Technically Religious
S2E08: Faith and Tech in the Days of COVID-19

S2E08: Faith and Tech in the Days of COVID-19

March 24, 2020

It goes without saying that COVID-19 is having an enormous (and terrible) impact on our communities and lives at every level, from the broadly inter-national to the intensely personal. We wanted to take a moment and explore how our work in tech, combined with our religious point of view, might have lessons and coping strategies for us in the days and weeks ahead. Please listen or read the transcript below.

Leon (00:06):
(Intro Music) 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 careers as IT professionals mesh, or at least not conflict, with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Leon (00:54):
Before we begin, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that a lot of folks are truly struggling, whether it's because of impacts to their health or fear from the uncertainty around us. I want to let everyone know that our hearts and prayers are with you all and if you need to talk, or vent, or share, you should definitely reach out. This is the time when we need each other more than ever.
Leon (01:15):
It is March 18th, 2020 and while most of the episodes on Technically Religious are relatively timeless, this topic comes at a point in history where it might be obsolete before it even posts. That said, here at Technically Religious, we had to take a moment to recognize the impact that COVID-19 is having on our communities and the world and discuss how our work in tech and our religious point of view may have lessons or at least coping strategies to help us out in this unique time. I'm Leon Adato and the other voices you're going to hear on this episode are my partners in podcasting crime, Ben Keen
Ben (01:50):
Leon (01:51):
and Keith Townsend.
Keith (01:53):
Leon (01:54):
and Yechiel Kalmanson.
Yechiel (01:56):
Hello again.
Leon (01:57):
All right. Before we dive in, even though it's a weighty topic, I still want to make sure everyone has a chance to engage in some shameless self promotion. So, uh, Ben, why don't you kick it off for us?
Ben (02:07):
Hello, my name is Ben keen. I'm a senior systems administrator slash monitoring engineer for a large retailer known as American Eagle Outfitters, headquartered here in Pittsburgh. You can find me on the Twitters, as Leon says, at the underscore Ben underscore keen and I identify as a collective Christian.
Keith (02:27):
Hey, I'm Keith Townsend, principal of The CTO Advisor. You can find me on the web at The CTO advisor. Register for the conference coming up next month. CTO advisor virtual conference. Uh, I am nondenominational Christian.
Leon (02:41):
Okay. Yechiel,
Yechiel (02:42):
and I'm Yechiel Kalmenson, I'm a software engineer at VM Ware. My Twitter handle is @YechielK. Um, my blog is I also have a weekly newsletter with my friend Ben Greenberg called Torah and Tech and I'm an Orthodox Jew.
Leon (02:58):
Okay. And just things out. I'm
Leon (03:00):
Leon Adato. I am a Head Geek. Yes. That's actually my job title at SolarWinds, which is neither solar nor wind. It's a software vendor, but naming things is apparently hard. And that's why my title is Head Geek in the company name is SolarWinds. You can find me on the Twitters, which I delight in saying because I know it annoys Keith's daughter so much. That's why we say it. I'm on the Twitters @LeonAdato. Uh, my, uh, website is,, where I pontificate about things both technical and religious. And I also identify as an Orthodox Jew. And if you're scribbling those things down, please don't. It's all okay. There's going to be show notes posted the day after this episode drops both on the website and also on anywhere that you find the finer podcasts on the internet so you can get all of those links and more. So diving into this topic. I think the first thing is how can we keep calm and carry on as the UK like to say during world war II and it has brought that back out now. What can we do to remain focused on the fact that it is going to be generally speaking? Okay.
Yechiel (04:12):
Um, yeah, so I think just one thing to keep in mind is that overall, at least for those of us in tech where most of what we do is pretty easy to do remotely. Uh, most of all we're doing what we're doing just with adjustments for the new reality.
Ben (04:30):
Yeah. And I think tools such as WebEx, Google Meet, uh, FaceTime, uh, whatever conferencing tool you or your company leverages are keeping some of that sanity and sane alive. Uh, I think from a tech aspect, it's really important for us to maintain our collective cool. Um, you know, things are gonna be stressful. Things are stressful right now. A lot of our systems are being pushed to the upper max of what we designed them to do. So yeah things are going to break. Things are gonna run slow users are going to be overwhelmed. Um, but I think ultimately the biggest thing that we as technology professionals can do is to relay that calm by maintaining our calm. Don't get mad at the end user who has never called in via WebEx for it. Doesn't know the first thing about it, doesn't understand how VPNing works or any of that. Keep in mind, for a lot of these people, work from home has never been an option. We're blessed in the fact that for most of us in technology, we have wifi, we have laptops, we have power, we're good. A lot of other companies, a lot of other people in our own companies cannot and have not worked like that. So maintain your calm, deep breath deep breaths.
Leon (05:53):
Right. I think, and I also think that our religious point of view speaks to that in the sense that you want to judge others favorably. You want to be empathetic. You want to, you know, to use the phrase, walk a mile in their shoes to remember that that salesperson is used to going out and pounding the pavement, you know, eight or nine or 10 hours a day and meeting with people and suddenly they're being asked to not do that and to find an entirely different way of interacting and still make quota, and still, you know, do their job. And that can be really disorienting, forget about off putting or it's different or it's change and people don't like change. It's disorienting. Um, and I think that again, our faith gives us a chance to really exercise that muscle and, um, and, and be kind.
Ben (06:47):
Yeah. And the piggyback on that real quick, uh, when it comes to meeting quotas and meeting sales expectations, uh, you know, we're hitting this right at the crucial points of some people's fiscal calendars. Um, you know, so performance targets and sales targets and things like that are very critical to everybody for our businesses. Uh, you know, yeah. American Eagle sells jeans. We're not saving lives. We're not in the hospital industry, but at the same time, selling those genes is what gives me the ability to have a house.
Leon (07:28):
Yeah, right.
Ben (07:29):
You know, and so I got to maintain my calm so that my, the designers in New York city came to get these designs out. We gotta maintain our comps or our website stays up so people can still buy our jeans. Even though right now our stores are currently closed on the brick and border side,
Leon (07:47):
going back to the people who are used to, uh, you know, a lot, a high level of interaction. I just think that speaks to the concept of community. Um, as, as people of faith, I believe that we have a, a line on what defines a community. If you asked somebody who was more secular, what's your community? Well, it's, you know, the neighborhood where I live. Well, maybe, maybe not, you know, is your community, well, I have a, a homeowners association. That's my community. No, Nope. That's not it. So even defining what is community, it's not about tribe. It's not about your sports team. It's not about an affinity group, necessarily. There's something more to it. And I think that our religious sensibility helps us understand what that is. And it allows us to leverage the technology to build that community, to allow avenues for folks to continue to experience that sense of connectedness that we crave.
Ben (08:47):
Yeah. I think a lot of churches have gotten, uh, and when I say churches, I'm talking to all religious, uh, places of congregation. Uh, but churches, synagogues, mosques, whatever, have really gotten a crash course in the last 72 hours on what it means to be a hub of the community. How can, how can a church, uh, uh, find example? Uh, so my dad's a retired minister. He preached for 43 years. Um, but he was always in smaller churches. He'd never gotten to these, you know, mega churches with thousands of congregants. He would preach the 30, 40, maybe a hundred. Uh, but a lot of these small churches are having to get a crash course on FaceTime live. Uh, zoom, WebEx. What is, how can they get the message out? How can they still deliver their service, their product, much like how can American Eagle deliver our jeans? How can that religious venue still deliver its product in giving people a place to go? Now, personally, my religious view is I don't necessarily have to, I feel I don't need to go to a building to worship my God. Uh, I can go outside and I can spend time with my wife and my service dog and or my kids and we can commune like that. But for a lot of people, having that point of focus, whether it's a church or synagogue or mosque, uh, is crucial to them and how they are going to get through this. So that's where the crash course is coming in the heavy.
Leon (10:23):
Well, and, and it's interesting you say that because the Jewish community is really struggling because of the point of view. So just for, for context in Judaism, we are commanded, not encouraged, not you know, lauded but commanded to pray three times a day, to come together in a group and pray. And um, at this point all the synagogues are shut down. Like everything is shut down, but it's not just the prayer. There's also lectures and um, learning that goes on. There's one on one learning that goes on. And to just give a sense of the underlying aspect of that, there is a belief that this world exists purely for the purpose of learning Torah, of learning scripture. And that if that isn't happening, there is no reason for the world to exist. That if there isn't someone, somewhere in the world learning Torah, then the world will cease because the whole purpose of it no longer is there. And to be honest, as these synagogues are closing down, you can see real, almost terror in people's faces. How can this be happening?
Yechiel (11:36):
And just add context into what Leon has said. Um, throughout the darkest periods of Jewish history, and Jewish history have seen some real dark periods. Like even during world war II or in Soviet Russia, where going to synagogue was punishable by death, pretty much, Jews risked their lives to go to, to go to synagogue and pray. The rabbi I met in the initial rye pray, he was born in Moscow in the 70s. His dad used to walk two and a half hours every Shabbat, not to the synagogue even coz that was too dangerous. They would walk two and half hours to someone's house where people would gather together and pray. And I heard him like last Shabbat, our shul was still open and there were discussing official close and, and really paint the prospect that the shul might close really pained him. It was traumatic for him. And the fact that eventually he finally did decide to close just shows how seriously how serious and unprecedented this situation is.
Ben (12:36):
