Technically Religious
S1E24: God-as-a-Service: Our Religion as the Codebase - part 2

S1E24: God-as-a-Service: Our Religion as the Codebase - part 2

August 20, 2019

There's an old joke (and a famous website) comparing programming languages to religions, but the analogy is truer than it might seem at first blush. Logic structures are everywhere in scripture. Pair programming strongly resembles the intensive 2-person style learning found in all orthodox Jewish Yeshivot.In part 2 of this conversation, we continue to explore how your religion - the one you grow up with or grow into - is very much like a module you've inherited as a code owner. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon: 00:00 This is a continuation of the discussion we started last week. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Josh: 00:06 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate it. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:29 Um, I'm curious about, uh, again, some of the things, you know, the ways that we look at this, for example, uh, with consequences. You know, if you, if you do, if you are that cowboy coder and you break that module, you say, "Ah, I can write a better one of these and I can...", You know, and all of a sudden what happens? Like the entire code is an operable and I think that religion has a similar thing. Somebody who comes in and says, uh, you know, I know that there's these religious tenants, but we don't have to do this thing that's not important anymore. And the whole thing falls apart.

Josh: 01:05 Hey, Mormon Mormonism had that.

Leon: 01:07 Okay. In what way?

Josh: 01:08 Well, so Mormonism was founded on the idea of a, of restorationism. Um, so that the, the idea of, um, truth had to be restored. And one of the truths that was restored by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was the idea of, of polygamy. And that was carried on after his, his, uh, death, uh, murder martyrdom, however you wanna frame it, um, in a, in a jail. Um, and Brigham Young carried that on. So, you know, Joseph Smith had like 34 wives. Um, Brigham Young had 57, I think, some number like that, but when Utah wanted to become a state, um, the US government said there's no way. We are not letting a bunch of polygamists, um, uh, obtain statehood. So in, um, the mid 1890s, 1895, I think, um, Mormonism dropped polygamy. And when they did that, there was a huge rift that was established, uh, in the church. Um, there today there are Fundamentalists, uh, Mormons or Fundamentalist LDS, um, who still practice polygamy. Uh, even when Joseph Smith was, was killed, the idea was, you know, who's going to take over, um, the church split then the, um, his, his, uh, son Joseph Smith, the third cause Joseph Smith was actually Joe Smith Jr. So his son Joseph Smith, the third, um, started a, another religion. Um, so like these riffs, um, they, they happen and they tear apart, um, really good teams, you know. So again, you know, Mormonism had it right. It was as, "Hey, this thing works really well for us except for we're going to get rid of it..." And it breaks. So when you, when you do that within technology, when you do that within a programming language, when you fundamentally change the core of who a, of your technology, you can piss a lot of people off.

Patrick: 03:09 Nobody likes a fork.

Corey: 03:10 [Background] No!

Josh: 03:10 Nobody like soft fork.

Leon: 03:12 Oh, he took it. Okay.

Corey: 03:13 Yeah. Patrick got it. Before I could, yeah. This is, this sounds exactly like you're forking or branching off code eventually off of, you know, GitHub or do you think about just Linux in general? I mean, especially apropos with Josh, uh, talking earlier about, you know, being scared of Linux, you know, this is, this is exactly what Linux did. You have your Debian and you have Red Hat and you have Minz and you have Cinnamon. You have all of these things because everybody has said, oh I can do it better or I can do it, I'm going to do it differently. Or you know, and it's just this chain that comes on down. Our open source projects have this all also, I mean the number of times I've had, you know, to especially in my current job to hey this, this one feature works great man, I needed to do this other thing that I will, I'll just fork it and just use it for my own purposes.

New Speaker: 04:03 [inaudible].

Leon: 04:04 yeah.

Patrick: 04:05 Isn't that the point of theology really? Which is you have four different projects that are all forked from the same root. And there's a lot of people who will love to be opinionated and argue with you all day that their one particular implementation implementation is the one true and only implementation at anyone else who gets excited about anything else is obviously wrong. But the reality is that they are all forked from a common set of service requirements. And that th that really the point of theology is to establish some base, uh, almost, anti-patterns. Exactly. But a set of a set of common frameworks that everything else descends from and as long as you can see it from those original design requirements, then you don't have to worry so much about the specifics.

Leon: 04:54 Right. So I, yeah, I like that idea that, that religion in in one respect is establishing both patterns and anti-patterns and saying, you know, this, these are the things that work well and you know, or tend to work well and that's uh, based on observation of Millennia and the wisdom of the sages of the language that's doing it or the religion or whatever. And here's some anti-patterns that we've seen and here's why. So I think that that's, that's good. I was also thinking about, again, back to the idea of consequences that um, in code, you know, we talk about bad code and you know, uh, you know, the program just doesn't run, but that's not the worst thing that can happen when you run bad code. It can actually destroy the host system. You can actually do physical damage to the system with bad code. And you can certainly wreak havoc with data, with the, with the tribal knowledge of a corporation. With bad code, you can delete entire databases and you can, you know, you can really lose the essence of what's going on. And I think that people who try to take a religion or a religious, uh, philosophy living structure and then bend it to their will and change the foundational principles really do end up destroying the host system, in this case, the society. Um, and they have, you know, they have the risk of destroying the data that sit, that societal knowledge of how we do things, the, even the societal identity of who we are, um, that religion poorly implemented can have that, can have that consequence. Um, so I think that there's, that that similarity again of, as, as programmers, we know that there's actually a lot at stake if we, if we don't test, if we don't implement correctly, if we don't follow, you know, I would say proper procedures, best practices, that it's more than just, oh, your module didn't run, "Haha. Sucks to be you." Like we can really like mess up badly. Y2K is a great example of the potential risks of what could have happened.

Doug: 07:03 And one of the advantages that you get them is as coders because I can really mess things up. [Don't ask me how I know]. Um, but as a result, when you take that into, when I take that into my religious life, I'm careful with how I handle the attributes of my religion, the beliefs of my religion. I have been known in some conversations to go ahead and question people who were really, really solid in, uh, you know, in their belief of something that was wrong and really irritated some people. And, and I'm more careful about that now because I now know that I have got the capability to break things, to break people, to actually make their lives worse. Um, if I go ahead and use what I know about how my religion works, how my code works to essentially make it, make things break. So I'm really careful about drawing people out to make sure that they really are making a mistake. It used to be that I would assume that if something went wrong, it was probably somebody else on the team. I now assume it's me. I mean I'm in nine times out of 10, I'm right. But so I'm much, much more careful about how I do what I do in coding. But I'm also very careful about how I do what I do in my religious community cause I don't want to break that community.

Leon: 08:21 All right, so I'm going to ask you folks, cause you guys are, our programmers are real programmers on a Script Kiddie. Um, how often have you had this really elegant, really concise, incredibly compact piece of code that you realized you can't put into the final program? You need to expand it out, make it longer because you knew that the people who are going to come back later to troubleshoot weren't going to understand your super duper concise version. You needed to expand it a little bit and is not the code version of putting a stumbling block, stumbling block before the blind.

Doug: 09:00 Yes. Many times. I mean one of the, one of the tenets is the person who kind of come into code later. You're never going to be as smart as the person who wrote it in the first place. So you really need to write it for a dumber programmer cause that person coming later. Maybe you mean? Well now when I was teaching programming, I mean I actually had a really beautiful piece I used to call it, I was teaching c and it it would take a digital number and turned it into binary and it was like a two line recursive piece of code that was just, I mean I called it programming poetry. Um, none of my students got quite as excited about it as I did but it's nothing that I would ever put into a real piece of working, uh, code because most people have trouble understanding recursion to start with and this stuff was so spare that it just, you had to spend a half an hour just to finally grasp what it was saying. So the, the trick is to go ahead and find something that works but that regular people can understand as opposed to you on your most brilliant day.

Corey: 10:01 I mean we have a similar thing though in in Judaism. I mean you, you always think about there are patterns that we always, that we have to follow. We have these set lists of things, you know, uh, solid principles Uncle Bob Martin has yeah. That, that we follow and these are your journeys and we have ideas at the rabbis, you know, either you're added safeguards and those are pretty much what our design patterns...

Leon: 10:31 OK, right.

Corey: 10:31 ...are, this, these, these rules. And of course, one of the fundamental rules of this all is you're not putting a second one on top of one on top of another decree. Basically, you're not putting a pattern around another pattern that that's just, it's in and of itself, its own anti pattern.

Leon: 10:49 Right, right. You don't put a fence around a fence.

Corey: 10:51 Yes.

Patrick: 10:52 That would be nice and code. Yeah.

Leon: 10:54 Right. Because yeah. Too many layers of, of extra, um, ...

Corey: 10:58 Too many layers of that distraction. Yeah. I mean, as an example, I remember I was on a project where the, the project that the code was, the project was supposed to have been delivered six months earlier and the guy who was their architect had spent months just doing the architecture and he had over architected it to the point where even the simple html tag was its own function and it, it bogged down the system and it just made it so impossible to where it looked beautiful. But it was so impossible to work with and to actually create the code that no wonder this project was running so late.

Patrick: 11:41 OK, there are no, there are no zealots in software.

Speaker 6: 11:43 Okay. There shouldn't be. There are certainly are.

Patrick: 11:48 Right. Well, what if, and this goes back again to the kind of community aspect of great, like what if the best religions are the ones that are religions of attraction in the same way that the best projects are the ones that are project of attraction and there is no right or wrong, um, what there actually is as a sense of fellowship around a um, um, a goal. And that those projects which tend to drive the most engagement are the ones that are most welcoming and where there are this disparate set of voices, each with their own opinion. And there is no, you did this right, you did this wrong, you are an elder, you are new to this. And instead that the projects that are the most successful with technologies are the ones that build fervor, naturally because people are just excited to be a part of it, right? Like that. And that as the ultimate anti pattern that removing judgment from it and letting it be a project of attraction is the one that builds really healthy communities around a particular type of technology that actually survived.

Leon: 12:50 Right. And, and I'll also say that to your point about judgment, that uh, both religion and programming, um, individuals come, come to those groups and they say, I want to improve, I want to be better. But there's a really big responsibility and there's a, there's a dance that has to be done about giving correction. That, in religion, Doug, this goes back to your point about being careful about what you say and Patrick, what you just said about you know, about code, that if, if I invite someone to say, "Hey, can you evaluate my code? Can you, you know...?", I'd like you to look at my, you know, lifestyle, my choices and offer your perspective on it. That's an invitation. If that invitation is not extended, someone who offers uninvited their correction, whether it is code or religion, is really crossing a line and has a very real chance of driving that person away in both cases.

Patrick: 13:51 Right. I think, not to drop the observability word here, but I will...

Leon: 13:56 There we go!

Patrick: 13:57 So much of it ends up being like, how do you instrument a religion, right? Like, is it, are you looking at, you know, are you looking at latency? Are you looking at CPU utilization and memory? Right? Is it about how it affects the end user or is it about you? And like a, a bunch of really discrete metrics about the infrastructure. Because if you measure something, let's say, what is the 'peace' metric here? Right?

Leon: 14:20 Okay.

Patrick: 14:21 What is the faithfulness metric as opposed to, oh, I do the Hokey pokey and I turned myself around and I get up and I get down at the right times and I say all the magic right words. It's like where do you put the metric on it to determine whether it's doing the most good or not or whether it's the best for you or not. So there's an opportunity to uplevel. I think we tend to get way too granular into the practice instead of the outcome. Oh, and I'm talking about code now in technology, but yeah, I mean like putting, putting metrics in place that are not sort of minimum acceptable performance metrics, but instead like, where's the delight here? Where's the thing where we're going to move forward? And those tend to be more crowdsourced, end-user focuses. And not so much about everyone who's already converted or everyone who's already practicing the right way. But like people who were new to it. Like is this actually something that a community would want people that would be attractive and would draw people to it? Or is it insular and it actually excludes people? Or it makes you feel like you're always trying to catch up, uh, because you're afraid of being judged?

Leon: 15:23 Right. But I will say that in both religion and code, there's the aspect of people wanting to work hard at it. The, the joy doesn't mean that it caters to the lowest common denominator and makes everything easy and low risk and low work and low stress. That both religion and code work best when you're asking people or you're offering people an opportunity to grow. And that means sometimes facing some relatively uncomfortable elements of themselves, but not in a way that breaks them, It's in a way that strengthens them.

Patrick: 15:58 but aren't, they aren't the best projects. The ones where you can get to 'hello World!' 10 minutes after you, uh, get clone. Um, but also the ones that you can spend hours every night digging into the code base with more and more detail and opinion and history about why the thing ended up the way it was like aren't the best projects, the ones that are open that there is no idea of this person is an expert and this person isn't and it's accommodating to people who are interested in technology and excited about automation and learning how to, to really think beyond a prescription and get to the part where they're using their passion and it doesn't matter and you don't judge them for you, you welcome them to the project regardless of of their experience level?

Corey: 16:44 Yeah, I mean that's one of the key things that I, I've had to adopt being a team lead now at my company is I've got a number of developers who have far less experience than I do it. It's a matter of not just getting them up to speed and making sure that the team is enjoying the process and make sure everybody is excited. I mean, we work on the accounting module and accounting, you know, you can get kind of boring.

Leon: 17:12 It's not the sexiest module in the program.

Doug: 17:15 Hey, hey, hey, I like accounting.

Corey: 17:19 Yeah. I mean, Hey, I'm Jewish. I love counting money.

Leon: 17:21 Oh God!

Corey: 17:21 Also, don't get me wrong...

Leon: 17:23 Corey!

Patrick: 17:25 We should have video for all the head shaking.

Corey: 17:27 Do we have a legal department?

Leon: 17:32 [Groaning] OK, keep going

Corey: 17:32 But there is that, that, that element of having to bring people in and making sure everybody is taken care of. Then leading back to what Patrick was saying that I want to make, I need to make sure as as the team lead, that everybody's in the right place and everybody's in a good place for it and for this project to move forward and for us to all collectively get this across the line and get to the end where we're supposed to be.

Doug: 18:01 Evangelical Christianity when it's done right, in my opinion, of course, but because of course I know what's right, you know, uh, but evangelical Christianity when it's done right is both welcoming in the beginning, but has that ability to grow and your joy and everything increases over a period of time. Evangelical Christianity as it's portrayed generally in, uh, the media and in most people's minds is that whole judgmental hitting you with the Bible. You know, you're a terrible person judging the world. Uh, and it's unfortunate that, that, that's the impression it's gotten. But that's because there are a number of people who are Evangelical Christians who feel it's their job to fix the rest of the world. The reality is, it's like in the Christian world, we're not supposed to be judging the world. It's not our, that's not our bailiwick. It's not my job to go ahead and fix everybody else. We're, we're actually supposed to fix ourselves. You know, when you come into the Christian community, you're, you're essentially are guided by the community and to grow in that community, but your job is not to go ahead and fix everybody that's outside.

Leon: 19:13 Okay. So I think that puts to bed, uh, some of our ideas about the ways in which our religions are like our programming lives. But I don't think it's a perfect match. I think there are situations in which it does fall apart. Um, for example, we were talking about consequences, you know, of our choices. And while there are a lot of similarities, I don't believe that a core memory dump is the same as spending eternity in hell for those people who have such things. So, um, what are some ways in which our religions are not like programming? Where does this not stand up?

Doug: 19:46 With consequences?

Leon: 19:48 With anything.

Doug: 19:48 I'll tell you. Well No, I'm gonna say with consequences because the, there's a couple number one, 9 times out of 10, if you screw up in code, you know, like really soon. I mean, if you're working in a compiled language, it doesn't compile. If you're, you know, you run your tests, your tests fail. I mean, you find out right away. You can sin really badly in most religions. And it doesn't, the reason why we have televangelists that sleep with their secretaries for months and months is because you don't, God does not immediately hit you with the lightening bolt when you screw up. So the, the, the consequences in religion tend to come at a longer range and people being not quite as focused as they should be, might think that they got away with it. Uh, whereas programming is a lot. Um, it's, it's kinda in your face. Now. It is possible to have an era that doesn't show up for years later. You know, they do exist, but for the most part, if you screw up, it hits you in the face, right now.

Leon: 20:50 The feedback loop is much tighter. Okay.

Doug: 20:52 Really tight.

Corey: 20:53 The other thing is, I mean, we have, you don't have too many people bouncing between religions as much as you have people bouncing between coding languages. I mean, in a given day. Sure. I'm primarily a .Net developer, but I work with Angular. I've worked with, I work with SQL, all these different languages and you know, bouncing between them like, oh, this cool feature on this. Oh, this cool feature on that one. And so, you know, you don't really have that as far as the religious context goes.

Leon: 21:23 Fair enough. Okay.

New Speaker: 21:24 So I'm going to be adversarial here. I'm going to disagree with Corey and I'm going to agree with Patrick. I think that more and more in the world we're seeing people who are bouncing between a religious observance. Um, and, and Doug, I'm going to be a little oppositional with you as well. Um, if I, I think, I think people who are in high demand religions, um, have a very clo...or very tight feedback loop. Um, you know, so for example, within Mormonism, uh, in order to go to a Mormon temple and LDS temple, you are required to have a temple recommend. That is something that is issued to you every two years after you, uh, go through, uh, an interview process where there are, I think 12 questions that, uh, assess your, your spiritual and physical, uh, worthiness. Um, if you screw up, um, like, I guess I did when I said I didn't, I no longer believed they will revoke that, um, temple recommend. And you can no longer attend the temple. So there are definitely religious observances out there. Um, I call them high demand religions. And where there, there is a very tight feedback loop. Uh, Jehovah's Witnesses. If you are deemed unworthy by the Council of the Elders, um, you are shunned. Uh, and those are two between Mormonism and, uh, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Those are two that I'm very familiar with. So I, I think that, I mean, maybe there are some religions that are really like code and that the, that that feedback loop exists. Um, and so, I think fundamentally we have a problem here, uh, on this podcast and that is that we have self-selected some people that are rather altruistic, um, and have a very broad view on both religion and technology, right? What we need here are we need some very coarse fundamentalists. Um, some people who are very dogmatic.

Leon: 23:30 [Laughing]

Josh: 23:32 Um, I mean, maybe we're talking about going up to the Linux forums as Patrick suggested earlier.

Leon: 23:37 Oooo...

Multiple people: 23:37 Oh yeah. Oh,.

Leon: 23:39 I feel called out.

Patrick: 23:40 Okay. Apple forums.

Multiple people: 23:41 Apple, that's worse.

Josh: 23:45 [Laughing] It really, Oh, you know, we're, we're, we're talking about, um, in a very pragmatic and, uh, holistic way the way that we want religion to function. The reality though is if we look out into the world that's not the way that, that religion necessarily functions. Um, you know, there's a reason that there's a really bad church in Florida that, um, travels around the United States, uh, shaming and shun...., Shaming people for things that they do. And I'm not even going to mention their name cause I just don't like them. But those people are religious. And for those who are listening, I am air quoting, you know, my little heart out here. They are, they have a very profound religious observance but they would not fit in well with this group here.

Leon: 24:32 But I would, I wu... I would also argue that that flavor of whatever of lifestyle is exactly, we are talking about with consequences that a religion where you've changed the base tenants and you've started to really veer away can actually do damage in the same way that code can ruin, you know, a societal structure or it religion can ruin a societal structure that your code can ruin your data structures. Um, I wouldn't call that a[n] effective or even a legitimate, uh, religious expression, and I've realized that I've alienated them and I'm okay with that. Um, I would, I would also say.

Doug: 25:12 They're not going to like you!

Leon: 25:12 that's fine. I'm good with that. I, I consider that a plus. Um, I also think that, um, to a few points that were brought up, the bouncing between religions, I think that there's a difference between people who bounce between basically, I won't say fundamentally, but basically Christian religions going from, uh, and, and I'm going to, I'm going to express in betray my lack of nuance when it comes to Christianity as a whole. So feel free to dog pile on me if I'm really wrong on this one.

Corey: 25:45 [Background] You're wrong!

Leon: 25:45 Thank you! That, I want to point out the other Jew just did that, but um, to say that, to say that, you know, bouncing from say Presbyterian to, uh, to um, Catholic to something else is a lot different than bouncing from Buddhism to Judaism to Hinduism that, that you're really, you know, those are some radical shifts, but you can have somebody who bounces from say Perl to C# to say Delphi and you know, very gracefully goes between those,...

Patrick: 26:24 What if it's not about the language at all, right? Maybe it's about what if it's about service requirements, right? And that the demarcation, um, much like with an app server where it's requests come in and then the code itself is abstracted by whatever happens on the back end. And so what the requesting client sees a request and they see latency and they see data completeness or resiliency or availability. These are all things that they see. And then the actual code behind it, the, the design patterns, the way that it was compiled, the unit tests that were part of that acceptance delivery, the way that it was deployed, all of that is concealed to the end user, right? So what if at the end of the day, it really is just about the services that you deliver and that the way that way we choose individually to make the sausage that delivers that service don't matter. What if it really is about the service delivery and that taking yourself and your theology and your dogma out of that interface is what actually delights users, is what actually encourages people around you to hang out with you, to engage in conversation and the rest of it, and so that taking that whole idea of opinionated platform, judgment, patterns, correctness away in the same way with application delivery, is the goal. It's how do we measure whether people actually enjoy engaging with us and they don't need the details. And in fact the details distract from an opportunity to have a great interaction and to do, to leave the world a better place than it was. That the details do matter and they matter, especially in terms of being concealed or at least not being forward with the details and said being forward with the service delivery. Not with the details.

Josh: 28:07 Listen, We can't ever have Patrick back on the show. I am just going to say that right now. He is far too levelheaded.

Leon: 28:13 [Laughing]

New Speaker: 28:13 Uh, yeah. Sorry Patrick.

Patrick: 28:17 Well listen, I think about, I think about technology literally 90% of the time, the fervent and my handle. There's no joke about that, but I'm not kidding. I spend probably the remaining 10% of my time thinking about cosmology and theology and morality and the rest of it. Like "Why am I here?" I mean like the whole point of, of, of religion is that we evolved an organ of our brain that is designed to engage mysticism that allows us to go beyond, you know, being 12 years old and realizing our mortality and you know, as a cave person jumping off of a rock because you realize that this whole thing is eventually gonna come to an end. So you have to put something in there like the human experience is about mysticism. So like you're, I don't want to say you're picking a flavor and putting something in there, but like recognizing that it's about that user interface that's for the, the great faiths, the great religions that have been around for a long time. Theologies that that thought, whether it's theologies or it's um, uh, software approaches that were year in and year out. Like if you look at some really great Cobol coders from back in the day and you compare to the code that, that a lot of people are writing now and feel like no one has ever followed this pattern before. Of course we have that. It's that it's really about that longterm goal. And it's really about delivering services. Not about the patterns, the specific patterns that you use or the words that you say or the the verb tokens that you use or how it's compiled, or is it interpreted that doesn't matter. It's like what happens after the demarc point. Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of technically religious visit our website, where you can find our other episodes. Leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Corey: 30:01 .Net!

Patrick: 30:02 Go but optimized for Google, so GoLang.

Doug: 30:06 Delphi.

Leon: 30:08 Perl!

New Speaker: 30:08 Guys, guys, please, can we just unite against our common enemy?

All: 30:12 Php!


