Adventures of an Arm intern

   Sep 11, 2020     8 min read

Arm-themed biscuits

Arm-themed biscuits! I made these early on for one of our "Wellness Wednesdays" as part of a group cooking challenge.

Internships are a freaking cool thing. Having the opportunity to spend a summer working at a tech company, making money working on a project which will actually see use in the real world, is an experience like no other. I was lucky enough to intern at Arm this year, and I couldn’t have found a better place to intern. Arm’s microchips power some 200 billion devices, from smartphones to smart cars, and the company takes in smart, motivated engineers who help to make the world a better place.

After 13 weeks, I finally finish work here today. I’m really sad for it to come to an end, but I’ve learnt a great deal from being here. Many of the things that I have learnt complement what I’ll soon be studying at university, while others are more personal, meta, or are lessons about the real world.

My project

Throughout my internship, I worked on the Morello project. Morello is an experimental architecture funded by the £70m Digital-Security-by-Design research programme, which aims to make computers safer by reducing the impact of memory hacking. You can find out more about it here.

What have I learnt?

I’ve learnt many lessons over my internship. Of course, at such an advanced company like Arm, it was inevitable that I would learn so many new technologies, programming techniques, etc.. I’ve learnt model tracing, debugging, return-oriented programming, and threat modelling to name a few. However, as my first ever industry experience, my internship has taught me some highly important the personal lessons which I’ve taken onboard and give an insight into the real world. Of these, the most important ones are as follows:

  • Getting paid is simultaneously brilliant and highly overrated. Admittedly, it did feel good to receive my first payslip (as a breather from paying £9250 a year to go to university), as I could feel a little bit better about spending the money. However, after that I completely forgot about each payday. That said, I’m sure that, once I’m in tHe ReAl WoRlD battling mortgages and living expenses, I might be a bit more excited to be making money. Or maybe I won’t, I guess time will tell.
  • Work is not only about doing the work you’ve been assigned: at a good tech company, you’ll be allowed time to do other things as well, like volunteering or professional development. In fact, one piece of advice I got was that, if something that I would be doing is even remotely related to work or programming, I should do it during work hours and get paid for it. Work-life balance is really highly valued at Arm and it’s totally okay if something out of my control (be it IT or family issues) means I’m unproductive.
  • It’s called a 9-to-5 job for a reason. While I certainly had a lot of free time which I could divide as I wanted (thanks to the work-from-home situation), the workday is much more structured than at university. In addition, the mere fact that I’ve got set working hours has often been tiring, especially on a demotivating day or when I didn’t get enough sleep. It was also an important lesson to learn that I never had to worry about working past 5:30pm, and having a weekend was one of the greatest feelings ever. (Now I appreciate the existence of happy hour!)
  • Everyone’s ultra-supportive. While I suffered from impostor syndrome for my first few weeks, that was largely because many of my colleagues had 5, 10 or 15 years of experience, and people actively looked out to make sure I was okay and to help me with anything I needed. I never felt judged asking my team a question, no matter how often I asked or how basic my questions were, and sometimes my “seemingly stupid” questions actually provoked some very productive discussion.

The best part

It’s difficult to say which part was the best, as all of it was extremely good and I’ve had no real negatives about the internship. However, after giving an intern presentation, someone asked me a question which made me think about how I would sell an internship at Arm to other students. I’ve already described many of the benefits of working at Arm, but if I were asked for just one thing that stands out, I’d probably say something like this:

  • The part which stood out to me more than anything else was the team mentality which emanated from everyone. Everyone supports each other and looks out for each other. It’s not about individual performance, it’s about helping everyone be the best they can be. It made me feel welcome here, giving me the drive to work hard in difficult situations and, in Arm’s words, “be my brilliant self”.

Advice for aspiring interns

It’s well worth applying for internships! This holds especially true for tech, where experience holds a lot of weight in applications, but I’m sure it’s also a very good idea for people in the natural and social sciences as well as those like history or languages whose course might not immediately suggest where they’d be working next.

So, what advice would I give? It’s not perfect advice by any means (your mileage may vary), but:

  • Apply to as many places as you like the look of! Whether it’s the name, the sector they work in or the corporate culture, if you’re considering working somewhere, definitely apply! You can always withdraw your application later. I applied to about 10 companies during my first year, although I know friends who applied for hundreds. Obviously you don’t need to go that far overboard, but internships are for trying things out, so don’t be afraid to try new things!
  • Get your CV ready well before the internship application season. At the very least, put your university with any grades you have, and perhaps also your A-Level grades. If you have any project work which is worth mentioning, put that too, as well as what you gained from it and/or why it makes you better for the job! I put down a few personal programming projects that I’ve done, for example, and the programming languages and libraries I used for each of them.
  • Consider what might be asked at interview. In programming this is easier because you’ll usually be asked to solve programming problems out loud, but in other fields it’s not so simple. You might be asked questions about how you’ve demonstrated leadership, worked in a team, resolved difficult situations, or any number of other things. Take a look at the company’s interview questions on Glassdoor and look at the job requirements, as the two together can give a very good range of questions they might ask you, and consider how you might respond to them.
  • If you need to write a cover letter or write mini-essays to a given employer, tailor what you write to the employer! It sounds tedious, and you’d be right. Ideally, give yourself a day or two to write them. I cannot stress enough the importance of paying attention to what they’re looking for. Many companies receive a huge number of applicants, and a vaguely written statement might be enough reason for them to reject you.
  • LinkedIn! A company is much more likely to hire you if they already know your name. In some cases, it can be very useful to reach out to an employee (especially one working in the role you want to apply for), express interest in the company and, if the conversation goes well, ask for an internship! They might simply redirect you to their standard application, but if they provide a personal recommendation then it can massively boost your chances.
  • Even if you don’t intern, consider finding a use for your summer which might be useful. You might find competitions or volunteering give you important skills which you need in order to apply. Reading up on the sector(s) you want to apply to is also helpful: demonstrating an understanding of international relations can be extremely helpful when applying to the UN. Or perhaps you’ll find use out of a project: even something as simple as writing a book can demonstrate vital skills on your CV.
  • And, finally, consider why you’re applying for internships. At least in my view, there are three main reasons to go for internships: to improve your practical experience, to get material for your CV, and to explore what career you might want to go into. This third one is worth elaborating on. Because you’re not staying at the company permanently, you might want to consider several different companies of different sizes, styles and so on to explore where you see yourself upon graduating. You might also consider employers which you wouldn’t want to stay at permanently, such as the intelligence services or an investment bank.

And finally, don’t stress out about it too much. Sometimes your luck just won’t hold out and you might not get an internship. And that’s okay. Even just applying is hugely beneficial, and getting one stage further in the process shows that you’re improving. Not getting an internship is in no way a black mark, and many people get their dream job without one. So, by all means, apply for internships - they’re great - but don’t fret if you don’t get one. It isn’t the be-all and end-all by any means.

Also, apply to Arm. You won’t regret it. ;)