And that really goes back to speak to why we have empathy for our fellow human here. You know, think about this. If when you go to the store and right now as of March 18th that we're recording this toilet papers still want a hot commodity. People are literally pulling it off of the pallet before the stock person can even take it off the pallet and put it on the shelves. So there are people getting in physical altercations at the stores. But maybe we should pause and think about it, is, yes, toilet paper is necessary in life. I get it, I got it. Good. But why not pause for a second and think about what these people are going through and you know, please thank you. Excuse me. Your general manners go a long way. It's just like, you know, we keep hearing about washing your hands, 20 seconds, sing happy birthday twice, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Basic stuff. You think you would know. However, um, we need to be reminded sometimes of how far a please and a thank you can go and to empathize with other people may be going through.
Leon (13:42):
Yeah. Now I want to, I want to say, so, uh, I picked up my son from school, from Yeshiva on Sunday. They closed down. And, uh, when I picked him up, uh, the boys all have flip phones. That is the most technologically advanced thing that they have for, to their name. And, and the rabbis were saying, no, no, no, we're gonna, we're going to keep these classes going. We're just gonna all dial into a phone number and we're all gonna have our class together, you know, 10, 20, 30 boys in a class all on their flip phones for four or five hours a day. And I'm thinking no. That is not what is going to be happening. Yeah. So the, the thing that's amazing to me is how quickly back to Ben, to your point, how quickly, uh, communities are coming up to speed on their technological options.
Leon (14:28):
So again, Sunday I picked him up. Monday morning, 30 boys tried to dial in with their flip phones to make this work. And within two hours they had a Google meet channel. And this isn't just the boys, this isn't a story about, you know, wow, kids are so hip and with it technologically and everything like that. This is, that. They were, you know, the school had figured out that, okay, this isn't working - pivot. And they had pivoted over to uh, you know, using Google neat. And by the afternoon all the boys had, you know, headsets on and they had microphones and they were, you know, they were figuring it out. And uh, Tuesday, uh, my son had, you know, three different classes and he had one on one learning with a couple of friends and then today, this afternoon, the English teachers finally got the assignments out. So I mean there's a, you know, there's a relative value of what gets the most attention in a Yeshiva and English classes are not it, but okay.
Leon (15:26):
But again, on Sunday they had flip phones and they thought, well, we're just going to do the best we can. And here we are three days in, you know, 72 hours. And they're already, you know, light years ahead of where they expected to be and they're able to keep that learning going. They're able to keep that sense of community in class. Now, my son said something interesting. He said it was a class. It was, it was our normal, the, the word is a sheur, you know, it was a normal sheur. Now, if we hadn't done it together, we wouldn't have been able to do it this way. It's only because we knew each other and we knew how the class was going to run, that we were able to do it remote, but we were able to do it.
Ben (16:10):
I just hope, now as a technologist it kinda hurts me to say, but I really hope that some of this tech, the technology that we're leveraging for this whole practice, social distancing doesn't necessarily cause a rip. You know, we're on a very fine line between what we can do right now and what can be done the future. Uh, you know, a lot of companies, as Keith said at the beginning of, during his intro, he's doing a virtual conference. There's a lot of financial savings in doing those conferences virtually. But what does it take away from the experience? Uh, you know it. And with churches, what does it, yeah, a church can livestream and it's great and we can worship, but what does it take away from the experience? So my hope is that while some of this is really, really good and it's really awesome and yes, it helps pay my bills. What's the prolonged, you know, when we're sitting here on March 18th, 2021 where are we sitting?
Leon (17:10):
all right. And that's, that's a great pivot. So the next topic I want to talk about is what do we think the longterm effect of this is going to be? And to answer your question, Ben, my feeling is that for work, I hope it does stick. I hope a lot more companies that have simply closed the door or never opened the door on the concept of work, remote telework, work from home are going to open up and say, you know what? It really did work. There is a place for it. Maybe not for everybody, but it is work. On the other hand, for religion, I hope it won't. I hope that there's a, an absolute return. I know, especially for, you know, uh, people who are Jewish, I know that being remote doesn't work. Literally, it does not work in the structure of prayer to do it this way. So there's not going to be any desire on people's part to continue to pray in their own homes and not come together.
Yechiel (18:02):
Yeah. And especially for Orthodox Jews, um, like, so, okay. So during the week you can probably have study groups together over zoom or whatever. But for Shabbat, at least for Orthodox observant Jews, we, we don't use electricity. We don't use, uh, computers or anything. So we're not, Shabbat services are not going to be moving over to zoom anytime soon. Even during, even during this crisis, it's still not, we will be Shabbat, we will be praying at home alone without our communities.
Leon (18:35):
Yechiel (18:35):
And as soon as, as soon as the synagogues are able to open, they will open.
Keith (18:40):
So, you know, that reminds me of last week, we had tech field day, which was fully remote. And if you've ever done tech field, day, tech field days, this event where Stephen Foskett in the, uh, Gestalt IT folks get together with 12 influencers, we fly to Silicon Valley or, or some similar area and we go from vendor to vendor, and presenter to presenter, they present to us, uh, their technology stack. And it's a really great, you know, interaction with the product teams. We, we, last week we did VMware and we did it for the first time virtually last week because we had no choice. And while it worked, it was missing certain elements. You know, the, it's really interesting, someone on Twitter said, you know what, I hope companies realize that you don't have to meet in person to be productive, true, but there's a huge difference. And I think energy when you're missing touch, smell, taste, all these human senses that we have when we commune together, uh, I think the, the requirement that three people be together physically and, uh, in Christianity we have this, uh, this commandment that we shouldn't, you know, the apostle Paul talked about not getting out of the habit of meeting regularly. I think those things are there because the thing that we kind of talk about energy in the room it's all, I think it's more of a spiritual, uh, experience when humans get together and do the human thing.
Ben (20:24):
Yeah. And I think the one thing that this social distancing is doing for, for some, uh, is the deepening of our faith. You know, in, in a prior life I served eight and a half years in the military. Uh, I got combat deployments and lots of, I've been shot at all that fun stuff. And during that tiMe, which before the last week was some of the worst time in my life, uh, when it comes to not knowing what the, what tomorrow is going to bring, I found myself turning to religion. Uh, I think now here we are, um, again, we're finding ourselves, granted there's a huge difference between combat and a virus. I get that, but it's almost the same that we don't know what tomorrow's going to bring. Um, so a lot of people are turning to their scriptures, are turning to find this time where they can't go to their normal places. Then they're just sitting and, or find themselves either meditating, praying, reading the scriptures or having conversation with a friend, again over FaceTime, Duo, whatever. But they're having more faith-based discussions of what their religion can do to help them get through this uncertain time.
Leon (21:41):
So it's an interesting question. I mean, there's two sides of that coin, right? There's how, uh, social distancing maybe, um, both detracting from and adding to religious observations. So I wanna I want to start off with the negative and we'll pivot to the positive and end on the positive. So is his social distancing disturbing religious observations? We've already talked about a few things. You know that in Judaism you need to have 10 adult men together in what's called a minyan or else you're really, you know, you're just, you're just praying alone so that obviously there's some, some structural, uh, organizational things that are in there. Is there other, any other things about distancing that are making it harder to be religious in some way?
Yechiel (22:27):
Um, yeah, so like you said, on the face of it, it's, it would seem that way, um, and definitely feels that way. Uh, but it's also important to remember that a big tenant of definitely Judaism I'm sure Christianity as well and all other religions is preserving life. And that is also part of, you're part of a big central part of the religion. And it actually reminds me of a story I just shared on Twitter this week. Um, I told it to my son this morning when he was really disappointed to find out that he won't be going to shul Chavez. Um, there were two brothers lived in the 17 hundreds and Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Zusha, Rabbi Elimelech actually, just yesterday was the anniversary of his passing. Um, so yeah, so they, they were from the founders of the Hasidic movement. It's a movement within Orthodox Judaism and part of their service of God, occasionally they would, uh, dress up as simple people, uh, as peasants, and they would travel from town to town incognito. So no one recognizing them and whatnot. One night they came to town, they found it in to put their bag down. Um, and overnight some silver, some cutlery went missing. Uh, the innkeeper obviously suspected, his first suspicion fell on the two strangers. Uh, and he called the police. The police obviously took the innkeeper's word over these two strangers. Um, and they ended up in jail in a cell surrounded by criminals, thieves, murderers, the lowest elements of Ukrainian society, uh, in the morning. Rabbi Elimelech One of the two brothers wanted to start the morning prayers, but then he know, he realized there's a problem. He turned to his brother as a shy. He says, you know, there's a problem, we can't pray this morning. And those Ukrainian jails weren't really high tech. And instead of bathrooms, they, every cell had a bucket in the corner where prisoners where, the inmates would relieve themselves. And Jewish law says that you're not allowed to pray in a room with dirt, with filth, including stuff you'd find in such a bucket. So Rabbi Elimelech told his brother, you know, we're not gonna be able to pray today. I'm like, who said this? The idea that he wouldn't pray for one day was so inconceivable to him. He started crying and Rabbi Zusha turned to his brother. He says, why are you crying? He says, every day we serve God by praying to him today, God, God commanded us not to pray in this situation that we are in now. Today we can serve God by not praying. That is how we will serve God. And even more than that, when we serve God, there's a commandment to serve God with joy. So everyday we would pray joyfully, we would sing, we would dance, we would be involved in, you know, pray with, with great joy. Now we are serving God by not praying. We have to serve God with joy. We should be happy. And Rabbi Elimelech realized his brother was right. And the two brothers started reveling in this new service of God that they just discovered. And they started singing and dancing right there in the cell with surrounded by all these inmates. And these people obviously thought, you know, they never saw, you know, they were still convinced that Jews have horns. So to see two Jews just singing and dancing in a Ukrainian jail cell that was like the, you know, it seemed like it was the strangest thing they've ever seen. But uh, you know, it's a jail cell. There's only so many knock, knock jokes you can say and so many card games you can play. They figured, you know, why not break them out? Autonomy, they all join. It all just started singing and started dancing and before along the whole cell was, you know, the whole dance party going on and the commotion was so loud that the guard outside heard it and he knew that his job was to make these inmates life miserable. If they're singing and dancing, he's not doing his job right. So he runs in, he grabs one of the prisoners, says, what's going on here? Why is everyone seeing and dancing? And he says, I don't know. You see those two crazy Jews in the corner, they, they were talking to each other, they were pointing at the bucket and they started singing and dancing. So we joined them. We started singing and dancing as well. This guy said, really? That bucket's them sing and dance. I'll show those Jews.
