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S1E1 – Religious Synergy

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Summary: A discussion of how the “challenges” presented as people with strong religious points of view working in I.T. can be supplemented by our teammates.


Leon: [00:00:00] 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 I.T.. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways we make our career as I.T. professionals mesh or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is technically religious.

Josh: [00:00:21] All right. Hey Leon how are you today?

Leon: [00:00:23] I’m doing good. It’s happy not frozen Sunday. I know that a podcast is sort of timeless but we’re talking about this during the winter and the polar vortex is not in my part of town. How about you?

Josh: [00:00:34] I feel like in Canada it is always cold during the winter. So my my wife says suck it up princess.

Leon: [00:00:46] Right. Exactly. It’s like “this is why you moved to Cleveland.” I’m in Cleveland so yeah. Same thing. Yeah.

Josh: [00:00:53] If I was going to pick an island to live on I probably should not have picked one with snow, I probably should have picked one with palm trees. You know lessons learned.  You know looking back at the past is always it it allows us to hopefully make better choices. Which is interesting because making choices is where we’re headed today on this podcast. At least that’s where I want to head if you’re willing to follow along.

Leon: [00:01:16] I’m always happy to follow you if nothing else to to watch and see what happens.

Josh: [00:01:21] That’s what I love. I love to hear it. So in fact just this morning Leon I was I was reading the e-mail that I sent you before I interviewed with you and the rest of the team before you hired me.  And then abandoned me but we’ll get into that story later.

Leon: [00:01:38] He’s not bitter.

Josh: [00:01:38] I’m not bitter at all. It’s all right.  And I realized how flippant my email was to you it was like “Hey Leon you know let me introduce myself here’s who I am.” And I knew you by reputation and I also knew that you were Jewish. But I have a little story to share with you. Once you hired me and once I finally met you although I knew that you were Jewish I was surprised by how Jewish you were. Does that sound weird or what?

Leon: [00:02:09] It it’s it’s an interesting phrase it’s not one that I have not heard before. But yeah you know it’s. “Oh you’re very Jewish. You’re really…” Yeah it’s so yeah I’m for those people listening I’m Orthodox Jewish. So that’s the most observant. I think that’s the the probably clearest way to put it. And if you’ve never seen a picture of me I have a nice bushy beard and I have this funny little hat on the top of my head called I kippa or yarmulke, and I have little fringy strings hanging out of my pants and all sorts of things. It’s all the things.

Josh: [00:02:44] Yeah. And I think that that’s what struck me. You know my idea of Judaism was probably skewed to the polar ends. And so when I first met you I thought Wow. Leon is really Jewish.

Leon: [00:02:59] He’s reallly… Wow.

Josh: [00:03:00] Yeah like it should have been something that I knew but I didn’t know it. And. In the same vein in context I was born and raised a Mormon. And we’ll get into that a little later so I’m used to people being a little surprised when they interact with you and they’re like oh you’re Mormon right.

Leon: [00:03:22] Yeah yeah. So I think that that one of the underlying ideas for this entire podcast is that we’ve all had that experience of “Oh oh you’re really… you’re REALLY this thing” like whatever this thing is like.  It’s not just a word that you use or dance around like you really are into it. And how do we make our career in I.T. and our interactions. So from my side you know you had mentioned that you were Mormon and I had worked with other people who are Mormon so I had an idea but it really wasn’t until we had struck up this friendship and then I abandoned you. But we can’t we remained friends. Let’s you know got to be in that light on that and yet and possibly you know you never know maybe because of you know it could have really that could’ve been what saved our friendship. So that we had a chance to dive into it and I think what I want to talk about is the first time that we realized that this relationship of you know you’re you know being very Jewish and very Mormon could be synergistic not just interesting in the sense of oh we have you know we’re we’re co religionists we are both deeply devoted to a faith and we’re working in I.T. and we can have lunch conversations not just that stuff but that it actually is symbiotic. So I think what happened. So again for those people listening I live in Cleveland. Josh lives in Canada and we were both working for a company that was in neither of those two places. So every once in a while we would travel down to the Home Office and of course to be in lots of meetings and lots of after meeting events. There’ll be lots of parties and hey let’s all go out and let’s go whatever. And we found ourselves pretty quickly I think thrust into the middle of you know beer and wings and da da da. And you know, I keep kosher.

Josh: [00:05:20] And I don’t drink.

Leon: [00:05:21] And for whatever reason possibly because we were both the two out of towners we ended up like glomming on to each other more than than usual I guess. And so we were driving there and I think in the car we had this conversation about. “Yeah it’s… this is interesting isn’t it?” Like what are you gonna do about it. And so we walked into the venue of whatever it was and we made it… First of all walking in was you know is this a punchline to a joke? A dude a Mormon walk into a bar right. And and we immediately announced to everybody. “Okay so here’s the deal. He’s gonna eat my chicken wings because they weren’t kosher. I’m going to drink his beer, and he’s driving home.” And as we said it and as we joked about it I realized no really this is how it works. You know that my limitations in this case keeping kosher and making everybody feel very uncomfortable about all of my food habits just constantly is like is mitigated by the fact of you know, there’s food and you know they’d hand us plates and I would simply hand him I didn’t have to say no I didn’t have to refuse it. I just handed Josh my plate. There we go. You know and they’d hand coupons you know beer coupons and Josh would hand me the beer coupon or whatever it was right.