S1E23: God-as-a-Service: Thinking of Our Religion as a Codebase

S1E23: God-as-a-Service: Thinking of Our Religion as a Codebase

August 13, 2019

There's an old joke (and a famous website) comparing programming languages to religions, but the analogy is truer than it might seem at first blush. Logic structures are everywhere in scripture. Pair programming strongly resembles the intensive 2-person style learning found in all orthodox Jewish Yeshivot. And you can say that your religion - the one you grow up with or grow into - is very much like a module you've inherited as a code owner. As Patrick Hubbard, our guest on this episode, says, "It's a balance of acceptance, idealism, reverence and challenging architectural decisions made long ago." Listen or read the transcript below.

Doug: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 There's an old joke and a famous website comparing programming languages to religions, but the analogy is truer than it might seem at first blush. Logic structures are everywhere in scripture. Pair programming strongly resembles the intensive two person style learning found in all orthodox Jewish yeshivot. And you can say that your religion, either the one you grow up with, or the one you grow into is very much like a module you've inherited as a code owner. As Patrick Hubbard, one of our guests today says, "It's a balance of acceptance, idealism, reverence, and challenging architectural decisions made long ago." I'm Leon Adato and the other voices you're going to hear on this episode are my cohost and partner in internet crime, Josh Biggley.

Josh: 01:02 Hello,

Leon: 01:03 Doug Johnson.

Doug: 01:04 Hello

Leon: 01:05 Cory Adler.

Corey: 01:06 Klaatu barada nikto, Leon

Leon: 01:09 And my fellow Head Geek at SolarWinds, Patrick Hubbard.

Patrick: 01:12 Hey, Leon. It's good to hear ya.

Leon: 01:14 And it's good to have everyone here.

Leon: 01:16 Um, so the first thing we want to do before we dive into the topic at hand is give everyone a moment for shameless self promotion. Um, so Patrick, why don't you lead us off?

Patrick: 01:25 Yeah, so I'm also a head Geek at SolarWinds, which looks like dev advocacy pretty much anywhere else. Uh, you can find me on Twitter at @FerventGeek. Uh, that's probably the best way to find me. I am in too many places on YouTube and a bunch of other stuff because I didn't run away when they broke the cameras out. I'm not sure that I'd make that choice again if I could. And I am a Episcopalian, which means I'm a Christian, but not necessarily the kind that most people know because we're super progressive and we're kind of on a timeout from England right now.

Leon: 01:55 [Laughing] Okay, great. Doug, how about you?

Doug: 01:58 I'm CTO at Wave RFID, a startup that I started up with my business partner at the age of 60 something. How stupid is that? Uh, it can be found on Twitter at, at @DugJohnson or you can email me at I'm an Evangelical Christian, but not one of those in your face hitting you with the Bible kind of people. But I will talk with you all day long if you, uh, want to have that conversation.

Leon: 02:20 Uh, Corey, why don't you go next.

Corey: 02:22 Hi, I'm Corey Adler, the constant pain in Leon's side, but during the day I am a team lead engineer at Autosoft. You can find me on the Twitter at @CoryAdler and much like Yechiel and Leon, I am an Orthodox Jew. However, I prefer to call myself the Jew, extraordinary

Leon: 02:38 Dah, Dah, Dah. Okay. And as I, as I introduced earlier, Josh Biggley is one of the cofounders of the Technically Religious podcast. Josh, tell us who you are and where you're from.

Josh: 02:48 Uh, so I'm a senior engineer responsible for enterprise monitoring. Um, I'm a wanna be a Head Geek. Is that a thing? [Multiple voices: It's a thing!] You can find me on Twitter at @jbiggley. I'm also with my wife, uh, the cofounder of a new website called It's for folks who uh, who are having a, uh, a faith crisis changing their faith. Uh, just a place for there to be a safe place for there to be community. Uh, I am currently a post-Mormon, ex-Mormon, um, former Mormon, whatever. Not Mormon anymore.

Leon: 03:27 Got It. Okay. Um, and just a reminder to everyone who's listening that there will be links to everybody's information and any of the things that we mentioned during this episode in the show notes. So no, no need to scribble madly. Um, also these episodes are transcribed for people who may not speak English as a first language or are deaf or hearing impaired or just like to read more than they like to listen.

Corey: 03:49 And study for the pop quiz later.

Leon: 03:52 And Yeah, you can study for the pop quiz and my name again is Leon Adato. I am also a Head Geek at SolarWinds. You can find me on the Twitters @leonadato or on my blog, And I'm also an Orthodox Jew. Um, so I want to dive right into this. So the idea of, when we were talking about this episode, we talked about it as, you know, God as a Service or looking at our religion as code. Let's, let's unwind that a little bit. What are we, what are we saying really when we say looking at our religion, like we look at it as code.

Josh: 04:27 I mean I, I want to start off by, by reading the, um, reference on blog dot I don't even know how to say that.

Leon: 04:39 Aegisub

Josh: 04:39 It'll be, don't worry. The link will be there. Right? So, so this is, this is a post that I have laughed over since you brought it to my attention last year. I feel like I saw before but didn't remember it. And I was, as I was reading it today, I was howling with laughter inside because, so here's the entry for Mormonism and it is if you're Mormon or Post-Mormon or Ex-Mormon, you know that this applies to you. So C sharp (C#) would be Mormonism. All right? Okay. I don't code in C#, but that's okay. So at first glance it's the same as Java, but at a clo- at a closer look, you realize that it's controlled by a single corporation, which many Java followers believe to be evil. And that may, uh, that it may contain a theological concepts that are quite different. You suspect that it's probably the, it's probably, uh, sorry. You suspect that it probably be nice if only all the followers of Java wouldn't discriminate so much against you for following it. For context, Java is Fundamentalist Christianity. So Doug, [Leon laughing] you know? Yeah. Why? That's just the way that it works.

Leon: 05:50 Okay.

Corey: 05:50 That's scarily accurate.

Doug: 05:52 I mean, and the reality is the guy behind C# is the guy who is behind Delphi, which is the other language that I, so there ya are. It just all comes together.

Leon: 06:01 It all just comes together. So, right. So again, I think it makes it makes a cute joke, right? Um, and I think looking at our programming languages that we love as religions is one thing. But looking at our religions through the context of what we know as programmers I think is another. So again, I just want to, I want to try to unwind that for people who are listening. What do we mean when we say that?

Patrick: 06:24 Okay. But hold on a second. I think the Delphi analogy is good and I once upon a time wrote an awful lot of Delphi and you could almost say it in a sort of descendant, um, way that Delphi was great because it was fun, right? It sat on top of the full Win32 API. It linked down to the compiler language that uh, a Borland C++ used. So it was super efficient. So when you transition to C#, and I was also all Java for a long time and when I changed jobs I was like, yeah, I'll hold my nose and do this C# thing for awhile. But it was fun in the same way. And so I think a lot of times with religions, a big part of it is like, are there, are there tenants here or there are there echoes and reminders of something from when I was younger or that was easy at the time. So I'm not sure that that analogy of something that you encounter once and then there's the better version and iterative period and then all of a sudden you find yourself in it later. Definitely with technology it works out that way.

Patrick: 07:22 Okay, awesome. So that, that gives a piece of it. Um, anyone else want to take a swipe at why we're doing this today? What, how, how is it that we look at our religions through the lens of code?

Doug: 07:32 Oh, they are in the world of code, there are ways that you do things. There are it, there, there are certain things that any language has to do to be a language. And there are also certain things that any religion has to do to be a religion. I mean, any religion that doesn't deal with how you run your life and uh, ethics and how we relate to each other as a person wouldn't be much of a religion. Uh, any piece of code that can't handle a four loop or a, uh, be able to go ahead and handle stuff or go to a procedure or have a goto [pause] kidding!

Leon: 08:08 [Laughter]

Corey: 08:11 Oh, you scared me there for a second.

Doug: 08:13 Oh, come on. You guys are being too good.

Leon: 08:16 Okay. Any religion that has a construct that you never, ever, ever want to use because it's horrible

Patrick: 08:22 and that it's always going to be the one you're going to use over and over.

Doug: 08:25 Oh, you know what I would say most regions religions would have, I can certainly give you some constructs in Christianity I never, ever, ever want to hear about

Leon: 08:34 Anyone else want to take a swipe at it.

Josh: 08:35 I'm struck by the, um, by the nature of code and religion, um, in that code doesn't play well together. So it's not like you can, um, start using Java and then go, Oh, I'm just going to throw some, you know, some commands in here from, you know, Golang or something. Uh, I mean, I know that you, there are, are, are certain languages that you can do that with, but if you're going to develop an entire, uh, project using Java, you're going to want to minimize things that are not part of, you know, mainstream Java. Religion to me feels kind of like that the same way. There are things that they, on the surface they look like, "Oh yes, these things all make sense!". Yes, there is a god. Yes, these are constructs that help us to, you know, act a certain way and behave a certain way and do certain things. But when you start to pull things apart, you realize that the way that religion is assembled, the way that it's put together is very different. Much like, you know, hey, you can, you can develop our front end app and it looks like it's doing all the same things, but you start to pull it apart and you realize that the pieces that go in to making that application don't look at all the same. Um, so I don't know, I'm not a developer at all, but I, I feel like things just don't fit together well when it comes to religion. You know, we see that we see an awful lot of conflict in the world. Um, you know, in a, in a prior life, uh, you know, Doug and I sitting down in the same room would have resulted in one of us being hit with a Bible. Um, I'm feeling it's probably me, um, being hit, but you know, you understand what I'm saying, right? It's, this isn't religion and, and code. I mean, it's a, it's a Battle Royale sometimes and it just doesn't need to be.

Leon: 10:27 Okay.

Patrick: 10:28 Well, but how much of that is, how much of that is the religion and how much of it is spirituality? Because if, if, to me, spirituality is sort of the platform as a service here, right? Like it's the set of cloud native service primitives that, that everything else is built on. So that would be a..

Leon: 10:44 I like that its a cloud native. Like it just works so well. Oh, keep going, keep going.

Patrick: 10:48 No, the point of the Cloud is we're going to deconstruct everything into a set of service parameters and it's up to you to put it together, right? So then the question is, do you come at it dogmatically and say, "Okay, I'm gonna use only cloud native technologies!" Or "I'm gonna lift and shift from, um, a set of monolithic applications that have made me feel good for the last 30 years." And if there's anything that's opinionated in religious, it must surely be monolithic applications. Um, but underneath it, it's things like mindfulness and it's forgiveness and it's awareness and it's how does this fit in with cosmology and the, the basic tenants of that? Like what is spirituality? I think maybe that's the thing that maybe aligns more with technology and then almost the religion itself ends up being kind of the dogmatic argument if thing that you see in a Linux forum, right? Talking about talking, you know, where people will literally wish they could get in a car and go fight each other over a pattern implementation. But the reality is that the, the commonality is more about those, those base services and then we layer on all of this opinionated, uh, uh, dogmatism that distracts us from the, the core of it.

Doug: 11:56 right? I don't disagree with you, but by the same token, in the wonderful world of religion, you can have all of these wonderful, uh, in touch with the world and all that kind of stuff. But you know, the, the, the real acey-spacey kind of stuff that you tend to get with people who don't have a specific religion, they just, they're in touch with their spiritual feels, they actually accomplish very little and in the world of programming, while we can all get down to the core constructs of going ahead and working directly against the metal if we want. The reality is until you pick a language, you hardly ever get anything done and it's until you've got a team of all of a bunch of people all working with the same code base, working with the same language, working together, that's when you actually accomplish stuff. So while there are similar, while there is that base that's behind it all, you don't get much done if you sort of stay off in the sort of loose commonality area. It's only when you get into specifics that things start to happen.

Leon: 12:50 Okay, and I just want to jump in here for, for the listeners and for us and say that is at the heart of this episode, which is as programmers we can take our sensibilities as/programmers and then look at it and look at our religion and say, this is, this is the similarity. This is where I can actually deepen my experience of my religious point of view by bringing my technical, my programming sensibilities to it. So that's what this episode is about and we've already started to dive into it. So I want to keep going with this. Um, and really get into some of the specifics. So with all of that said, with that framework laid down, how are, in what ways do you find that our religions are similar to programming languages and/or code? Again, how do we bring our programming sensibility to the table and say, ah, now I can appreciate my religion so much more because of this or that or the other thing. What are some things that strike you?

Corey: 13:50 I mean, just the general structure of it all. I mean, religions, organized religions in particular are always very structured, you know? Yeah. I have especially, I mean, you could speak to Orthodox Judaism. We have to go to the services three times a day and you know, and we have to on the sabbath. We have few certain things that we can do, things we can do. The, the, the structure in general of this is how you run your life is always there. We're there and it's something that in code, I mean you understand that there are certain commands that you're going to do. There's that and you understand what programmatically, what that is going to do.

Leon: 14:24 So thou shall declare your variables before using them?

Corey: 14:27 I've tried to teach you that too many times.

Leon: 14:30 [Laughing] Okay!

Patrick: 14:30 Wouldn't it be nice if there was a religious linter that took care of the analysis beforehand?

Doug: 14:36 But that it is the same thing happens in my loosey Goosey Christianity there it's, it's, while there are rules that we don't have the very strict rules of course, because we're forgiven of everything, right? Okay. But if you actually, "Hey, you know, doesn't matter what you do, you get forgiven and just go ahead and take care of these sins and you're done!" Okay? But the reality is when we go to the service, there's the opening, then there's this many songs. Then, I mean, there's a way that we do it every single time and there's that structure that we expect. And boy, Heaven help you. If you should go ahead and you know, put the sermon first cause people are arriving late, who don't want to miss miss that, the big band in the beginning. And if they missed the sermon, boy they would be on your head. So there's just, again, there's that standard structure even in the loosey-goosey that uh, it makes it work interesting.

Josh: 15:29 So I want to build off this idea that's a, that's come, um, that there's, there are differences and similarities between religion. Being the non programmer of the group here. Um, because my God is Google and that's, that's how I survive. Um, I'm, I think that the missing element we have here is a scrum master or a project manager. We've talked about this idea that religion has rules, that we are a, that we have to follow. We've also talked about how programming languages have constructs that we have to follow. But if you don't have someone who is enforcing those rules or who is, um, setting out the paradigm in which you need to participate, then how do you know that you're doing what the other people need to do? So Doug, to your point, if you don't get people all on the same platform, if they're not all using the same, uh, you know, the same version, right? You know, if you're using a Python and you're using 2.7, so is last two dot release?, uh, versus python three, I mean, they kind of look a lot alike, but they're not going to.., there's going to be some, uh, some discord there. So I, I, I feel like, at least for me, if I, if, if I were to come in and be a programmer, I would want that. Um, I would want that scrum master. I would want that project manager. Interestingly enough, within Mormonism there is a scrum master. Um, and some people are going to say, well, yeah, "Sure, Josh, the scrum master is Jesus!" Uh, wrong answer. The scrum master is actually the president and, and a prophet of the Church who today is Russell M. Nelson. He is, uh, the, the sole, um, well he is the corporate soul. So he owns everything within the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints. He is also The Voice. So what he says is Gospel. Um, I mean, I don't know if you guys look at your scrum masters or your project managers and maybe the same way that Mormons look at Russell M. Nelson, but that's the construct, right? There has to be somebody who says, here's how things are going to operate. Here are the rules.

Patrick: 17:51 Okay? But what if Git is a guide here? And not to invoke the obvious, but the whole point of being decentralized, right? Being, um, a set of practices that allows people to collaborate. And I think GoLang there is a, uh, something to be said for if you make the right thing to do, uh, the easy thing to do, people will do the right thing. Like what if it's not about adhering to a judgment that's external, but instead the thing that's great about a great technology or a great language is, is, is one where interacting with it daily, when you look back in hindsight, you feel like you did the right thing, but it never felt like it was prescriptive. Or you were worried that you weren't adhering to a set of programming standards or was that completely annoying architect? It was always about code standards and you're like, "I just hacked the most amazing thing ever and you're going to go on a 15 minute diatribe about the way that I did my comments?". Right? Well what if the best faiths are the ones where you find that you intrinsically live them without necessarily having to go back to requirements documents every time, that they, the the right thing to do is the easy thing to do. And instead it's something that you collectively do as a part of community as opposed to being something where you're worried that the scrum masters kind of assign you a code branch that you really don't want to deal with.

Leon: 19:10 Okay. So I'm going to, I'm going to jump in on that whole scrum master idea and project manager idea. Cause I think in Judaism there's a slightly different structure. And the good part is I've got Corey here with me because there's a role in shul, um, in synagogue called the Gabbai. Uh, and the Gabbai is the person who really makes sure that every service is running as demanded as, as it needs to. So, Corey I'll let you...

Patrick: 19:36 So basically it's Cron

New Speaker: 19:38 uh, well more than that, I'll let Cory, I'll let Corey dive into it.

Corey: 19:42 So, the analogy I use, let's use all the time for being, the Gabbai, he is a, he's like a bartender and a great party. You don't notice the bartender unless he screws up the drink.

Leon: 19:53 Okay.

Corey: 19:54 Very similar fashion. The Gaba gets cause people to leave the service, makes sure everything is running on time, make sure nobody uses, you know, growing up at the podium, you know, and,

Leon: 20:09 But also you, the Gabbai knows what day it is and what special elements of the service have to be observed, whether that's a normative weekday or a normative Shabbat or a special holiday. But also that, um, this person has a special event in their life. For example, if there's a groom in the, uh, in the room or somebody whose a child is having a circumcision, then certain parts of the service are not said. But the Gabbai's job is to notice that, and say, "Oh!, we skipped this part!" and everyone says "What?!?" So the Gabbai really is that project manager role. I think, you know, in a large way I could be wrong, but...

Patrick: 20:49 So a project manager, not a lead developer?

Corey: 20:53 Uhh, I mean especially from an agile perspective, I was, I would disagree with that.

Leon: 20:57 Fine.

Corey: 20:59 Umm, from an Agile perspective, the project, the product manager is, you know...

Patrick: 21:03 Well, cause where I was going with that was a more like a, you know Julie the cruise director, right? Not actually a part of your experience, just making sure that you have a fantastic experience. Basically like a Doula.

Leon: 21:13 Right.

Corey: 21:14 [Laughing] I like that!

Patrick: 21:15 It's the, it's the leader behind the scenes in a situation where you're not supposed to have a leader.

Corey: 21:20 So I would disagree about that from an agile perspective where the product manager is really is one informing the team of what needs to be worked on and what needs to be done now versus the Gabbai who is just almost letting everything just flow naturally. Everybody already knows what they're supposed to be doing in the service is just making sure that you know, the i's are dotted, the t's are crossed, you know, not to use the pun or anything because this is a religious podcast.

Leon: 21:55 Oh my gosh! [Laughing] "The 'T's are crossed". Oh no! Okay, keep going, moving on. Nothing to see here.

Corey: 22:04 But and so the Gabbai is more, is more of an over, is it more of an overseer rather than actually dictating what the product is.

Leon: 22:15 Okay,

Patrick: 22:16 So they're providing governance.

Corey: 22:17 Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Leon: 22:18 All right. Okay. That works.

Doug: 22:20 And to a certain extent, I mean, again, while it would be great, you know that you're sitting there doing code and the code is perfect and the language allows you to do it and you're having a wonderful time and all that kind of stuff. You do still need that outside governance. In the evangelical community, it's going to be your elders and your deacons. But basically what it comes down to is, you can have a really crappy programmer coming in and just having a wonderful, wonderful time and they think they're doing great and they're just messing up everything. That's why everybody hates PHP so much is because the, you know, anybody can program in PHP and unfortunately anybody does. So you then need somebody, the scrum master, in this case, a code reviews, any kind of where to go ahead and help them get back on the track and hopefully, uh, to go ahead and write better code or to essentially be a little closer to the rules of the religion, which are there, one expects, for a reason.

Josh: 23:19 Just so everyone understands, Doug and I have never worked together. So when he talks about crappy programmers, he's not talking about me.

Leon: 23:28 [Laughing] And, and just to be clear, Doug and I have worked together, so if he's talking about crappy programmers, he's probably talking about me.

Doug: 23:35 Actually, Doug's worked on enough teams that he has had enough crappy programmers in his life. He's talked to a lot of them. But you know, one of, as in the case being a senior Dev, one of, one of my jobs as a senior Dev or in my current role as CTO, is to go ahead and help my, uh, new developers to go ahead and become better developers to effectively become a senior developer. In fact, one of the best things that you know has happened to me is one of the guys that I coached at, the last place that I was at is now a senior Dev at his current job. He didn't have it when he didn't have it when I met him. And he did have it when he left. So I'm not taking, obviously he had the capability, but he needed guidance. And that's what, in evangelical Christianity, the elders and deacons are supposed to do. They don't, they don't beat you up around the head and the shoulder, but when they find that you're drifting, when you're going in a direction that's not good for you or the community, they guide you back into the path.

Leon: 24:39 Okay. And, and we've also started to hit on another point that I think there's a commonality between, uh, programming and our religious life, which is the idea of consequences. So what are your thoughts? Like what, how are the consequences in, in our coding lives? How does that inform our experience of consequences in religion or vice versa?

Josh: 25:00 So when we jump into this idea of cost consequences, I want to touch on something that really falls in line with what Doug was just talking about. And maybe it's something that we all have as a blind spot here because, um, to some extent or another, we have a religious observance. But when, when we don't work well on a team, whether we're talking about, um, uh, an agile team or, um, a religion, there are times in our lives where being part of a religion is really problematic for us. There are people who cannot function within, um, the constructs that we want them to function in. And I don't know exactly how to draw this completely back to, um, to programming because I'm not a programmer, but there are people...

Doug: 25:48 It's called cowboy coding!

Josh: 25:50 [Laughing] Cowboy coding!

Doug: 25:51 It is that they exist and it's a problem. These are people who do not work well on a team and they do what they want. They're called Cowboy coders

Corey: 25:59 Or Bro-grammers

Leon: 25:59 Or Bro-grammers.

Josh: 26:02 Well, and I think it's, it's even more than that though, right? This sometimes there is a system that um, you just don't work well and um, and it may take a long time for you to recognize the value of that. Um, for example, for an awful long time I was a Windows only guy. Man, Linux scared their crap out of me because like there are weird words in it. It's like...

Patrick: 26:27 There's no pictures.

Josh: 26:29 Like people make up funny names. Right? Exactly. And I'm, I'm complete. I was completely flabbergasted by it. It just seemed weird and I was compelled to have to learn a Linux and I mean, somebody on this call used to work for the same company I worked for, wrote some code that I still have to look at on occasion. I mean, I'm just pointing and saying Leon, I mean, not, not saying Leon, not saying Leon.

Leon: 26:59 [Laughing] Right? Yeah. There we go.

Josh: 27:02 These, these times, right? These times where we realize we have to step away from the thing that we were comfortable with and do something else. Um, that is for me is very much a very close to my heart. Right? Um, there are times when religion just does not work to construct those, those elders out, those deacons to use Doug's terminology, they have failed in their role and you step away from that. Um, and that's okay. Like you, you don't, to go back to what Patrick was talking about, you don't have to keep programing in Delphi just because it's the thing that brought you joy in 1996. Um, it's 2019 pick a new language.

