The First Job – Episode II

Being fluent in English is a marketable skill in Israel.  Over the last few years, I have toyed with the idea of writing a novel, but I never expected I would work as a professional writer.  Fortunately, I’m not.

I am working as a software engineer in Jerusalem.  I’m primarily using good old-fashioned C with Java on an embedded platform.  The C and Java I’ve done for years, although I have never actually been directly involved with embedded systems. Also, for the first time in my career, I am not actually doing software development.  Instead, I am working as an integrator. I don’t think I want to do this long-term, but it is interesting in a hectic, convoluted, mind-numbing, head-spinning sort of way.

My employer is NDS Israel.

Who?  You know…NDS…the world leader in digital pay-TV delivery services.  You can read about the company here: http://www.nds.com/about_nds/about_nds.php

At the moment, I’m working on an effort to bring a brand new IPTV service to the customers of Vodafone in Germany.

The effort is distributed among teams in Israel, France, and India. All the technical work is done in English and, obviously, English is used as the common language across the teams. However, that doesn’t make it easy for me. Normally, the Israeli team members speak in Hebrew and only use English when talking to non-Hebrew speakers.  With me around, everyone tries to speak in English, but it sometimes appears almost painful to watch because generally they cannot express themselves easily in English. Also, I am discovering that it is really difficult to communicate with someone in a precise manner when you cannot natively speak the same language.

So far, I have not had to do any traveling, but I’ve been warned.  Frequent trips to Paris may be necessary.

Paris? You’ve got to be kidding me.  Paris?

I think I would rather visit Tripoli then Paris.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags:

The First Job

I started working about a month ago.  It’s a bit weird — not the job… having a job. I spent the last six months goofing-off, waking up when I wanted, getting out of bed when I wanted, doing what I wanted, with no worries and no concerns.  Okay, that’s not quite true.  After all, I live in Ra’anana.

Here’s an old joke:  How do you make a million dollars in Israel?  Start with 10 million.

Here’s my New Age, 21st century version: How do you make a million dollars in Ra’anana?  Start with 50 million.

No joke.  It is expensive here in Ra’anana.

Here’s a true story: My wife and I were in Ma’ale Adumim (which is a settlement east of Jerusalem) and we decided to buy some coffee.  The coffee was half the price of a similar cup in Ra’anana, plus we also each received a danish.  My wife commented on how the coffee was inexpensive; hearing this, the guy selling the coffee asked where we live.  When he found out we live in Ra’anana, he rolled his eyes and said, “That’s where all the rich people live”.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, I had one real worry: money. We were burning through money fast, so I really needed a decent job.

I don’t know the language and I don’t know the culture, so you would think finding a decent job would take some time.  After all, back in the US, the official unemployment figure is around 10% and that doesn’t count the people who stopped looking for work and those who are underemployed. (I figure the real unemployment rate in the US is probably closer to 15% or 16%).

However, I found a nice job without much effort and I have my wife to thank for it.

It all started months and months ago when I was still in ulpan (yes, I quit ulpan months ago). My wife drove to a local bagel shop to buy some bagels. She was concerned that the car was parked too close to the curb and that the tires might get damaged.  She asked a woman who was walking by and the response was something like, “I don’t know, I don’t worry about that because my husband leases a car from work”.  They started talking about her husband’s work and  soon the word “Java” came up.  Not “java” as in coffee — Java as in programming.  By the end of the conversation, they agreed that I might be able to fill a position at her husband’s office.

It sounded like a long-shot to me; even so, I spoke to her husband on the phone that evening.  By the end of the conversation, it was clear that I might actually be a good candidate to fill an open position in the company.  At the time, I was still in ulpan and I didn’t really want to stop.  I was invited to visit the company — just to chat — to see if I was interested.  The chat was interesting and I decided to drop-out of ulpan to pursue employment.  I had a technical interview and a few days later I had three more interviews. A week (or two) later I had a meeting with HR and then an interview with the CTO (Chief Technical Officer).  During the interview with the CTO, I described the position as a “dream job” for me.  Really.  That good.

The company is in an office building that overlooks the beach.  It is a twenty-five minute drive by car and a forty-five minute ride by bike from my home.  Just perfect!

I was walking on the beach with my wife a couple of months after this process started when I received the phone call. They wanted to hire me! YES! AWESOME!

This is probably a good time to point out that I am not actually working there.

The employment offer was perfect in every way but one. That one little problem ended up being a show stopper.

During this whole process, my wife kept strongly suggesting that I should have a back-up plan.  I really didn’t see the need to bother (in this case) with a back-up plan because it was so obvious that I would get this “dream job.” After a while, though, I realized the “strong suggestion” might not be such a bad idea after all.  A friend in Ra’anana had previously submitted my resume to his employer.  He called to tell me that for some reason no one had looked at it. He was wondering if I was still looking for work. If so, he would stir the pot a bit. I almost told him that I was not interested, but I needed a back-up plan to make my wife happy.  I asked him to do a little stirring just in case.