Yechiel (26:45):
He runs the corner, grabs the bucket and takes it out of the room. As soon as he does that Rabbi Zusha throw him out. He says, Elimelech, my brother. Now we can pray. So I see the point of the story is that yeah, it's tough. You know, we are used to worshiping in a certain way. We're used to serving God in a certain way, but right now God wants us to serve him by protecting our health, by protecting the health of our community. And by staying home, we survived. You know, someone said on Twitter that, you know, and the, you know, and the third is in the forties you are a hero by going across the, going across the ocean and dying on some Pacific Island. Nowadays you can be a hero by sitting on your couch and being binging Netflix. So, right. Go for it. Right. So, yeah, be, be heroic
Leon (27:37):
in our, in our time. Oh, that's wonderful. Great story. Okay. So, so yeah, I think we've outlined the ways in which I think it's easy to see the ways in which the, the distancing is is bothering or religious observations. But Ben, you were talking about the way it's, it's deepening your faith, it's giving you an opportunity to, you know, to maybe find it a nuance or an aspect that you hadn't before.
Ben (28:03):
I, you know, I think it comes, it permeates at a lot of things. This whole idea of social distancing has a lot of negative connotation. But if you also look at its social slowing, you know, our lives are so go, go, go. We get up at a certain time, we'd be at work and we do our work and it's go, go, go. We get home and we gotta run the kids to softball, practice soccer, practice football, practice, dance, get home. Now I've got gotta make dinner. Now we've got to get the kids cleaned up and get them to bed and then, Oh, now I can sit for 10 minutes. Now it's midnight. Now I'm asleep with this whole idea of social distancing. You know, our kids don't have those sporting events. We can't go out to those happy hours after work. Uh, so we're back home. You know, right now American Eagle, uh, we're on a work from home basis, 100%. So I wake up, I get online, I do my work. At five o'clock, I log off and I'm home already. So I find myself being able to sit and kind of be in my thoughts and take into account the blessings that, you know, right now my parents, um, are in the high severity group of possibly contracting this COVID 19 stuff. Um, my dad's a diabetic. He's in his seventies. My mom's in her late sixties. Um, you know, and they're also in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which is one of the hardest hit areas right now in Pennsylvania. But I'm thankful that they both have their health. I'm thankful that my, myself and my wife and my kids, and yes, even our animals have our health, you know, it's so, you know, I'm not necessarily deep in the Bible. I never really have, but I'm thankful for those things. Just like in combat, you know, I was thankful to get through that day. That's how I am now. I got through Wednesday, March 18th I'm ready to get through March 19th I'm ready to get through March 20th and just keep going through. And eventually, yes, there is a light at the tunnel. It could be the train coming towards us or exit point, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Leon (30:12):
yeah. Yeah. And I, I really do believe that it's, it's not a train coming at us that there is, you know, 14 days and then, you know, you know, pretty solidly that you're clear. One of the things that, that the social distancing has done for me, and this is something that I've talked about a number of times on this podcast, is that, um, when I'm, when I'm praying in a group, I'm sort of caught up at the speed that the group is going at and I personally feel a lot of pressure because of that. I can't take my time the way that I'd like to, and being permitted, being, uh, having the opportunity to pray at home means I can take all the time I want or don't want, you know, in any given moment, uh, for those prayers. And I also am not distracted by other people around me. I mean, you know, people are there and they have bodies and they sniff or they cough or they, whatever. And if you really focused in one moment and then somebody made a noise or you just happened to notice of the corner of your eye, either scrolling their phone or they're done in you're not or whatever it is, none of those things are, you know, intruding on my focus. Now, do I use every moment to focus with laser light clarity? No, I don't, but I have the opportunity to, and I'm recognizing that. And so, um, you know, Yechiel, to your point, you know, I'm taking that as a positive that this is an opportunity I've got for as long as I've got it to try to, to really, um, deepen my attention and also, uh, enjoy the slowness of the ride.
Yechiel (31:51):
Yeah, I'll definitely say that. The last few days of praying at home while they were missing the communal aspect of prayer, my prayers were definitely a lot more focused and thoughtful than they otherwise usually are. Yeah.
Leon (32:05):
So I want to pivot that thought or that idea over to the, the work and the technical side. I, you know, there was a song back in the 30s. How are you going to keep them mowed down on the farm once they've seen Paris? So how are you going to keep the office, you know, down in the, in the cubicle once they've seen the work from home, you know, Paris, the, the, the joy of it. Will companies be able to get their employees to come back?
Yechiel (32:30):
I'm not so worried about that. Um, I mean, yeah, a lot of us are introverts and we're loving it. We're loving every minute of it, or at least I loved it last week, this week with the schools closed and my kids and my wife home and we're back into an office, open office plan again.
Leon (32:46):
Right. And you don't even have cube walls, even half cube walls. It's just the whole office, an open office plan
Yechiel (32:55):
if your coworkers were jumping all over the place and fighting at the top of their lungs. But, um, but yeah, but okay. Obviously once schools are open and you know, the kids are out. I love to stay back at home, but I also realize that I'm not the only type of person around. And I know many of my friends who are not introverts or some of them are introverts, but they still do need that human interaction that you get at an office with other people. So I'm not so worried that physical brick and mortar offices will be going out of business anytime soon.
Ben (33:31):
No. And, and I think, uh, two points, one, when it comes to this whole introvert extrovert thing, at least in my experience, a lot of people in tech, uh, lean more towards the introverted side of the fence. I'm kind of more extroverted. I can walk into a room of 10 people and I co I can walk out with 20 friends. Um, but also on the flip side were, we were just talking about earlier about having virtual conferences. You know, companies might see the savings that they're having by not producing these large in-person shows and think, Oh, maybe we can do that again. But hopefully they see the power that comes from having people there. Same thing as we're for home. Yeah, it's great for a few days. Uh, but sometimes you can hash things out with a whiteboard and having all the key players, all your key stakeholders in that physical room. You know, there's no audio interference. There's no lag of webcams. There's none of that. Oh, can you see my screen now?
Yechiel (34:38):
Can you hear me.
Ben (34:39):
Leon (34:41):
No, what, why, but, Oh, sorry. No, you go ahead.
Ben (34:51):
Having that opportunity to meet in person I think will, will stay, uh, in place now, hopefully some employees that are, you know, companies that are more butt in seat compared to allowing remote work. Hopefully they can see some of the benefit of allowing some of their employees one, two days a week from work in home. But personally, I work from home two days a week and I look forward to the office three days a week.
Leon (35:16):
Yeah. I think, my hope is that, uh, offices realize that work from home, telework, is a both and not an either or decision that, um, maybe instead of this, this lockdown one way or the other, there's some more flexibility that people can, can find in it. Um, and also I just wanted to comment that, that it's not necessarily been that there's a lot of people in it who are introvert in, you know, really sort of defined introverts. But I think a lot of the work that we do, and it tends to be somewhat solitary, tends to require a level of being, you know, in the zone to have that flow time. Uh, and so our work lends itself to not being in an office environment, not having the walk-by interruptions and distractions as much. But again, what we're talking about is flexibility to say, I've got some, I got to bang on some really difficult code. I'm going to go away, you know, or in my case I have to write a whole bunch of words. I have to, you know, crank out a couple of essays. I'm going to go away. I'm going to put myself in a quiet place where I can just focus on that versus I need to brainstorm. I need to bounce ideas off of people I need. Even if the people I'm talking to aren't the ones who I'm going to build something with, I just need the interaction to get the neurons firing and I want that option as well.
Ben (36:47):
Yeah. And I think that's interesting too. Uh, you know, I, I have a friend who sells who's a liquor sales person. They sell alcohol to clubs and stuff like that. So their job is very much out in the community making those sales again to our earlier point of supporting our sales staff. You know, they are having a much harder time right now than I am, because for me, I'm not getting pulled by the shoulder. The, Hey, come look at this real quick. Or Hey, I need you to do this real quick. Uh, IMs are a lot easier to ignore than somebody tapping on your cube wall., But for my friend, they are seriously, I mean it is not even stir crazy. They are just besides themselves, not knowing which way is up because their job is to get out in the community, sell their product, and they can't do that right now. Right?
Leon (37:35):