Patrick: 27:39 Cool. And I think that's something you're hitting on. Um, the thing that we all forget, right, is that I think everyone, when they are using the language of choice or if they're using the particular faith of choice or let's say religion of choice, is that you, I think a lot of people feel like, oh, this was just destined. I of course have just found myself in the best, most amazing thing ever. But the reality is, yeah, everyone went shopping once upon a time. People selected that and we forget that. And so like when you're looking at, um, especially with Go, um, your, your browsing GoLang libs or you're out looking at GitHub and what are you looking for, right? You're looking for fellowship, right? Like how many contributors are there? How long has this project been, uh, in, in, in a process? How many people are providing updates? How many comments on it? When was the last time the code was updated? So you know, basically how full is the parking lot, right? Right. So you, you, you, you did once upon a time make a choice. And I think part of the, the key is to remember that you should revisit that on a regular basis. Don't ever like just decide, well, this is who I am, this is what I am. I'm never gonna look at it again because then you don't own it. Right? So maybe, maybe that's that going back to the platform as a service thing, but like just with like with code, go back to how many people really actually enjoy this. Ah, do I trust the people who are contributing to the, uh, sub, uh, projects that are a part of this code? Am I willing to dive in and really dig through it? Like what was it? Never decide, "Okay, I'm settled." Like, whatever got you to that thing, that process should be good just as it was with picking a library or hey, there's four to choose from, so the other three have about the same number of, uh, same number of contributors. So what's wrong with the other three? Nothing.

Leon: 29:24 I like that. And again, using that sensibility from our programming lives and reapplying it to our religion and saying, well, I do this with my programming. You know, I'm not afraid to do this, to reevaluate my programming. It must really joke about programming languages or like religions, you know, "There's the one true language!" You know. The fact is, is that we are very comfortable when it's time to move on or when we do declared that a language is not suitable for this particular project. It doesn't necessarily shake our world and using that comfort to say, you know what, I'm just going to take a minute. I'm going to think about this religious tradition I, I was born into or grew up into and say, "Am I still there? Is that still me?" I like that idea.

Leon: 30:05 We know you can't listen to our podcast all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular conversation up. Come back next week and we'll continue our conversation.

Josh: 30:15 Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of technically religious visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect with us on social media.

Doug: 30:29 .Net!

Patrick: 30:30 Go but optimized for Google, so GoLang

Doug: 30:34 Delphi

Leon: 30:35 Perl!

Josh: 30:35 Guys, guys, please, can we just unite against our common enemy?

All: 30:41 PHP!

S1E22: Convention-aly Religious, part 3

S1E22: Convention-aly Religious, part 3

August 6, 2019

Last year CiscoLive overlapped with Ramadan which was not a lot of fun for the Muslim attendees. This year it conflicts with Shavuot, requiring observant Jews who planned to attend to arrive a week in advance. Add those challenges to the normal stress an IT person with a strong religious, moral, or ethical POV has: finding a place to pray, navigating how "outwardly" they want to present as a religious person (and if that's even a choice), managing work-mandated venue choices for food and "entertainment" that push personal boundaries, etc, and it's a wonder we're able to make convention attendance work at all. In part 2 of this discussion, I continue the conversaion with Mike Wise, Al Rasheed, and Keith Townsend about how they make conventions not only possible, but a positive experience religiously as well as professionally. Listen or read the transcript below.

Josh: 00:01 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have is people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:23 This is a continuation of the discussion we started last week. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 00:29 I think there's another thing. So Mike, you were talking about being, you know, visibly openly religious and I think that sometimes, again for variety of reasons, uh, they decide that this is their opportunity to sort of poke the bear. You know, like, "Oh, you're, you're one of those religious people. So! What do you think about the <blahblahblah>?", right? Whatever it is. And you know, we don't even need to get into the specifics of it, but they just want to see... There's, there's a respectful conversation and, and we'll talk about that in a little bit, about some, some of the wonderful opportunities, conventions offer us to have deep, really meaningful philosophical conversations. But there's also these, which is where someone is clearly, you know, "oh, you're religious. Well, fine, answer me this."

Mike: 01:18 Right. You know, if you're so religious, you know, uh, you know, gee on the Statue of Liberty it says, bring me your tired and poor and you know, and then so you don't, you don't, uh, believe in all of this, you know, preventing immigration, right?

Keith: 01:37 Yeah. Or the or it'll be, the more lighthearted stuff. You know, I get teased on, so my peers on The Cube, when Pat from VMware, uh, Pat Gelsinger is on and were like, "oh Keith, you, you and Pat are on together. You guys go to the same church. Right?"

Everyone: 01:56 (disbelief)

Speaker 3: 01:56 You know, cause pat is super, uh, transparent about his faith. So, you know, it's all in fun, but you know, they, you will get to this. But you know, I say no to certain events and things and uh, you know, so does Pat, or who, whomever else, you know everybody else on this, on this podcast and you know, you're going to get, you're going to get a ribbing about it.

Leon: 02:17 Right? Or Al, you know, "Come on, come on. You've had a beer. Just one. Who's gonna know?"

Al: 02:22 "It's not gonna hurt. Come on."

Keith: 02:24 I, uh, I ordered Al an O'Douls all the time. Horrible, horrible substitutes.

Al: 02:29 Do they still have those by the way?

Keith: 02:31 They do.

Mike: 02:31 Yes.

Al: 02:32 That's crazy.

New Speaker: 02:34 So, right. So, so those are, those are some challenges. And I'm just curious, you know, uh, not what conversations, what are those conversations have you had? Cause I think we all have horror stories, but you know, what do you, what do you do about those? Especially I'm going to say, especially when it's not someone you know. Like if it's somebody, you know, you can shut it down in very specific ways, but one is a complete stranger who may be coming to your company booth. There's a relationship you have to maintain. You know, what do you do about that?

New Speaker: 03:05 I almost always... So, so those are no win situations, right? If it's just not going to end well if you take the bait. So you've got to start with the assumption that you're not going to take the bait first. And so what's the best way to do that? Well, uh, my, my favorite... And you gotta remember too, from a time standpoint, these conversations normally last three to five minutes right? Before something else happens. So you're going to get a get out of jail free card if you just can kill some time. So I always say, "Oh, you know, that's a really, yeah, that's a tough one. That's a tough one. It's a, it's hard. What do you, what, what do you think? What do you think about it?" You know, and flip it right around.

Keith: 04:02 Yeah. And, and, and Al Al, I'm pretty sure you can relate to this being a follow Islam, I've gotten it way worse than, you know, people challenging me on, you know, gay rights or whatever. Just just for... I don't know if you noticed this, you can't tell over the podcast waves, but I'm black. So you know, I've gotten it way worse than, uh, uncomfortable questions at a conference about my faith and those things. You, unfortunately, those things kinda train you for this, and you're like, ah, you know, uh, it's, it's... People can only take in, a professional environment, people can only take those things so far and they can't take it as far as they can take, you know, the racial slurs in a nonprofessional environment. So the, that stuff really doesn't, you know, I don't, I sometimes I don't even get the, I don't even get that they're a going at me cause it's, you know, I don't always read behind between the lines.

Al: 05:00 I was telling Leon, before we started the podcast, "the juice is not worth the squeeze." Uh, so if you can avoid conflict, uh, you're going to step away from it. Um, in the, in, in years past, I probably wasn't as open to speaking about religion or ethnicity as I am, uh, these days. But I will be mindful of who I'm speaking to. And I don't mean that to sound disrespectful, but if it's someone that approaches me that has a genuine interest in learning about Islam or Ramadan most recently, and I feel like in their heart that they, they genuinely care and want to know why we practice this. I don't mind talking about it and I even let them know. "I thank you. I appreciate it. You're taking a step most people wouldn't," they wouldn't, they fear for whatever reason, crossing that line, we have to get past that. We have to be open and be able to speak to one another.

Speaker 2: 05:55 Right. So I, uh, again, you know, being a very visibly orthodox Jewish person, um, I'm always, when, when I see that somebody is trying to ask something, the first thing I tell them is, "First of all, ask me anything. Second of all, don't try to be polite about it. Don't worry if you're clumsy or awkward. Don't worry about saying the wrong word. Don't worry about, you know, asking a question that you think is maybe beyond the pale. It's okay. I know that you're sincere. I know that you're curious. Don't let, don't let your own feelings of hesitation stop you from asking a question that you want to know. That's okay." Right. Um, and again, that's the flip side of it and to all of your points when it's not one of those, when it's somebody who is very obviously just they just want...

Mike: 06:41 To get you to bite.

Al: 06:41 They want to needle you.

Speaker 1: 06:44 Yeah, they just, uh, you know what... Mike, I love your point. Like you've got about 90 seconds. If you can make it through 90 seconds, there is something else shiny is going to distract them and they're going to be off to something else. That's a really good piece of advice. Okay. So moving along, moving on. Um, another challenging area for, uh, folks with religious or ethical or moral point of view and conventions is situations that push your limits. Obviously there are moments that you can say no to. Um, and I think we've mentioned a few of those already. But some of them are not. Some of them are, "hey, uh, you know, the, the executive is taking everyone out to this place." It's like, I, I don't know about that place, but "No, no, everyone's going Leon, everyone's going." Or you've got a client or a customer or you know, you've got one of those things and all of a sudden the hard "no" is not available to you. And now you need to balance, you know, some very specific aspects. So I'm curious if you've run into that and how you, how you navigate it?

Keith: 07:54 Yeah, I have the advantage that the, the views and tweets of me are the views and tweaks of my employer, so...

Leon: 08:08 that's awesome!

Keith: 08:08 Yeah. So I don't, um, you know what? I have this motto in life that has generally served me well. My wife doesn't like it too much. 'The worst any employer can do is fire me. And I came from humble means, and I'm not scared, I don't want to, but I'm not scared to go back to them.' So there's not much I get, you know, forced to and to work. You know, I've had these confrontations over and over in my career. I've just said, you know, I've just, I've had, the hard "no" from me as a hard "no".

Mike: 08:42 yes, exactly. You know, and two, um, I always, whenever I'm evaluating a decision like this, I always think what would Jesus do? Right? It's kind of a cliche in Christian circles right now, but you know, um, so Jesus went into all kinds of different places with people and, and when he did, when he did that, he was not judgmental of them. Well, there was a few people that he was judgmental with. Uh, the, the people that were sort of hypocritically religious, right? They would say all these great things, but, but then, you know, on the side, they weren't really doing what they were saying. That was one thing that he just had no patience for. So, you know, if I just stay away from that, I should be in a good shape, but, you know, so I might go to a, um, uh, you know, a bar that is, uh, you know, has topless women. Right? And, and that is really super hard for me because that's, you know, I mean, it's denigrating to women. It's, it's, you know, very risky. People could get in trouble. I mean, there's so many things wrong with that, that I don't know what's right with it. But you know, uh, the CEO says we're going and so I'll go off in a corner somewhere with somebody else. There's almost always one or two other people that are in my same shoes, right? That don't want to be there. And so we'll find each other like really fast. Like metal pieces on a magnet, right? We'll just collect and we'll go somewhere and we'll do something else. We're there but we're not really participating. And then, you know, the next day we can't make a big deal out of it either. Right? So you don't want to fall into that trap either of, you know, starting, be judgmental of people the next day. You got to let it lie. Never bring it up again.

Keith: 10:46 Yeah. And I think a, I love your perspective, kinda, the whole, you know, Jesus went everywhere perspective. I draw the line at when it's not healthy for me. And so there are just certain situations that are not healthy for me. For example, when I was younger, you know, uh, so I guess you can always say you're recovering, you have a recovering addiction. So I have a recovering addiction to gambling. I am not going, you know, there's a tradition where the last night of VMworld, they've, one goes in, shoots craps at the table with individuals from the community. That's just not something I'm going to do. Uh, nothing inherently wrong with it. I'm just not going to do it because it's not healthy for me to do. So that's kind of where I kind of draw the line of when I know that it will, um, force me to fall into a temptation that I struggle with, I avoid it.

Mike: 11:44 Right, exactly.

Al: 11:46 I was just gonna say there's two factors for me, and I'm sure one of them applies to all of us. As a parent, we want to act the way we preach to our kids. So you don't want to put yourself in a situation and then have yourself explain yourself to your kids, why you got to that point? Regrettably. Um, another thing is if you're surrounded by good people, good friends that respect your opinions and how you approached life, telling them 'no' won't hurt their feelings.

Leon: 12:15 Nice. Good. Um, okay. So we've been dancing around the third part of this conversation a little bit and I wanna uh, I wanna dive into that because it's not all struggle and pain and suffering. Uh, you know, it, there's some amazing parts about conventions, not just... Again, as IT professionals, you know, there's amazing parts of conventions, period. The things that you learn and the people that you see in the relationships that you make, the conversations that continue long after the convention is over. The insights that you get. Those are obviously why people spend a not insignificant amount of money and a not insignificant amount of time getting there and doing them. Um, but as folks with a religious, ethical, or moral point of view, I think that conventions represent opportunities that um, you know, that you might not otherwise have. Back to the punchline, you know, the opportunity to be, you know, a Jew, Muslim and Christian who walk into the prayer room all together and like, "hey, you know, this is, we're all doing the same thing, different language, different style," you know, that's not something that you necessarily get the opportunity to do back in your home neighborhood all the time. Um, and you also the opportunity to meet folks who are in IT who are also following a similar or the same path you are. So the opportunity to meet up with folks. I was at, um, I was at re:Invent two years ago and there was a whole contingent of folks from Israel who were there and a bunch of folks from America, and we all got together and we all headed out in the same car to the kosher restaurant, which is sort of 20 minutes off the strip. And we had a great time. We had conversations about, you know, "So what's happening at your work and how do you do this?" And whatever. And, and that was something that I would never have had the opportunity to do had I not gone to re:Invent. So I'm curious like what experiences have you had that are, that are real opportunities that conventions offer you

Mike: 14:18 To your point, to your story. Um, the next time you go to re:Invent, you're probably going to reach out to those people and say to them, "Hey, let's do that again." Or "let's get together again and do this instead." Or, you know, "hey, I found this other thing." And so you, so each one that you go to, then year after year, you build stronger and stronger relationships and it makes that event richer and richer and richer. Also say that there's tremendous opportunity at these events to really act out your faith. Um, from a, from a Christian standpoint, you know, uh, compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, self control. These are the essential elements of Christianity and forgiving, right? And love. And so if you find yourself going to the bar after the event, just to socialize, you can quickly see who, who might be struggling right now. Cause you never know, like we said in the earlier part of the podcast, Somebody, Leon, might've gotten a call that morning about, you know, some disaster that happened. Their kid got called into the principal's office and kicked out of school, or you know, some, some disaster might've happened in their life and here they are 12 hours away and Abu Dhabi and you know, there's nothing they can really do. And you know, if you could go up to them and say, "hey, you look like you're a little down and out, uh, you know what's going on?" You know, and there you sit for the next hour just listening to the person, right? Asking them good questions. To me, that, that is the best kind of expression of what I call authentic Christianity.

Leon: 16:10 Nice. Just as a side note, we do have a WhatsApp group that we maintain for, you know, year after year. Like, okay, we're all coming back like, what's going on? So, yes, absolutely that does happen. Um, and I like your, I like your idea of being, of it being an opportunity to, um, and we use this as one of the topics for one of our other episodes, being a 'light unto the nations' you know, to be, uh, out there and just, you know, walk the walk. Um, that's great. What other, what other experiences have you had?

Al: 16:38 For me most recently, uh, attending the, the vMug leader summit at the VMware headquarters in February. I was very blessed to meet fellow Muslim vMug leaders from Egypt and Kuwait, and we've remained in contact since then. I now consider them friends and I'm sure they feel the same way. Uh, for them, this was, I believe, their first time to the States. So it was kind of an uneasy trip, not knowing what to expect. I think I, it's not about me when I say this, but the fact that I am Muslim and I am Arabic and I speak Arabic, uh, it made them feel like they were somewhat at home.

Speaker 1: 17:15 You know, here I am with my tzittzit, the fringes hanging out. I got my kipa on my head. I'm very demonstrably Orthodox and I think it's an opportunity for people who might've thought, "Oh, I can't, I can't be like that in my IT world. I have to have this whole other sort of crypto-identity that remains hidden." And to see, to be, for me to be able to be very visible like that gives them permission also maybe to consider ways in which they can be visible and not uncomfortable. And Al, to your point, the fact that you are here, that you've made, that you're comfortable in this space, that you can be an ambassador in that way, I think is an amazing blessing and an opportunity for you and them.

New Speaker: 17:59 it is. And if you'd asked me this five, 10 years ago, I probably would have, and I don't mean it to sound negative, I don't know how you describe it, but I probably would have distanced myself, but now I feel more comfortable with who I am, what I represent and how I was raised. And I think it just helps for everybody involved. Regardless of religion. We're all, we're all one at the end of the day, we're just one human race. So we need to coexist. As you guys know, all three major religions started in Jerusalem. So, so, you know, we need to come back to the fundamentals and respect one another, be courteous to one another and be kind.

Keith: 18:38 I love the demonstration of sheer love. Like it's not just the conferences it's the, uh, overall community. Not... Maybe a small portion of the community is religious. I don't know. I just know that when my family was in need, the community stepped up. And whether that's, you know, uh, my wife's current situation. My brother with losing his wife. My brother losing his son the year before. It's amazing to see how much love is generated, uh, from this community. See people and you know, get hugs and, and get energy. You know, my wife will comment that if it's not a Tech Field Day or VMworld or whatever, that I'm not coming back refreshed. And I'm like, you know what? It's I come back refreshed. Not, not just because technically I got something now the conference, but emotionally is as much as draining as it is to be around people. I also get an incredible amount of energy from positivity and the amount of positivity that we've gotten in this past three years, that's been coupled with the negativity has been life changing.

Leon: 19:56 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 20:07 Hey, there's this great convention happening next week in Cleveland who's in?

Everyone: 20:10 (a lot of nope)

S1E21: Convention-aly Religious, part 2

S1E21: Convention-aly Religious, part 2

July 30, 2019

Last year CiscoLive overlapped with Ramadan which was not a lot of fun for the Muslim attendees. This year it conflicts with Shavuot, requiring observant Jews who planned to attend to arrive a week in advance. Add those challenges to the normal stress an IT person with a strong religious, moral, or ethical POV has: finding a place to pray, navigating how "outwardly" they want to present as a religious person (and if that's even a choice), managing work-mandated venue choices for food and "entertainment" that push personal boundaries, etc, and it's a wonder we're able to make convention attendance work at all. In part 2 of this discussion, I continue the conversaion with Mike Wise, Al Rasheed, and Keith Townsend about how they make conventions not only possible, but a positive experience religiously as well as professionally. Listen or read the transcript below.

Doug: 00:00 W1elcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have is people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 This is a continuation of the discussion we started last week. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 00:30 Okay. So I think another aspect with food is, um, and you touched on it, dinners out with the team, right? When it's like, "no, no, no, it's gonna be a team meeting. It's going to be a team dinner. We're all going out." And uh, again, just speaking for myself, it's like, "okay, I'm going to have the... Glass of water.

Al: 00:51 Yeah, that's me

New Speaker: 00:51 "It's, yeah, it's, no, it's fine." You know, like you want to be a team member, you want to be part of it, but all of a sudden the meeting becomes, at least part of the meeting becomes about Leon and his food issues. Like, I don't want, I don't want that to be that either.

Al: 01:06 Right. I was just going to say in some cases, uh, at some conventions or maybe the parties at the conventions, they hand out those drink coupons that you can redeem at the bar. I ended up giving it to others that are with me and I'd get this look like, "Don't you want to drink?" I'm like, "No, water's is fine."

Mike: 01:24 Al, come on. You're missing a major opportunity here. You got to SELL them. Right. You know, these, these are trades, right? You're, you know,

Leon: 01:33 So the first episode of Technically Teligious was myself and Josh Biggley, who's, uh, he's now ex-Mormon. At the time that we were working together, he was Mormon. And so we we worked together in the same company. And so we had this whole shtick. We'd walk into these spaces and it's like, "Oqkay, so I'm drinking his beer, he's gonna eat my chicken wings, and he's driving me home." So you just have to find our roles, you know? Yes, yes. Yeah. We just have to find that synergistic relationship where we can, you know, hand things out. So, uh, but yeah, it's, you know, when they're handing out coupons for things like, "yeah, thanks."

Al: 02:13 yeah, "Don't you want to use it? It's free. It's like you're saving yourself 20 bucks." "No. I don't really want it."

Leon: 02:18 Okay. So, um, moving on. Uh, I think another aspect of, of conventions that can be challenging are just the interactions. Keith, you mentioned, um, just people in general that you don't like people which, uh, may not be your best advertising or marketing slogan, "CTO, Adviser. I hate people"

Keith: 02:38 Yeah, I'm not what you'd call a people person.

Mike: 02:41 But a lot of people, but a lot of CTOs are introverts, right? Keith? I'm sure of it

Keith: 02:47 That's absolutely the case. You know what it is, is what I find is that, you know, obviously, um, I'm high profile. So I have to interact with people. Uh, people stopped me in the hall. We have great conversations. Uh, that is actually, I enjoy the interactions at conferences like Vmworld, vMugs, and to some extent AWS because you know it's kind of the same community that I have on Twitter. What I find exhausting is when I go to something like an open source conference where I have like, I've never met these people in slack, I've not met them, uh, online, and I have to work so hard to meet people and get out of my, uh, shell. Like when someone comes up to me and says, "Hey, Keith," I'm like, Oh, okay. It's, I don't have to say hello. I the, the, I had this thing when I was a kid. Like I didn't understand why you had to say hello to someone you saw every day. That kind of didn't make any sense. Like, I see you every day. Why would I say hi to you every morning? That just doesn't make any sense. So that's a carry over I've learned, but it's still exhausting to, uh, to interact and give and give of yourself and be with people. And it's so many people that want your time.

Leon: 04:06 So that's, that's in the, in general. Again, I think a lot of introverts, introverts share that same, uh, challenge. And, and just to clarify, I know we were teasing you earlier is, you know, you're really good with individuals, with people when you're having a conversation, you're not so good with crowds of people. Like that's the part that like, "I just don't want to deal with the 800 folks who are standing in front of me right now all trying to get to lunch at the same time. I want all them to go away."

Keith: 04:32 But you know, Chicago, we have some big festivals here and I, I'd go to none of them. I don't like amusement parks. I just don't like crowds. So, you know, the conferences are probably the worst place to go if you don't like crowds. The one of the reasons I don't go to the parties at night because it's just too many people.

Leon: 04:52 And at that point your battery's empty.

Keith: 04:54 Already because you've just spent the whole day. Uh, you know, I go to a Tech Field Day and talk to folks like Al and Mike or whoever and just have a really great time, but I'm exhausted because I've spent the whole day socializing. Now I have to go by and be around a bunch of people that I generally don't know. It's even tough.

Al: 05:13 I was just going to add, not a knock on any of the conferences again, but what I appreciate the most about Tech Field Day is you're introduced to your fellow delegates weeks in advance. You have an opportunity to, you know, get to know them in some way, you know, via Twitter, Linkedin or the slack channel. So I think that helps break the ice and it definitely makes it a lot easier when you first meet them for the first time in person.

Keith: 05:36 And then going back to kind of a religious thing, uh, I'm pretty, you know, all of us pretty much where our faiths on our sleeves. No one in the community would be a surprise that we're, uh, we, that we follow Islam, Orthodox Jew or devout Christian. Uh, one of the other things that is possible

Mike: 06:00 Hopefully, anyway. Hopefully they wouldn't be surprised.

