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The IHK Exams and Big Update Dump

<tl;dr>: In February of 2017 I started a training program for software development and planning, financed by the German government and administrated through the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK). I turned in my project thesis on April 14th and took four hours of exams on April 25th. Today I received the results from my exams and I have managed a passing grade. I still have my project presentation on the 28th of June. If I pull off good grades on the thesis and presentation, I will be award my career diploma as a software developer. A career diploma is something between an AA degree and a BA in America.</tl;dr>.
Don’t you hate it when someone posts their tl;dr at the bottom, making you leaf through the whole thing before you get to it? The point of a tl;dr is to shoot out your summary and save people time: an abstract doesn’t come at the end of white paper…So, if you want the details, keeping reading. It’s story time again from the land of Phipponia. But, I’m just as happy if you wish me well and say something nice, like “way to go, man! We knew you could do it…whatever it is.” That’s cool too. There will not be quiz at the end of this post.
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to put up some articles here for a while. I’ve been reading some great books and have plenty to talk about, but I’ve been really busy. Here’s why.  This whole becoming a software developer thing has been a long term plan, hatched way back in 2007. After starting my career in IT in 2004, 3 years later I realized that what I really wanted was to get into software development. And so, I hatched an extended plan. I recognized that a lot of software developer folks are good at coding, but don’t know a whole lot about the machines and systems their code runs on (e.g. TCP/IP networks or Server farms); don’t get me wrong, this isn’t across the board, but it’s a trend. You don’t have to know the finer points of routing tables, TCP ports, or server load balancing, to learn to write effective code in Java, or Javascript, or Python. All that stuff is being taken care of for you by layers and layers of abstraction; so, if you don’t need to know it in detail, why waste your time? But, what if you DID have a really good grounding in these things? That would make you an even better developer, right?
So, I decided to start my path toward development by getting a good foundation in network admin, sys admin, and hardware architectures first. And I worked for a long time as a sys admin/network engineer in Seattle. I got my A+, Net+, and Cisco Certified Network Associate certificates and then went on to do a year long training program at the University of Washington in Open-Source OSs. I got to point where I felt I had a good foundation with this stuff. But I had another plan too: one to move back to Europe and specifically to Berlin. I knew that in order to make my resume saleable in a European market, I would need all those certs and more. Europeans — at least the French and the Germans — won’t take you seriously unless you have lots of diplomas and certifications. I wanted to be a Software Developer that could speak multiple languages, not just the programming ones; so I got certs in French and German too, documenting my abilities with these languages.
In 2012 I made my decision to move to Berlin and give this plan a try. For the first four years I lived here, I struggled to find work, being forced to fall back on sys admin stuff. After my last company fell apart, I was in the unemployment office and my case worker asked me, “what do you want to do?” To which I immediately replied, “become a software developer.” “Alright then, you’ll need job retraining. Go to this Job Counseling Center and try to find a Training Center you like. We’ll have another appointment in two weeks.”
I did what she asked, and figured out some possible options. Due to my resume, the training provider, BBQ, said that I could do their program in 14 months instead of the required 24. I was able to quickly arrange it through the unemployment office and I got a seat at BBQ. The state paid for the whole thing and gave me unemployment benefits too while I went through the program.
I started in February of 2017 and my first class was Economics and Social Law. You see, it’s not enough to learn how to code in Germany, you need to learn several planning and project management methodologies as well as the basics of German civil law and economic theory — just the very basics, mind you — but still challenging when German is your third language. I should also mention, by the way, that this whole thing is in German, and German at a professional level. After seven months of classes, I went into an internship at PARIS AG and worked through a project. Finally we come to March of 2018.
The internship was done. I had put the project into a thesis document which was due on April 14th. Thanks to a lot of good friends, I was able to take my horrible, dumpster fire of a paper and turn it into proper German. I made the deadline. But then I had the exams…
