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Mehran Sahami

Professor (Teaching) of Computer Science
Computer Science
I’d say one of the biggest challenges in life is being able to make a decision about what’s important to you, even when all the people around you think you’re making the wrong move.

Sometimes they have good advice to offer; sometimes they have information that you really should take in and think critically about. But at the end of the day, you’re making a decision for yourself, not for others.

When I was finishing up graduate school, I was thinking of a career path. My plan had always been to become a professor, but at the time I was finishing my PhD, there were some really interesting opportunities in industry. So instead of becoming an assistant professor somewhere, I decided at the last minute to take a different path and go into industry.

I first went to a small company named Epiphany and eventually joined a startup called Google, which of course turned into a very big company. Working there was a really enjoyable experience. But after a few years, I realized that what I really wanted to do in the long term was to go back to academia. A lot of people told me I’d be crazy to do that, but I just knew it was the right decision for me. Even though some people around me didn’t understand why I was making that choice, I felt it was important to be true to myself and make the decision to come back here.

To me, the draw of teaching is helping someone understand something new. It’s pretty amazing to watch someone have an “aha!” moment – to see them not only understand a topic conceptually, but begin to think about the power it will afford them in the future. Being in a position to help students have that moment is incredibly fulfilling for me.

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