Keith: 06:00 Especially if you have an evangelistic type faith and your call to share your faith. You know, I'm really not great at that. My wife is awesome at it and it can be really a challenge where I'm at a dinner where I don't know a bunch of people in a bunch of people don't know us and Melissa has no problems, you know, saying, "Hey, uh, before we start, can we say kind of a nondenominational prayer before meal" and, and I'm like, oh, I don't, it doesn't bother me. But it again is just one of those things. It's uncomfortable and, and, and, and sometimes our faith calls us to do uncomfortable things.

Leon: 06:37 Right? Yeah. It's not that you wouldn't volunteer that as, as readily as she does.

Al: 06:42 I'm just curious, since we're speaking of faith and saying a small prayer, I'm sure we all do it, but I don't want to single anybody out. But anytime I fly I always say a prayer and you know, so I'll clasp by hands together and I'll say a few words and then I'll do this. It'll make this motion. And sometimes I'll get a look from someone beside me. Like, "what's wrong with them? Is Everything okay?"

Mike: 07:04 "Is there anything wrong with the plane?"

Al: 07:06 I don't explain myself. I just stay focused. I stay looking straight ahead. I don't even get caught up in it.

Keith: 07:12 So I, I do, I do a small prayer too, but, you know, I don't have, you know, my faith doesn't have traditions like that where it's obvious that I'm doing something of, uh, of, uh, of inference and, you know, we talk about it, you know, Leon talking about prayer and this is a theme that's at conferences. So Scott Lowe a of VMware of, of, VMWare and then Heptio and then at VMware again, uh, at VMWorld does a, a prayer group in the morning. So, uh, it's common for us, uh, faithful, whether it's regardless of religion to pray for one another. You know, Leon has three congregations praying for my wife. Uh, so I, I, you know, I really, uh, appreciate that. So, you know, I don't think there's anything, uh, uncommon about, I think it's actually fairly common.

Leon: 08:03 So in, in Orthodox Judaism, there's a specific traveler's prayer and, uh, that's, but I, I think to your point, like on a plane, um, you know, just like there's no atheists in foxholes. There are very few atheists before the airplane has taken off. I think lots and lots of people are very like, you know, there's also no atheist right before...

Mike: 08:24 "Do you pray?" Yes I do. "Could you pray for us?". Yes. Okay.

Leon: 08:26 Yeah. Yeah. It's also, you know, it, you'll still find the same sort of, uh, preponderance of prayer right before a pop quiz the teacher just called. Like lots of people will, you know, I think it's the same sort of reaction there. That's, that's less, uh, I think that's less uncommon or less confusing for folks. Um, then again, at the team meeting, you know, at the, I'm sorry, at the team dinner where, you know, all of a sudden it's like, "But, uh, I have to go wash my hands and then I can't talk between washing my hands and eating this bread." And like, then, and people want to have this conversation. I was like, "Mmm. uh-huh" like, you know, so it becomes an interesting, uh, hiccup or, you know, an awareness thing.

Mike: 09:13 Well, I think it just, I think it just adds richness, you know, I, as long as it's honest. Okay. So in Christianity, there's a couple of stereotypes that you don't want to become. You don't want to become the holier-than-thou person. You know, "oh, well, you know, if you were real Christian." You wouldn't do that. Right. You don't want to be the in-your-face Christian. Right. Who is, you know, preaching to people the entire time. Right, right. But if you're just sort of, you know, walking your faith. Um, so one of the things that happens to me almost all the time is that people will say, "oh, Mike, yeah. So good to see you," or "So good to meet you." You know, and, and we'll, we'll talk about children, right. They'll ask me. "So, you know, are you married?" "Yeah, my wife and I are empty nesters." Okay. "So, well do you have any kids?" "Yes, I've got a 30 year old son and a 28 year old daughter." "Well, what are they doing?" "Well, my son is in the army, you know, and he's been deployed twice and now he's getting into navigators, which is, uh, army discipleship ministry. And my daughter is a missionary in Cambodia." And so, you know, that just opens up a whole rich conversation about why and what's going on and how did they get there? And you know, what's their goal and how does that impact you? "Gosh, your son was deployed, you must've been on your knees the whole time," you know, all of this stuff. So to me, I really see there's really no way around unless you really get into a shell. There's really, I mean, faith just, you know, always comes up. You know what I mean?

Leon: 10:57 It certainly, it certainly can. And I think also it comes up in ways that, especially at conventions, that are either unexpected or I'm going to say, uh, not normal. And I don't mean like abnormal, but what I mean is that when we're home and we're in our neighborhood, we're in our space, certain kinds of interactions just don't come up because we structured our lives around around not having them. Um, and an example that I'll, an example I'll use is that, um, in, in Orthodox Judaism, generally speaking, men and women don't touch. It just, you know, unless somebody is, you know, it's, it's your kid or whatever, you just, you know, there's no, there's no hugging, there's no any of that stuff. It's just, yeah, so here I am working in the booth and people are coming up of, you know, all different types and you know, whatever. And all of a sudden, you know, you've, people have extended their hand. Now what's interesting is that having that, that physical contact is not a sin. It's not a problem. It's just not, it's just not done. I'll say it's not done and it's not done for particular reasons, but it's not like you violated a tenant of your faith to do it. It's just not done. What's worse is publicly embarrassing somebody. That is actually akin to like murder, you know, really like it's, you know, considered, right? So if, if a person, if a woman puts her hand out, I am going to shake her hand like absolutely no doubt about it. But over the course of multiple days. After a while it just becomes tiring. Like every time a woman puts her hand down, it's like, of course I'm going to shake your hand. Of course I'm would be gracious. Of course I'm doing it. But it is something that is contra. It's just contra normal to my normal experience and it feels like that. And so, uh, you know, those kinds of of interactions are still religious and they're still, you know, happening. But you have to find ways to navigate them. I, I don't know if you folks have had, you know, any other like things that push those limits in any way. Um,

Al: 13:09 I guess if I'm approaching, a Muslim woman that's wearing hijab, and I don't know her. There is a bit of, there is a moment of awkwardness. I don't know if that's the right word. I'm, I'll probably wait for her to initiate the conversation where, or the handshake per se. But uh, in terms of, you know, hugging and whatnot. Yeah. You know, sometimes you just have to know your limits.

Mike: 13:38 Now as a Christian, Al, should I be doing that too? I'm just curious. Should I be waiting for them to initiate a conversation if I, if I'm approaching somebody with hijab?

Al: 13:49 Um, probably so to be honest with you, and to Leon's point it is slightly awkward. It's not fair to both parties. There is a sense of uneasiness. But I would, if you asked me my opinion and I'm a, I'm a Muslim, as I mentioned, I would allow the lady in this case to, uh, initiate the, um, the, uh, the handshake or the greeting.

Keith: 14:14 Yeah. That makes a point of lot of a, a lot of these conferences are international and you get not just religious cultures, but different cultures in general, you know, giving the thumbs up to the wrong culture who, you know, looks completely different than a thumbs up here in the US or the "OK" sign. You know, it's, so, it's, it's one of those things that I try to be... It's like Twitter in real life. Like you can easily offend another person, uh, just by your body language and gestures or saying hi or not saying hi.

Leon: 14:51 Yeah. I think, yeah, that cultural sensitivity, it puts the concept I'm going to use, I mean there's a word that started a little bit charged in today's society, but it's, it's, it puts the concept of consent. Did that person invite that contact or that interaction? Again, you know, the thumbs up sign or whatever it was, you know, you in one respect, it's nice to be aware, sensitized or sensitive to that, but a, in another it's, you know, again, it challenges us in some very particular ways.

Al: 15:23 I think it's situational awareness. It just depends on the situation you're in, the surroundings you're in and just making good judgment and as long as you have good intent, I think ultimately that's what really matters.

Mike: 15:34 Well, I think one of the problems, one of the challenges with conferences in particular is that they have a tendency of of amping up the adrenaline that's coursing through your body. You got all these people, you know, if you're, if you're in sales or business development, you got all these prospects around, you know, you've, you've also got the glitz and glamour of the location. You know, these places are always in nice places, you know, and so not something that you normally do. You know, gee, this is like a pretty nice place, you know, and then, then you have the, the alcohol, right? The effects of alcohol. And then you have the effects of travel, which we talked about before, um, where you're tired or you're suffering from jet lag. And so, you know, it changes your whole, you know, you would like, you know, how many times have you heard somebody come back from a conference and tell some story in the board room, you know, the next day about, "hey, did you see what that person did? Can you believe they did that?" You know, but this is what happens at conferences. So you really, you know, it's even extra important for us that are really out there with our faith, uh, to really be careful with what we're doing.

Leon: 16:58 Well, and I'll just, I'll add onto that, that along with the social lubricant and things like that, I think there's also a lot of folks running around feeling a lot of pressure in the sense of, uh, you know, maybe they're looking for their next job or maybe they're a little starstruck. You know, you've got some of these big CEO, CIOs, uh, or people like, yeah, I mean, and, and as much as you know, I want to tease Keith, the fact is the reality is that you're a very visible face and if somebody has been following you on Twitter and finally gets a chance to meet you and say a few words to you, it's easy to imagine them sort of losing some filters along the way.

Keith: 17:37 People feel like they know you in and there's nothing wrong. They mass share a lot of my life, uh, you know, end the public. So, you know, a lot of people are going on this journey with me and wife. So, you know, when they see Melissa, uh, if she makes it to VMWorld, when they see her, there's going to be like this automatic feeling that they know them. You know, we don't have any women on the podcast today, and maybe it's a good topic for future podcasts. You know, we get, um, Melissa or some of the wives on to talk about their experiences in the community and around the community. But, uh, you know, I absolutely have been in those situations. I, I'm in that situation sometimes when I walk up to a, somebody who I've been following them on Twitter for years, I'm like, "Oh, Larry, don't... Wait. How do, how do you not know me?" Like I'm certainme and Michael Dale are like best friends, right? Security felt otherwise the first time I tried...

Leon: 18:36 Right? Right. Exactly. So, so there's all those pressures.

Leon: 18:40 We know you can't listen to our podcast all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular conversation up. Come back next week and we'll continue our conversation.

Destiny: 18:49 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 19:03 Hey, there's this great convention happening next week in Cleveland who's in?

Everyone: 19:06 (a lot of nope)


S1E20: Convention-aly Religious

S1E20: Convention-aly Religious

July 23, 2019

Last year CiscoLive overlapped with Ramadan which was not a lot of fun for the Muslim attendees. This year it conflicts with Shavuot, requiring observant Jews who planned to attend to arrive a week in advance. Add those challenges to the normal stress an IT person with a strong religious, moral, or ethical POV has: finding a place to pray, navigating how "outwardly" they want to present as a religious person (and if that's even a choice), managing work-mandated venue choices for food and "entertainment" that push personal boundaries, etc, and it's a wonder we're able to make convention attendance work at all. In this episode, I speak with Mike Wise, Al Rasheed, and Keith Townsend about how they make conventions not only possible, but a positive experience religiously as well as professionally. Listen or read the transcript below.

Dez: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 Last year, Cisco live fell squarely in the middle of Ramadan, which created a challenge for followers of Islam. Here in 2019 it coincided with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, meaning that many observant Jews had to skip or cut short their attendance. Between these special situations and the more common stresses of finding a place to pray - sometimes multiple times a day; navigating dozens of interactions where we find ourselves explaining our religious limitations regarding food, venues, and even personal contact; and asserting boundaries between the requirements of our work and the tenants of our faith. Between all those challenges, it's a wonder we choose to attend conferences and conventions at all. In this episode, we're going to hear from a few folks about how we survive and even thrive in this environment. While holding strong to our religious values or moral or ethical points of view. I'm Leon Adato and the other voices you're going to hear on this episode are: Al Rasheed, who's a sysadmin for a federal contractor.

Al: 01:16 Hello!

Leon: 01:17 Welcome to the podcast.

Al: 01:19 Thank you.

Leon: 01:20 Mike Wise, a freelance consultant in insurance technology and specializing in blockchain.

Mike: 01:26 Hello.

Leon: 01:27 And finally a returning guest, Keith Townsend from CTO Advisor.

Keith: 01:31 Well evidently the unedited version of the podcast hasn't gotten me kicked off . Halooo

New Speaker: 01:36 Right. I'm not going to give the number, but there is one where I forgot to post the edited version. So before we dive into this topic, I want to give everyone a chance for some shameless self promotion. Al why don't we start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Al: 01:51 So I'm a SysAdmin here in the northern Virginia area for a federal contractor. I am a Palestinian American, born in Jerusalem and a, I am Muslim as well. You can find me on Twitter @Al_Rasheed. And my blog post is also listed on my Twitter profile. It's

Leon: 02:15 Perfect. Mike, how about you next?

Mike: 02:18 Yeah, so thanks a lot for having me on the show. I'm, you can find me at "MikeY07" on pretty much every social channel including Twitter. I'm doing a lot of tweeting. I'm also sharing a lot on Linkedin and my website is It's a play on my name.

Leon: 02:40 Nice. Keith, for those people who might've missed the other episodes you're in, where can we find you?

Keith: 02:45 @CTOAdvisor on the Twitters, which my daughter hates to say And you can find the blog,

New Speaker: 02:54 Great. And just around things out. I'm Leon Adato. You can find me on Twitter, on "the twitters", I'll say that just to make a Keith's daughter's skin crawl. You can find me there @LeonAdato. And my blog is And as a reminder, all of the links in all the things that we're talking about today are going to be in the show notes. So if you're scribbling madly, don't worry about it. There is a place where this is all written down. So where I want to start with this just for a little bit is to talk about how conventions are challenging in general. A lot of folks who listen to this podcast may not be lucky enough, have the privilege to go to conventions, and maybe you're thinking "It sounds like a vacation man! You go to Vegas or Orlando, it's nothing but fun. You get to go to..." You know. So why are conventions challenging, just generally speaking? And I'm going to start this one off and say that you have to deal with time zones, sometimes two or three. I actually have one of my coworkers, Sascha Giese is from Germany, so he'll travel four or five times zones, not to mention 12 hours at a shot to get to some of these places. So you're just generally exhausted and generally sort of strung out. And then you have to hit the ground running, attending classes and you know, your brain has to be at it's peak performance. So that's one of the first things that people don't expect. What else is there?

Keith: 04:14 Well, I hate people.

Everyone: 04:15 (laughter).

Mike: 04:15 People suck.

Keith: 04:20 You know what? For someone with 7,000 plus whatever Twitter followers and as much social media that I do, crowds are just too much for me. VM world is going to be 20-something thousand. AWS Reinvent it's 47,000 and I go and I just get exhausted.

Keith: 04:35 Right. So yeah, if you're, if you're not an extrovert, if you're an introvert, then that by itself can be draining. Absolutely. What else? Al, you had something we talked about before we started.

Al: 04:46 Staying in touch with your spouse and or your kids. I'm fortunate where my wife has tagged along on some recent conferences with me. Also we're, we're blessed because both of our kids are old enough to mind for themselves, care for themselves. But you always have to remain in contact, keep tabs on them and just make sure they're safe.

Leon: 05:02 Yeah. No matter how old they are, that never ends.

Mike: 05:06 It's a juggling act between personal and professional.

Leon: 05:09 Yeah. You definitely have to juggle. So, not only the wife and kids, the spouse and kids, but also Mike, to your point, you have to juggle other aspects of your life too, right?

Mike: 05:19 Yeah, that's right. We've got, you know, we all live in the blur, right? And so we've got personal stuff going on. We've got professional stuff going on, we've got community things that we're involved in. Board, you know, everything's constantly happening at the same time and it's all going right through our mobile device. So it's really challenging.

Leon: 05:39 Yeah. There are times when you're walking through a convention and you don't even know you're there because the screen in front of you is taking precedence over it. All right. So for those people who haven't been to conventions, that's just a taste of why they're not a vacation. There can be, there can be aspects of it that are vacation-like, and I think that it's important for those of us who attend conventions often to find those moments. Al, to your point, seeing if a spouse or even kids can tag along. I know that recently Phoummala Schmidt, brought her daughter along to a whole series of Microsoft events. And it was a real eye opener for both of them. Her daughter got to see what Mom does and the kind of people that she interacts with; and Mom got to show this whole other like, "No, I'm not just going out for drinks or whatever. Like there's real work happening." So those are the ways in which conventions are challenging...

Mike: 06:36 Yeah. Yeah. So, so the other, one of the other ways that the conventions are challenging, and they're definitely not like some sort of vacation... You know, unless, and I've started to do this more and more often, is I schedule a day ahead or a day on the back end, to make them into some quiet time somewhere, you know, if I'm going to some place that's awesome, and I know the convention is just going to be nonstop one after another, three days of hard running the whole time. I'll schedule my return flight for 24 or 48 hours later so that I can go and go to some sort of temple or some landmark or something like that and debrief and decompress after that. Keith, I would think that, for an introvert that would be super helpful just to check out for 24 hours, you know?

Keith: 07:39 I don't do many of the parties at any of the conventions though. I'll meet the rare exception, like run DMC was at VMWorld last night, you know, it's run DMC, so you're going to do that. Uh, but you know, about one o'clock in the morning and I'm pretty, you know, tired of people. So for the most part at night, I don't normally do the big events just because, you know, I spend so much of the day, I'm visible in the, in, in most of these conferences and I get to kind of the tough part, like where I'm not known at conferences are actually even worse than conferences that I'm known at.

Al: 08:20 And if I could go back to Mike's Point, I guess it does depend on where you're going, if it's a unique location. So for example, for me, I'm Cisco and Tech Field Day were kind enough to allow me to join them for Cisco Live Europe in Barcelona and I hadn't flown overseas in over 25 years, so I took full advantage of that opportunity. I arrived two days early, did some sightseeing and I was able to kind of just chill, relax, take in the sights and sounds and the rest of the week was relatively straightforward, very easy going, not very stressful at all, but there was a lot involved. Don't get me wrong, but it definitely helped the cause.

Mike: 08:58 That's a really good thing to do, to go early and get acclimated. You know, the other thing too is when something happens, when you're at an event that is a significant event. You know I'll never forget the time I was at a conference and Columbine happened. Right. There. So that was a major event and brings up all kinds of interesting dynamics associated with that particular event - whatever it is. You know, I know people that you know, were at an event when 9/11 happened. I know people that were an event when that Las Vegas shooting happened a couple of years ago. So how do you deal with that? Especially if you're known to be religious?

Leon: 10:03 So we're going to to dovetail into that in a minute, but I think, to both of your points, that I was just saying - for people who don't get to go to conventions, why are connection challenging? But I think just as meaningfully for folks who DO go to conventions and may feel like they're heading toward that burnout phase, that's really good advice is to schedule some extra time so that A) you feel like you're getting some personal time. Some "me time" as you might call it, associated with the event if you can. And then Mike, to your point, when, when something big happens in the world that does change the entire nature of it - of the, of the event - all of a sudden it becomes about something much larger than just, you know, Keith, you said 40,000 people at reinvent, it's not just 40,000 people reading it. It's 40,000 people who are all having a shared national or international experience away from home, away from kids, away from their support network. And so everyone sort of becomes the support network for each other. And that can be somewhat transformative. And I think Mike, where we are going with that is, is the next part of this topic, which is: not just the ways conventions are challenging or, or different for everybody, but as people with a very particular religious or moral or ethical point of view, what do conventions represent? You were all talking about taking extra days before and after. So, as an Orthodox Jew, the trick for me is that for the Sabbath, for Shabbat, I'm completely offline. Anything with an on off switch can't be touched. So I can't fly, I can't travel. And even where I stay, hotel rooms become interesting if they have electric doors or you know, entrances that are only... You know, like it becomes this, this piece of calculus that is tricky. So I was at Cisco Live Barcelona last year and my wife and I went out, my wife happens to have been born in Spain, but we came out several days ahead of time so that we could be there in time for the Sabbath. And we stayed several days after. But it creates this even larger buffer, which I'm sorry to say, you know our, I'm happy to say if it's Barcelona, if you're in Spain, not such a problem, like who's going to complain about some more extra days in Spain?

Keith: 12:28 Oh, I'll throw you a in Chicago in February, you will see.

Leon: 12:33 Right. Okay. Right, exactly. So this past Cisco live with it being Shavuot, I had to come out on Thursday. And Friday night I just sort of hunkered down and I was in the city, in my hotel room, but those next three days, offline - from Friday night through Saturday night, which was Shabbat, and then Sunday and Monday, which was the holiday of Shavuot, were all offline. And it became very complicated. And being away from family was tricky. So scheduling can be an interesting thing.

Al: 13:04 That's a lot of discipline. I'll give you a lot of credit.

Mike: 13:06 Yeah, really

Leon: 13:07 You know what, we knew what we were getting into, me and the family and, uh, I will tell you lessons were learned, and we will probably just opt to skip a convention if it happens like that again because it was not the experience I wanted. But I appreciate the support. Okay, so scheduling, like I said, scheduling can be tricky for us with religious points of view. Not just scheduling getting there, getting home. But also daily scheduling, finding time and a place to pray. So I'm curious if you've had any sort of experiences about that?

Al: 13:44 Not necessarily. I mean, you can always find a location to pray if one is not provided. But for example, Cisco live in Europe (and I'm sure the same here in the US) they provided a prayer room for all religions to use, which I found very convenient, very kind to them. It actually caught me off, I guess caught me by surprise. Maybe I'd never seen it or stumbled across such a thing. So I thought it was a nice gesture on their behalf.

Leon: 14:08 So I saw the same thing. I was ecstatic. I actually took a selfie in the room. I was, you know, had my tallit and tefillin on. I'm like, "THIS IS AWESOME!!" So, uh, it was really wonderful. Not only was it a room to pray, but they had removed all iconography. There was no, like, sometimes you'll find a place and they'll be crosses up or something like that. And it can be very challenging for some folks. Where like, "well, wait, but that's not my space." They just made it a very generic space. Cisco live us does not do that, just FYI. But it was deeply appreciated, especially because, you know, you've got to duck away for three times a day or five times a day. And it's like, "No, I got a place, like there's a room." I find a corner. I literally just like walk off the floor and find a corner to stare at a wall. Like, "What's he doing?" Like, "Don't worry about it. It's okay."

Mike: 14:55 So you're in the middle of your prayer. You know, you're doing this heavy duty, some heavy lifting on prayer time with God and all of a sudden some guy comes in and starts taking selfies cause he's so excited that there's a prayer room.

Al: 15:10 That's a good point.

Leon: 15:13 Okay, so the room was empty. I was not, I was not going to take my enthusiasm. I was going to curb my enthusiasm if anybody else was in the room. But in fact it was, the room was, was all, it was all clear.

Mike: 15:27 I'm so glad you were sensitive about that.

Keith: 15:28 Al you missed the chance to say "a Jew and a Muslim walking into a prayer room."

Leon: 15:33 I...

Al: 15:34 I wanted to but I didn't know how that would come across.

Leon: 15:36 No, no, no, no. I I keep on waiting. I keep on waiting for that opportunity for like, you know, for, for the, the folks who follow Islam and, and you know, the Jews are like, "Yeah, we got to do that. Okay, this is our room? All right, cool. Great!"

Mike: 15:50 So Jew and a Muslim and a Christian go into the prayer room at Cisco Live...

Al: 15:57 I like that Mike. That's, that's a good one.

Keith: 16:00 That's literally the joke.

