Identity is a complex concept. “Who we are” is comprised of a rich tapestry of experiences and relationships. We try to control which of those aspects we share and which we keep private. But there are times when the world around us – strangers, coworkers, and even friends – define us in ways that don’t match the view we have of ourselves. That experience can be merely surprising or terribly upsetting, and many of us struggle both with the fear of it happening and with how we should deal with it when it does.
Listen to this important episode or read the transcript below:
Leon: 00:00 Hey everyone, it’s Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It’s called, “The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked” and if you like this podcast, you’re going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of IT with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it, including where you can get a digital or print copy over on adatosystems.com. Thanks!
Kate: 00:25 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experience we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion – or lack thereof. We’re here to explore ways we make our career. As IT professionals mesh or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Leon: 00:49 So back when we were recording episode three, in the middle of our conversation about something completely different, there was an interesting side conversation that happened between Josh and me and Roddie. Um, so I want to play it for you right now”
Josh: 01:02 I will point out though that as diverse as we, uh, as we think that IT is, we’re three white males on a podcast, and…
Roddie: 01:13 I’m not white.
Josh: 01:13 So I mean… you look white…?
Roddie: 01:17 I know I do. I do look white. I’m undercover, but then I’m full. I’m full person of color. I’m, I’m half of the… And actually thinking about this podcast for the last few months of where Leon wanted to go with it, I knew kind of that would come up because I can identify as white, right? Most people look at me and say, “Well, he’s just another white guy.” I’m not, I’m full. I’m half Lebanese, half Palestinian, so I’m full Arab blood. Um, but it’s, but it’s, it’s great that you actually mentioned that
Josh: 01:48 That I broached it, right?
New Speaker: 01:49 (dialogue fades out)
Leon: 01:50 So we ended up cutting that particular exchange out of the episode, but, uh, we here on Technically Religious wanted to circle back to the concept of being identified as somehow different or what we’re calling being “othered”. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Uh, I’m Leon Adato and with me today. Uh, I’ve got Josh Biggley.
Josh: 02:12 Hello-Hello.
Leon: 02:14 And also Kate Asaf.
Kate: 02:16 Hello.
Leon: 02:17 So those are the voices that you’ll be hearing on this episode.
Josh: 02:20 Well, you know, Leon, I don’t think that we can start this episode or really any episode without talking about, uh, what has gone on in New Zealand. If for some reason you have been living under a rock for the last two weeks, week and a half, you know, 50 people were killed at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand by an Australian guy whose name we’re not going to mention because he’s not important. What is important is that he took 50 lives. It’s interesting when, when I heard the news I was, I was a little gob smacked because about 18 years ago my wife and I almost moved to Christchurch. We had the process all started and I thought, “Holy crap, that is a city that we seriously considered living in,” and I… The Prime Minister of New Zealand is also a post-Mormon, an ex-Mormon. Uh, she grew up LDS as well. So, you know, one other tie I, I can’t say enough about her and her response and I don’t even know how, I can’t process it in my mind very time I sit and think about it, it just, it, I think it really ties to what we’re going to talk about today, about this being othered. Because if you viewed people, um, if you viewed people as human, you would not do the things that, that, that man did and that he’s not the only one. There are many people throughout history who do it, but, and I’m not suggesting that what we’re going to talk about is even remotely as weighty as what happened in Christchurch to those people, both who lost their lives unto those who are, who are, who are still left, but damn right, we, we, you know, my heart breaks for those people. Right?
Leon: 04:04 And, and in a larger context, the far too many incidents of violence that have happened just in the last 12 months and you know, you can keep going back. And just to underscore what you said, you know, this conversation about our personal experiences of being othered or the things that we’ve observed is in no way meant to diminish those large world shaking events. But really just personalize them and, and bring some, you know, an element of specificity to it. So, uh, I think maybe the next thing we need to do is, is define what it means to be othered. What do we mean? There’s, you know, the dictionary definition, I guess which revolves around the them versus us mentality. When you are othered, you are being called out as being somehow negatively different, lesser, not on the same plane as the person doing the othering or the group doing the other thing. Um, it’s not, it’s not a positive thing and that’s how it differs from, let’s say, you know, I say that, you know, Tom LaRock, one of my coworkers, you know, he’s really tall. He’s in fact circus tall. Now that’s a phrase he’s actually used to describe himself. That’s not intrinsically othering him. Uh, because first of all, it’s very specific to Tom. And second of all, uh, it’s also a way he describes himself. By the same token, when I talk about a former coworker, Chris Paap, and saying he has biceps the size of my head, which is true, that isn’t necessarily othering, I think. And please tell me if I’m wrong, tell me if I’m, if I’m edging into dangerous territory.