So that takes us, I think into the next and in the last major talking point that I want to hit tonight, which is what we hope for in the future. What we expect in the future. Um, you know, what we, what we wish and believe is coming. Um, and I'm gonna start this off with a thought that that sort of takes a, a sharp left turn. Last week there was a fairly large outcry in the Orthodox community, at least here in Cleveland. Why haven't the rabbis made a statement? Um, and it's more of a cultural thing, but the really great rabbis, the smart ones, the ones who are really on top of all, you know, all the information. Frequently wll come out with a statement, a direction that says, this is how we're going to approach this. And the statement can be very brief and say, do this. Or the statement could be very detailed and say, based on all these scriptural and commentaries and all these references, here's how I've come to this decision. So it can be any one or both of those. And so there's this outcry last week, why haven't the rabbis made a statement about what we should be doing? And the answer I heard was that from, from one of my rabbis, he said, I've been on the phone for a few hours this morning with several people and we talked over topics and concepts and we made some tentative plans. And by the time we hung up the phone, the situation had changed so much that nothing we decided on was valid anymore. Not a single thing that we discussed was relevant. So we can't. And what I got out of that was this absolute awareness of the power of their words that these great rabbis were very careful with their words because it wasn't just the, well, they could make a half statement that could say, well, we're still looking at it and we're thinking about it. Anything they said was going to cause a reaction of some kind. And so they were extremely stingy with their words to make sure that no one got the wrong impression and, and that left an impact. And I'm hoping, I really hope that people see this and they take it forwarded and have a, a recognition of it.
Keith (39:55):
Well that's definitely another podcast topic. But one of the things that I've noticed, just not in the religious world, but religious world in tech and business as well, words have power. As I'm expanding my little mini empire here at my business and I'm bringing on more people are starting to get frontline employees who, you know, their job is to do a thing. Keith, you hired me to be the DNS administrator and when I comment, And I say, man, wouldn't it be a wild idea that we, uh, be a secure DNS or some fancy new thing? They take that as gospel and start to run with it. And I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, no. That was just a big idea. And once you put words out there, it's really hard to pull them back in.
Ben (40:47):
Yeah, absolutely. I think, uh, the one hope I have that comes out of all this is that we as people, uh, put more emphasis on the sensitivity that words can have the power of our words and the choices of our words. You know, um, I have a service dog. I have a medical alert service dog is with me 24, seven, 365. Um, we've been together since September 20th at 1:30 PM is when I got her. Um, last week I went to the grocery store. Something that has always been sort of difficult for me to do with my anxiety and own, uh, spacial issues I have. Um, but I'm walking to the grocery store, um, and this was before all the real craziness set foot here in Pennsylvania. And this woman starts yelling at me and when I say yelling, I mean straight red face screaming at me.
Ben (41:42):
Why are you taking your dog into the store? Why you taking your dog into the store? And we've had some negative contact before with people that don't understand that my service dog is a highly trained dog. Um, it's not a pet, it's not an emotional support animal. She is physically here to help me with some physical elements I have, but she's yelling at me that my dog can carry the coronavirus. That is false. Dogs cannot carry the virus. Yes, the virus can live on their fur, on their leash, on their collar, but you deal with that, you wipe that stuff down, you clean it. Uh, dogs themselves cannot carry it. But this woman was just so hell bent that she saw this on Twitter or Facebook or whatever social outlet she was on, that she, that it's gospel to her, you know. And so the power of our words, you know, and also here in Pennsylvania, governor Tom Wolf, uh, on Monday, asked, not mandated, asked businesses that are not essential to close. It wasn't like the governor was said, Hey, you're closing down. Here comes martial law. And people took it as that. And the next day he had to go back on the record and say, look, that's not what I said. Here's what I said. Uh, because people just are, are not grasping what these words truly mean. So hopefully in a future when, when the next big thing comes down because let's face it, there is going to be the next big thing, whether it's a virus, uh, uh, natural disaster, whatever. It's,
Leon (43:17):
it's always something, it's always going to be something.
Ben (43:19):
Hopefully when that time comes, people are a little slower to choose their words.
Leon (43:25):
Yeah. And I think also actions, you know, people who choose to stay open when they've been told to stay closed or people who choose to go out and congregate when they've been told to, to shelter at home. And you know, also even just our consumption. I mean, you know, we, we've talked about it, we mentioned it early on, but the the whole toilet paper thing, like what, I just, I, I just wonder like where did that even start? Like why are people worried about the toilet of all the things, toilet paper? Like, I can see water, I can see food, I can see, you know, all that. So I can see, you know, corn chips or salsa. I can see a run on those things. Yeah. You know, and uh, but, but toilet paper, what's that about?
Keith (44:15):
Yeah, well it's, you know, it's human nature. We want to control the things we can't control. And one of the things that I've read is that for whatever reason, people have this sense of control when they say, you know what? Uh, and I've gotten into arguments with some good friends, like, you know, we live in Chicago and we have pretty great clean me water and you never bought bottled water, but yet you have cases in cases of bottled water. And it was that, that, you know, their response was, I'm prepared. And while it was completely irrational, it was just emotionally just something that they could do because they, you feel just a lack of complete control, which is really interesting cause we were on a religious podcast and that's, you know, we're, we're, we accept the fact that we're completely not in control in theory.
Leon (45:07):
Right. It's like it's a, yeah, it's all, it's, it's not in our hands, but I'm going to buy this toilet paper on it. Right.
Yechiel (45:15):
Yeah. Very good. And regarding toilet paper in particular, actually, uh, interestingly, and don't quote me on this because I don't remember where I saw it and I remember if, I think I remember seeing that in a previous, uh, emergency, I think in Hong Kong they did run out of toilet paper. So, and sort of that got ingrained in people's lizard brains. So the first, as soon as, as soon as like, you know, the pandemic hit, so it's like people's lizard brains automatically, their first response was got to get toilet paper.
Leon (45:48):
Well, I also wonder if it's just that that mob mentality, that scarcity syndrome that sets in and you see somebody grabbing a whole bunch of toilet paper and you think, Oh my gosh, that's, that's what everyone needs. And you know, there's a domino effect.
Yechiel (46:01):
Yeah, of course. I mean, you know, even if people's rush on toilet paper is irrational, the fact is that if they're rushing on toilet paper and next week I'm going to run out of toilet paper and there's not going to be any of the stores, I'm going to have a problem.
Leon (46:15):
Yeah, exactly. And I think that speaks to the larger concept of, again, like we should be careful with our words. We should be careful with our consumption. You know, that, that our consumption can affect other people in ways that we're not necessarily predicting.
Ben (46:30):
Yeah. And putting it back on the tech side, you know, bandwidth is such a, I mean, that's almost as valuable as toilet paper is right now. And when it come to tech, I would say bandwidth is the toilet paper of tech right now.
Leon (46:44):
Ben (46:44):
When you're looking at having your entire business.
Yechiel (46:48):
Didn't someone say that the internet was a series of tubes?
Leon (46:52):
I am absolutely quoting that. That's going to be one of the quotes with the podcast: "bandwidth is the toilet paper of the internet."
Ben (47:01):
But think about this, um, you know, having bandwidth is so critical right now because when your business, which could be as small as a few hundred or tens of thousands are now leveraging all the VPNs and all the WebEx, all the team chat spaces that they have, your bandwidth pipe shrinks considerably. So maybe consider when you have that WebEx meeting. You know what, turn off your cameras. I mean, let's face it, we're all working home. We're not getting dressed like we normally get dressed. Heck, you may not even be dressed.
Leon (47:34):
Okay. If that's the case, please do not turn your camera on. Yes, this goes back to common courtesy.
Ben (47:41):
So you know, bandwidth is very much at a premium right now. So keep that in mind when you're, if you're, if you're new to this whole business continuity thing and you're trying to figure out what your plans are. Think bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth.
Leon (47:57):
Well and I'll say, um, you know, we we're in tech, we say bandwidth and we think, you know, you know, physical, you know, internet, how many packets do I have? But there's also mental bandwidth. There's emotional bandwidth. There's, you know, there's a lot of people spinning a lot of plates in our office and sometimes the place that they're spinning are not only the things that, that they have to do for work, but also that they have their whole family around them. Yechiel, to your point, again, open office plan where your coworkers are, you know, sitting right next to you saying, "Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy." You know, there's, that has an impact. And being sensitive about not chewing up other people's psychological bandwidth, emotional bandwidth, um, their, their physical meaning time, bandwidth. You know, "I just want to check in. I just want to see how you're doing." "You know what, thanks so much. I really trying to deal right now." You know, that's fine. Some people do need to check in and I think that that's important to do. Back to our comment about community is say, "Hey, just want to make sure you're okay," but don't demand their time. Don't demand that conversation. Just make sure that they know that you're available if they need it. This has been a fantastic conversation, guys. Thank you so much for joining me tonight. I know it was sort of last minute, but we all had some things that we wanted to, to share and comment on with the current situation. Um, we hope that uh, this conversation has given the folks listening, a modicum of comfort and once again, if you need something, if you just need to talk or share, uh, feel free to reach out to us on any of the social media connections that we've listed above or wherever you find us.
Speaker 5 (49:41):
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.
Keith (49:54):
Hey, you guys want to get together tomorrow?
Ben (49:56):
Sure. Let me send my WebEx link and then I gotta go wash my hands.