Leon: 16:03 That's the tagline for the entire podcast. Okay. Okay. So finding a time and a place to pray. So with the prayer room, that was wonderful. But have found that breaking away, you know, if I'm in the middle of a session, a class or I'm in the middle of a conversation, realizing that... So for Orthodox Judaism, there are specific times that you pray - windows in which you can pray. And the windows are hours long. But sometimes you realize, "oh my gosh, the day is getting away from me." So finding both the time and the ability to break away is a challenge. I don't know if it's a challenge for any you folks.

Al: 16:42 It could be. I mean, you can always make it up as long as, at least the way I feel, you have the intent, uh, you're doing it for the right reasons. You're not doing it to show off or gather attention. You know, it's, it's, there's a purpose behind it and in its most times in that it's respected. It's not a big deal.

Leon: 16:59 So another challenge that I think folks with religious points of view have a with conventions is just eating, just finding food. Now a lot of conventions will have options. In fact, I remember laughing because of the two dozen different dietary options. One was "gluten free, low sodium halal." Like that was incredibly specific.

Al: 17:21 It's pretty detailed

Leon: 17:22 But not always. Um, so I dunno what's, what kind of food challenges have you run into being a conventions?

Keith: 17:32 So every now and again I'll do a "Daniel fast" where, you know, I'm not eating any meat or choice foods. You find that it's hard to find non-choice foods during a convention. And the other thing is that you know, you, and this is a, a challenge that you know, vegans and vegetarians have. And then when you go for meals at night, like the convention will at least have Vegan options. When you go to dinner with your friends at night? You know, my Tech Field Day brethren love their steak. And it can be really difficult to find some place. So, you know, that's happened to me more times than I would like where I, where I had bad timing, where I did this fast, that didn't allow me to eat choice foods. Great thing about it is that it, you know, the purpose of it is for me to pray and, and be reminded of my sacrifice, the bad part about it. There's a lot of times for it to feel like it's a sacrifice.

Al: 18:40 I think for me the biggest challenge, if any, the food options are most times are readily available and most conferences do accommodate, you know, the needs of the specific religion. You know, my case hello, but sometimes it's a, it's disappointing to put it nicely when food is not labeled properly. That's probably the easiest thing to accommodate.

Mike: 19:05 What's an example of that, Al?

Al: 19:07 If there's a tray of food, like for example, I don't want to, I don't want to call it a specific company or conference, but let's just say it's a buffet style set up and they have trays of food, one behind the other, and there's no label, it'll just tell you, let's say for example, "chicken", but there are other ingredients that you can see for yourself, but you're not necessarily sure what they are.

KeithSpeaker 6: 19:31 Yeah. So I'm Al's food taster. So I go in and Al is like "Is there any pork in here?" You know what, Al, I will let you know if there's pork in this chicken dish.

Al: 19:42 Right. But I appreciate you, Keith. But also for, uh, for allergy related reasons as well.

Keith: 19:49 Yeah. Right. Like I'm allergic to peanuts and there's not always obvious that peanuts are in, in, in a dish.

Leon: 19:56 So one of my coworkers, Destiny Bertucci, who's another voice you'll hear on, Technically Religious has a gluten free diet, and finding things that are really gluten free... And I think we've also also run into the well-intentioned, clueless staffer, you know, who's like, "Is any of this, is any of this kosher?" "Oh yeah. I'm pretty sure that over there is kosher." It's like "that's bacon." Yeah.

Keith: 20:32 That reminds me that during the superbowl my vegetarian option for chili is a chicken chili. For vegetarians. I have the chicken chili.

Mike: 20:43 Oh, okay. Yes, of course.

Leon: 20:45 Yeah. You know, so there's no like, you know, gluten free. It's like, "I see there are croutons on that salad." What are you, what are you doing? So you have to be sort of vigilant. And I like, I like the idea of having a taster, having like a designated person to help out with that. And you know, Al to your point about like, well, what was the, you know, was it, um, sauteed in a wine sauce?

Al: 21:09 That could be the case as well.

Leon: 21:11 Yeah. Yeah. So for a lot of us, especially those of us who have much more strict dietary needs, the conventions become a big building full of, "nope." Like, "can you have this?" "Nope."

Al: 21:23 You end up eating like a rabbit.

Mike: 21:25 Which is, which isn't bad by the way. Right? It's a good opportunity to, uh, like, uh, Keith was saying before, you know, sort of sacrifice, right? Uh, what do they call it? A asceticis, right? Yeah.

Leon: 21:37 Right. Well, you become very sensitized both to the, the, the choices that you've made. And also you become very sensitized to the blessing of having food available. So, you know, in one respect, when, when you do, you know, when I do go to a convention and there was one point, I remember it was Cisco Live Europe in Berlin and they put out a, and normally those buffets that you were talking about or just again, "nope". Like, I don't even look, I'm not like, "nope. Nope. It's not, it's not, it's not, it's not". Um, and, and my coworker is like, "we'll just go look." You might have something like, "no, huh-uh, ain't going to do it." There was an entire set of coolers full of Ben and Jerry's ice cream pints, which is kosher, and I just like, I'll be having seven of these.

Al: 22:28 Can I have it delivered to my room?

Leon: 22:29 Yeah, it was great. Like, but the point wasn't like I gorge myself. The point was I was so grateful. I felt such a, an a huge moment of, "wow, what a blessing this is." That it was wonderful and I was giddy from it. So that's, that's sort of the, the other side of it. When it happens,

Leon: 22:47 We know you can't listen to our podcast all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular conversation up. Come back next week and we'll continue our conversation.

Doug: 22:57 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 23:10 Hey, there's this great convention happening next week in Cleveland who's in?

Everyone: 23:14 (grumbling, excutes, nope)


S1E19: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll, Part 3

S1E19: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll, Part 3

July 16, 2019

In Yeshiva - a system of advanced learning in the orthodox Jewish world, there’s a saying: “Shiv'im Panim laTorah” - which means “there are 70 faces of Torah”, but implies that there are many equally valid ways of getting to a certain point. That idea resonates with IT practitioners, because there are many paths that led us into our career in tech. In this episode, Leon wraps up the conversation with guests Corey Adler, Rabbi Ben Greenberg, and returning guest Yechiel Kalmenson about how that made that literal pivot, from yeshiva into the world of IT, and what their experiences - both religious and technical taught them along the way. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon: 00:00 Hey everyone, it's Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It's called "The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked", and if you like this podcast, you're going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of it with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it including where you can get a digital or print copy over on Thanks!

Roddie: 00:25 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:44 This is a continuation of the discussion I started last week with Yechiel Kalmenson, Ben Greenberg and Corey Adler on how they pivoted from a life of Orthodox Jewish studies into a career in IT. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 00:44 All right, so looking at today, as you're working today in IT, you are all three established programmers with a career and everything. What, of the lessons that you got from yeshiva, continue to carry over. What other things, I mean we've talked about a bunch of stuff, but is there anything else that carries over into your day to day work that when you do it you say, "yeah, that's cause I went to yeshiva. That's, that's what I still get from it."

Yechiel: 01:24 So essentially I think these days the world of tech is waking up to the realization that you can't separate the work you're doing from the moral applications of the things you're creating. Like for the longest time we would hear news about some big tech company doing something wrong and the engineers are like, "Well, I was just doing my job. You know, I was hired to do this work." And it's just not cutting it anymore. People are realizing that there are real world applications to the stuff you're doing. And these are conversations we have to have. And we have to think about.

Leon: 02:03 You mean like the algorithms on a certain video website that lead criminals to their targets?

Speaker 3: 02:11 Yeah. To quote one recent example. Yes. But you know, these days it seems like every week there are other stories coming up. By the time this podcast is going to air, I'm sure there's going to be five new stories and people are gonna say, "what website is he talking" about what story was that?" But that kind of thinking is actually wired in throughout the Talmud. You know, people have this misconception about the Talmud that it's high lofty thinking and philosophical discussions; where most of the Talmud is actually talking about oxen and fields and how to... I remember once getting into a whole... There's like a whole page discussion in the Talmud about what happens if you go into a room that was previously occupied by three people and you find a coin - who does that coin belong to? And come on, we're talking about a third of a penny over here. Does this really, really matter? And our teacher told us, "Yes! If you realize the value of a third of a cent that belongs to somebody else, obviously you'll know the value of $100 that belongs to someone else. You can't separate the two." There's no like, "okay, now I'm doing my job... And now I'm a religious person. Now I'm a rabbi." There is, I think there's a famous story about our Aristotle that they once caught him in some morally questionable act and they asked him, "How could that be?" He said, "Now I'm not Aristotle." But in Torah there's no such thing. You can't separate your religious life from your quote-unquote secular life. It is one thing. It's "Torah Echat" - we say "it's one Torah and that is your life."

Corey: 03:49 For me, I get constant reminders as a team lead because of process - that the idea of the process being as important as the result. For example, as I had mentioned about the kosher food: it's not that the rabbi is the one that's blessing. It is all about the process. And even if you have one little thing that's not kosher, it invalidates basically all of it and makes everything not kosher. So the same thing really in tech: if you don't have the right ingredients, you don't have the right people and the right processes in place you're not going to be successful in whatever project you're trying to accomplish.

Leon: 04:39 Right. It doesn't matter if individual lines of code execute correctly, the overall goal isn't going to be met.

Corey: 04:46 Are you testing? Are you making sure that it actually is solving what you think it's solving? Are you collaborating with customers? Getting back to the agile talk from before. So all kinds of things in that process is important.

Leon: 05:04 Ben, anything to add?

Ben: 05:06 I would just add in addition to that, that, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - who I think has inspired many of us, including me; he's the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom - often describes a Jewish thought as something around being an aspect of religious humanism. Meaning that all people are invested with the divine image, that all people have intrinsic, unlimited value, a value that can't have any limit to them. There is no way to describe the value of an individual person. And I think that when you work in large corporations or large companies and you're working in tech, which is often data that's been in the aggregate; that we're working on, processes can feel anonymous, the values from yeshiva - that every single person is created and invested with that spark of godliness - I think it allows you to come to work with a sense of a real appreciation of your colleagues. With a sense of understanding that they are important and, not for only for the work they produce, but because they just are. Because they're human beings. And I think that some of that can be missing from tech sometimes. That sense that we all are valued as human beings. And bringing that into the discourse of the daily work life can be really powerful.

Leon: 06:32 So in the same way that, the things that we learned in yeshiva sometimes we bring with us into the day and they're positives, are there any things that we carry with us from our yeshiva days or from our yeshiva learning that end up creating obstacles for us? That we find that we have to find a way around or work through or get over.? And how do you get past them?

Yechiel: 06:55 So I guess just being "religious" or being visibly religious. In the world of tech there's this stereotype about tech that it's very young, very liberal. So just not seeing people like you being an invisible minority. I mean I'm obviously not going to deny the fact that as a white male, of course I enjoy plenty of privilege, but still, for myself, at least not seeing people like me, like really makes you doubt - especially in the beginning, when I was getting into it, and I'm thinking "CAN I make it in this world, is this as a viable option?" So that was kind of tough. And seeing a few people who are visibly religious actually made it a lot easier for me - conceptually, at least - which is actually the reason why, these days, I make it a point to be visible about being religious and visible about being in tech to help others coming after me. And then of course there's just the usual... Corey touched upon earlier. You know, being different in the workplace. Knowing that you can't just join a team lunch. You have to order a kosher meal. Knowing that I have to leave early on Friday in the winter for Shabbat. Though I did find that if you're upfront about it from the beginning, you're not trying to push things off for the last minute, hoping that they'll go away, (which of course they won't because these are things that are immutable and you're NOT going to be staying late on Friday, on Shabbat), if you're up front about things and open, proud of it, people will actually respect it and they'll work with you. When I joined pivotal, my team used to have their Friday retros on Friday afternoon, and they moved it to Friday morning because right in the beginning, I told them, "Oh, Friday afternoon, I'm not gonna be able to make it." So they worked things around and they made it work for me. Keeping kosher: Pivotal every Tuesday has a tech lunch, which obviously is not kosher, but they are order for me and a few other kosher keeping coworkers, they cater out of kosher meal. Just for us. So if you're upfront, when you're proud about it, when you show you're not embarrassed, people respect that and people will work with you.

Leon: 09:11 How about you Ben?

Ben: 09:12 Yeah, I would echo a lot of what Yechiel said. I mean there's a reason why we we're friends. I really respect a lot of what he says and agree with so much of it. And I would also just say that I've noticed...

Yechiel: 09:21 I will say that it goes both ways.

Everyone: 09:23 <awwwwww>

Ben: 09:27 I can feel the love. There's an emerging awareness in our tech community for what it means to have inclusivity around religious issues. And yet there is still some resistance to that idea that there should be. Just the very notion there should be inclusivity for religious diversity is still facing to some resistance in our community. And I do what I can to try and move the needle on that. But I'm only one person. And not only that, I'm also invested in, I'm an interested party. And what actually is really meaningful and touching is when people who are not personally invested, but who are allies who stand up for you and raise the issue first. It happened recently, somebody raised the issue of Shabbat for me, around a particular thing and I felt really cared for and it felt really included in that moment because I didn't have to be the one raising it for myself. And there's something powerful about that. I felt seen. And that was a really wonderful thing. I do remember my pre Israel days when I did need to worry about Shabbat and kosher in the day to day workplace and finding a minyan, and things like that. But we now have a synagogue in our office and our kitchen is kosher and there is a "Minyon" What'sApp group in the building to organize and get everyone into the afternoon prayer service on time.

Leon: 11:00 For those listening, this is just one giant Humblebrag.

Ben: 11:03 It is really, but you know, Leon, it's not very humble. I'm just bragging. It's a straight up brag. It's one of the perks of making this move when you're on the observant spectrum. The Jewish community... you have to advocate for the needs of your non-observant colleagues. "They TOO should be able to eat!"

Leon: 11:25 They have a right t treif!,

Ben: 11:29 They have a right to their non kosher food. Maybe a non kosher section in the kitchen for them. Make sure there's non kosher microwave there so they can eat as well. It's a total flip of the situation.

Corey: 11:43 It feels like a Jackie Mason joke.

Yechiel: 11:47 And actually I would like to second what Ben spoke about, having allies. I feel like standing up for yourself could get exhausting. At our first job - mine and Ben's - I remember like every Friday was a struggle, leaving early. And I actually remember one specific week where Ben told me that he had had a run in with our manager earlier that day and he said that he just can't handle the Friday afternoon conversation if I could take it for him. And I did take the bullet that week. And I said, "Okay, it's time for us to leave." And my manager made his usual face, and we both got up and left. But now at Pivotal, I actually have a team member who's an Israeli, who's not religious, and she is actually very good about it. She will always raise Shabbat or kashrut, or other religious issues on my behalf, even though she doesn't keep kosher. She doesn't keep Shabbat. But she always raises it on, on my behalf and it goes a very long way towards making me feel like a welcome part of the team.

Leon: 12:46 Corey.

Corey: 12:47 What Yechiel touched upon before - the invisible minority comment - that just really hits home for me.

Leon: 12:55 I do need to point out that Corey and I both work from home the majority of the time. So when we say that we are an invisible minority, we are invisible in many ways. But as much as, again, that's sort of a humble brag: "I get to work from home," it's much harder to recognize when there's a religious issue, when you don't even see us in the office on a daily basis to know that this is a pressure or a thing or whatever it is. Keep going. Sorry.

Corey: 13:23 Oh, no problem. But even when I was working in an office on a daily basis, there was still the idea that I need to make sure that I'm seen and that I'm out there. I remember one instance in particular and I've subsequently utilized this line that originally I heard from Mel Brooks, when Mel Brooks was starting rehearsals for The Producers musical. And so there was once where, my first job, where a new vice president of software development was introduced to us and we had to go all around the room and introduce who we were, what our job titles were. And so when he came to me, I said, "Hi, my name is Corey Adler. I'm the software engineer and Jew Extra-ordinaire!" And got a good laugh from the people and I've utilized that since then. You know, to be out there and to show that I'm here and that I'm Jewish and that I'm religious and I do all of these things. And for me, I've always found it important that, you need to draw the line and stand your ground. If you end up wavering, then nobody's going to take you seriously as to what you say your beliefs are. If I say, "No, I'm, I'm really leaving on this Friday, and I'm really not going to be there for sprint planning" and all of this, people tend to respect you a lot more than you say, "Well maybe just this once..." You know, stuff like that.

Leon: 15:01 And I will say also that the first episode of Technically Religious was me and Josh and we were talking about the idea of religious synergy. Again, back to the comments around the table with being seen and not having to advocate for yourself, other people advocating for you. I know that as we record this, Ramadan has just ended. And one of the things I didn't realize until Ramadan had begun was that one of my coworkers is Muslim and no one had actually even wished her Eid Mubarack, like nobody had wished her anything because it just hadn't been noticed. And so I made a point of, every day asking her how things were going and wishing her, like I said, Eid Mubarack when things were over. And I think it makes a difference when we see each other and we say things like, "Hey, it's four o'clock, but I know that it's been a long day for you. Do you want to go home now so you're ready for the break fast?" So she doesn't have to be the one to say that. And the same thing, Ben, your comment about someone else commenting on, "Oh, it's Shabbat." So you don't have to be the one, and things like that. So that idea of synergy, of being inclusive, not just with your own particular complexities but also with other people's just makes everything that much better. Corey?

Corey: 16:22 it's funny you bring that up because it reminds me of a coworker I had at my last job, named Kamran, who I was originally Pakistani. He got his American citizenship and we were working together. And I remember we would end up advocating actually for each other. I remember when the company switched buildings, that one of the things that we both asked for was a place where we could just go into a small room and have a prayer space, whether that would be okay. And we got, "Oh, sure, absolutely." And I still remember a couple of times where - because, one of the Muslim prayers and one of the Jewish prayers ended up being roughly around the same time - where I would go to the room to go pray afternoon service. And I find the door locked. I was like, "Oh, okay. Well Kamran's in there right now." We always said to each other that if one more religious person comes in, we're going to have to have a signup sheet for prayer services.

Leon: 17:30 Right. It'salmost like the nursing room, "Please wait, religious expression in progress." Or something like that. I like it. Okay. Any closing thoughts, anything that anybody wants to finish up with? This has been an amazing conversation.

Yechiel: 17:47 So Leon, you mentioned, that you were working with some Kollel people, which are married yeshiva students, and getting them into the workforce. I Actually feel that IT is a great option for people who are making a career switch, be it from yeshiva or from any... From theater or any background really. I feel like tech is actually a great option in that there is a relatively low barrier to entry. Like Ben said, when you're making career switch, when you're ready, have a family and you're ready, have responsibilities, you can't afford four years to go to get a degree in tech. Within a few months, you can gain enough skills to get an entry level position and a year later go beyond that and even the entry level positions pay a lot better than other positions in other fields.

Leon: 18:36 A Ph.d in political science for example,

Yechiel: 18:39 Or history, you know,

Corey: 18:42 Love you, Will!

Speaker 3: 18:42 I'm actually a fairly big advocate in my community for this. I have people reaching out to me all the time to figure out if a transition to tech is right for them. And I enjoy helping people. Like I said before, I enjoy helping. I enjoy teaching. If there's anyone who's listening who is considering a career switch, my contact info will be in the show notes and please feel free to reach out. I would love to help you figure out for yourself if the... Obviously it's not the right move for everyone. I would love to help you figure out if this is right for you and what would be the best way to go about it, etc.

Ben: 19:15 Ditto. Exactly what Yechiel said. He said it beautifully and eloquently.

Corey: 19:21 Amen, my brother.

Leon: 19:23 And on that, I thank all three of you for joining me for this episode. This has been fantastic and I look forward to having you back.

Ben: 19:30 Thanks for having us. Thanks for having me.

Corey: 19:32 This was awesome, man.

Josh: 19:34 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect to us on social media.

Yechiel: 19:48 Well, I think you should be careful before inviting me back. There's a concept in Talmud called hazakah, where - when you do something three times - it's established and then you won't be able to get rid of me. Ben learned that lesson the hard way.

S1E18: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll, Part 2

S1E18: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll, Part 2

July 9, 2019

In Yeshiva - a system of advanced learning in the orthodox Jewish world, there’s a saying: “Shiv'im Panim laTorah” - which means “there are 70 faces of Torah”, but implies that there are many equally valid ways of getting to a certain point. That idea resonates with IT practitioners, because there are many paths that led us into our career in tech. In this episode, Leon continues the conversation with guests Corey Adler, Rabbi Ben Greenberg, and returning guest Yechiel Kalmenson about how that made that literal pivot, from yeshiva into the world of IT, and what their experiences - both religious and technical taught them along the way. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon: 00:00 Hey everyone, it's Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It's called "The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked", and if you like this podcast, you're going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of it with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it including where you can get a digital or print copy over on Thanks!

Doug: 00:22 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:48 This is a continuation of the discussion I started last week with Yechiel Kalmenson, Ben Greenberg and Corey Adler on how they pivoted from a life of Orthodox Jewish studies into a career in it. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 01:03 Okay. So, I think a lot of people are asking themselves at this point, now that they have a better sense of what yeshiva was like and how very different it is from a secular education, how very different that kind of world is from sort of a normal working situation: How did you do it? How did you go from this really intensive... Yechiel, I think you said from 7:30 in the morning until 9 or 10 o'clock at night learning constantly, with a couple of bathroom breaks and a little bit of food and maybe a nap... go from that to learning to code or learning IT or whatever it was? How did you get through it? And in fact, Yechiel, since I mentioned it, why don't you go first?

Yechiel: 01:42 So, I guess as I transitioned to programming through tech support, so I was doing that before. Though I knew I would have to move on at some point because tech support... There was, there was a limit to how much I could grow there and how far it can get. And actually, it's funny, before you asked, you asked like, you know, "what would your mother think?" She was actually the one who, it was her idea. She had someone in her office who went to a bootcamp, (actually a friend of mine) who went to bootcamp and later got a job as a programmer. And she was telling me, "No, why didn't you do that? You know, you're smart, you can do that." And I was like, "No, that's not for me." You know, in my head at least "no programmers were these genius hackers who had been born with a silver keyboard in their laps. And like, that wasn't me. And like, you know, I might be smart, I'm not that kind of smart. And I like, I just kept telling her, "No, that's not for me. I, you know, he could do it. I can't." And then I promptly went home and took my first coding class and been hooked ever since.

Corey: 02:42 For the record, my keyboard was platinum, not silver.

Yechiel: 02:46 Well, Ya know, we're talking about the layman... Lay folks.

Leon: 02:50 right, well, he's Brooklyn, you're Chicago, you know, there's a whole economic strata.

Yechiel: 02:55 Right. Anyway, so I took a few free coding classes online and got hooked and saw that this actually was something I could do and this was something I enjoyed. And once I realized that I was ready to commit to it for the long run, I enrolled in a bootcamp - FlatIron School. I don't know if you heard of it. I took it part time while I was still doing tech support. So back to our yeshiva days, I would work all day and then code all night, up too late. You know, until 2 to 3:00 AM like three or four nights a week. But it was a transformative experience. I met Ben at the same bootcamp. He went to the same boot camp as me. He's been bugging me ever since. And then half year later I got my first developer job.

Leon: 03:38 So Ben?