Josh: 05:57 I don’t, you know, I, as you were talking about being other than, and I do remember that moment when I, you know, said to Roddie, uh, and, and yourself, hey, you know, we’re three white guys on the, you know, the whole debacle about me. Uh, assuming that Roddy was white and he’s not a, sorry Roddy, um, you know, welcome to my white privilege. I apologize. Um, I’m wondering though, is there a, is there a time in a place where being othered, um, is not negative, you know, you use that word, um, that, uh, that made me think that maybe there’s a moment where I want to be othered. I want to stand out and I want to be different. I’m, and I’m, I’m trying to think of where that might apply. So, you know, my context is, you know, I made a very conscientious decision to step away from Mormonism and, and really to turn into a, a critic of some of the things that I thought had taken Mormonism away from what I knew about it and loved about it. Um, but I don’t, you know, people who are still in Mormonism, they view me as what the word is “apostate”, right. So they view me as as apostate, but does that, I do, I view that as a bad thing? Because I made the choice and I, I know that Tom didn’t make the choice to be, you know, circus tall. And I, I know that Chris Papp, he probably didn’t intend to specifically have biceps larger than your head, although I’m sure he’s glad to know that, you know, he’s reached that pinnacle.
Kate: 07:26 I don’t know if that’s like a specific measurement he was going for.
Josh: 07:29 Right? Yeah. Right. You’re like, you know, 16 inches, 17 inches, larger-than-Leon’s-head. I like, I don’t know if to scale it works like that. Right. Um, but I, I just wonder if there are times in which we, we specifically act in a way that, um, the in which we know that we are going to be othered. Um, but we do it anyway because that’s who we have to be in order to be true to ourselves.
Kate: 07:50 I think that the point that you hit on there being true to yourself is that it’s, it’s okay when it’s on your terms, right? Like, I, if you’ve never seen me, I have pink and blue hair, which is something that I choose to do and which occasionally
Leon: 08:05 Today,
Kate: 08:06 Yes, yes, for this week. Um, and that gets me some strange looks, but I know that, you know, I choose to do this and it’s something that I’m proud of even being a woman in tech. Like that’s not super rare anymore, but it certainly was when I started and I am very proud to be a part of that group, even though it’s, it comes with some strife.
Speaker 3: 08:31 Hey, we, I’ve got, I’ve got a story here about Kate, and she’s heard this story before, but a couple of years ago, uh, we had, we had done an upgrade of, of our platform and we got to a point where we were having some difficulties and literally got within five minutes of having to rebuild our entire environment. And Kate swooped and saved the day. I had no idea at the time how to rebuild our environment. Like, and I was just like, oh my goodness, if Kate does not save me, I’m so screwed. Uh, and it’s, it’s interesting because when they said, hey, you know, we’re bringing in this, you know, we’re bringing in this engineer and you jumped on, Kate, it didn’t even cross my mind to think, “Oh, you know, that’s a woman. How should you going to help me?” I was just like, “Okay, Kate, you know, you gotta save me!”
Leon: 09:22 “She’s saving my bacon, that’s all that matters!”
Kate: 09:27 I could’ve been a lizard person at that point and you would have been happy to see me.
Josh: 09:31 It wouldn’t have mattered. Yeah. So I, I’m really interested obviously, uh, you know, White Male, uh, you know, grew up, you know, middle class, uh, lived a middle upper class life. I want to know what it’s like to be a woman in tech. Could you tell me?
Kate: 09:45 Well here’s the funny story that you’re, your thing reminds me of which, by the way, I very clearly remember that upgrade. So glad I was able to save you. Um, I was talking to a customer once and it just so happened that his escalation path when he talked to Destiny and then he talked to me. Um, and when we were on the phone, super nice guy, he said, “Let me ask you a question: is SolarWinds a woman owned company?” And I thought that was kind of strange. And I said, “No, why?” And he said, “Well, I just think it’s so great that they have two women working as these escalation tiers and you guys are the engineers. And I just think that’s great.” And I’m like, you were so close to paying us a really good compliment. Why would solutions have to be a woman owned company for us to be in these positions? Uh, but, but thanks for the effort.”
