer semesters as well. So in terms of being close to family MCO was a good time for me. Naturally I was a bit saddened by the fact I had to go to KL and live alone but I realised that this is what I have to do now and there is really no other way around it. The fact that it was Ramadan and I had to spend Eid all alone in KL , due to interstate travel ban ,just made the situation all the worse. This was my going to be my first Eid with out my family and the beginning of a lot of firsts to come. It was in this month that I first got in touch with a friend who I hadn't talked to in a long time. Also this was the month where I met my coworkers, really nice people by the way. The first time I was regularly going to a 9-5 job, first time I pushed a ticket, first time I worked on Angular, ughh. First time paying for a season pass to park my car at work, ughh. First time seeing new people in a while. During these exciting times, there were also some things I didn't expect to happen, like my university friends suddenly moving back to their countries for good in the middle of a pandemic. I highly doubt I'll see them again, whats even amazing is that the last time I was them, everything seemed perfectly normal expecting to see them in a week or two but life has other plans. It's odd that neither of us have even acknowledged that our goodbyes had to be so abrupt.


As the clock struck 12 past midnight I was official a Malaysian's worst nightmare, an illegal immigrant stealing their jobs. Before you get outraged let me explain myself. My student visa expired on May 30th, I already had a company willing to sponsor me but due to MCO and the routine racism in this country I had to live illegally for the next four months. The story I'm about to chronicle happens over the span of the next three months but I feel like June is a good month to vent and get over it. As I already established, my student visa expired on 30th May but I already had a job secured at a company who were swift in applying for my visa before its expiry. In matter of 10 days my company took all my documents and in typical German efficiency submitted them on time, but wait abang, this is Malaysia. Since my visa was being transferred from student visa to employment pass, I first had to cancel my student pass and "close this file from Putra Jaya". Okay not bad, it can't be that bad right. Little did I know I had to see the worst my University could do to its graduates to set them on their path to success. The Visa Unit at International Islamic University Malaysia is notorious for being callous, unconcerned, belligerent and useless in sorting visa matters of their international students. As if they are not lazy enough, they had the excuse of a pandemic to not their work entirely. The official means of communication with them was through a WhatsApp number which I have no clue which idiot handled. My first communication was explaining them my situation and all that, their only response was that no office is open due to CMCO. They complete straight up didn't want to entertain me, and when I tried to press on them telling the gravity of the situation they threatened to take action against me. I shit you not, they got pissed that I was telling them to do the work they should be doing. Thats where I decided to get my father involved since he works in the same university hoping they might listen to him. It was quite naive of me to think that it was going to make a difference. The only difference it made was they "official" took my documents, "officially" discussed the cancellation in their meeting. Then after like two months, informed my father that "my visa has been officially cancelled". Here is the twist, they were lying this whole time, they didn't do anything during the whole two months they had my documents, they only said that to shut us up. The most outrageous part is that the Department Head of the Visa Unit emailed my Dad, who is the Head of Department himself, that we have cancelled your sons student visa and we wish him all the best for starting work in Malaysia. Later I found out from MDEC that they never cancelled my visa and I had to pay a fine and get a special pass in order to get my employment pass. This meant filling stupid forms, going to the dreaded Putra Jaya Immigration Department level four, giving my documents to a public prosecutor, getting fined RM1000 for overstaying my student visa. You've never truly lived in Malaysia until you've experienced going to level four of that magnificent building. Anyway, in September I finally got my Employment Pass after much struggle. I'm actually thinking of suing IIUM for their compulsive disregard of a student's well being, lying and deception. The only thing keeping IIUM from getting sued is that my lawyer won't accept ice cream as a payment or reply to my texts lol. On a completely related side note, if someone is telling you a heart felt personal story, "Cool Story Bro" is not an acceptable answer in any situation, and if you are then dropping off that said person, wait until they get inside their home before driving off. I'm Sorry : ). Later I found out that the university keeps your certificates hostage till you cancel your visa and go back to your country so you can't apply for jobs in the meantime or anywhere else for that matter unless you shell out money for continuing studies in Malaysia.


My birthday month this year was quite different for some reason. I'm not that big on celebrating my birthday but everyone around me this year really decided to stuff me with cake and make me feel special like a "pwincess". First my coworkers who I had gotten very tight with took me for lunch on Friday. Shoutout Team Alpha. Then on the actual date my parents came all the way from Kuantan with a cake I really like demolishing. A day later my friends took me to Genting Highlands which is a huge step up from getting Subway the previous year. Good job guys. I also gifted myself a guitar, so I can practise on it properly, for when I eventually join a boy band and tour the busking spots around KL. From other people I got well wishes and also some funky cards. July was the month I truly appreciated everyone around me and I'm very grateful for having them in my life. Despite twenty-twenty being a very difficult year in general, I prefer to look at it from a different perspective. A perspective which make me appreciate all the things I took for granted. A perspective on living life in the present and leaving what has happened in the past. A perspective that reminds myself about focusing on the things that matter in our limited time on Earth, and leaving a meaningful life and legacy.


August was a pretty mundane month in terms of things happening directly to me. Overall the number of cases of covid were fluttering in single or double digits. Everyone was quite proud of what Malaysia had achieved, the whole SEA region was pretty badly hit but Malaysia was holding on strong. We all know what happened in the next couple of months but anyway. In August I went on a picnic with my family and family friends to Terengganu, since we didn't get to celebrate Eid this year with the usual zeal. This trip was meant to be a replacement. It was quite a fun trip in my opinion, Terengganu is a beautiful state and the stretches of coast are breathtaking, and naturally a good place to have BBQ. One of my best friend from university also got married in this month. I was a bit surprised that he was getting married so soon but, I'm really happy for him. His wedding also became a mini reunion for all the engineering homies to get together and catchup on our whereabout and careers. His wedding also made me realise that damn I'm getting old and the day is not too far where it might be my wedding too. Nah there is no rush.