Ben: 03:39 So I decided to go to the Flat Iron school, as Yechiel did for the sole purpose and aim to continually bug him about my challenges in programming for the rest of my professional life. And I and to have someone to bother on Slack forever and ever and ever. But I also chose Flat Iron school in addition to Yechiel because I knew that I needed to retool and retrain and I knew I also didn't have a lot of time to do that. When you have already a family and responsibilities, you need to make a career transition quick. There's no time to go back for another four year program or two year program or even a one year program. And so the Flat Iron school at that point had a self paced program. I think it still does. I'm pretty sure it does. But it has a self paced program where you basically can do the program as fast as you can do it. And I tried to do it really fast. I left my job and I did it full time over the course of a summer - a summer plus a little more. Hours and hours and hours. And I actually think that spending four years in a yeshiva/college combined was a really great prep for that, because as Yechiel mentioned earlier, that days are very long. And balancing a dual curriculum of yeshiva studies in college meant that when I was in college, I was starting my day at around seven in the morning and ending at around 11 o'clock at night in studies all day between yeshiva curriculum and a yeshiva, (Beit midrash) study hall time. And combining that with traditional college classes. So the bootcamp - which is meant to be a very intense experience because it's full time and it's a lot of material - actually didn't feel that intense. It actually felt less. So it was actually a pretty relaxing experience, although intellectually stimulating and it definitely pushed me in my knowledge and learning. I didn't feel it didn't feel overwhelming because I had that experience from combining yeshiva and college at the same time, which is a very intense thing to do. And so, uh, within a few months of graduating from the boot camp I also found my first job, and it happened to be seated right next to Yechiel in the same company.

Yechiel: 06:07 So I thought I'd gotten rid of him

Ben: 06:08 ... on Long Island. Yeah. Cause everything eventually ends up back on Long Island. So we worked together for about a year, one cubicle apart from each other in a lovely place where it felt like you walked into the set of "The Office" every day.

Leon: 06:29 So I've been in it for 30 years and, and it's amazing how many environments that show evokes for folks. It wasn't just there.

Ben: 06:39 No, definitely not. Not this just in Scranton Pennsylvania.

Leon: 06:42 Okay. Corey, it's your turn.

Corey: 06:45 So I went to NYU as previously mentioned I got degrees in computer science and Jewish history. Afterwards I went to Case Western for only one year of Grad school, which is a story in and of itself, but it is something that my brother, who has a Ph.d and just recently got tenure at Northeastern Illinois University loves to beat me over the head with on occasion...

Leon: 07:14 I was gonna say he doesn't rub that in your face at all? Every five minutes.

Corey: 07:17 Oh he totally does . But I get to make fun of him because I make more money than he does.

Leon: 07:22 Well, a Ph.d in history or in political science only takes one so far.

Corey: 07:27 It does. That's really true. That's really true. So afterwards, then after Case Western, I went into the workforce and started worshiping at the altar of Stack Overflow.

Leon: 07:39 And who doesn't do that? I want to point out that , recently I had the privilege of taking a few folks who were sort of in the adult version of yeshiva called kollel, which is for married guys. And they had been doing this for just a very little bit of money, but were learning scripture, Torah, all day long and realized - very much like you three did - that they needed to get a job. That their time of being able to do this was sort of coming to an end. And we also realized in the community that IT might be a wonderful transition point. And so I took them, in a period of about four months, from basically being at a point where the most technically advanced thing that they used was a flip phone. You know, not even a chocolate bar phone, but just one of the old dumb flip phones into programming, network engineering, sysadmin. And a lot of people said, "How could they do that? How could you take them so far, so fast?" And one of the things I want to emphasize for the folks who are listening is that the yeshiva program is not one that's structured to tell you the answers, (which we alluded to before). It's not about, "do you know the answer to this test?" "Okay, I pass the test . Moving on." It's, do you know how to think about the material? Do you know how to ask yourself - not just "what is the question and the answer", [but] "why is THAT the question? Why did they ask that question here? They could have asked any one of a dozen or two dozen or a million possible questions about this material. Why did they start there?" And when you start to look at information that way, why was that the question they asked? Why was that the answer they gave? Why didn't they give this other answer? When you start to think about that, your brain begins to process information in a very different way. And what that means is that you can categorize and digest information - especially IT information - much more efficiently than folks who might've come up through a more traditional learning program. And we'll talk about that in a little bit, but I just wanted to highlight that because it came out in each of your stories. So I'm curious on the flip side, what about this transition to IT do you think was harder for you three coming from yeshiva than it might have been for folks coming from a different route, from a more traditional American educational route. Yechiel, how about you go first?

Yechiel: 10:11 I guess the main point is like Ben mentioned, it applies to any career change. I don't know if it applies specifically to someone coming from the yeshiva or from the rabbinate. The lack of formal education in the field, with me I didn't get a computer science degree. I didn't go to college for four years learning this stuff. And I know there are people in the field who believe that that is a hindrance. In my professional life, I didn't find that to be the case. I mean I appreciate the value of a computer science degree. I mean it teaches you the theory behind computing, the theory behind... and it is something that helps me in my life now. But to get started, it's like, when you're a carpenter, you don't have to know the theory of how the tools work, how, wood works. All you have to know is how to actually take a saw and a hammer and a nail and make things work. And that's something you can pick up. My first job as a web developer, that was literally just banging tools and nails together. And sometimes actually did feel that way. Like Ben can attest. And even though now I'm doing more backend-y, computer science heavy stuff, that's all stuff I was able to pick up later on. I was able to pick it up on the job as they say.

Ben: 11:29 I often imagine, or conceive of our projects together in our first job together as we were building a sukkah out of code and a sukkah is... during one of the Jewish holidays in the calendar year, we're meant to go outside and build these temporary structures to dwell in for a week, and they're very fragile structures, that can easily yield themselves to the wind, to rain, to cold. And that's the intention behind them - is to reflect on the fragility of life. And so, often times, the code we're building in that first job felt very much like this sukkah of code. Um, the fragility of code.

Yechiel: 12:14 And if I can extend that analogy,

Leon: 12:17 Of course you can! We KNOW you can.

Yechiel: 12:18 There's a popular meme that goes around every year around Sukkot time (which is the holiday when we build the Sukkah), of a photoshop-ed sign at a Home Depot saying "Dear Jewish customers: Unfortunately, we don't know what the thing that connects a thing to the thing is. You'll have to be more specific." And sometimes googling programming questions can feel like trying to figure out "what is the thing that connects the thing to the thing and does the thing, it makes the thing work?

Ben: 12:46 It's an interesting question you asked. And I think for me the biggest differentiator there was: ultimately that the work I'm doing nowadays is not imbued with the same level of... sanctity? Uh, the same level of holiness, the same level of devotion and dedication that the work I did before was imbued with. And and I think in some ways it was both simultaneously challenging to come to terms with that, and come and reckon with that; but it also has made my life a lot easier. It both a challenging thing... I'm used to working in what I do 24 hours a day and having no differentiation between work and life, and yet getting used to having the differentiation between work in life. And having a time when I'm not working has actually been really pleasant. And discovering these things called "weekends" has been really nice. I didn't know what they were before and now I know what they are and they're... It almost feels like the episode of "Downton Abbey" when the matriarch of the family asks very naively and very innocently - but also from a great place of great privilege - "A 'week end'? What is a week end?" I asked that out of, not great privilege, but out of great stress. "What is a weekend?" And now I know what a weekend is and I never want to lose it ever again.

Leon: 14:28 I just have to emphasize, again, for the it folks who listen to the show, that if you feel like you've been overwhelmed, just think of the hardworking rabbis who have... you know, we talk about 60 hour weeks in IT and "Oh my gosh, we have a Sev one call that went all night" and things like that... That if you wondered if there was something that was a notch higher, apparently the rabbinate is it. So just to let you know. Okay. So Corey, how about for you?

Corey: 14:56 For me the most difficult thing was just trying to find the right balance between my work life and my religious life. So in keeping those two worlds kind of separate, but kind of mingled. But then also having to try to explain to people what that meant. So try to explain to my boss, "No, I'm sorry. I understand that there's a sprint launch coming up on Monday, but I can't make it because there's the holiday" Or in winter time, "Yeah. I'm sorry. I can't be at a four o'clock meeting on a Friday..."

Leon: 15:33 ...because sundown is a half hour from now.

Corey: 15:35 Yeah. The Sabbath is starting and I just can't make it or "Yes, I'm very appreciative that you bought lunch for everybody, but I can't actually eat this." And "Yes, I understand. And no, this didn't have to be blessed by a rabbi" Or "No, I can't make a 7:30am meeting in Pennsylvania because I've got to attend morning services." And also the idea that so many times - especially earlier on in my career - I would run into people who are doing 50 - 60 hour work weeks, and they're telling me all about working on the weekend and doing some Saturday work. And for me it's, "Well, okay, well how am I going to make myself look like I'm working as hard as they are, but I have one less day to put in the same hours that they are?" So it was really trying to maintain that balance between my work life, my professional life, and having my religious life. And where I was allowing the two to kind of coexist.

Leon: 16:41 Interesting. Interesting. All right, so we started to hit on it, but I want to take the flip side of 'what was easier, coming from a yeshiva background'? What did you find about the transition to IT that was easier for you? Again, we talked about a few things, but is there anything else you wanted to add?

Yechiel: 16:55 So I guess like you mentioned earlier, yeshiva thinking, for those who had a chance to look a little bit at the Talmud, yeshiva thinking, or yeshiva learning really trains you for thinking in abstract concepts. When you're programming, you're always trying to abstract things. You have a problem, a real physical world problem and you needed to abstract it into the idea what is the problem... what's the question behind the problem? What's the ultimate problem? And there are layers upon layers upon layers of abstractions. And I found that my time in FlatIron... I always, like I told you I'm a teacher at heart. I was always going back and helping students. And I found that this is something that a lot of people coming in from other fields struggled with that I struggled a lot less. Just idea that like when your screen says "x", it doesn't mean "x". It means the idea behind "x". It was something that came more naturally to me and that's yeshivas in general. Specifically. I learned in a Hasidic yeshiva, which puts a stronger emphasis on philosophical and Jewish philosophy. So they were constantly abstracting stuff. Going layers and layers deeper into the ideas. So that's one idea which you touched upon. Another idea actually, which I found interesting, which is not universal to tech, but and my company, Pivotal, we're very strong on the idea of pair programming. Like literally that's all... Like all day, every day. Every bit of code is written by a pair. We don't, we don't work on our own. We rarely ever solo on our own. And that that's a challenge to a lot of pivots moving into Pivotal. But actually at yeshiva, that is how we do all of our learning. Most of our learning is not done through lectures or listening to rabbis teach. There is some of that, but most of the learning is actually done in a system called a chavrusa, which is two people sitting together and learning together, trying to figure out the passage of Talmud, trying to figure out the commentary together, and delving deeper and deeper. So the idea of back and forth, exchanging ideas, thinking out loud, breaking a problem down together with someone else is something that came naturally to me and which I actually enjoyed when I came to Pivotal.

Corey: 19:10 Does that make yeshivas agile?

Yechiel: 19:11 Yes we are. We have a sprints. We have...

Leon: 19:14 Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, you're right! Yeshivas are the original agile organization.

Ben: 19:22 So who are the product managers in the yeshiva?

Corey: 19:26 The Mashgiach?

Yechiel: 19:27 The Mashgiach is sort of the supervisor who lays out the road map, tells you which material you're responsible to cover over the next week or so. And then you break off. And then at the end there's a retro where the Rosh Yeshiva, the head of the yeshiva gives a lecture on the material.

Leon: 19:44 I see a blog post - a very serious blog post on this

Ben: 19:49 In the Torah && Tech newsletter.

Leon: 19:50 This is awesome. Okay. So Ben, how about you?

Speaker 4: 19:54 Everything Yechiel said resonated and I would say just to add a little bit to that, the ability to switch back and forth between the concept and the implementation of the concepts. Between finding in the details, in the practical details, finding the conceptualization and then in the conceptualization, being able to go into the practical details, back and forth I think is very much a part of the world of programming. And I did also see it as an area that was very hard for a lot of people to come to terms with. That "I'm looking at this line of code and I know this line of code is executing this following thing, but in the execution of this following thing, it's also demonstrating to me this programming concept. And I see the concept through its execution" - is actually just a natural part of learning in the yeshiva world. And it just makes a lot of sense, it made a lot of sense to me from the beginning. I think that's a wonderful thing to port over from yeshiva life into IT life.

Leon: 21:13 That's beautiful. Corey.

Corey: 21:16 For me, and I touched upon this earlier, which was the idea of having to go step by step through the thing. You can't just jump to the end. And I'm sure we're aware of some of the, the traditional introductions to the idea of logical coding, like the, the old "Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich" example. Tell me how to make a peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich.

Leon: 21:43 And if you're our friend Aaron Wolf, you actually have several loaves of bread and a few jars of peanut butter and a few other things. And you end up destroying a bunch of those as the students in the class attempt to try to tell you how to do that and do it wrong and realize the flaw in their execution instructions.

Corey: 22:00 Yeah. And it ended up destroying some students along the way.

Leon: 22:02 Well, right. But that's just all part of the fun.

Corey: 22:05 That's true. You gotta take your fun where you can

Leon: 22:08 Shout out to Aaron Wolf.

Corey: 22:12 So going step by step. And thinking about things logically, having to think things through - if something doesn't work, trying to question what's going on. Those things really ended up helping a lot when I started out.

Leon: 22:32 Nice

Leon: 22:34 We know you can't listen to our podcasts all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular discussion up. Come back next week where we continue our conversations about "Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll."

Josh: 22:46 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 23:00 So there's these three rabbis that walk into a bar.

Ben: 23:00 Uh, that's not how it goes.

Yechiel: 23:00 I think you totally ruined that joke.

Corey: 23:00 This is how that joke goes.


S1E17: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll

S1E17: Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll

July 2, 2019

In Yeshiva - a system of advanced learning in the orthodox Jewish world, there’s a saying: “Shiv'im Panim laTorah” - which means “there are 70 faces of Torah”, but implies that there are many equally valid ways of getting to a certain point. That idea resonates with IT practitioners, because there are many paths that led us into our career in tech. In this episode, Leon speaks with guests Corey Adler, Rabbi Ben Greenberg, and returning guest Yechiel Kalmenson about how that made that literal pivot, from yeshiva into the world of IT, and what their experiences - both religious and technical taught them along the way. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon: 00:00 Hey everyone, it's Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It's called "The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked", and if you like this podcast, you're going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of it with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it including where you can get a digital or print copy over on Thanks!

Josh: 00:24 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:48 In yeshiva, a system of a dance learning in the orthodox Jewish world, there's a saying: "Shiviim paanim laTorah,", which means "there are 70 faces of Torah". But it implies that there are many equally valid ways of getting to a certain point. That idea resonates with it folks, because there are many paths that led us to our career in tech. Today I'm going to speak to people who made that literal pivot - from yeshiva into the world of IT - and what their experiences, both religious and technical, taught them along the way. I'm Leon Adato, and the other voices you're going to hear on this episode are returning guest Yechiel Kalmenson

Yechiel: 01:20 Hey, thanks for having me back.

Leon: 01:24 No problem. And also his partner in coding crime, Rabbi Ben Greenberg.

Ben: 01:29 It's great to be here.

Leon: 01:31 It is wonderful to have you. And sitting across from me, because he's also a Cleveland-based Orthodox Jewish Geek, is Corey Adler

Corey: 01:39 Live long and prosper, Papu.

New Speaker: 01:41 There we go. Okay. So before we dive into the actual topic at hand, I want to let you all do a little bit of shameless self promotion. Everyone, take a minute and tell the Technically Religious audience a little bit about who you are and how they can find you on the interwebs.

Corey: 01:58 So, hi, I am Corey Adler. I am a team lead engineer at Autosoft. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyAdler and I am the constant pain and Leon side,

Leon: 02:08 Literally and figuratively, yes!

Yechiel: 02:10 Well, uh, my name is Yechiel. I'm a software engineer at Pivotal. Um, on Twitter you can find me @YechielK. My blog is at, and I also co-author a weekly newsletter called "Torah & Tech" with Ben Greenberg.

Ben: 02:26 And I am that Ben Greenberg that Yechiel just mentioned. I'm a developer advocate at Nexmo, the Vonage API platform. And I also am that coauthor of "Torah & Tech" with Yechiel, and you can find me on the Twitter world @RabbiGreenberg, or on my website at

Leon: 02:44 Great. And for those people who are wondering, we're going to have all of those links and everything in the show notes. And finally I should just to round out the four, uh, Orthodox people of the apocalypse, I guess? I don't know.

Corey: 02:56 You've been watching too much Good Omens.

Leon: 02:58 Right? I just finished binge watching it. Anyway. I am Leon Adato and you can find me on the twitters @LeonAdato, I did not attend to Shiva, which is a point that my children who DID attend yeshiva are quick to mention whenever I try to share any sort of Torah knowledge. I started out in theater. I know that comes as a complete shock to folks who wonder why I could do that if I'm so shy. It's almost as weird a path to IT as Torah is. And one that's definitely informed my understanding along the way. But again, we're focusing on this yeshiva path and that's where I want to start. I want to hear from each of you, where you started out, what your sort of, growing up experience was.

Ben: 03:41 Uh sure. So I guess I'll start. So I grew up in San Diego, California, a little far also from the center of what seems like the center of Orthodox Jewish life in America, in New York City. But I moved to New York for Yeshiva and college at the same time. And I went to a yeshiva college called in English, the Lander college for Men, and in Hebrew, or in a New York accented Hebrew, The Beis Medrash L'Talmud, which was and still is in Queens, in a little neighborhood in Queens called Q Gardens Hills. And so I was there for four years, right, that simultaneously yeshiva and college. And then after I graduated that I said, "I'm not done with yeshiva." So I went for another four years to another yeshiva, this time to study for a rabbinic ordination. And I did that at yeshiva called - and they only have a Hebrew names so I apologize for the three words in Hebrew here - Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, which at that time was based near Columbia University in the upper west side of Manhattan, and is now in Riverdale, which is a neighborhood in the Bronx, also in New York City.

Corey: 04:55 So I guess I'll go next then. I grew up, born and raised in Chicago. I went to Skokie Yeshivah, and that's yeh-shivuh, not Yeshiva. Why? It's that way. Nobody knows.

Leon: 05:07 But they beat you enough until you just stopped saying it the other way.

Corey: 05:10 You get shamed if you say it the wrong way there. After high school I went to tlearn in yeshiva in the old city of Jerusalem for two years at a place called Nativ Ariyeh. Afterwards I came back to the United States and went to New York University. Not "YU"

Leon: 05:30 Yeah, NYU, not YU. I went to NYU also, although we didn't know each other because I'm old and you're a baby. Okay. So that means Yechiel you're bringing up the rear on this one.

Yechiel: 05:43 Yeah. I'll round off the lineup. So, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, center of the world. But for yeshiva, I left town. I went to Detroit, I was there for five years after which I went to a yeshiva in a small village in Israel called Kfar Chabad. Then I came back to New York and I studied, for my Rabbinic ordination at the Central Chabad yeshiva in Crown Heights in New York.

Leon: 06:10 Fantastic. Okay. So now we get to laugh at ourselves when we were young and idealistic and had no idea what the world was going to throw at us. What were your plans at that time? Like what did you think life was going to be like? You know, IT may not have been your ultimate life goal. So what did you think it was going to be? Yechiel we'll go backwards. We'll start with you this time.

Yechiel: 06:32 I'm glad you can laugh because I actually look back to those days pretty fondly. So back then I was of course very idealistic. My plans were to be a Chabad rabbi. For those in the audience who don't know Chabad is a sect within Orthodox Judaism. And at least for the sake of simplicity all I'm going to say about them is that they're very strong into Jewish outreach and bringing Judaism to unaffiliated Jews, all Jews. So back then I had plans to be, to go out somewhere in the world and be a Chabad rabbi and that's what I was studying towards and what I was learning. And in fact after I got married, I even did live out part of that. I moved to Long Island for a few years and we helped a local Chabad house until eventually the bills caught up with us and we realized that it wasn't paying.

Leon: 07:23 So Ben, how about you?

Ben: 07:24 So I first of all, I do want to comment on the fact that only a Brooklynite would think "moving out of town" was moving to Long Island, New York. I do just want to make that comment as we're engaging in this conversation.

Leon: 07:39 It is definitely the New York state of mind.

Corey: 07:41 Yup.

Ben: 07:42 And I also do want to say another wonderful thing about... well *a* wonderful thing about Chabad: In my role now is a developer advocate. I do a lot of traveling and I have encountered and have had the great fortune to spend, many Shabbatot and holidays - many Jewish Shabbats, Sabbaths - with Chabad houses around the world and have truly seen the diversity of both Jews and non Jews who attend Chabba for Shabbat meals, for Shabbat services. Just a couple weeks ago I was at Chabad in Venice in Italy and saw just really like every, every type of person. The whole spectrum of human life, it felt like, was present in the Jewish ghetto in the courtyard, celebrating Friday night services and dancing in the streets for Shabbat services with the Chabad. So it was really just quite beautiful. I had such a wonderful time in yeshiva for those eight years, I decided I actually wanted to be a rabbi and so I spent about 10 years of my life actually working as one. And I worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a campus Rabbi, A Hillel Rabbi, which is central for Jewish student life on campus. And then I went from there and I worked as a congregational rabbi in Colorado. And then I actually did some community organizing work after that in Chicago around gun violence and immigration reform. And so I kind of got to experience both nonprofit Jewish organizational life in the latter part of my career in the Jewish world. And then also in the beginning part, more traditional forms of being a rabbi, like a campus outreach and congregational rabbinate, the synagogue / pulpit rabbinate. So I actually did it for a bit and I feel fortunate that I've had that opportunity.

Leon: 09:49 Wow. That was kind of the gamut. Okay. Corey top that!

Corey: 09:54 For me, actually, I've known since fifth grade, pouring over old Tiger Direct catalogs

Leon: 10:04 Oh that brings back...,

Corey: 10:04 I've known for a long time that I wanted to get somewhere into the tech industry. But I always, I imagined myself originally going into programming video games. I loved playing Starcraft and Madden and all these fun games and I wanted to actually work for one of these companies and imagined it was going to be so much fun programming video games for a living.

Speaker 1: 10:32 So, so you didn't, you didn't have visions of being a Chabad rabbi on Mars?

Corey: 10:37 No.

Leon: 10:38 Okay. All right. Okay, fine. So, um, along with that, along with what you thought was going to be, what was the part - because I know a lot of the folks who listen to Technically Religious don't have a window into this world. So what was the thing that you enjoyed the most; or the most impactful thing about that part of your life that, you know, the time that you were learning in yeshiva? What was it that that really just, you know, would have drawn you back? That you would've gone back again? That you look back most fondly.

Ben: 11:05 So for me, I think there are very few spaces in life, or opportunities in life where you get to just sit and ask questions, meaningful questions, and engage in the pursuit of trying to figure out what... meaning: trying to figure out the intentionality behind why... why you do things, why you don't do things? And get engaged in just intense philosophical, theological questions ranging from sometimes the most pragmatic - like, "Is my dishwasher kosher?" And all the ramifications and permutations of that; To very theoretical questions around, "Well, who possesses greater reward for doing a good deed: somebody who is obligated to do that, or somebody who's not obligated?" And spending hours delving deeply into questions like that. Where else do you get the opportunity to do that, and just take the time? It was a precious gift to have that time and to have a carved out dedicated space for those kinds of ponderings and intellectual pursuits.