S2E07: Rockstar

S2E07: Rockstar

March 10, 2020

Prima Donnas. Attention-Seekers. RockStars. 10x Engineers. These are people who are driven to be (or at least be seen as) the best of the best, the cream of the crop. And maybe they are (and maybe they aren't). But the challenge is their NEED to be SEEN in that light. Whether we encounter them in the NOC or among the congregational flock, their behaviors can be distracting, disruptive, or downright toxic. Are there lessons we've learned from our IT tenures, our religious experiences, or even our sacred texts which might shine a light on how to handle (and even help) these folks to be better members of our community? Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon (00:06):

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

Doug (00:53):

Prima donnas, attention seekers, rock stars, 10 X engineers. These are people who are driven to be, or at least to be seen as the best of the best, the cream of the crop. And maybe they are...

Yechiel (01:08):

And maybe they aren't, but the challenge is there need to be seen in that light, whether we encounter them in the NOC or among the congregational flock, their behaviors can be distracting, disruptive, or downright toxic.

Ben (01:19):

Are there lessons we've learned from our IT tenures, our religious experiences, or even our sacred texts, which might shine a light on how to handle - or even help - these folks to be members of our community?

Leon (01:30):

I'm Leon Adato and the other voices you're going to hear on this episode are my partners in podcasting crime, Doug Johnson.

Doug (01:36):


Leon (01:37):

And also Yechiel Kalmenson.

Yechiel (01:39):

Hello again.

Leon (01:40):

And newcomer Ben Keen. Welcome to the show.

Ben (01:42):

Hey, thanks for having me guys. Appreciate it. Looking forward to this.

Leon (01:45):

No problem. We're looking forward to it too. I think it's a good topic. I think it's one that, um, a lot of folks in IT are sort of thinking about struggling with, but before we dive into it, we have a tradition here on Technically Religious of shameless self promotion of guests before anything else. So Ben being the newest member of, uh, of the speaker pool, why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself and how you identify religiously and all that stuff.

Ben (02:09):

Sure. Uh, my name is Ben Keen. I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'm a senior system administrator, uh, self deemed monitoring engineer for one of the largest retailers in denim, American Eagle Outfitters. Uh, you can find me on Instagram and um, as Leon says, "the Twitters", uh, @the_Ben_keen. I am a United Methodist. I'm a son of a preacher and I identify myself more of a collective Christian, whereas I take things from all different kinds of religions and kind of bring into my own self.

Leon (02:39):

Um, okay. Doug, tell us about yourself.

Doug (02:41):

I'm Doug Johnson and the CTO for a startup called WaveRFID. We do inventory using RFID cooled tags and things like that. I'm actually not on social media. I got off of it. I'm on LinkedIn a little bit, but not very much. I don't even have a website or a blog that I want to promote. So that's just the way it, uh, I'm a born again, evangelical Christian.

Leon (03:01):

Practically a technical Luddite.

Doug (03:03):

But on purpose!

Leon (03:04):

On purpose, right. A purposeful Luddite. I don't know anybody who's an accidental Luddite. Actually. It takes effort these days. Um, okay. Yechiel, what about you?

New Speaker (03:14):

Yes, so, uh, I'm Yechiel Kalmenson. You can find me on the Twitters @YechielK. Um, I have a blog at and I'm an Orthodox Jew.

New Speaker (03:23):

Okay. And I'll square the circle here. Uh, I'm Leon Adato. I'm a Head Geek. Yes, that's my actual job title at SolarWinds, uh, which is neither solar nor wind because naming things is hard. You can find me on the Twitters, which we all say to annoy Keith Townsend's daughter. Um, you can find me there @LeonAdato. I blog and pontificate on things both technical and religious at And I also identify as Orthodox Jewish. And I wanna remind everyone who's listening that if you are scribbling those Twitter handles and websites down, madly, stop it. Just relax. Put your hands back on the wheel of the car or wherever you are listening to this because we're going to have show notes out the day after this podcast drops. So we have all the links of everything that we're talking about. You don't need to write things down. Um, as good IT folk. I think the first thing we want to do on this topic is define our terms. What do we mean when we say 'rockstar'?

Doug (04:24):

Well, Let's start with what's a real rockstar. I was a rock disc jockey, a celebrity, if you will, uh, for 11 years. And I met a lot of rock stars.

Leon (04:34):

I want to point out only because Doug and I grew up in the same city that Doug was the number one top rated drive time disc jockey at a particular point in time here in Cleveland. So when he says he's a celebrity, he really is.

Doug (04:46):

I also found out how much fun it is to be a celebrity. Not. Okay, but just the way it goes. But in any case, I met a lot of people and uh, met a lot of rock stars. And there are people, rock stars who are total jerks. They would, I mean come into the studio and they'd bounce all over the place and they'd scream and they'd throw stuff and you know, just make total jerks of themselves. And then there were other people who were real rock stars. I mean, they take somebody like Ainsley Dunbar. Ainsley Dunbar, so drummer for Jefferson Starship and Journey and John Mayall blues... And just tons of people. If you look on his Wikipedia page, he's played with everybody. I had lunch with him. Nicest guy we've ever, I mean, we just had a great time. Talked about everything and he was, but he's a real rock star. So you know, a rock star is basically somebody who can do their job on stage and take, take care of business.

Leon (05:46):

Okay. And I think that's definitely the, the good definition of it. But we also have that again, that negative definition, which is somebody who's, you know, attention seeking behavior, looking to push social limits in ways that often doesn't need to be pushed, you know, those kinds of things. So I think that's another part of it. Um, all right, so that's generally speaking, but what do we mean when we say a rock star in the world of tech and IT like what, what is, what does that typically mean?

Yechiel (06:15):

So I think in general, when people speak about rock stars, rock star developers, rock star engineers, um, it's all referred to in the business as the "genius asshole." This'll be like the person who can code in 20 languages who can solve lead code puzzles in their sleep. You know, you can spin up, you know, in 2000 line of lines of code application and over the weekend. But at the expense of not really being part of the team, um, to put it mildly, like their code will be extremely unreadable. They'll follow their own conventions, won't follow best practices. They'll solve things in brilliant ways, but very unconventional ways, like using really esoteric parts of whatever language they're using, um, which makes it really unreadable for people coming after them trying to maintain their code.

Ben (07:06):

Yeah. Or you've got the example of that new hire and it kind of comes in and joins the company and thinks that they are better, or know more than everybody else and comes to your desk, uh, where you are the subject matter expert, uh, not trying to glorify yourself, but you know your role. And they come into your cube trying to tell you how they would do your job better. Uh, and not really giving any good fruit to bear from that interaction. But on the flip side of that, you also have those people that joined a team, bring their skill sets to the, to the table to teach people how to fish. You know, like you could sit down with that Linux engineer, that windows engineer and they can show you what their experience has brought, brought them to this floor and teach it to others.