Josh: [00:06:39] Yeah. And I think that that is a really powerful first. I think it speaks to your personality and all of water with all my own personality. And that we found some differences. We found some about Mormonism and Judaism although they are similar. Up until you know you get to the New Testament they’re really different religions. Yeah I have you know I have some food restrictions or had some food restrictions as a Mormon. I had some beverage restrictions and so we both had to confront those things and we also had to learn how to not only be friends but also to cohabitate in the same technical space. And it worked so wonderfully. And that to me that’s a real testament Leon of how things can and should work. You know so often we walk into a situation at work and we look for the way that we can stake out claim at work the way the way that we can differentiate ourselves and be extremely different. What you and I without even practicing it or having any concept of what we were doing we made synergy where there could have been opposition. You know I could have said well you know she’s why doesn’t that Leon guy like bacon I love bacon.

Leon: [00:08:01] Tom we’re looking at you Tom. I’ve got one of my co-workers as loves but he does not he does not bacon shame me. But he there’s definitely moments where you know there’s like “well but how come. Can you?” “No, no I can’t.”

Josh: [00:08:17] I feel like with Tom that it’s again one of those synergistic things because he doesn’t view you as competition and getting to the bacon right.

Leon: [00:08:23] No that’s true. Yes. He gets to eat my bacon. It’s. Yeah. And I get to save his bacon so… It’s interesting you mentioned Tom. So another one of those synergy moments and that’s obviously the theme of this podcast is so Tom was at work and it was the end of the year and people were trying to figure out their their time off at work. You know there’s a lot of overlap but you know you can’t leave the office empty, bereft of staff. So there’s a lot of chess-playing where people say “oh but I need this day”, “Oh but I really need this day.” But my kids are off.” Well my kids are off too” “But I’m going out of town who’s going to cover what. And one of our co-workers looked at Tom and was saying “Well all the rest of you folks are off. How come you’re all able to take off and you’re not worried about it?” And Tom looked and said, “Because we have Leon”  The other person was about to argue and then she went, “oh!” Because end of year my kids are still in school. My wife is still at work. I’m generally working. Like the end of year Christmas, New Year’s is not really a thing in my house. So when people were saying I need this time off I was able to say “oh I’ll cover it no problem.” You know like I prefer it because I need to use those days at other times. So that’s where again the the strength-weakness balance is you know this wonderful you know synergy between team members.

Josh: [00:09:57] So that’s interesting thing early on that worked out really well for you and for your team. How do we how do we help other people to find that same synergy? Do you have any recommendations. Was it just something that happened naturally for you or else you have to work at it?

Leon: [00:10:14] Ok so as an Orthodox Jew there’s you know there’s certain things that are clear like I am you know I’m going to be working for everyone you know Christmas Easter you know those kinds of holidays they’re not my holidays. So why would I take those? Even though they’re company holidays why would I take those holidays off? That was sort of a no brainer. Of course there are the years that you know Christmas falls on Shabbat in which case now I’m off you know. Now that’s that’s a whole other thing. But as far as best practices I think that the first thing is to like we do a lot in I.T., stop framing things as is a weakness or a as a gap or whatever it is. Start to look at it as it as an opening as an opportunity. I mean I hate to say that, you know, “you think of it as an opportunity!” but think of it as a problem that you can solve creatively and you know in I.T. departments as a team. Talk about it. So just again as an example you know Shabbat is is a thing for me I’m completely off line from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. In the winter as sundown can hit at 4:30 in the afternoon. So that means that my Fridays are automatically cut short because as soon as sundown hits I can’t touch anything with an on or off switch. And I do need to be at synagogue. So you know around 3 o’clock, 2:30 I’m already looking at the door I’m already like “I gotta get going here. So that means that on call is really a challenge. And for a long time I looked at it as this weakness like how am I supposed to maintain a career in I.T. if you know I can’t do on call if I can’t take the pager? Like what are my co-workers..? And finally I just… didn’t break down emotionally, but I sort of broke down my pride and I said I said to the team. “All right what do I do about this?” And it was wonderful and it was heartwarming that the rest the team said “Are you kidding? All right! I’ll take your Saturday will you take my Sunday?” “Sure I’ll take two of your Sundays for every one… set like that.” And all of a sudden the team was really willing to cut you… like “oh I only have to take a day?” The jobs I’m thinking of you carry the pager for one or even two weeks in a row. And people were more than willing to cover for a single day if it meant that I was going to cover one of their days in a tight spot elsewhere. So I think really the first and foremost is to have a conversation with the team. I think because I know in talking to long hear that don’t talk… First of all don’t talk to H.R. about it not saying H.R. is bad, but H.R. isn’t going to help you at all. They don’t have the tools to help you and don’t even talk to your manager. Again. You don’t have to leave your manager out, but the first place to stop is with your team and see if your team comes up because at that point most of the managers I’ve worked for and and most of the companies I’ve worked for. They actually don’t care how it gets done as long as it gets done.