Leon: 12:15 Nice. Nice. Corey, how about you?

New Speaker: 12:19 For me it was the ability to stop thinking about the end result and focusing on those individual steps that lead to that end. Quite often we, as a society and as individual people, we end up trying to jump to the conclusion trying to find ... just go straight to the end, see what happens. But when you're learning, Talmud in particular, you may already know what the law is before you started learning a particular section. You may have read it in some law book else elsewhere before you even seen this discussion. But that doesn't mean you're going to know all the particulars. You don't know what all of the edge cases are, as we would say. Arguments for and against various positions. And even on something simple like, "hey, my animal just caused damage to your animal." Like, what do we do in this circumstance. Even that, just getting that ability to focus in and delve into the steps versus getting straight to the end.

Leon: 13:25 Nice. Okay. Yechiel anything to add to that?

Yechiel: 13:29 Yeah. For me it was actually, the fact that how yeshiva was a world where you're totally immersed in - like people I speak to are generally shocked to find out that a regular day for yeshiva boy, or yeshiva, bochur in our parlance, would start at 7:30 AM and go till 9:30 PM sometimes. And it's nonstop learning. You have a small break for eating, obviously for the three prayers every day. But other than that, it was just nonstop sitting and learning for over 12 hours a day. And that's something that you don't find anywhere else. It was, I think, a totally life transforming experience

Leon: 14:07 You know, for those folks - and again, I didn't attend any of that, but I watch, I'm watching my kids go through it - and it's a very different thing than sort of the secular educational system where the goal of every school child is, "how do I get out of this as fast as possible? How do I skip as much as I can? How can I just memorize the questions for the test." This is a culture, this is a world that, as I like to tell folks, it's almost that nobody cares about the answer. The highest praise, the highest reward you can get from a teacher is "you asked a really good question." And that says something about the attitude that's there. That we enjoy this, we enjoy the playfulness with ideas.

Yechiel: 14:51 And to add to that, that's actually a big difference between studying in a yeshiva for example, or studying for a degree or for a certification or whatever. Whereas in most cases you're studying, you're trying to gain a piece of knowledge. You want to... you're learning for your degree, so you want to know all that. Let's say you're learning for your law degree or for your computer science degree, wheatever it is - there's a certain piece of knowledge which you want to acquire. In yeshiva it's not about learning the subject, it's about, like I said, it's about the journey, not about the destination. It's about spending the time learning. It's not like if you can finish the tractate of Talmud quicker, then like, "okay, that's it. You can go back to you know, to your house and go to sleep." That's not what it was about. It wasn't about gaining a particular piece of knowledge. It was about the process of learning.

Leon: 15:38 And the joyfulness of... taking joy in the process. Given that: Given how wonderful it was and how exciting and fun it was, what made you decide that you are going to pivot away from it? That you weren't going to become the Chabad rabbi, Yechiel. That after 10 years as a pulpit rabbi or organizational rabbi, you're going to make a move and specifically into IT What, what was it that got you to that direction?

Yechiel: 16:04 Okay, so I'll take this one. So as I mentioned earlier, for various reasons we wont' get into, the rabbinate didn't work out at the time and got to a point, you know, a growing family, bills don't pay themselves., food doesn't put itself on the table. So I started looking outside of the rabbinate for other sources of income and tech was a pretty natural choice for me. When I was a kid I was that kid in the back of the classroom with the mechanical pens taking it apart, breaking and trying to figure out how the spring worked. Or anything. I don't know how many watches my parents bought me that ended up in like a mess all over my desk. So that was always something I enjoyed, figuring how things worked. And when computers, when I started getting access to computers, that was like a whole new world for me to take those things apart. I, I'm not one of those kids like wrote code at the age of 10, but I did enjoy figuring out like, you know, what tick, what made computers take, how they worked on what was going on under the hood. So when I was looking for something to do, my first job actually out of the rabbinate was doing tech support. Which was great for me because I was learning these different systems and how they worked and how to troubleshoot them and how to debug them. And it slowly progressed from there. Eventually programming was just the logical next step and haven't looked back since.

Leon: 17:25 So Ben how about you?

Ben: 17:26 So I've always been a bit of a geek and I've always loved tech. In fact, so this is my second career, but in many ways it's also my third career because when I was in high school, I founded a hacker conference with my friend and partner in crime at that time. And we actually just celebrated its 20th year of the Hacker Conference in San Diego, and it's one of the largest infosec conferences in southern California to this day. And we had our own little network penetration, security testing company back then as well. We didn't necessarily use those words back then because then the mid to late nineties, it was all kind of new and everything was evolving at that point. We were kind of right on the cusp at that point. And so it was actually a really exciting time to be in it. And so when I decided that it was time really to take a break from the rabbinate take a break from the clergy life - 10 years in the clergy is kind of like 40 years in another career. And I was ready for a bit of a break and it was also correlating with the desire of my family and I to think about a move out of the States into Israel. And to start thinking about ways in which we would support ourselves in Israel. And the idea of going back to a career in tech, which was something I was always interested in to begin with. And I had a bit of a history in it, albeit a very old history at that point because tech has moved and has continued to move to move really fast. So things that I was doing in the 90s like writing some code in Perl for example, would be like totally... Right?

Leon: 19:11 Perl!

Everyone else: 19:11 (general mocking of both Leon and Perl)

Ben: 19:16 So one of the conference I was at a few months ago was at FOSDEM, which is one of the largest open source conferences in the world. Totally a free conference. Unbelievable amounts of people are there. It's in Brussels or, at least was that year. And literally every sector of the tech community is under that roof, including Perl associations and Perl groups.

Leon: 19:39 Ahhhhh. It's my happy place!

Ben: 19:39 And it was so beautiful to see that, it brought back so many memories of my childhood. And so tech felt like a good place to go back to. And it's a very good career and a good career path where I live now in Israel. So it just, it made a lot of sense,

Corey: 20:00 Dear God, you guys are old.

Everone: 20:01 (laughter)

Leon: 20:05 OK Corey. All right. So what about you?

Corey: 20:08 Well, I second the idea of being a total geek as you well know, Leon. But for me yeshiva was always just the first step in a journey. I knew I was going to end up in IT, but I knew that the whole yeshiva experience was something that I needed for myself in my life, it helped me become more independent. It helped me figure out a lot of things about myself along the way. So I knew I needed that. I knew what I wanted to get out of it and needed to get out of it, but it was not the permanent solution for me. I knew that eventually I was going to come back down to Earth as it were and...

Leon: 20:48 Oh yes. Come down from on high, the Crystal Tower of Yeshiva and back down to down to the dust, in the gutter,

Corey: 20:57 Which is better than the dark tower.

Leon: 20:58 Well, okay.

Corey: 20:59 Of Perl for example.

Leon: 21:01 Oh See, okay. See we had to go there. Al right. So I'm curious about this because again, it was such a pivot. Were any of you resistant to the idea at first? You had this opportunity, you each had a predilection for technology, so you saw that it could work. But was anything in you saying, "Nah, that just... Oh, you know, what will the neighbors think? What will my mother think?" Was there anything that held you back? Yechiel, how about you?

Yechiel: 21:27 So yeah, actually I was pretty resistant to the idea at first. Like I mentioned, I've always seen myself going into community service, going into adult education. Teaching is something that I really enjoy. I still enjoy it. I try to incorporate it into my tech career. Like the Torah & Tech newsletter and my blog and also at work mentoring, mentoring interns. Teaching is in my blood. And I always thought that I would be someone who taught, who led, who spoke. And in addition I was also, I was raised on the ideals of community service. So going off to the other direction was tough for me. Though what helped me come to terms was going again back to when I was a kid, a particular genre of stories that I really lovedwas stories from the old country, from the shtetl. There were the Jewish towns with a Jewish shoemaker and the Jewish tailor. And there's actually like a class of Great Torah scholars who could have easily gotten a position as a rabbi or in some yeshiva teaching. But they specifically did not want to use their Torah as a means to support themselves. And as a kid that was something that really touched me and I sort of romanticized it. So now when I started looking away from the rabbinate towards working for myself and I realized that actually technology nowadays is the blue collar work of today. Today's programmers and developers and sysadmins - those are today's shoemakers and blacksmiths. And you know those are the people that make the world run. And the idea of supporting myself through my own handiwork started appealing to be more and more.

Leon: 23:11 It's an interesting thought. I have met one rabbi who is also an auto mechanic, but that's not the typical career path that you find for folks. So yeah, I like the idea that, IT is the next tradesman for, especially for itinerant scholars.

Ben: 23:27 I will say though that now having lived in Israel for about a year, this is an area where there are, I do believe there is a cultural divide between American Orthodox Jewry and Israeli Orthodox Jewry. And the fact that in my own neighborhood, I know somebody, for example, who has a Ph.d in Academic Bible from Hebrew University and works with his hands all day as a craftsman. And it just brings back to mind stories of maybe some famous Jewish carpenter from 2000 years ago that some people might have been around...

Leon: 24:03 Wow. We're just going to throw little shade.

Yechiel: 24:07 Pretty sure this is your first all Jewish panel. So we had to, you know...

Leon: 24:11 Yeah, we had to at least take one shot.

Ben: 24:14 But I say that as a joke, but there's so many people like that in my neighborhood and my community who have ordination or I would advance degrees in Jewish studies or both and who are not working in that field, who are not working in Jewish communal service. And yet they volunteer. They give classes at night or on weekends on Shabbat. They teach they offer sermons. Our community is basically... Our personal community, where we go to synagogue, our community in Israel is essentially lay-led. And so people take turns signing up an offering words of Torah on Shabbat and holidays and a lot of those people who do that are, those possessing rabbinic ordination. Or, if not rabbinic ordination, having spent years of their life in yeshiva and who had decided to pursue a career as opposed to making the Torah or Jewish life their career. And a part of that is just the economics of the country, that it's just hard to sustain oneself in Jewish communal service in Israel. So people end up taking other jobs. But it's also, I think there's part of an ideal here of, we would call maybe "Torah v'Avodah" of Torah being combined with a job - of Torah and some kind of occupation going hand in hand. And that not being a less than ideal, but that actually being the ideal. So just an interesting reflection as I'm listening to this conversation and thinking about how I situate myself and sit where I sit now and can see both sides. And I've lived in both sides and the differences between those two.

Leon: 26:02 Nice. Okay. So Ben as long as you're going, how about you? What was the challenge pivoting away from the rabbit into a career in coding?

Ben: 26:10 I think it's a challenge that a lot of people who are going into a second career often face regardless of what their own particularities are, which is letting go of what others think; or what you think others are thinking. And for me that was a challenge. Leaving the rabbnic world was challenging because you - especially if you go to a hyper-focused mission driven rabbinical school, which I went to - there is, uh, a real sense of serving the community and that being the passion and drive of one's life. And switching to another career can feel like you're letting down your teachers, your mentors, your rabbis, your peers, your fellow alumni, you're a co collegial community. But recognizing that what helped me was the recognition that all of those people that I just mentioned, they also care about you and they wants what's best. They want what's best for you as well. And if they don't, they probably are not somebody you want to be invested in a friendship with to begin with and you shouldn't be necessarily taking their opinion to heart to that extent. That anyone who cares about you, who wants what's best for you, will recognize that maybe it's time. Will recognize along with you, and honor the fact that you expressed the idea that maybe it's time to switch careers and maybe it's time to move to something else. And I think getting to that point where recognizing that others value you and care for you and are not looking down upon you or critiquing you. And if they are, it's okay to say, "enough of you, you're out of my life." It's okay to do those things and to put your life first. And what's best for you and your family. Those were some major hurdles, but once I got over them became it became pretty straightforward.

Leon: 28:18 Nice. Corey!

Corey: 28:20 For me wasn't too difficult because, as I previously mentioned, I knew I was gonna go into IT all along. For me, the most difficult part - was because I had grown up and been in some religious schooling system for my entire life - It was the idea, of leaving the cocoon as it were. And you know, now not everybody I'm going to meet is orthodox. Not everybody that I'm going to have to deal with in school or in work is going to be, you know, a member of the tribe as it were. You know, so there was a little bit of trepidation, but I knew it was gonna happen.

Leon: 29:12 Got It.

Leon: 29:13 We know you can't listen to our podcasts all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular discussion up. Come back next week where we continue our conversations about "Pivoting Our Career On the Tip of a Torah Scroll."

Roddie: 29:25 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 29:38 So there's these three rabbis that walk into a bar.

Ben: 29:40 Uh, that's not how it goes.

Yechiel: 29:42 I think you totally ruined that joke.

Corey: 29:44 This is how that joke goes.



S1E16: Being An Ambassador of IT Within Our Religious Community Part 2

S1E16: Being An Ambassador of IT Within Our Religious Community Part 2

June 25, 2019

Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general and the internet, smartphones, and "screens" in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc see the power these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and "spread the word". On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we're often asked to address, and even "fix", those issues. Last week, Josh Biggley, Keith Townsend, and Leon Adato discussed what was good about being "geeks in the pew". In this week's installment, we'll explore the challenging side of this situation and look at some solutions. Listen or read the transcript below...

Destiny: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 This is a continuation of the discussion I started last week with Josh Biggley and Keith Townsend on the topic of being ambassadors of it within our religious community. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 00:37 All right, so we've talked about some of the good, we've talked about some of the opportunities that being a technologist in our faith community presents us, but what can go wrong? What is wrong with being a person of technology in a land of faith?

Josh: 00:55 Really, I don't think there's anything wrong with being a person of technology in a land of faith. I think that it's the use of technology. So I like to tell people I'm a recovering video game addict and I love video games. I really struggle with the want to play video games. And by the way, most video games today are crap. It's just the way that it is. Sorry kids. They are. But the biggest innovations in video games - things like 3D and VR and augmented reality - they come from the porn industry.So Mormonism, they've embraced technology. So one of the earliest embraces of Technology was broadcasting what we call general conference, which is a biannual conference. It takes place in Salt Lake City in April and October. And so broadcasting that conference around the world, like when I grew up, our church had one of those monstrous satellite dishes outside, you know, the kind that you're, the kid in the neighborhood. His Dad used to, you know, get the free porn on. Well, we had one in our church's yard and we got broadcast from Salt Lake City sent to us. So I think that the challenge with technology isn't so much that it is technology, the challenge is: what are we willing to accept it being used for in our lives.

Leon: 02:26 Okay. So that's an interesting take. I guess what I was thinking about is the things that being the technology person, like what goes wrong with that scenario when we enter our church or synagogue or mosque or are our temple. And one of the first things, and this isn't the worst of it, but one of them is that sometimes we are asked to stand and answer for technology. So, people come up and say, "Twitter's just for, you know, porn and shit posting, that's all you ever do." And you know, I'm stuck there saying, "Well no it's not." But I'm also in my head saying, "Well yeah, it kinda is sometimes"

Josh: 03:08 I thought Instagram and Reddit were for porn. Right?

Leon: 03:12 Well, okay, everything could be, but you know, the point is, is that I'm being asked to stand and answer these challenges and that can be, you know, it's never fun to be on that kind of firing line.

Keith: 03:23 Well, you know, it's kind of like being a politician. There's no good politician. One politician has to answer for all politicians. Or you know what we, we all have faiths that have controversies associated with those faiths. So you know, you're the Christian and you have to answer for 2000 years of the atrocities of Christianity. It's the same thing in technology. "You know what, Keith, you, you help maintain the internet in some ways. So you are a contributor to these problems." You know, the fact that the FBI can't unencrypt this porn traffickers phone is your fault.

Leon: 04:05 Right? I also find that we're often put in a position where we have to be the bearer of bad news.

Josh: 04:11 Like "the wifi is down"?

Leon: 04:11 No worse than that. I've been asked to go help somebody with their computer, only to have to tell them that their spouse is doing... Whatever it is,

Speaker 4: 04:22 At work, if you've ever did any type of enterprise stuff at work and you find something illegal like child porn... it's your responsibility. You are now legally obligated to bring that up. And then for our various faiths.... I had a guy bring me his laptop and said, "you know, what, can you fix this?" And what was wrong with it was they had a bunch of spyware on it. And there's one surefire way to get spyware on your laptop. And he was a friend, so I had to have a difficult conversation with him. And this is not something that, if he would have took it to best buy or wherever - and he probably does now - but if he would have taken it to Best Buy or the Geek Squad, he would not have been confronted with a difficult conversation. So it puts us in a really tough situation sometimes.

Leon: 05:20 It can be, yeah, it can be hard. And that doesn't even consider having to be the bearer of bad news that, you know, "you're just not good at this." Like "you broke it. You really..." Like, "why would you think that doing this...", you know, I mean those, those kinds of things too. I also find that there's a potential, and I think we're going to dig into this a little bit more later in the episode, but it can create dependency relationships that are not good for us and they're not good for the people that we're helping. You know that there's a feeling of a burden on our part and there's a feeling of beholden-ness on their part that can develop that is not friendly sometimes.

Keith: 06:05 Yeah. I sold the guy, the laptop, so...

Leon: 06:10 oh man.

Keith: 06:11 So... and I think that gets to your point, there's this obligation and this is not unique to technology. We deal with this. I think the religious part of the relationship, the faith based part of the relationship, makes it that much more difficult because people can either abuse that, or you can feel personally obligated because this person is a fellow member of your congregation, mosque, or whatever, that you're obligated at a spiritual level to help maintain the system that you gave to them out of the abundance of your, kind of, blessing. You know, how many of us have... like, I literally have a laptop that's worth a couple of hundred bucks at least that, but that could do some good. And I'm challenged with what do I do with this thing? I can't give it away because if I give it away, I've got to support it.

Leon: 07:03 It's your... Right, right. Hey, look, you pass within five feet of a computer and you know, it's your responsibility now. I mean, you just give it a second glance and... Yeah, that's, that's exactly it.

Josh: 07:15 So have either one of you had this experience: You walk into your congregation and someone corners you and says, "You know, I'm thinking about buying..." And then fill in whatever technology. A new mesh wireless system, a new laptop, an Ipod for my kid. "Which one do you recommend?"

Keith: 07:36 Oh, yeah, I've, I've had that and I almost always regretted getting it.

Josh: 07:41 Agreed. Good. I'm glad I'm not the only one who regrets that advice. My goto now is, "uh, I'm sorry, I don't fix computers. I can't help. I just don't know."

Leon: 07:52 Worse for me, worse than that is that I'm walking in on Shabbat, on the Sabbath. Remember how I said we can't touch anything, and sabbath is a day for, you know, no work and really focusing on on the holy, on the elevated and things like that. And there's still a couple of people who either want to talk about 'that really crazy thing that they did at work' or they hit you up with, "hey, my iPhone is doing this." Now that holding the iPhone, they're not. But what do you think that is? "Oh, I'll just jump on the psychic friends network now and.." You know, like you are describing an iPhone for the... and again, I go for that, like "it's Shabbat, I'm not talking about this." But it happens. The thing that's most wrong about being the technology person is what it does to us, to us ourselves. Because we're there. I mean, the whole reason we chose that space and the whole reason that we chose that community is because we wanted to make that our religious home away from home. We wanted to worship, we wanted to pray, we wanted to connect to the spirit, you know, however, however you want to phrase it. And the problem is that sometimes when we're doing that work, it's not happy work, it's uncomfortable work. It's work where we are really digging deeply and thinking about our behavior or our attitudes. And that's something that we're not always really excited to do, but it's necessary. And having a distraction, having somebody come up to you and say, "Hey Leon, I know that that you're in the middle of davening (or whatever), but hey, can you just... you know, the Wifi is down. Can you just, you know, kick it in a minute?" And you're like, "Yes! Please! Give me any reason not to have this conversation with God right now, cause I'm really not up for that. I really don't want to have it." I think that that's the biggest disservice that we do to ourselves. I don't know if you've run into that.

Keith: 09:48 Yeah, I don't, I don't limit this just to technology. We don't have a whole lot of people on staff in my congregation, we give a good portion of what we would probably spend on staffing to missions, contributions, etc. So we're very volunteer driven, which is great and it works for the most part, but it is a awesome excuse for those who look to be doing well spiritually, to step away from the work of staying well spiritually. So whether you're doing sound, you're doing childcare, you're doing ushering, or counting the contribution, or even the book ministry, it is a good excuse to just not do the work of your faith. And the work of your face is faith is not necessarily running the church or the congregation or the mosque. The work of your faith is developing your relationship with God. And that, I think as technologists, we make that excuse. I remember early on my faith at bringing my pager in because I'd be on call and it would you go off and like, "Oh wow, this is a good reason to step away" knowing that whatever it was could wait. You know, it is a risk that does not limited to technology.

Josh: 11:08 I think this is a challenge and I'm glad to hear you say that Keith, that is transcendent of religious belief. Within Mormonism, all local clergy is lay clergy. So those individuals hold full time jobs in addition to being called as a member of clergy. In fact, all positions in the church are unpaid. And I've watched without fail... And even when I acted as a member of clergy, without fail, those members who are in those positions, they stop attending Sunday school. They stop attending their meetings on Sundays aside from the meeting in which they have to preside over because they're, they're caught up in being the thing they've been asked to be. And it's everyone though, right? Because everything is volunteer driven. It's the person who fixes the boilers. It's the person who does the AV work. It's the person who is responsible for stocking the supplies for the janitor. It's everyone and there always seems to be a reason for people to be away from worship. And I don't know how to break that cycle. Honestly. I don't. I've seen it for 20 years and I'm stuck.

Keith: 12:22 So, we haven't talked about, maybe it's a great topic for another day, but we have this hero syndrome in IT and this is just another way to feed that disfunction of, "yeah, I'm the hero that saved the day and my job is so important within worship that I have to do" it or that it takes away from my own worship.

Leon: 12:48 Right? So you feed the martyr syndrome and you feed the importance and that really negative feedback loop, like you said of the mouse that gets the cookie. But it's doing the wrong thing. Like all those things fed into it. And the other thing is that you get the positive-negative loop of feeling put upon. "Ugh, can't anyone fix the AV this time? I'm always the one who has to do that!" But also the self importance, but also the "look, no one else can do it. I really am the hero." And meanwhile other people are feeling... You're possibly leading other people to feel jealousy or resentment towards you, which you should never be that stumbling block in front of somebody else. So it just can lead to all these horrible outcomes. And I think we've been dancing around it, but where I'd like to wrap up, where I want to go next and finish out with is "how do we manage those boundaries?" So the first thing is, you were both very clear. This is not just for it folks. This is for anybody who is doing any sort of volunteer job within our faith organization. You know, childcare is a great example, Keith, that you brought up that "I would love to be praying but baby's got to get changed. You know, someone's got to watch the kids and I never get to pray or maybe once all everyone goes and picks up their babies. Now I can have a few minutes in a quiet room by myself."Bbut do I take it for myself? Is that really the right way? Is that... So that's the first thing is it's not just for it people. But the other thing Keith, you brought up before we started recording was that it's not just for faith groups.

Keith: 14:31 Yeah. This is something that any organization, there's a volunteer driven that doesn't have enough x, will lean on a resource as much as possible because the organization needs the resources cause they're resource limited. So we can be United way or and girls club. My wife worked for boys and Girls Club for a couple of years, and the amount of just extra they get out of those - even the employees and volunteers. It was to the point, and we're going to get to this, it was to the point where you wore those resources out, that they stopped contributing their talents to that organization.