Yechiel (07:52):

Yeah, I mean, rock star is not necessarily a bad thing. There are some rock stars who are really humble and personable. Um, I like saying a lot. I don't remember who I heard this from and I really feel bad because I use it a lot. And they really want to give credit. Um, but I heard someone say that "a 10x engineer is not someone who can produce 10 times more code than other people, rather 10 X engineers. Someone who brings up 10 other engineers to their level."

Doug (08:20):

Eric Elliott, JavaScript guy. He's, he said that, I don't know if he's the first one to say it, but,

Yechiel (08:24):

Oh well thank you.

Leon (08:27):

There we go. So credit where credit is due because you are both wrong and you know when to give credit,

Yechiel (08:32):

but the good ones,

Leon (08:33):

Right! The good kind. Exactly. Um, so on the, on the bad side, I remember, so this is tech, but it's not IT tech. Um, way back in the day when I was working in theater, one of the people that I knew got a job building the, a chandelier for "Phantom of the Opera" when it opened on Broadway. Okay. So those people who know the show, the chandelier comes crashing down and has to be rebuilt after every show. And he built it in such a way that he was the only one who could figure out how to put it back together. And he basically got himself, you know, 'forever work' on that show because he built it in a way that no one else, you know, could, could manage. And that's, that's not okay. It's one thing when you say, "This is so complicated that most people just can't figure it out because it's so hard." But it's another thing when you purposely build something, whether it's code or a chandelier, in a way that no one's just ever going to figure it out because it's a special puzzle that only, I know.

Doug (09:32):

It almost feels like the bad rock stars in tech want a bus factor of one. Right. I mean think about it. I mean the whole thing is. ...

Leon (09:41):

(laughing) I just love that: "bus factor of one." Okay. Yeah.

Yechiel (09:45):

Yeah, it's job security.

Doug (09:46):

It is, but I mean, it's just wrong. It's bad for the team. It's bad for everybody. I mean, when you reach my age, you realize that you don't want me to be your bus factor of one. Bad things could happen to me tomorrow. Who knows? It's just, you know, it. But I bet I get the impression that there are rock stars that they considered themselves the, the bus factor. If it wasn't for them, it would all fall apart.

Leon (10:07):

Right. Well, and I've, I've always told people who are in that position, right? Like, Oh no, I'm the only who can do this. This is just remember "Irreplaceable is unpromotable," you know, so if you want to be, if you want to be the one person, like, okay, but you ain't never go into her and right. You know, if you win the lottery, because that's the only, you know, I, I don't like the other examples, you know, look, if I win a lottery, I love you guys. I mean it, I'm going to go buy an island, like I'm done. Right? So, you know, if you make it so that your leaving, you know, completely destroys an environment that's just not okay. Um, and I think that that idea of, you know, if you leave, it all falls apart. I think that takes us to a different aspect of it. You know, this being Technically Religious, we've talked about the technical, but I want to talk about the religious also that, that there are rock stars in the religious world. Now there's something that I say a lot and then yechiel you came up with a corollary. You know, I've said a couple of times on the show that no religion has found the cure for the common asshole. The flip side of that is that, um, nor has any religion taken out an exclusive patent for assholes. So you're going to find 'em everywhere. But I'm curious about what a rock star looks like in our religious life, like in the pews and the, you know, in our church or synagogue or place of worship. What, how does that manifest?

Doug (11:26):

Well in, in Christianity there's, um, there are people who essentially set themselves up to go ahead and be the whole ministry. I mean, they are, the central chore, it all hangs on them and, and because this Christianity of course they, uh, you know, they come across as very humble. They, they, they of course, you know, you, you need to be humble. But they are so that they're more humble than you'll ever think of being. Um, and so of course they're rock stars and you know, that they can build a whole, the whole ministry ends up, uh, being built around them. In fact, there are ministries that are named after people that you realize that they haven't done anything to, uh, effectively take care of that bus factor. If something happened to them, their ministry is gone. Whereas there are other ministries that are continuing on. Billy Graham ministries is still doing work even though his name is on it, but he's dead and it's still, he built an organization in such a way that it could continue on after he was no longer able to do the work.

Leon (12:40):

Warren buffet this week came out with a message they did their annual message, you know, for Berkshire Hathaway. And one of the things like nine words that caught everyone's attention was "we are already well positioned for our departure." Meaning that Warren Buffett and his partner, his partner is 96 year old one. Warren Buffett is like 86, 87 something like that. Like they know that eventually they're not going to be in that company and they've already, you know, they've dealt with it. They just haven't made a big deal about it. But yeah, that kind of thing.

Doug (13:13):

There are rock stars in Christianity. Worship leaders have to be up front. I mean it just, that's the whole concept of being a worship leaders. You're getting everybody to come along, but not everybody who is a worship leader, uh, is leading the congregation. They're basic. They're, they're actually looking more to have the spotlight on themselves. It can, it can go either way.

Ben (13:36):

And on top of that, you take away from the leader, whether it's the pastor, the lay leader, whoever's leading the worship, and then you flip the camera over to the pews and you see those people who... And no judgment of how you worship. If you're, if you're motive, which means raising your hands and waving of them around and stuff like that. If that's your way of communicating with your, with who you call God, all the power to you. But when you take those actions and you just start making it a show to bring the light upon yourself, you're, you're really missing the message. You know? Uh, we're supposed to be bringing message in light upon who we refer to as our God, not ourselves. And there's a lot of same people that not, but five minutes later or in the parking lot honking their horns, flipping you off, calling you all sorts names for cutting them off, but they didn't spend an hour talking about how great Jesus, how in tune they are with their religion. And then five minutes later it's gone.

Leon (14:33):

Yeah. I've, I've seen that. So Yom Kippur is one of the most intense holidays in the Jewish calendar. Um, it's a day where you fast for 25 hours. It's uh, it, it again, it's really intense and at the end of it, uh, people want to go home, they want to get a bite to eat and I've watched people cut other people off and scream words and stuff like that. Like you just had, it was the high point of the entire year and here you go. Like this is not our finest moment,

Ben (15:01):

That one hour. You know, you got to carry that forward if you want to, if you want to be seen as the rock star, that carries with you.

Leon (15:10):

So just as an interesting point of sort of cultural comparison in Judaism, the, the leader of the congregation, the rabbi is often not doing anything. That the job of running the service often falls to just people in the room. And it is fairly participatory in the sense that in many congregations someone will look around the room and say, "do you want to do the next part?" Do you want to do the next part? And in some places it goes around paragraph by paragraph in some parts of the service, um, you know, throwing things around. Certain people have certain jobs simply for consistency sake or because it requires a little bit extra preparation. Um, but that's, you know, th Doug, your point of having a worship leader doesn't always exist there. However, I've seen that in the smaller congregations, in the startup congregations, in Judaism, it usually revolves around one or two people who have a key collection of skills because it is... You've got to be fluent in Hebrew. If you got to be fluent with the music, you've got to be fluent with the different variations of weekday, morning, afternoon, evening services versus, you know, the Sabbath war and versus a holiday of which there are 9,362 I think Yechiel, you can correct me if I'm off by one or two on that one. Um, you know, there's a lot and every single time there's a variation, there's something extra that you say or don't say. And so the person who has the, you know, again, it's a unique collection of skills. So there's not always a group of people. There might be one person who's, "no, no, no, I've got this one!"

Yechiel (16:46):

Even in larger congregations, I don't think we are completely rock star immune. Um, you will have those people who are more, you know, to Ben's point, it's more about the show and appearing more religious than everyone else and more devout than everyone else. You know, I've been to congregations where the prayer is basically a contest of who could finish last and it goes to ridiculous lengths.

Leon (17:09):

I'm in really fast car creations where it's like, you know, "can we get it done in 20 minutes?" And it makes me nuts.

Yechiel (17:14):

It's like the 6:20 minyan. Uh, yeah. The one like the first where people actually have jobs, pray at. So yeah, they're trying to finish as quick as possible, but you have those where, um, you know, they're just closing their eyes and waving their fists and you know, going, yeah, like Ben said, you know, it's not exclusive to Christianity.

Leon (17:34):

Yeah. I've also seen people, um, I love this where they are trying to lead from the rear. Where the person who is leading the prayers, again, it goes, you know, around the room, somebody is invited up to lead this part and somebody in the room thinks that they're not doing the job that ought to be done and so going to do it for them from their position, seven rows back. They're going to sing louder, they're going to pray louder. They're going to let you know that they're done with this part of the, you know, of the prayer and you should be now too, kind of thing. And it's just not the most gracious moments when you're trying to have a prayerful experience when trying to connect with the divine. Those are some examples of, of what we mean when we say rock star, what do "they" mean? Like this is what we mean. These are our examples. But there's, there's a different collection of "they". So we have to do, as we talked about the "they" and then and say, what is it that they mean when they say rock star, when you encounter the word rockstar in the wild, what are they talking to?

