Bootstrapping at UC Berkeley

Today I had my first day at UC Berkeley in Dawn Song's group and I must say that it was quite an intensive day! Most of the time went into going through all the bureaucratic processes here at Berkeley. I always thought that ETH Zurich was bad, but the bureaucratic pain at ETH is peanuts compared to bureaucracy here at Berkeley.

The bureaucratic pain started about 3 weeks ago where I got an email that I had to attend a special Berkeley Visa meeting (also called SIM meeting). The meeting was on the following day (when we were still on holiday). So I rushed up to the International House and attended this meeting. Before the presentation we were handed a booklet and had to register with our passports and DS-2019s. Attending the presentation was mandatory and you only get your travel authorization (if you want to travel during your J1 PostDoc) if you attend this meeting. So I waited in the auditorium and read the booklet. Twice. And the presentation covered the material in the booklet in more or less slow-retard mode (i.e. very detailed and precise so that everybody would get it).

On my first day I had an appointment with ERSO to get my contract set and settled. As a typical Swiss I arrived 5 to 9 and was greeted with a warm welcome. Unfortunately the person I had an appointment with had her day off today so I was handled by somebody else. All in all I had to fill out around 15 forms, enter my personal information about 10 times, and sign the documents 12 times or so. This process took 1/2 an hour and got me a Berkeley employee ID (which will be needed later on).

The next step was meeting with Dawn Song's awesome Barbara Goto who handles access to the offices and hardware distribution. So I signed in with her and we went to the building administration to get me a key for the office (where I had to pay a 5$ deposit). To get access on the (wired and wireless) network you need an EECS account, administered by IRIS. So I went back to Cory Hall to talk to the IRIS guys and got myself registered. The registration is a 3-way process: you register, your PI has to sign it off, you reregister and authenticate yourself using your Cal ID.

When I returned from IRIS Glacier had sent me an email that my employee ID had gone through the first system and that I needed to fill out some (online) forms. So off I went. For taxation Galcier needed all my visits _ever_ to the US with exact date and length of date (which is almost double digits in my case and a pain to enter on their website). To fill out these forms you need your DS-2019 and your position code which is available on your contract.

Now I would also like to have a Cal ID, which is the main form of authentication for campus services. Unforunately I have to wait two days until all the forms I just filled out have rippled through nightly batch jobs and are processed by the different systems. To get the Cal ID you need your employee number as well but with the Cal ID you get access to the recreational sport facilities, AC transit (bus) passes, and much more. Unfortunately I have to wait for two more days. This section concludes my bureaucratic nightmare of the first day, it was already past noon and I have not yet talked to the other guys here.

My next point on the list was a quick meeting with Dawn who pointed me to Lenx to get all the necessary information. Lenx filled me up on all the currently running projects and told me when the group meetings are. Basically ask your group members to get on all the mailing lists, get access to the internal wikis, the GIT repositories, and the SVN. Then I was also told to order laptops and desktops. Dawn offered me one of these retina a MacBook Pro laptops, but I declined and opted for another Lenovo: this time I'll get an X230 with 24 hours of battery life and less than 3lb (1.3kg) weight. Compared to 6 hours battery life and 4.4lb (2kg) of the MacBook Pro. A conference laptop should be lightweight and should last through the regular conference day, so travel light, travel energy efficient!

Now I'm looking forward what the next day will bring! :)


It's now Thursday and I hope to have finished all the bureaucratic stuff that I had to do. Basically you need to get an employee ID (at the ERSO office). The employee ID registers you in all the major databases and kick-starts your payroll. Then you have to register your tax services at Glacier to ensure correct taxation of your payroll, you need to setup accounts and fill out all the online forms at AYSO and BLU; these four services (ERSO, AYSO, Glacier, and BLU) ensure your payroll. After that you need to go to Garnett-Powers to select a health-care plan. If you (and your wife) have social security number you might be able to fill out the form online at AYSO. Otherwise you need to go to the Garnett-Powers homepage and fill out the online form, print it, and hand it over to the ERSO guys.

The next step is to generate an IRIS account so that you get an email account, can logon the internal network and wired network, and can register devices. You have to go there to create an account, wait until your account is approved, and go there a second time to set all your passwords. The IRIS account depends on your employee number. For a bunch of other services you will need a Cal1Card. You have to wait 1-2 days until all the data is batch processed, then you'll have to go to the Cal1Card office (at the student services) which will then issue your PostDoc ID card plus an account token. With your employee number and the account token you'll be able to generate a Cal1 account. The Cal1Card depends on your employee number.

All in all it took me 3 days to fill out all the forms and to wait until the state of my account was batch processed to a completion. Sigh, and I always thought that ETH was inefficient and bureaucratic.