I received a quick telephone interview that evening.  The next day a real interview.  Shortly after that, two more interviews.  Then I had to do some sort of psycho-analysis testing.  I think I may have blogged about that. Soon after that, I received a job offer.  Then I had to take a polygraph.

Finally, I had to let the “dream job” go.

So what is this “real job?” The details will have to wait for some future post.

However, I will say that it is located in Jerusalem.  That’s about an hour drive with no traffic.  The drive actually isn’t too bad.  I can listen to Hebrew language lessons, read the news,  e-mail on my iPhone, watch movies, play games, read books, and even sleep. I can do all these things because I’m not doing the driving.  The company provides transportation for their employees.

I will go into details about the work in some future post.

Even though this is not my “dream job”, it is a really nice job and I am thankful for having it.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags: , ,

The Frozen Yogurt Store

The frozen yogurt shop

My wife and I enjoyed frozen yogurt today. There is a store called לבן (la’van: white) on the main street in Ra’anana. The yogurt is unflavored and you add a variety of toppings to satisfy your taste and mood.

We were tempted to enjoy the yogurt at the outdoor tables, but we ate inside instead. Two weeks ago we ate it outside even though it’s the middle of winter, but today it was too cold to eat frozen yogurt outside.  Other customers started outside and then moved inside.

The yogurt is very good, but it depends completely on the toppings. One wrong topping can ruin everything.  I stay very conservative with my frozen yogurt — strawberries, kiwi, chocolate, flax, and raisins — always a good combo.

While at the store, an item on the English menu caught my wife’s eye: Goat Cheese Smoothie. Why would such a thing catch her eye? Certainly not because she would order it. It caught her eye because recently I have been fascinated by goat milk products. She thinks the whole idea of consuming goat milk is gross; I suspect she was joking with me to see if I would actually be interested in a goat cheese smoothie.

On a side note, I have found the most amazing chocolate goat milk. It is the best chocolate milk ever… and as an added bonus, no one else in the house wants to drink it.

Back to the goat cheese smoothies: Truth be told, it sounds gross. What the heck is a cheese smoothie?

Before ordering such a thing, I had to find out what it really was. The guy behind the counter opened a refrigerator and removed a bottle of goat yogurt. The yogurt in the bottle is a very thick liquid.  He explained that the yogurt is dumped into a blender along with “toppings” and blended into a smoothie.

In other words, it is not a goat cheese smoothie — it’s a goat yogurt smoothie! Not gross after all! That sounds awesome.

I didn’t order it.

I have the same bottle of goat yogurt in my refrigerator at home. In fact, last night I tried to make a chocolate goat yogurt drink with it. The experiment failed because the goat yogurt is too thick and I could not stir the chocolate powder properly. I was thinking last night that I should mix it with a blender. Now, I can make my own goat “cheese” yogurt smoothie at home.

Categories: Food, Stores Tags: , , ,

Pizza

I like mushrooms and extra cheese on my pizza. Pretty simple, but that’s what I like.  My children do not like mushrooms nor do they like extra cheese; they just want a plain cheese pizza.  How can you have too much cheese on a pizza?  My wife seems to think that having only mushrooms is boring, because she often gets pizza loaded with veggies.  Fine. Different people like different things, but it all seems pretty standard.

It seems reasonable that there should be regional differences in pizza toppings.  For instance, Hawaiian pizza has pineapple slices. Fine. So what odd toppings are available on pizza in Israel?

All the “normal” choices are available and seem to be popular.  Corn is also a popular choice (although I haven’t tried it).  There are a few other odd or strange choices (which I also haven’t tried.) Im not afraid to try them — they just seem uninteresting.

Having said that, all the topping options seemed generally reasonable until I discovered… sunny side up eggs cooked on the pizza. Curiously, this is a disgusting enough idea that I strangely feel somewhat compelled to try it.

Yummy -- eggs cooked on pizza!

Categories: Food, Israel Tags: , ,

The Driving Test

Watch out… it looks like I’m getting a driver’s license!

Okay, so it isn’t that awesome — I’ve been driving in Israel for four months using my license from Maryland.  I can use the foreign driver’s license for only one year; now I’ll be able to drive in Israel for at least another 10 years.

To get the driver’s license, I first had to have my eyes checked with an optician.  This only took about 5 minutes.  I was given an official looking green form that specified (I think) that it is safe for me to drive with glasses.

Next, I had to go to my doctor to have the form filled out.  The doctor is supposed to specify any medical conditions that may impair my driving.  I’ve never met my doctor. I picked him on a recommendation and this would have been our first meeting. I picked him, in part, because he speaks English; however, he was on vacation and I met with a substitute doctor. The substitute doctor, of course, did not speak English. We stared at each other for about ten minutes. There was a crude attempt to communicate. I think she may have asked if I have diabetes. Anyway, she eventually decided that I was in good health and checked all the boxes in the “no” column. A few official stamps and a signature on the green form and I was done.