Leon: 10:39 Yeah, right. I guess nice. So I just want to jump in here and say, and it’s slightly pedantic, but I do that well, that, that Josh, to your point and Kate, your, your example illustrates it is there’s a difference between being recognized and being othered. And sometimes, uh, especially the, in the, in the mind to the speaker, that difference can be really hard to detect and oftentimes in the ears of the listener, the target, the difference is really obvious. But there’s a difference between, between being recognized for either an achievement or accomplishment or simply a state of being. Again, we’re going back to Tom being circus tall. There’s a difference between, between being recognized – “Oh, I need to get the really good scotch off the tall shelf. I’ll go ask Tom.” Versus being, being either othered or outed or, or identified as something like, I didn’t think it was going to be that good, but it turns out that you actually did fine. “Thanks for the compliment? I guess?” You know what I mean? It, it is again, you know, being recognized for something versus being othered can seem like a very fine distinction, um, until you’re on the receiving end of it. Uh, and, and that’s, I think part of it. Um, and, and again, a lot of it has to do with the, the sometimes not so subtle assumptions that go along with it. And by the way, to bring this back to tech, right, I think that IT is not immune from the… pure it forget about people with strong, you know, religious or nonreligious views or whatever it is. Um, you know, like “Those network people” or, you know, “I, I don’t understand why anybody would ever want to do storage” or, you know, “oh good. You’ve joined or you know, you were on the virtualization team, but now you’re on the cloud team. Does it feel good to get out of the basement?” Or stuff like that? Like, “No, I was, I was really proud of my, you know, vmware certification. I was really excited about all the years I spent doing, you know, quote unquote boring old route and switch networking or whatever, like that was not, uh, uh, you know, a penalty in my mind and you just turned it into one
Kate: 12:57 That was actually a big thing for me, getting out of support and going to engineering because that was, everybody sort of looked down… There were, there was this perception that I escaped, you know, or that I finally have a real career and I personally loved working in support and would, you know, go back to it if the opportunity and the circumstances were right. So, but definitely, you know, support was kind of seen is that when you said the basement, that’s immediately what I thought of.
Leon: 13:32 Right. And, and I think that, I think in our minds in IT, we have that IT pecking order, you know, where it’s like you work the help desk until you can, like you said, escape, you know, and you work your way up and whether you’re going to do the, the server application track or the network, once upon a time voice in all, you know, that track or whatever. I think there’s more directions to go. You know, we believe that there are these tiers as opposed to… No, no. If you can work a help desk and take any call from any person and deal with it and resolve it and triage it, that is, you know, that at the top of the show, you know, Josh expressed basically his undying love for you. Um, and I know that’s not the first, you know, proposal you might have gotten over the phone, Kate. So, you know, being able to do that for somebody is not a trivial skill. Um, that, that’s so, you know, again, just keeping this tech focused. Um, I think we have that. So in fact, you know, keeping on that does, does being othered manifest differently, either better or worse in IT? Like how does, how does the, the othered-ness come out in IT in ways that are either, “Oh wow. I was othered but it was kind of interesting, or, “Oh, it’s actually worse than it would be in an accounting office” or something else.