Josh: [00:13:14] Yeah absolutely. And I love that. I love that that worked out well for you.  I’ve been on teams where things haven’t always worked out well especially when you go to the manager because their job is to just fix things and move on and they see they see religious observance interfering with the execution of a job as a nuisance not that they aren’t religious themselves or that they don’t have respect for your religious observation. They just, that’s not on the critical path for them. And I love how this how this has worked out so well for you so many times when we walk into these situations with our teams we think we have to solve all the problems and you reached out to people that were on your team and said “hey help me solve this challenge in my career.” And it turned out to be a wonderful thing that that to me it goes to the importance of having diversity on our teams. You know you’re Jewish. I am Mormon. But it’s beyond just you know a white Jewish guy and a white Mormon guy right.  If we add in visible minorities of any flavor I love I love having women on my team and right up until I was 18 years old I only had women for four managers. It was this odd thing that happened to work out and I think it changed the way that I approach people being on my team and how I interact with folks because I learned from women what the workplace was supposed to be like instead of having to learn that from men. So I think we should explore that in a future podcast episode where we we talk about team diversity and the value that it brings.

Leon: [00:14:55] Ok. I’m doing a Trello card for that right now.

Josh: [00:15:00] We are Trello dorks. We admit it. And though I know that you talk an awful lot Leon. And you will I understand that. That’s OK. Have you got any final advice on on this podcast for our listeners about how to build that synergy.

Leon: [00:15:20] Again I think I think conversation really is the is the key. Like like we both said conversation with a team thinking of things as… Here’s I guess here’s another thing that it it very well may be your weakness. You know it very well may be a a flaw in some way. You know there’s there’s periods of time during the yearly cycle that you know I’m simply off line for almost a month at a time when you add it all up and that can really mess up the flow of projects, it can mess up the flow of work. But what it also means is it’s an opportunity for other team members to show their strengths. It’s a chance for other team members to to flex their muscles a little bit that you know and by the way most religious things aren’t a shock or a surprise right. “Oh my gosh you mean Pentecost is coming again this year?!? Wow I didn’t…” I’m pretty sure Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, they’re all going to roll around. You know Ramadan is a great example of that. Ramadan comes around every year. You may not exactly know when unless you’re clued into the Islamic calendar. But Ramadan is going to happen every year, and every year your Muslim coworkers are gonna have an entire month where they’re not eating from sunrise to sundown. Please, please do not bake you know popcorn in the in the microwave in the office. So that that person has to sit there with this permeating smell and they know that they’re not gonna be able to eat for another five hours or drink or anything like that’s just you know… So you’re absolutely right that. That these things are from the perspective of the of the religiously observant person sort of a challenge. But at the same time it’s an opportunity for the rest of the team to show their strength, you know to be able to say actually we’re going to cover your last hour at work so you can get home and be ready for sundown so that when, you know, at the end of the day during Ramadan you’re right there with your family able to you know break the fast and eat.

Josh: [00:17:34] And that is so powerful when we serve other people, which in both of our religious observances is an extremely powerful thing right? Serving someone extends to them an indication that you respect them, that you love them, that you care for them, and not just care for them from a distance, but that you’re willing to completely engage with them and say “hey listen I recognize what’s important to you because I’ve listened, that your family and your faith are important, and I’m willing to sacrifice something in my life so that you can be successful with your faith and your family.” That, to me, that’s the definition of a of an amazing team. People who are willing to make those sacrifices for each other. It’s not every man every man or woman for themselves. It is literally… I’m willing to I’m willing to fall on his sword to jump on the proverbial hand grenade.

Josh: [00:18:29] Wow. Right now OK that’s a little extreme. Ok I’m going to reframe this in an I.T. context. OK you are much better at data analysis and database analytics than I am. OK? You just take a bath in data and you love that stuff. So why would I if I’m struggling with something why would I not say this is just not my thing. You know I’m not really good at it. I focus in this other area. Josh can you give me a hand and you, Josh, are like “Give you a hand? Are you joking? I love this stuff. Thank you for giving me the chance to do this!” So you know you know I’ve worked in offices where some people are like I hate rush hour. I just hate it. And I actually you know you just gave me a reason to stay at work until five thirty whatever I’m going to cover for Leon. This is like I’m giving back to Leon to cover for for him because he needs to get home. But at the same time I’m able to justify why I’m not going to fight and now my drive home is 15 minutes instead of 40 minutes because I missed all the traffic, and I feel good about myself and what I did. So it’s not exactly falling on a grenade!

Josh: [00:19:42] Have you seen some of the data sets I’ve had to work with? Definitely  grenade.

Leon: [00:19:46] All right. Fair enough. Fair enough. (conversation fades out)

Leon: [00:19:49] Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of technically religious. Visit our web site:, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect us on social media.

Josh: [00:20:01] Until next time remember: I’ll eat your wings…

Leon: [00:20:03] …and I’ll drink your beer.

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