Here is what it felt like to bomb an interview at Berkeley in 2000. (My mom had printed out the emails; she showed them to me in 2019 because she thought they were fun.)
Re: how did it go?
Date: 4/18/00 12:52:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time
You know, “how did it go?” is a very good question. I don’t know. Here is how it went. Make sure to skim the whole thing because it changes halfway through.
first in the morning i talked to a loser, XXX XXX. He does XXX and talks like ken birman only more so (more output-only, in otherwords he doesn’t listen at all). Then my next appointment didn’t show up. Then another non interesting person who talked about MIT so much that it became obvious that he sort of wishes he still was there, hacking MACSYMA. (Fateman). Then Kathy Yelick and that was a lot of fun. Then Joe Hellerstein, database person, and that was fun too - although he seemed a little vicious. “Let me be a devils advocate,” he said again and again. This would become an issue during the talk.
Then faculty lunch. Then the talk.
The talk was actually, I think, bad. It was bad because of the questions, which was a big surprise for me. For some reason, the questions were just strange enough that I could not understand what they were talking about. Someone would ask if something was blocking and i would just be like, “blocking? what the fuck do you mean?”. and so i would stare at them and look stupid. or ask them to rephrase the question and then give an awkward answer. and once i even answered wrong. anyway, there were a lot of questions then, perhaps because people smelled blood. joe hellerstein (database guy/devils advocate) in particular asked so many questions that he almost derailed the talk. he asked a question about RED looking inside the stochastic fair queue abstraction to find the two queues inside it. he thought this violated encapsulation. I gave a pretty good answer, not great. Then in compound elements this came up again and he raised his hand and was like “But of course there IS no encapsulation because RED has to look inside the compound elements!!!!” and I was like “you’re wrong, i explained this, this is encapsulated from the user’s perspective” [only less gracefully than that] and then i was actually a bit snarky to him – like i said in the talk part, “and here, the USER [nasty glance at hellerstein] can leverage….” and as soon as i did this snarky thing, i realized how stupid it was, and i was like, “fuck. i just lost my job.” overall the words not related to questions were good, but the words related to questions were terrible – i felt like a moron, and totally ungraceful.
the talk then went a bit long, (last question at 2:15, talk started a bit after 1) even though i kept up the pace, because of questions, so there was a mass exodus from the room during the last 10–15 minutes (well, not a mass exodus - but a lot of people left in dribs and drabs). and when the talk was over, my feeling was, “oh well. i might as well walk out of these doors and go try to enjoy san francisco instead of talkiing to anyone else.”
then some moronic graduate student with sunglasses on inside came up and was like “so your talk was okay, but there was one thing ahat you might want to do differently, which is that i know that robert morris (is he the worm morris?) was first author on your paper, and you have a long author list, so it’s not clear exactly what part of this is your work? so that really wasn’t clear from your talk so think about that.” um, die please
then a meeting with students to which one student showed up. greeat!
then a meeting with eric brewer. we went outside and sat on a bench. he was super relaxed. he said he really hoped that i would come to berkeley. umm, ok.
then a meeting with d. culler and that was relaxed and fine too.
then some guy on the teaching faculty, started badly ended well.
then the head of eecs, richard newton, and one of the first things he said was that he had heard great things about me (i think from brewer) and that he expected i would get an offer, it was really probable, although of course he couldn’t guarantee it!, and he really hoped that i would come to berkeley, and what could he do to convince me to come? and i was just like, are you talking about the other faculty candidate who was here today and gave a good talk when i wasn’t looking? of course, newton hadn’t actually seen my talk, altho he said he’ll watch the video, so if i want to feel pessimistic, i can believe that he will see it and realize what a mistake hiring me would be, but that is so ridiculous that even i can’t quite believe it. especially since i don’t believe that anyone actually watches these faculty candidate videos. still, it is weird. (he was really really fun.)
then dinner and of course dinner was great and brewer was there and $100 of wine was had at least and afterwards brewer said things along the lines of “i should call your friends and thank them for pulling you to california.” WHAT??
so how did it go? I HAVE NO IDEA. but probably okay.
p.s. they inform everyone of their decisions next wednesday.
Subject: further updates
Date: 4/18/00 8:26:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time
So today was again weird… Christos Papadimitriou, the chair of the department, was my first meeting and he was a pleasure. Then came Stuart Russell, the recruiting chair. He said : “Well, your talk was… interesting. There was a… MIXED reaction, I think. Have you talked to Joe Hellerstein?” [who was the guy who gave me hell] Then we got into an annoying forty five minutes where he wanted everything to be encapsulated nicely and i was like I do not want everything to be encapsulated nicely and it was frustrating and left me a little down. Then Larry Rowe, George Necula, two cool people at lunch, Alex Aiken. Some cool discussions, some boring; none of them had seen the talk. This got a little frustrating. I was like, “well so i guess all the people who actually SAW the talk have decided that im not worth their time.” can you tell i’m paranoid? then jean walrand from EE, who had seen the talk and liked it. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS then anthony joseph, who seems to be having fun, and hadn’t seen the talk. then christos again. i was stressed out enough to mention my concerns and he was like “i don’t believe you should be concerned at all.” or something. which all adds up to
i love you guys!@