Josh: 14:57 I wonder if it, if it isn’t worse. Um, and, uh, so I had, uh, an interesting, uh, situation just recently where I was, uh, I was tasked with figuring out how to reduce, um, a very large spend, a into a, a much smaller span. You know, it really is not the goal that we all have. “Hey, can you do the same thing with, uh, with less money?” Great. No problem. And so I, I took a couple of the ideas that I had and I, and I, I built these ideas not, um, with, with just myself. I built it with a, um, a multidisciplinary team that I’m working with. And I’ve got people that know tech. I have people that have no clue about tech, but they work in IT. And I, I’m using the air quotes. Um, they work in IT, but in a very different IT, it’s, it’s not a, it’s not the pure play IT that we think of. And, uh, the initial response that I got from some of the engineers who worked in the space that we were trying to look at was, “No, you can’t do that. Nope, sorry, that’s not going to work.” And fortunately, I’m stubborn. Um, and a little bullheaded. Um, so says my loved ones and we, uh, we pushed really hard and to ignore those people and we stumbled on what we think is going to be, uh, the killer solution. We’re super excited about it as a team. Uh, we talked to some, uh, we call them principles in my office. So, you know, engineer, senior engineer principles, uh, you know, these are the, the few, the upper echelon of engineering. We talked to one of those principles and he was super excited about it. He thought, “Hey, that’s awesome.” So, you know, we still have a lot of work to do. But I thought, you know, isn’t it interesting that some senior engineers looked at us as, you know, a group of engineers and not even engineers and thought, well, you can’t do that because you didn’t think this idea. Um, you weren’t part of the design. You know, we’re the senior engineers and now here we are presenting an idea that is completely out of context, uh, for what we would have thought at the beginning of the project that might not only introduce, uh, you know, better functionality but might reduce costs. And I love the idea of a things like a kaizen where you bring together multidisciplinary people, it intentionally brings together others, um, and puts them all into the same, in the same room and says, hey, solve a problem. Uh, I think that doing that intentionally doing that in our organizations is extremely important. It brings in perceptions. I know we’ve talked previously about, uh, education and the differences and being a, someone who has an IT degree versus someone who has, I dunno, like an acting degree. I don’t know anyone like that. Or someone like myself who has no degree and no real college to speak of, you know, edit a six month training program, uh, at a technical college. But that was it. That is how I launched my IT career. I technically have a two year degree or two year diploma. Um, but I’ve never actually gone to school before. I’ve never been to a college or a university. Um, I just, I think it’s really important that we, we acknowledged that othering exists, but that we let it be a good thing and we learned that that diversity makes our team stronger.
Leon: 18:14 So I think it is one of those places where the degree thing really shines that within the rank and file. I found very few, I’m going to say actual IT people who honestly give a rat’s ass about like your degree or whatever it is. Now when you get through the HR machine, it’s a whole different story. And I think it’s a point of frustration for a lot of this in IT, that, that getting the job requires us to have to have certain things that actually don’t matter at all. And I think that that’s a whole other conversation about, you know, a whiteboard interview, um, for coding.
Kate: 18:56 Oh yeah. We’ve all seen the job listing where it’s like, must know SQL, and Java, and c++, and, you know, BASIC, and COBOL, and, and you know, have a master’s degree, pays $30,000 a year.
Leon: 19:09 Right? Right. And, you know, 15 years of experience with AWS and like, yeah, you know, those kinds of things. Right. We’ve seen, we’ve seen those. Um, so I think that that is a place where, uh, it’s better. Quick story just where IT is kind of different. Um, for those people who are new to the podcast. Again, this is Leon. I’m an Orthodox Jew. Uh, I’m a sort of a very out and proud orthodox Jew. I have the funny little hat or, you know, kippah, or yarmulke. I have little fringy things hanging out of my pants, you know, I’m, you know, black pants, white shirt, full metal, penguin, Orthodox, right? That’s how I present. And the first time I was going to speak for my company, um, and I was sort of out in front of about 300 people and I realized that this is me, but I’m, I’m representing the brand. And so I pulled the, the manager aside and I said, “Okay, we’re, we’re in an HR free zone. This is not about lawsuit. This is, I just want to understand. Are you comfortable with me looking like this, representing the brand or do you want me to tuck the strings in? Do you want me to put a ball cap on? Like what do ya…? And he actually turned and said, “I actually have no effing idea what those things are. I thought it was like a hippie thing.” And uh, I realized that I was perhaps overthinking it a little bit. Um, and so again, in it, he had othered me, but he had othered me in a way that was honestly so ridiculous in my mind that it was like, “Oh, okay. Like moving on,” like, you know, like it just didn’t, it, you know, it was, it was not a problem. It was like Kate, the time that we were doing THWACKcamp and the problem with you on camera was your Wonder Woman shirt that was like, okay, all right, I understand, you know, but it, of all the things that, that – horrifically- people might have pointed out about you, it was, yeah, we’re not sure if the logo was okay on camera. Like, “Oh, thank God. Like, that’s so, that’s so wonderful. And I’m not changing my shirt. Just to be up-front about it.”
Kate: 21:24 Legal did eventually approve it.