For most of April I cracked the books as hard as I could. When I started taking the first practice tests, I was consistently failing. First, these exams don’t really reflect reality; they’re way more about theory and best practices and don’t have much to do with the way real tech projects are run. This means that not much of my 12 years of work experience in IT was very helpful. Second, the exams were not in my native language (duh!) and there were culture pieces missing too for Civil Law and Economics. I put everything I could into the test prep, and I saw my grades starting to improve from the practice exams. Slowly it seemed that passing was probably a given, but would I pass with a C (in the German system a 3) instead of a D? These grades, after all, would appear on the diploma itself.
The day before the exam, I went to the testing location, making sure I had a good idea of how long it would take to get there from my apartment. And then I went home, went for a run, and tried to get some sleep. At 8AM the next day, I was sitting at the desk marked with my name in an auditorium with a couple hundred other test takers. This was it: the moment of truth, or the hour of glory…as my dad used to say.
The next day I went back to my internship. All the IHK communication I had received said that I wouldn’t know the results until the day of the presentation. I resigned myself to not knowing. I had a good feeling about it, but I wasn’t sure about the economics test. I spent the ride home tallying the questions in my head, trying to work out how many I was sure were right and if I had enough to make the 50 points necessary. I felt like I had done well, but you can never be sure, especially when things are in another language. I had seen this enough on the practice tests where I had gotten questions completely wrong because I thought I had understood the question when in fact, I had not. Time passed.
So, today, I had to go back to BBQ; we are suppose to be preparing our presentations for the entire month of June. Due to a bureaucratic screw up, the training program ends on the 8th of June for me; so, I will have to do a lot of the prep on my own, and, when I say on my own I mean with all the love and support from all the great friends I’ve made in Berlin who can give me a hand with the German and allow me to get some practice giving the presentation. It only needs to be 15 minutes after all with an additional 15 minute oral defense. Man, presenting my undergraduate thesis at Whitman to a room full of people was about 15 minutes. I’ve been making presentations for a lot of my career and I’m not scared of this…at least not too scared. But, when I got to BBQ, they told me that the exam results were available from the IHK’s online portal. I rushed home filled with jitters. What if I didn’t pass? What if I failed the Econ? I wouldn’t be totally hosed, but I WOULD need to retake whatever I failed six months from now, and you only get two tries at this. Fail twice and there won’t be a third time. As the SBahn crept along the track through Jungfernheide, Beussler Strasse, Westhafen, Wedding, Gesundbrunnen, and finally Schoenhauser Alle, I sat there desperately trying to control my breathing, desperately trying to keep my calm, preparing for success or defeat. It is moments like this that you see your measure. It is in moments like this where you meet who you really are.
The train finally pulled into my station and I got home and into the apartment, climbing the stairs and knowing that all of this would be imprinted on my memory for years to come. This is the day where I would learn if my effort bore fruit and what kind of fruit it was. I got into my apartment, sat down at my laptop and typed the IHK URL into my browser. After logging into the site, I found my scores:

You’ve got to click it to see see the results, but it says GA1 75, GA2 70 and WISO 82 for a total of 75 which comes to a 3.

This was the best outcome I could have hoped for; a 1 or 2 wouldn’t be realistic, but a 3 was possible. And I had achieved it. A 3 is nothing to crow about, really — It basically a C — but to go from failing to 4 to 3, and when you know that those grades are going to appear on the diploma itself, well there’s a pretty big dog in that fight to get something decent. And, somehow, I had done just that. I had gotten the grade I needed with the added bonus of a 2 (or a B) in Econ and Civil Law. That’s the thing that really gets me; I was sure that I had barely squeaked by on that one.
So, that’s the state of Walterdom and the noble land of Phipponia: I’m weeks away from the last piece in this puzzle and then I will have the degree that should open doors as I continue to become the best software developer I can. I start my new job on Monday the 11th of June with the company that I interned for. As my dad probably would have said to me, were he around to hear this news, “well, son! Sometimes the sun shines, even on a dog’s ass.” Amen to that!
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more soon.

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