Doug (18:30):

One of the first places that I have seen it and seen it repeatedly is in, uh, in tech ads. Uh, I mean those of us who do dev work, you know, we move around a little bit. Sometimes you're doing consulting you're doing or, or you'll come onto a project for a while, just you move a lot. So you read a lot of dev ads and just a lot of people who are running these job postings are looking for "rock star programmers." And, and, and as a matter of fact these days, if I see that I'm out, I mean, if they're looking for a rock star, I, I just know I'm not going to want to go ahead and have anything to do with them. Because either they don't know what they're talking about or, um, they have really unrealistic expectations of what somebody is going to be able to do. But it just comes down to there's, there's, you know, they're, they're the, the, the big companies that think they need to ask for rockstar programmers so they can get the cool kids to go ahead and apply to their job. Um, and then there are the, the startups, the young bro startups that actually, you know, they believe that. They, they think being a rock star is a cool thing and, and, and they're going to go ahead and they want to have other rock stars to be working with them so they can all just be a bunch of rock stars. And have a rock band or something. I have no idea. It just makes no sense to me at all.

Leon (19:54):

Acer was founded on the idea that everybody they hired got straight A's in college. Like that was their shtick for a little while.

Doug (20:02):

I was going to say it probably didn't last very long. Did it?

New Speaker (20:07):

I wonder if they're still around?

New Speaker (20:07):

My favorite quote for that is the, the A students are managed by the B students, uh, who are work for the company owned by the C students.

Ben (20:15):

Well, I think, and going back to who "they" are, uh, you know, you have those people that make their resume or their, their social media profile on LinkedIn or whatever, where they labeled themselves rock star. And this isn't about your, you selling yourself. Obviously when you're looking for a job, you need to sell yourself to your possible, to the employer as a, as a candidate because you're going up against five, 10, 15 other people. So you want to make yourself stand out. But it's those people that are just so about them. Um, you know, I know personally when I interview, uh, one of the hardest things, so I served eight and half years in the military, right. And, um, so one of the things I found hard to do was really to justify myself because in the military, it's team, you know, as a team, we did this, we did that, you know, so when I first got out and I was talking to a possible, you know, possible places of employment, they're like, "Well, what did you do?" I was like, well, "we..." You know, and they're like, "no, no. What did you do?" And you know, you got to kind of learn how to promote yourself without overdoing it and becoming that rock star.

Yechiel (21:26):

Although when someone does write rock star in their profile, it's worth paying attention to what they actually mean with that because, and this is true, someone actually wrote a language called "rockstar" just so that they can call themselves a "rockstar engineer." It's an actual programming language that compiles.

Leon (21:41):

If you want to find it. We were all laughing about it before we started the show Um, so if you, too, want to be a rock star programmer, uh, you can do that in all humility. You can be humble while saying that you're a rockstar programmer. Um, and Yechiel, you were saying that, uh, some of the programming terms where they use like lyrics of songs.

Yechiel (22:03):

Yeah, the syntax is all rock lyrics.

Doug (22:05):

I do have to say that I, the best title I was ever given, and it's not quite as good as Leon's "Head Geek", but an a year before I left this job, I was also, I was a sales engineer forever. And when they could tell I was starting to get somewhat dissatisfied, a new box of cards showed up and my new title was "solution visionary."

Everyone (22:26):


Doug (22:26):

So that's on my LinkedIn page now even, but I didn't do it for myself.

Leon (22:31):

Um, yeah, it's like nicknames. I don't know that you can give yourself those nicknames. If somebody else gives it to you, then you could sort of wear it with pride but also like nicknames. It only works for a particular group of friends. You know that with this group of friends, you're "stinky" and this other group of friends, maybe your, you know, "home run" or whatever, but, but you, you can't introduce yourself and just decide that that's what you're...

Yechiel (22:54):

And someone out of the group of friends can't just go over." Hey stinky."

Leon (22:59):

Okay. So having talked about, you know, again defined our terms. I think the bigger question is, um, you know, how do we deal with people who either see themselves as rock stars or, or are in that position? Like what are some things, some actual strategies that we can have to work with, deal with, interact with? Like, what can we do there?

Doug (23:21):

Going back to what Ben said about the military all being about team, you actually can go ahead and, uh, build up the team that you're on, um, in such a way to, uh, give you strength in numbers against the rock star if they really are being a jerk type rock star. I mean, in essence I've come into, I've come into situations where there was a rock star architect, whoever it was that just, you know, was making everybody miserable. And everybody on the team was so cowed that they just, nobody would stand up that nobody wanted to, you know, put their head up and get nailed by this guy. Um, I've been at this long enough that, and I've got enough people that don't like me in the world. I have no trouble with people now. So I would go ahead and, you know, start building up the team so that they, they kind of see that it was all right if everybody on the team thinks this is a bad idea, even if the rock star doesn't, if everybody on the team and you sort of build the whole idea of team, you can sort of mute the, uh, the, the, uh, power of the rock star by the numbers of everybody trying to accomplish things together as a team.

Ben (24:32):

Well, in my case, you know, dealing with, um, uh, you know, you have those people you're in your work face that are like, "I fixed it" person or "that's my fix" or uh, the ones that say, "Oh, I'm sure you were thankful that I was around today." Um, but you know, as a Christian growing up, I was always taught the importance of group over self. Uh, the aspect that where you are only as strong as the weakest link. Um, and that permeated through my eight and a half years of being in the military, whether it was being deployed to Iraq or, uh, sitting stateside, wherever it was. You know, a story about Iraq, you might remember the story of Geraldo Rivera, uh, who literally, uh, destroyed a mission by drawing stuff in the sand because he wanted to be the rock star. Um, people in the military can relate to the term PT stud. That's someone that can continuously do a 300 PT score in the army. Uh, that's the old PT tests. I'm not familiar with the new ones, so don't hold me to that. Uh, or the weapons guy that the pers, the person that can go out and just knock down 40 out of 40 targets every single time. Some of these people are very humble about it, you know, they put in the work to hit those scores. Uh, so you deal with them one way, but dealing with a person that kinda comes in and is arrogant about it, you really need to kind of either mentor them down or leave them to their own devices and eventually, you know, Darwinism takes effect almost. It just works itself out.

Leon (26:04):

Right. And that's one of the things that, that I've, I've done, you know, not as not in a management role but as a, somebody on a team is that I think that rope can be a really, um, interesting correction corrective service to apply. And what I mean by that.

Doug (26:21):

You tie them up and throw them in the closet?

Leon (26:22):

Yeah, no, that's exactly not it. No, blanket party. None of those things. Um, but what you do is you find, you know, as you're talking about things as a team, you find those projects that are perfect for lone wolf. You know, that, that one person can go off and you say this would be great for Alfred to do. (No offense to anyone who was named Alfred.) Um, you know, this would be, this would be fantastic for this to do. Why don't they do that? Because then they can go off and be the rock star and one of two things are gonna happen. Either it's going to be amazing and they're going to get all the attention that they need and crave and it's going to be good for the company and reflect well on the team. But it hasn't pulled anybody away from what they were doing. It gets that person completely out of your hair. Or if the person is that self inflated but doesn't actually have the skills that they think they do, kind of rockstar, then it's going to expose it in a way that doesn't put anyone else on the team at risk. So as a team, when you see those, those project opportunities, those, you know, whether it's a subcomponent of what you're working on or whatever and say, "Oh, this is something that, you know, again, Alford can do all on his own." You know, those are the things that you keep on offering up, um, to get them out of the way or to, you know, either temporarily or, or longterm. Um, I also think it's interesting in the Jewish tradition, there's a story about we should, how we should always walk around with two slips of paper, one in each pocket. And on one sip of paper it says, um, you know, "for me the world was created." And on the other slip of paper it says, "I am nothing but dust and ashes." And that we stand in the mid point between those and that in any given moment, we might need to pull out one slip of paper or the other. And that's, you know, obviously that's to keep ourselves humble. That's to keep ourselves, uh, in check. But I also think that there's a way to have that kind of conversation with the people who see themselves as rock stars is, is to continue to inject that, um, that thinking or that, that frame of reference, uh, along the way. So that's tech. However, I think that in our religious life, there's, you know, we encounter those rock stars. We've talked about it before. But I also think it's interesting because in our religious texts we run into rock stars. So I wonder if you have any thoughts about, you know, and as you are wandering through the pages of your faith and you hit a rock star, like what, what do you do? What does your religion do? How do you, how do you react with that? Cause we might find lessons that we can carry over into our daily life there.

Yechiel (29:05):

So yeah, and a sense we said they were like good rock stars and bad rock stars. And we definitely find both. And religious texts, for example, um, I would say like the number one rock star in the Jewish religion is Moses who led the Jewish people. And yet we, the one point that keeps coming over and over is his humility. Like from the beginning where he's arguing with God, like he does not want to do it. He's really reluctant to take on the, the, the leadership and all through the end where he's constantly putting himself out, you know, putting himself between God and the Jewish people to protect them and shield them from their own mistakes.

