Technically Religious
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.



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