Leon: 15:15 Got It. Okay. So Keith, as CTO advisor, as somebody who does this professionally, I am going to lean on your expertise just a little bit - hopefully not abusively and ask what, what are your thoughts on how we can set proper boundaries? And we'll keep it with our faith community, but we understand that I will say right now I am horrible at setting boundaries in general. Josh is nodding. So if you don't know, we have video going along with this that we don't record, but so we can see each other's faces. And as I'm saying, "I'm horrible at setting boundaries." Josh, he's just nodding so much that the camera's blurring as he's doing it. So Keith, what is some of your suggestions on ways that we can both give back to our faith communities, but not so much that it becomes these negatives?

Keith: 16:08 So this is one of those things that, when we all look at the basis of our faith, all our faith are based on love. So that's a given. And then there's other commonalities across our faith, which is 1) to have faith. And oddly enough, this is the area that we don't recognize that we're allowed to be challenged on. There's always always going to be too much in our face. If we're not relying on God, then something is wrong somewhere. You know, if, if, if we're the only one that can do it or solve it, then there's, you know, we're putting faith in the wrong place. So there's, you know, kind of that fundamental piece of our individual relationships with God. Whatever higher being you have in your faith is that we have to give... in Christianity we are always saying "we have to give God something to bless." Well, if we're doing it all, how are we giving God something to bless? So that's where I started. So if the babies have to be changed, if the food has to be prepped, the Wifi has to be fixed - but you're putting all of that in front of your own personal relationship with God, your families relationship with God, or you're... whatever priority your faith dictates you give to your, uh, "big boss" who ultimately I call "God". Then that's where you know your boundaries is kind of out of whack. You have to, again, in a Christianity focus, you have to put God to the test, allow things to go haywire as you go for prayer. Maybe during that period of time, other people realize, "Oh wow, I didn't know... I didn't even realize that that was a problem." When I advise people in the secular world, and just my regular job, if senior management... if you never allow senior management to know that there's a problem, you don't give them the opportunity to fix the problem. So if you're always trying to mask and hide the problem with any fish and band aids, you know what? You're going to get a result that's not what you want,

Leon: 18:36 You're not giving someone else a chance to step up if you're constantly rushing in there. I ike that a lot because, if you think you're the one who's doing it all, there's a attitude adjustment - or in a slightly different context in Judaism, you're commanded to give tzdedakah, which people translate as "charity." It really means "justice", literally means justice, and you're commanded... It's one of things you're commanded to do. But the texts are very clear. Like, "you think *you're* giving that money? Oh, is that what you think? No, no. See THAT? I gave you that money to give, right? Yeah. Please do not think that you are supporting this person, that you are helping this person. You are doing nothing. I will make sure they're okay. I'm just letting you participate so you can feel good about it." And the same thing, you know, "you think that's your skills, that it's all on your shoulders? No, no, no. I'm so sorry. But you know, it's going to be there long after you're gone and someone else will be doing it. It's okay." To that end, I get pulled into a lot at my synagogue, doing some tech work, and I've started refusing to just do the work unless there's somebody else who was assigned as a project manager on an activity. I don't necessarily need one, but I need someone else to be the "one face." I need somebody else to gather the requirements, to just say, "yes, do that now." I'll give them, "here's, here's the five things that need to get done. Here's my time estimate that it will take me to do it." But you're going to have to be the one who gets approval, who deals with people who say, "I don't like that color. I want it to be more green" or whatever. And the result is that the person who's project managing me right now actually is learning to be a web designer. And he started to do some of it on his own. And so now there's two of us. And so that's okay. So I'm kind of proud of myself. I have done that.

Josh: 20:39 I'm just worried that there's two Leon's in the world now.

Leon: 20:41 No, no, that would be that. That's not a good thing.

Josh: 20:44 Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah.

Keith: 20:45 Technically my middle name is Leon, so there's that.

Leon: 20:48 oh well, gee, I didn't even know that. Wow. So only special people can have that name. So what else, what are some other ways that we can set boundaries in our communities so that we can be a whole person?

Josh: 21:05 You know, I liked the idea of listening to the people that love us. Whether that's your spouse, your significant other, your children, your parents, your friends. Look to them, the people who are authentic in their love for you. And this keys off of what you were talking about, Keith, our expression of our faith, our expression of our beliefs is really about love. People will not take advantage of us if they truly love us. And if they see us being taken advantage of, they will help us to establish boundaries. My wife is really good at coming down in my work and saying, "Hey, look, you need to make sure you come upstairs for lunch." Or "you need to come upstairs at the end of your workday and not push that eight to half, nine hour day into a nine and a half, 10, 11, 12 hour day." She can set those same boundaries when it comes to me in my faith community, right? "Hey, it's okay that you volunteered x number of hours this week in our faith community, but we still need you to be present as spouse, as father, as you know, whether they view me as patriarch or someday, when my older and my children have children, as grandparents, which I know both of you have that privilege. We just need to listen to our families and I think that that will help us set those boundaries because we're listening.

Keith: 22:29 Yeah. I tweeted something out earlier today. You want to give some perspective on this. If you have young kids, have someone ask them what do they think daddy's or mommy's priority is? Not just in general but when you're in church or in service, like what's their priority in service, like what's important to them? And kids are extremely observant and they will let you know if the priority is, "oh, he's really, really into the audio-visual. Like if the answer is anything other than being active and participating in service, then that's great... And Joshua, the other thing I'd like to piggyback on a comment you made is my wife is very good at protecting my boundaries. She has got the, well, this is probably why I don't get asked to do AV stuff, uh, tech stuff anymore by people. She just tells people "No. You'll never get it back. Like if you give him your laptop, you'll be there for six, seven months, but you will not... he just doesn't have the time to do it. So let's protect the friendship and do not get him your technology."

Speaker 2: 23:37 That's fantastic. I, uh, I've said for a long time as a parent and even as a grandparent, one of the best techniques you use is to walk slowly. Meaning if you hear your kids in the other room and they were arguing over who gets to sit on that chair or who gets to change the channel or whatever, the slower you walk, the more likely they are to figure it out before you get there. And any problem they can solve for themselves (without violence) is a better situation than you solving it for them. And I think the same thing with as a technologist that when people say, "hey, can't you come over and help me, you know, fix my router," or whatever you can say, "yeah, I, I'll probably get there in... I don't know, three, four weeks? I think I can carve out some time. It's just really busy at the office now..." And then "oh no, I need, I need a little faster than that." So walking slowly, I think, works in both cases. And in your case, Keith, it sounds like your wife has helped you to walk slower than you might otherwise.

Keith: 24:33 Looking back, I'm like, "oh, that explains a lot."

Leon: 24:36 So that's why she is Mrs CTOAdviser.

Keith: 24:38 That is why she's Mrs CTOAdvisor.

Doug: 24:40 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Josh: 24:54 A Jew, a Christian, and a Mormon, walk into a mosque

Keith: 24:57 and none of them knew how to fix the router.


S1E15: Being An Ambassador of IT Within Our Religious Community

S1E15: Being An Ambassador of IT Within Our Religious Community

June 18, 2019

Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general and the internet, smartphones, and "screens" in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc see the power these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and "spread the word". On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we're often asked to address, and even "fix", those issues. In this episode, Josh Biggley, Keith Townsend, and Leon Adato explore what it means to be a tech expert in the pews. Listen or read the transcript below.

Kate:                                     00:00                     Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion (or lack thereof). We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh - or at least not conflict - with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon:                                     00:24                     Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general, and the Internet, smart phones, and screens in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. see the power that these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and spread the word. On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we're often asked to address - and even fix those issues. In this episode, I'm joined in discussion by Josh Biggley.

Josh:                                      00:59                     Hello,

Leon:                                     01:00                     And also our returning guest, Keith Townsend, Aka CTO Advisor.

Keith:                                    01:04                     Hey there,

Leon:                                     01:05                     And we are going to tell a few of our stories in this. Right. Now before we dive into any of that, I need to right a past injustice and give Keith a chance to tell everyone a little bit about himself and CTO Adviser, and what you're all about. So shameless self promotion time, Keith.

Keith:                                    01:19                     Oh, you know what it is the Technically Religious podcast so we'll start with that. I am a Christian and I've been a Christian for almost as well... yeah, almost as long as I've been in IT. So I've been in IT a little bit over 21 years, and I've been a Christian for about 21 years. I blog and stuff, mainly talk to CTOs or infrastructure architects, and you can find all that goodness on

Leon:                                     01:50                     Fantastic. Alright, and the next thing I'd like to do is point out for people who have been listening to this podcast for a while - this is actually episode number 15, if you're keeping track - that this episode is sort of counter to our normal style or story. Usually we talk about our life is an IT person who is recognizably or somehow visibly connected to a faith, moral or ethical worldview. And yet today we're going to turn that on its head. Today we're going to talk about our life within our community of faith, but being someone who is recognizably a geek. You know, somebody who is associated with technology in some way. And where I'd like to start the conversation is what is good about that? What is good about being a geek in the pews?

Josh:                                      02:35                     So I just want to point out that I thought you were going to say that today we were going to be witty and insightful and funny.

Leon:                                     02:43                     You are always all three of those things. I don't know. I mean and self deprecating, so it's all good. Right?

Keith:                                    02:49                     You should'a known that that wasn't the case because you guys, you guys had me back on the show.

Leon:                                     02:54                     Oh the humility, the humility is just a rife around here. So, okay. No really what does it... what's good about being a geek, you know, at our church or our synagogue or whatever? How does that help us?

Josh:                                      03:09                     I mean, we're usually the first ones to know the Wifi password.

Leon:                                     03:13                     Okay. And we can share it with others. Yeah. And usually help them get their devices on.

Josh:                                      03:18                     What do you mean share?

Keith:                                    03:19                     And then when you know everyone, I think everyone's service is going to the point where they're using PowerPoint presentations to drive the sermon, which is, you know, kind of crazy. So whenever the PowerPoint doesn't progress to the next slide or the screen goes blank, after about five minutes, you can get up and walk up to the AV guys and usually get it sorted out in 35, 40 seconds while everyone looks at you awkwardly.

Leon:                                     03:46                     Got It. Okay. So I just want to hold down my leg of that conversation and just say that within the Orthodox Jewish community, this is actually not a thing. First of all, on the Sabbath, you can't touch any of that stuff. So certainly no PowerPoint presentations at that point. But also it just, you know, weekday services tend to go very fast. They're very businesslike. So none of that.

Keith:                                    04:09                     So that's interesting. Do you guys have AV at all?

New Speaker:                    04:12                     I will say for the most part, I say certainly there's AV because there's lectures and discussions, but in terms of worship? No worship is still a very analog experience. In fact, there's a big push in a lot of Jewish spaces and certainly orthodox spaces to have people leave their screens, their cell phones and things, outside at the door and not even be tempted in between certain parts of the prayer or davening to even be tempted to look at their phone while it's going on. You know, you're there to talk to "the boss," you know, as just as, you wouldn't go into your CEO or CTOs office and in the middle of a conversation say, "Oh, hang on, I just got to check this text, oh wow, this is Facebook message, this is awesome!" Like, you wouldn't do that with your boss. Don't do that with the big boss.

Keith:                                    05:05                     That is a pretty good lesson.

Josh:                                      05:07                     When I was a Sunday school teacher we used to have a box of technology, it was a box that we would put on the table and when the kids would come in - this was at the height of the Clash of Clans craze... ( that's really hard to say.) - we used to make them put their cell phones in the box. Otherwise it was "Clash of Clans on your lap or underneath your scriptures or it was just a thing.

Keith:                                    05:39                     You guys have inspired me. I think I'm gonna start leaving my phone in the car so that I'm not tempted at all. I really don't pull it out after service, that's for sure. Cause I'm usually talking and ministering, et cetera. But you know what, I do use it to look up scripture and you can get kind of sidetracked like, "Oh, you know, I'll check Twitter or whatever." And that's a good point.

New Speaker:                    06:11                     I think one of the things that resonates with me. So in Mormonism, there are four books of scripture: The Bible, the King James version of the Bible; also the book of Mormon; the doctrine covenants; Pearl of Great Price. Um, in the Book of Mormon, there's a prophet, King Benjamin and in Mosiah 2-17, which every Mormon out there, is going, "oh yeah, I know this verse", right? It says...

Leon:                                     06:39                     (laughs) "I know this! I know this one!"

Josh:                                      06:39                     "I had to memorize this one!" Right. "...And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." And I think that that whole idea of serving our fellow man is intrinsic that's what God wants me to do. So when it comes to fixing technology, it's something that we know how to do and we're really good when we see that person fumbling with our technology, our natural instinct, or at least my natural instinct is to reach out to them and say, "Hey, can I help you with that?" Or you see them, they're starting to get frazzled and you know, Mormons use technology in their lessons and you see that individual up there and they're trying to get that PowerPoint presentation or that streaming video to work and knowing that you can just step up and in a couple of seconds have it up and running and going. That's very reassuring. That feels right to me.

Leon:                                     07:33                     And I think the best part of that is we all understand that they're not there for the technology piece. And so we're watching is the technology is pulling them away from the holier moment. They're there to teach a lesson. They're there to share a thought. They're there to share some of their experiences and they're getting hung up, their rhythm, their pacing, their confidence is being hit. And you don't want that and you can help get that back on track. And I think you're right. That's a great way of looking at it. I think the other thing is that as representatives of technology, we can help sort of de-escalate people's feelings about technology. I said in the intro that a lot of times in faith communities, technology is looked at as something to be mistrusted. And we have a chance to be an ambassador of technology in the sense that we are part of the community. We are a trusted voice. We understand the rules of the road. You know, at no time... I'll speak for myself... are we going to say, "Yeah, no, Playboy is okay. Just read it for the articles." Like you're not going to do that. You're not going to say, "Oh, it's okay. It's..." Whatever. If it's not okay, you understand that it's not okay. And they understand that you understand it. So when you're giving advice, you have a chance to point out where something is a true risk and where something is only a perceived risk.

Josh:                                      08:57                     Yeah. So, you know, one of the big challenges that we have as religious people, is sometimes we're perceived as being anti science or even anti technology. So, nuclear medicine is a fantastic innovation. But nuclear medicine and a nuclear bombs are cut from the same... chemical engineering is wonderful. It transforms our lives in ways that we now in the midst of chemical engineering. And I had read a great book in the last year or so about the CRISPR technology. Crazy stuff, right? But chemical weapons are horrible things that kill people and maim them. And then of course, because we're geeks, we recognize that of course the Holy Trinity of Geekdom is a Star Wars 3, 4, and 5... Uh, wait, no, 4, 5 and 6! Right? And Jar Jar Binks is... uh, I think the word that you wrote here is "an unholy abomination."

Leon:                                     09:59                     Yeah. Yeah. And I will say the character is ill-conceived. The actor is fantastic and I do not want to contribute to his struggles because he really... actors sometimes get jobs they don't expect to go the way that they go. But yeah, I'm not a fan of the first three movies. Going back to CRISPR, it's interesting because there was just a segment on NPR today that was talking about somebody who's creating CRISPR babies and they thought they would make a person, a human that was HIV resistant. And it turns out that there's all sorts of downstream consequences. However, that same technology can be used to correct some amazingly impactful diseases when used. So even within the same technology there's a balance there. And I think that being a technologist within a faith community allows us to help point out that these are opportunities to make moral, ethical, I'll say "righteous" or a "higher-power-directed" decisions about a tool. Whether that tool is a hammer or a CRISPR.

Keith:                                    11:08                     I think the other thing that we hadn't talked about is that personally, the discipline of being a technologist gives me the ability to ask critical questions. And even critical questions on my own faith so that, for people that spread the word of just believing in God - and we get challenged on that - as technologists actually come with a reputation of being critical thinkers. So I think it gives us this moral authority to speak on faith because we're reasoned in our approach to our faith in most instances.

Speaker 2:                           11:46                     And it also lets us debunk. So there's again, the debunking of, "No, that's actually, you know, the IRS is not going to call you and ask you for your password" and things like that. There's a story that's told in Orthodox Jewish circles that I hate. It's one of those apocryphal stories, but frequently in Orthodox circles, when you're talking about technology that comes out. So there's a, there's a Kollel guy, a guy who learned scripture as his job, all day long, eight, 10 hours a day. This is what he does. And he needs to make a living. And so he goes and he gets a job and they put him in an office, and they give him a computer, and the next weekend he is violating the sabbath! And he's doing drugs! And he's having an affair! And...they tell it every time and every time you can hear my eyes rolling in my head and you don't want to contradict rabbinic authority, but you have to stand up and say, "I think there might've been a couple of other problems with this guy. I don't think the computer was really the thing that threw him over the edge, if the next weekend he was violating the sabbath and doing these things. And it sounds a little far-fetched, anyway." So it gives you a chance to be, like you said, that critical voice that pushes back a little bit.

Josh:                                      13:10                     Yeah. We call those "faith promoting lies" in Mormonism. I don't know what else...

Leon:                                     13:14                     Okay. I just call them "glurge".

Keith:                                    13:20                     This happens in technology too. We have this desire to further our point and not necessarily stretching the truth, but... and this happens on social media as well, not just technology. Our minister last week gave an incredible sermon on basically social media and revealed this fact that 70% of the stories [ed. about his religion] shared on Facebook are fake and in fact fake news. But it is an example of our bent on wanting to promote our version of the truth. And that is, I think, the thing that we enjoy about the technology space that you can spread information extremely fast. But also, part of that story is that you can spread false hoods or stretches of the truth extremely fast as well.

Josh:                                      14:25                     Twice in a row, now, Keith, you've now made a comment that's made me think of a book that I'm reading. It's entitled "The Case for the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel. And Lee is a journalist. Also was an atheist and then converted to Christianity, and he meets with someone who actually lives over in Nova Scotia. So I live on the east coast of Canada and he meets with this historian and professor. And he's talking about the stretches of truth that have happened within Christianity since the time of Christ, and how we're looking at these gnostic gospels that have come out over the last 50 or 60 years, they've really come to light, and challenging this narrative of Jesus, which was the Coptic Gospels... with these gnostic gospels, and saying, "Oh my goodness, these things that were written a hundred years after Jesus was on the earth, but they're saying that Jesus really had three eyes!" (I know that that's not what they're saying), but it's that idea that we can make these allegations and it's really hard to back them up because the disinformation out there is there. It's really difficult. And I will point out that there is one area in which this information I think really needs to be clamped down on. And that's IT Security. You should use a password manager. Like, it is not just a scary thing. Do not use the same password on every single website. Use multifactor authentication. These are things, it's not just the boogie man. You should do that.

Leon:                                     16:14                     Yeah. And I think that goes back to debunking things that are patently untrue. Reinforcing good behaviors. I think that that allows us to do it. The other thing is that because we are representative technology, it gives us a chance to model good behavior. To quote Bill and Ted, to " excellent to each other" - online as well as in the pews, in our faith, building. There's a local Rebbetzin - a rabbi's wife - who is an author and a blogger, and she is known around here for saying that the only time she posts on social media is after she's asked herself three things about the things she wants to say. 1) Is it true? 2) Is it kind? And 3) is it necessary to say it? And whenever she says that, the immediate reaction from the audience is "well then I wouldn't post anything!" And she holds up her finger and says "Right. Exactly!" Maybe you should think about all the things that you're posting. And I love that. And I aspire to it. I can't say that I always meet that aspiration, but I like it. So it gives us as technologists a chance to say, "yeah, you can be in these spaces and use them to uplift, to, to shine a light, do all those things." Like, you know, you can do that.

Josh:                                      17:43                     Wait, so based on those three rules, are you announcing the end of the podcast? Are we are disbanding?

Leon:                                     17:50                     I believe that everything that we have talked about in our episodes is certainly kind, and true to the best of our ability. And I think it's necessary.

Josh:                                      18:01                     Okay. I'm willing. I was, I was just concerned. I thought you were firing us.

Keith:                                    18:07                     But it was a very kind way in which he did it.

Leon:                                     18:12                     And that's the other thing is that, you know, everyone I think has become aware that people say more online to people than they might say face to face. And I don't know your side of it, but I know that Judaism has very specific rules about what they call "rebuking" another person. You know, when you want to give them a little bit of a correction. And that's: you are not permitted - in fact, you are commanded not to rebuke somebody unless you are able to do it in private, to do it with only love in your heart, and to only do it when you are certain that the other person will hear you. So, if the other person is not in a head space to understand what you're going to be saying, you are commanded to keep your mouth shut. And the same thing, if - in saying it - you are going to become agitated or unhappy or upset, you're not allowed to say it. All those things. And I think that again, social media gives us a chance to practice that and to model it.

Speaker 3:                           19:16                     Yeah. I try to be an example on social media. I am a bit of a pot-stir-er, to say it mildly, but I try to be provocative about being offensive, is the goal. And I think one of the things that I personally, like a personal failing of mine in which I wish I can get better, and I've kind of stepped away from talking politics for a little while, especially as Melissa's sick, and I'm trying to focus on positivity for awhile. One of the areas that I fell is: I'm very passionate about systematic challenges of minorities. So whenever something happens politically in that space it's really hard for me to balance Christianity and my desire to - and this a is not a godly desire - to get justice. Because it's not for us to get, if, from a Christian perspective, that's for God to provide. And so I try and model that and sometimes people will... I get a lot of compliments on my ability to just have very difficult but yet respectful conversations. But I have to be honest my heart is not always coming from a great place. But it's really great advice to be the change you want to see.

Leon:                                     20:54                     Well, and I will say that at first of all, struggling with, or wrestling with something is the work. So the fact that it's not easy, it means that you're at that point of growth, right? You aren't in the easy space where everything is just simple. You're pushing yourself. But I will also say, just having watched your social media accounts, that you focus on issues and you focus on events, but you don't focus on people. You are willing to go after an idea, and you're willing to go after - to call out - an event or an attitude, but you don't call out a person. And I think that... now some people may feel threatened by you challenging an idea, whether that's about virtualization or social justice or any of those things. But that's what they brought to the table. You're just calling out this situation, this design, this architecture, this financial structure - this is not, this is suboptimal. And they don't like that.

Keith:                                    21:57                     And I think the comments from our space, from being able to look at myself and people have shown me in the past where I just wasn't Christ-like. Like in loving other people. Christians, we have a very difficult time with the concept of homosexual-ality and, and sexual identity. So we look at that as a different weighted sin than other sins. And I've had that struggle in my past. And then to not look at people with the same love of Christ that I looked at. So I try and address issues and not people. Because if I treated people... if people treated me the same way that I treated people in the past when I had those views, then I would have never have changed. So I try and give people the same grace I was given, which is, "you know, what, this person has the capacity to change. And if we focused on the issue, then hopefully they'll have the space to change." So we have to give the space to have the conversation. And this is going back to technology. Technology gives us the space to have the conversation, but we have to model what that looks like.

Leon:                                     23:11                     We know you can't listen to our podcasts all day. So out of respect for your time, we've broken this particular discussion up. Come back next week where we pick up our conversation with the things that challenge us as ambassadors of IT within our religious community.

Speaker 4:                           23:25                     Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of Technically Religious visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect with us on social media.

Josh:                                      23:39                     A Jew, a Christian, and a Mormon walk into a mosque...

Keith:                                    23:42                     And none of them knew how to fix the router!