Degree: Bachelor of Info. Tech. (majoring in Software Engineering and Data Comms.) & Master of Engineering in VLSI Systems Design
University: Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia)
I knew little of ARM before applying. I was aware of their interest in the design of lower power processors and the wide adoption of their designs in the embedded systems market (e.g. mobile phones and mp3 players). My graduate studies in VLSI Systems Design naturally pushed me towards a company doing real processor design, but after reading ARM had recently acquired an embedded graphics company my interests were peaked. On further investigation, I read ARM had won lots of awards on being a great company to work for, which meant when it came time to apply, I could do so without reservation.
Two weeks after applying to ARM I was contacted by HR to organize a phone interview. After several phone interviews I was offered a graduate position. Compared to other companies I applied to, this process was relatively pain free. This was due to the interview questions being realistic, relevant, and not too abstract. For example, I was asked several technical questions about my projects, computer architecture, and basic logic design. It also helped that HR was prompt in organizing the interviews and keeping me informed of my applications’ status.
Since joining ARM in March of 2008 as a Processor Division Graduate Engineer, I have participated in their rotation program. This involved one short four week project, and three longer three month projects. Each involved performing real tasks for real products, but as you would expect the size of the tasks were small. My work included writing validation tests in ARM assembler, RTL design and optimization, and a bit of Perl scripting. This work was on real products like Cortex-R4 and ETMR4. The idea is that the rotations gives you some exposure to all style of jobs in PD, knowledge of the ARM product range, and most importantly it introduces you to your colleagues and their skill sets. Aside from regular project work, graduates are also urged to undertake as much training as possible. For me this included System Verilog, ARM Hardware and Software, FPGA tools, and formal verification; which means for the first 12 months you are VERY busy.
The Cambridge Processor Division Graduate Program offers a large amount of support for incoming graduates. This is directly given by three main people, a Graduate Line Manager, Technical Lead, and a Graduate Buddy. These people respectively look after your career development, project technical issues, and all things social, which makes the transition to professional engineering a much less daunting task. Apart from these people, there is also an abundance of induction and technical training to get you up to speed. For me, transferring from academia and moving from Australia was a giant leap. I did suffer for the first six months from information overload and a bit of homesickness, but it always appeared as if ARM was ready for this, and that someone was waiting to assist me with technical details, advice, coaching, or ready to go out for a pub lunch!
There are clearly defined employment grades within PD and some abstract guidelines of what is expected from each grade. There is also the opportunity to transfer to other roles, such as marketing, legal, support, R&D, and management. However, as I have only been working at ARM for a little over a year I have not explored these avenues. I am also encouraged to pursue my own interests through innovation time, publishing in journals, and applying for patents – and there are nice rewards for the last two! This means that there are both opportunities and incentives to further your career. So far I have only taken advantage of the ARM sponsored program for engineers to join an industry body, for me this was the IEEE, and hopefully one day I will have the time to publish something!
ARM provides many events for its employee’s to socialize and relax. The first is the great summer BBQ with plenty of food, beer kegs, and bumper cars. Another is black tie Christmas party, with street artists, giant size slot car racers, casino, cocktail bar, and a funky theme. There are also plenty of other events especially for graduates, specifically the “Big Picture”. This is a three day event where you are bussed off to the Marriot to become familiar with the companies goals, structure, products, and policies and meet some other new starters from your global region. Apart from all the formal stuff, there is a treasure hunt and plenty of time to sample a few beers! There are also some less social and more educational events, such as “Lunch & Learn” and “Doughnut Sessions”, where topics of interest are discussed and the attendees get some snacks. Such presentation can be anything from vendor presentation of new tools to Cambridge PhD or post-doc students presenting their ideas on atomic theory. Naturally, there are also other occasions where the office equipment is put to its best use, for late after hours network gaming using the projects!
Intellectually speaking, ARM is what I would expect from a semiconductor design company. Being a relatively small open company with a large industry presence, it feels like a comfortable place to work with the satisfaction of knowing your work is important. I would definitely recommend this job to anybody from a background of hardware or software engineering with a desire to become involved in the design of modern processors.