France. Somewhere between Angers and Nantes, on the high speed rail link. I’m on a French TGV, an extremely comfortable, fast, reliable train. Its cruising speed is about 320 kph, close to 200 mph. Right now, it is doing zero. While this train is ultra modern and highly reliable, the one in front would appear to be slightly less reliable, and has broken down. We are stuck, in the middle of fields, in a zone where cell phone reception is non-existent. It has been like this for close to two hours, and my laptop is down to a critical 10% of battery. I fold it up, and think about the last few days. They have been interesting, to say the least.
Tuesday. A small waiting room, somewhere in Nantes, France. I’ve been invited to a job interview. I know this building, I used to rent offices here when I had my own business. This won’t be with the end client, and I don’t think I’m going to know much about the company that is considering hiring me.
The door opens, and the recruiter asks me to come in. I have over ten years of experience, and I know how most interviews go. I’ve cleared my schedule for the afternoon, most interviews last at least two hours, sometimes more, so to be on the safe side, I’ve planned on being here all afternoon.
The recruiter presents himself. I’ve never heard of his company, but he makes it clear that he is working for a client, who wishes to remain anonymous. He asks a few questions, but mainly, he confirms what he has on my CV. “I see you have worked for x and y”. I think I already know the name of his client, but time will tell. Maybe.
The first question. “Have you done a lot of C programming?”. Every single job I have done has had at least a little bit of C, a few have been 80% C. So I answer. Yes, I have done a lot of C, for example, when I was at… “Yes, all right, thank you. And any C++?”. Once again, the answer is on my CV. Yes, indeed, especially with… “So, the answer is yes, thank you”. He continues with a few yes/no questions, and to be honest, I’m a little destabilized. I haven’t had the opportunity to explain who I have worked for, what job I had with them, and the different highlights in my career. I’ve had a few interviews, but a yes/no interview is a first. Then he asks the question; “Are you an ARM Accredited Engineer?”. No, I’m not, but I’m the author of a book… “So, the answer is no”. That’s it, I’m not listening any more. I consider this interview to be very unprofessional, and I don’t think that the recruiter has any technical background. I get the feeling that he has a list of candidates, and is looking for an easy way to filter candidates. Less than 30 minutes later, he thanks me, and I leave. I’m almost surprised that no-one is waiting for me in the corridor, I was almost convinced that this was a joke, but apparently not.
That was an interesting evening. I thought a lot about that interview, about how I could have handled the situation differently, how I could have had the edge, but especially, how I could have explained my career choices, but with only yes/no questions, I don’t think there was much I could have done. I shrugged, concentrated on my family, and got some rest.
Wednesday. I’m getting ready for another job interview. I have a little bit of time to spare before going to the train station, so I log onto the ARM Connected Community. A few new posts, some very interesting questions and news, and one or two messages. I decided to write a quick article about what happened to me. Writing a book on ARM processors has been an amazing few months of my life, but the most rewarding part is the people I have met on the way, and a few of them work for the company I wrote about. I decided to share my thoughts with the community in what was supposed to be a funny post, then I left to get the train.
The job interview was in another city, not too far from mine. This one went very well, and lasted over three hours. The people in front of me gave me all the time I needed to explain my professional projects, the choices I made, and the highlights. Then the technical questions. They asked me if I knew what an MMU was. I showed them a copy of my book, Chapter 3, ARM Architecture. The engineer had a quick flip through the book, and immediately crossed out half of the questions. An hour later, I’m back on the train, the one I was stuck on.
Stuck. That is the word. We aren’t moving, and probably won’t be for some time. I’m resisting the temptation to face palm every time I hear some of the passenger’s questions to the crew; can’t we just overtake them? Sure! We’ll push this 600 tonne train onto the other tracks, overtake them in the hopes that there isn’t another train coming head on, avoid getting electrocuted by the overhead power lines, and then get back onto the original track. A few days ago, I received an advert in the letter box; Pizza delivery! We can deliver anywhere! I’m tempted to give them a call and try out their theory, but I still can’t get reception. I sit back and listen to some music.
Three quarters of an ambient album later, we are moving, an I might just be able to get back at a reasonable hour. As we make our way towards Nantes, my cell phone starts to vibrate. Civilization! I can finally access my emails again. I have a quick look at my phone, and I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
My original post was supposed to be funny, and I thought that a few people would add a quick remark here and there, but I wasn’t expecting this. A few comments indeed, and even more on LinkedIn, but also a few emails to me directly, from some very nice people at ARM. One was curious about who asked these questions, another who explained that this is not what the AAE program was about, and a third one who noted that it was my birthday a few days ago, and that the only thing missing was an ARM tee-shirt, and that I would be getting my “tee-shirt” soon. A few emails later, I found my “tee-shirt”. A very nice gentleman from ARM contacted me, said how hard it must have been for me, and offered me a free ARM certification as a gesture of “good will”. I read the email. I read it again. And again. I looked at the destination email. It looked familiar. He called the person “James”. Wait, this must really be for me? Seriously?
I’ll admit, I wasn’t very polite; I took almost a week to answer him. Why? Well, I was busy with a few things, I wanted to wrap up the interview, write a little… but the main reason was simple: I was speechless. This wasn’t what I intended; I wasn’t asking for anything, merely telling people what had happened, and if anyone had encountered something similar. I read his email again.
It was free, no strings attached. He asked if I would be kind enough to tell him when I planned on taking the exam (the voucher is valid throughout 2014), and if I would be kind enough to write something about how the exam went. I think I can do better than that.
Enter “ARM Accredited Engineer” on Google, and the very first link is, of course, from ARM’s website. There are a few Wikipedia entries, one or two sites with information, and some training centres that either prepare for the exam, or certification centres where you can take the exam. There is not a lot of information about what people feel about the exam itself. This might be where I can help out. So, thank you ARM, I gratefully accept your present, and I intend to take the exam, but I also intend to write about it every step of the way; training materials, documentation, questions, and the exam itself.
Wait a minute; why would I actually need the exam itself? After all, I did tell the recruiter that I wrote a book on ARM development! Surely I don’t need this? Well, I do. It was extremely presumptuous of me to even think that writing a book would be the same as the certification. My book is aimed towards beginners, and while I do go into detail about some of the subsystems, it does not mean that I have the same level as an AAE. A large panel of people were involved in assembling questions, and the result is a certification that carries a lot of weight in the industry. The certification asks random questions on the ARM architecture, from programming to subsystems, memory management to optimization. The proof? ARM has a few mock exams on their website, and I failed miserably on the very first question. So yes, I do need this.
I intend to take this exam, and to do everything necessary to achieve my goal. There are study courses available on ARM’s website, and a few very nice people at ARM have offered to help if I have any questions. I won’t be doing that immediately, I’m currently writing a second book, but when the rush is over, I intend to blog every step of the way. Maybe this way I will be able to thank ARM for everything they have done? Probably not, but it is a start.