Leon (29:45):

Right. And, and, and the, the Torah ends saying, no human will ever walk the face of the earth that is as humble as Moses. Like it, that point just keeps getting driven home. So yeah, that's a pretty strong point.

Yechiel (29:58):

But then of course you have the other end. Uh, you have people like Pharaoh or like Cicera. Um, in fact, the Pharaoh is described in Ezekiel. As someone who says, "לִ֥י יְאֹרִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽנִי" Li y'ori va'ani asisani" Te Nile is mine. And I have created myself." Meaning someone who feels like he doesn't need anyone. He's self-made. He's created himself essentially. And he doesn't need, you know, to hell with anyone else.

Leon (30:23):

Right. And, and we all know how Pharaoh worked out in the end. So that's again, a good cautionary tale. I also think that as we're reading, as we're reading our religious text, one of the things that, that strikes me is how in some cases incapable and in some cases unqualified, the people who are doing these amazing things are. I mean, um, you've got, you know, Jacob, who's, who's considered, you know, the, the, the Prince of Truth. And yet he was, it was kind of a liar. A lot. Or you've got Joseph, uh, who's considered, you know, a tzadik, a righteous man, but he was kind of narcissistic for a lot of the narrative. Um, and that's even if you ignore the Broadway play and the technicolor dream coat and all that stuff that, you know, he's, he really wasn't, he was probably kind of a little bit much to have to, you know, have dinner with sometimes. And I feel like a lot of times the underlying message is that God isn't picking people because they are super competent. God is picking people who are the least likely to have been able to achieve this on their own. Just to drive the point home. Again, Yechiel your point. You know, Moshe... Moses didn't want that job. He fought against it. And you know, I think that at the time people are like, "Who's going to lead us?" "Moses." "What?!? What are you talking about? that's like... Could you have picked anybody worse for this job than that?" No, I actually couldn't have picked anybody worse. That's why I did it.

Yechiel (31:57):

Yeah. And specifically about Moshe, um, I read one of the commentaries, I forgot which one right at the moment. Um, he had, like a very heavy stutter, um, to the point where, where he didn't actually speak to Pharaoh. He would speak to Aaron and Aaron would talk to Pharaoh and the reason why God chose someone with such a stutter was so that it would be sort of obvious that it wasn't Moses' doing it was God working through him.

Leon (32:24):

Yeah, and I think that you know, again in our religious life when you meet that that rock star, you know in in church, in the pews that the, the interesting thing is if you think, if you hold even an inkling, that God has somehow smiled down upon you to achieve or accomplish some particular thing, that's probably a really good indication that you suck.

Doug (32:47):

I mean we'll see. I mean in an on on the other side of the Testament divide, we've got the same thing. I mean most of, most of the people who are the leaders in early Christianity were not the ones that you would think of... Peter is the number one guy and he was a total jerk and he was like really impulsive and flip flopped all the time. I mean, it's just the worst to deal with. And nine times out of 10, Jesus is having to turn them in and just say, go "chill dude." You know what I mean? He went in in like two verses. He went from a, you know, God told me, "God told you that Peter", to "get you behind me. Satan." I mean really that, and that's two verses we go from God's talking to you and Oh yeah, apparently so Satan. So honestly Peter, just if it, if it hadn't been God, it wouldn't have happened.

Leon (33:40):

Um, okay. So those are, those are some ways to frame as you're reading scripture, as you're reading your religious text to remember that there's probably an underlying message that these people, for as great as the things that they achieved themselves, we're still flawed human beings. Were still, you know, walking around with their own struggles, which they sometimes overcame and sometimes didn't. Um, but bringing it back to real life again, you know, we've got people, we've got personalities in our religious communities and I wonder what are some things that we can do to interact with them, to deal with them, to, to, you know, how do you respond?

Yechiel (34:19):

I just roll my eyes and move on.

Leon (34:21):

Right, right, right. Exactly. And I think frequently that works. You know, the joke I always give is "Well, that's, that's when, you know, it's time to start a breakaway minyan..." You know, start your own congregation, which is going to be for, you know, guys 35 to 37 who drive Ford focuses because, you know, you have a, you have a congregation for every possible...

Doug (34:39):

Well, I've, I've found combinations of humor and um, scripture can be really helpful. I, um, I was... There, there was a number of years ago I was teaching a, a Bible study, uh, before church started. Um, and I was traveling 45 minutes to this church. It was a small church. I was supporting it and that kind of stuff. And one Sunday morning just everything went wrong. And I arrived, ten minutes late, teach my class and the elder - the main elder, the guy who kept everything going, the main guy - pulled me aside and basically reamed me a new one. Uh, and I said, okay, I've got a class to go teach. We'll talk about this later. Um, and went and taught my class and afterwards, afterwards I said, I'm going to take, take what you said, I'm going to go ahead and, uh, pray about it and I'm going to think about it and look at scripture and you know, we'll talk next week." And so as I was doing all that, I get down and I went back the next week. I said, "I went through all the scripture that I could find in. The only time I've found where somebody was arrived late was when there was this battle. And Saul was all set to go and Samuel arrive late. And Saul had gone ahead and done the, uh, had gone ahead and done the sacrifice. And the thing that I found interesting, my elder friend, is that Samuel, the guy who arrived late is not the one who got in trouble." And he apologized. And we moved forward and we became great friends as a result.

Leon (36:09):

There's a couple of things going on there. I mean, obviously there's the humor aspect, but I think also just asking, you know, if, if you have the ability to do that, to say, "What is it? That's, why do you feel like you have to carry this entire load?" I've been places where the people just thought that they were the only one who cared that much about it, that, you know, they didn't think that anybody else, you know, felt that strongly. And when you said, "No, actually several of us do." And so if they're, you know, let's, how about I take this part and you take that part or you know, you, you can sit back. I've had people who, who literally ran the entire service, but when we asked them, said, "I really wish I could do nothing. I'd like to just show up and be a participant." And they meant it. They weren't being, it wasn't false humility. They really meant that they wanted to just be in the back, but they felt like if they didn't do it, no one was going to. And as soon as we were able to show them, no, so-and-so has got this and so and so has this and everyone has this and we certainly when you feel like it, we'd love you to participate but please do not feel like you have to. And that that was regulatory for everyone.

Ben (37:24):

And I think that speaks volumes too to taking it back to the workplace, pulling it up, you know, getting away from religion and going back to tech when you have a new hire comes to the company and kind of explain to them the culture of the company. You know, I've held a few different jobs as a contractor before landing my full time job now. Uh, so I worked for law firms, I worked for banks, I worked for small startup companies. I've worked for software development companies, uh, and now in retail. And the one thing I always found interesting going from company to company assignment to assignment was the different cultures. you know, the law firm was very black and white, very yes-no, very binary. Um, but here at American Eagle, it's a little more lax, you know? Um, so when you get that person that comes from that atmosphere where the rock star ism, if that is, that's not a word, if not I'll coin it. It, um, you know that rock star ism is almost bred into the culture. You know, when you look at a law firm that's a very intense, very go at it. Get what you get when you can get it type world. Compared to the world I live in now where it's very more a collective good, you know, you think when you see our jeans, you don't think it takes that much to sell them. But let me tell you behind every pair of jeans are the few hundred people you know. And if you have someone that comes in with that rockstar mentality that I am it and without me, the company fails, you're only going to see yourself a failure. But if you split, pull them aside very tactfully, very nice. Hey, look, this is our culture here. If they get the message and they change their ways, awesome. But if they're a complete jerk and don't change their way, well then there's other ways to sort that out through HR or just Darwinism at its finest and let it work itself out.

Leon (39:19):

Anybody have any final thoughts? They want to leave with everyone who's listening.

Doug (39:22):

If you're at a place with no rock stars, look around. It might be you.

Everyone (39:27):

Ooh! Ouch!

Doug (39:27):

Hey listen, I have to admit the place where I was also "solution visionary." We were at a show and they, the team brought me a bottle of "Arrogant Bastard Ale." Cause sometimes being right comes across as being arrogant. So, you know, it's,

Ben (39:42):

and I think that's the key takeaway. Uh, knowing the difference between being arrogant and being right. You know, having that ability to say, "yes, I know what I'm talking about." But having the ability to listen to key points from other people. What are the things I enjoy about being a monitor engineer is we leverage a product called SolarWinds, the exact same SolarWinds that Leon, uh, works on. Um, but we have a community online and there we can share ideas back and forth. My idea may not be the one that always goes forward as the best idea, but at least my idea went forward and it's a collective learning experience. So when you have that type of atmosphere, you'd... we pull each other up, you know, and that weekly becomes stronger and you can move on to the next.

Speaker 7 (40:28):

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 us on social media.

Doug (40:40):

Hey guys, this was fun. You want to hang out tomorrow?

Yechiel (40:43):

What, with you nerds? I'm way too cool for that!

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