After getting the doctor’s approval, I had to travel to the Ministry of Vehicle Licensing to get the green form approved for the next phase. This simple service is only done at the district level offices. In addition, it is only done on Monday and Wednesday between 8:30 and 12:30.  After a 45 minute drive and a 30 minute wait in line, a clerk stamped and signed the form in three or four places.

The next step is the driving test.  However, to take the driving test, you need to be certified by a driving instructor. I found an instructor in Ra’anana who is originally from Great Britain.  He is a former Israeli police officer and a former driving test evaluator.  I took a lesson with him and he explained everything I would need to know for the test. For instance, I drive automatic cars using my left foot on the brake. That may sound strange since most people use the right foot on both the gas pedal and the brake, but that’s how I do it. My instructor informed me that it is illegal to break with the left foot in Israel.  If I do it during the driving test I’ll fail.

He went over all the basic laws and basically treated me like I had no clue how to drive.  I was tempted to argue with him on a number of topics (like breaking with my left foot), but what’s the point?  Turning right on red is also illegal in Israel.  He is pretty sure that the only reason why it is still legal in most US states to turn right on red is because of the existing infrastructure — it would cost too much to change it!  I really wanted to explain that turning right on red just makes sense — it allows traffic to flow without adding much risk.  The biggest risk is probably the risk of hitting pedestrians.  The cross-walks here are always full of pedestrians, so turning on red is impractical anyway.

Anyway, I took the test. It was pretty stressful. There were two other students in the car and we all took turns. I went first and my drive was by far the easiest and shortest. At first, I thought this must mean that I’m such an awesome driver that there was no point in testing me any longer. Later, I discovered that I actually committed a driving violation and that I could fail the test as a result, therefore, perhaps my test was short because there was no need to continue the test. What did I do wrong?  I approached an intersection and the road that I was traveling on turned into a one way road moving against me (so I could not drive straight).  I also could not turn right (because there was no road to the right), so I turned left. Oops. The road that I turned on to was also one way and, although I was heading in the right direction, I turned into the right lane instead of the left lane. The truth is, I didn’t realize that it was a one way road!

Apparently it was not a major concern because I passed the test. My instructor is handling most of the leg work which is really nice.  He is supposed to cough-up my temporary license this week and then the permanent license should arrive in the mail in a couple of weeks.

Categories: Israel Tags: ,

Four Months

I have now been living in Israel for almost four months.  I’m busier than ever trying to get things normalized.  Why the rush?  I’m hoping to be working soon and I’m trying to get things in order while I have the time.

We spent four days in Eilat last week.  Eilat is the southern most city in Israel. I was very happy to go to Eilat because it was starting to get cold here in Ra’anana.  When I say cold, I’m talking about less than 20 degrees!  I actually need to wear a jacket at night. I think 20 degrees Celsius is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Eilat was a lot of fun, but it was also cold there at night.  I don’t think the pool was heated, so we only used it a few times.

Our hotel in Eilat

While in Eilat, I went SCUBA diving for the first time in about 15 years.  I stopped diving because of an ear injury — I wasn’t sure if I could equalize properly.  I was on a forty minute dive at a maximum depth of about 28 feet, so I think my ear is okay.  I’m going to try and add SCUBA to my list of activities.

I’ve been focusing my attention lately on getting an Israeli driver’s license.  Because I’m already a foreign licensed driver, the process is pretty simple — I think it is a 12 step process.  I’ve been working on it for three weeks and I’m already at step 5!

I find that when I have too many things to write about, I tend not to write about any — too many choices! I’m going to do battle with this problem and try to write blogs more often.

Categories: Israel, Trips Tags: , ,

How am I doing?

Thanks for asking!  I’m doing great.  What’s not to like about a half-year vacation in a warm, sunny, beautiful, seemingly peaceful environment.

Well, there is the fact that it’s not really a vacation — technically, I’m unemployed.  Then again, it seems like 20% of Americans are unemployed (or underemployed) and at least I’m living on my own earning in a beautiful setting. At least for now, I’m not partnering with the Government in thievery.

It has been very sunny… except at night (of course).  That’s really not such a good thing.  There has been a drought here for five or six years.  Islands are starting to appear in the Kinneret (you know, the so-called Sea of Galilee) and that’s not a good thing.  Pray for rain!

Although it is seemingly peaceful, I assume it is still true that every bordering country is just waiting for the opportunity to kill everyone here. Since I cannot understand the news, I don’t seem to notice it.  In fact, I’m totally at peace oblivious to whatever is going on around me. That’s probably not a good thing.

Anyway, I have a job interview and I’m late.  That’s also not a good thing.

Why am I late? Because I’m writing this silly blog. So this is the end for now!

Categories: Israel Tags: ,
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