Honestly what happened in September, I can't recall anything significant happening in this month. Perhaps it is a good opportunity to just recall what my daily (idealistic) schedule looked like on an average day. My days typically start early around 6AM, I try my best to wake up for Fajr. After praying I go back for a quick nap till 7:30AM. Then I start preparing to go to work. I head to the toilet, take a shower, brush my teeth. On some days press my shirts. The good thing about working in the tech industry is that the dress code is so chill. I usually just wear jeans and a t-shirt or an hoodie. I have a quick breakfast and by 8:30AM I'm in my car ready to head off to work. The place I used to live in wasn't too far away from work so it took like 15 - 15mins to reach work depending on how lucky I get with the traffic signals. 9:00AM to 10:45AM was one of the most productive time for me to work on my tickets. 10:45AM - 11:00AM was the daily standup time. 11:00AM - 12:00 PM was mostly thinking of what to eat for lunch time and getting some work done. Then I used to take lunch between 12:00PM to 1:00PM. My office is right next to One Utama so there are plenty of options available for lunch. After lunch I was fully focused on getting work done and getting features added into the sandbox. Our desk was also a lively place in the office as all team members had a good chemistry between them. I finished work at 6:00PM and got home by 6:45PM, it took longer on the way back due to the traffic in this direction. Usually I would pray Dhur and Asr in the office with colleagues and Maghrib at home. After Maghrib I would either have dinner and work on my side projects or go workout in the park nearby or go for a jog. By 10:00PM I tried my best to turn off the lights and be in my bed. More often than not I was not so successful in that. I'm one of those rare breed of guys who don't play video games, even though I have a PS4, it is just collecting dust. I prefer spending that time on my laptop watching YouTube or learning new stuff.


If you are still reading this then I'll let you know that my year has already peaked. There is either not much interesting in the months to follow or I'm getting incredibly lazy in my writing as I've not written anything this long since my final year project. This is the month where I moved out from the previous apartment in PJ section 13 to a place much closer to work in Bandar Utama. My daily commute is basically a 15 mins walk one way. This place is much nicer, it comes with a proper living area, kitchen, three spacious rooms, a balcony and a nice view. The condo also has pool and a gym but they are closed due to the CMCO/MCO/RMCO, what a waste. We luckily moved in just the right time to this place as the number of cases spiked suddenly in Selangor and the CMCO was reimposed shortly after we moved in.


As we already know, the number of cases in Malaysia started going to single digits to double and very quickly into triple digits. This is when the government decided to reimpose the CMCO in states such as Selangor, KL. Despite the fact that the government was encouraging employers to allows work from home, my office was not buying into that. They didn't feel covid is that serious and/or they didn't believe any work was being done when their employees were working from home. Ah well, I decided to stay in KL and work from home due to this reason and go to the office if there was something really important. Ideally I would've preferred to stay at home in Kuantan but instead I was in my new bigger apartment alone. I have been through living alone in KL before too but this time it was different. How you ask ? I started writing a journal to stay sane, yes it was that serious. I got my chance to run away from KL when my brother came by with a car, all I had to do was get a letter from the police. That was quite an experience too, first time for me to deal with the police in Malaysia. The first police station completely dismissed my application and ironically told me to go to another police station to get the approval, ironically, I did and got the permission to travel from the other police sergeant. November was also the month where we added two more members to our family. By that I mean we got two furry hyperactive kittens, Oreo and Johnny aka, Grogu. This year really changed me but these kittens have made me soft bro. Growing up we used to have a cat called King Luffy but it didn't like when we moved houses and it just abandoned us one day. Since then cats have given me trust issues so I have been reluctant to have them as pets again but I finally gave in. I'm now absolutely smitten by them.


Its December finally, the year is about the end and all the problems are going to magically disappear as we step into 2021. Thats not going to happen but at least I can stop typing this very very long blog entry. In December I started giving my little cousin programming and web development lessons, he always had interest in computers and games so I took it upon myself to help him understand and develop in this field. He is getting homeschooled due to his special needs and there are not a lot of deaf-friendly courses to teach programming in Pakistan. I started off with teaching HTML/CSS and with in a short period of time he picked it up and is now cloning Pakistani websites to practise this skill. He is already much better than me at his age than myself. My goal with him is to teach him all the fundamentals of programming and web development so he is able to work as either a freelancer or independently. It would be quite proud of myself if I can manage to do that. On a bigger picture this is also how I take on things in life, no matter what situation you are in you are always in a position to make best of out of. Life goes on, it doesn't stop for anyone, so either you cry about or gather from your loses and experiences and move forward with more experience, wisdom and knowledge.

I'm finishing this blog on 3rd February 2021, so quite a bit has happened already in 2021 in terms on my professional life. I will give an update on that in the next blog but for now this is it. If you have made it this far, you must be very free lol, but I appreciate it. <3

Books Read in 2020:

  1. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foerer

  2. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

  4. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

  5. Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker

  6. The Witcher: Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

  7. The Witcher: The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

  8. The Witcher: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Shows Binged in 2020:

  1. The Witcher

  2. Archer

  3. Futurama

  4. The Madalorian

  5. Bojack Horseman


Created by yours truly Syed Bilal Shah, © 2023