Leon: 21:27 Right. But it was just, you know, like those kinds of, so sometimes it can be, it can be good. Um, all right. So any examples where IT tends to do the other thing like worse?
Speaker 2: 21:38 I do think that we, in IT have a, a tendency to jump to the eye. Rolling. Are you stupid? You know? Oh my God, I can’t believe you don’t know that. Well, you know, there’s, we all had to ask the questions at one point as well. Um, I think it’s important also to try and call out that sort of jerky behavior if you, if you see it and if you can, um, that’s something that I’ve been challenging myself to do is not let things slide. If I see something wrong with it, you know, try to correct it even in a friendly sort of, “Hey, we don’t, that’s not helpful or productive and we don’t really need to be jumping on this person.” Or some of like the little micro aggressions you see as a woman in tech and meetings. Um, well my, my big pet peeve is somebody repeating what I have just said as if it was a new point. Um, I have made it a huge point to jump in and say, “Yes, thank you for repeating what I literally just said.”
Josh: 22:43 Bravo, Bravo. But it’s hard,
Speaker 2: 22:46 Especially when that person, I have a great relationship with my boss and my boss’s boss and you know, above them. But in that moment, it’s hard to, you know, sort of jump in and derail the conversation to call it out. But I think it’s important
Leon: 23:01 if you’re, if you are the bystander, you know, it is incredibly powerful to, to reinforce and say, “You know what, I, I actually said that word wrong for like a month before somebody corrected me and you know…” or whatever it is. Right. You know, um, you know, getting the words wrong, but knowing how to use the technology, right? Like are you really going to get in someone’s face about whether they, you know, pronounce it scuzzy or they say SCSI or you know, something like that. Now I do draw the line at GIF versus Jif…
Josh: 23:36 I KNEW it was going to come up again,
Leon: 23:40 But, okay. But aside from that and, and more, more importantly, Kate, what you were about, like, you know, how much more powerful is it when you know you’re about to jump up and say “Thank you for…” when somebody else says “you know, there’s an echo in here,” you know, or whatever that, that you’re not the only one who has to be listening for that. Who has to be, um, you know, trying to, to make sure that people recognize this just happened.
Kate: 24:08 It’s a huge relief when I see, you know, someone else do it. Because I think a thing that a lot of women struggle with is it’s important to correct it, but you start to feel like you’re the asshole if you’re always interrupting the conversation or constantly calling out the behaviors and when no one else says anything, you feel like no one else has a problem with it. So it’s, you know, tears of gratitude and joy and, and you know, much many props to anyone else who can sort of see that and stop it so that it doesn’t always have to be me or you know, the, the victim, so to speak, uh, responsible for catching that kind of stuff.
Leon: 24:49 Right. Having to do, having to do that, that work have, you can’t have any carry that load. Right.
New Speaker: 24:54 I love this idea of, um, of being an active bystander. And I guess once you’re, once you’ve acted, you’re no longer a bystander. Um, especially in the workplace. Something that, uh, that I tried to do and I’m not, I’m not perfect at it, but I, I make a really strong effort at it. And that is when someone does something that is good, I, I call it out. Um, and I try not to do it too, you know, just my female coworkers or to just my new coworkers. But when someone is truly has done something awesome, I like to call that out. And I think that goes back to the, the value of being othered, uh, for a good reason. You know, if you, if you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty in, in your job or in a project or, or really in general life, cause you know, there is life outside of IT. I know that it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but I promised the entire world does not revolve around it. (Yes it does.)
Leon: 25:58 I was going to say, STOP IT! STOP IT! YOU’RE RUINING MY WORLD!
Kate: 25:58 Nobody believed you as you said it.
New Speaker: 26:05 I know. I didn’t, I didn’t believe myself. It’s okay. It’s okay. But I think it’s really important that we take the time to reach out to people and say, hey, you know, thanks. And not only, hey, you know, thanks for doing that, but also going up that level and saying to their manager, “Hey, I really appreciate the work that, you know, uh, you know, Kate did or Leon did because it made my life easier in these ways.” Um, and learning how to value people is it, it’ll make you a better engineer. Learning how to value people will also make you a better human being. Um, and we, we just, we need to figure it out. Um, my wife and I were actually talking it oddly enough just today about this, about how to make sure that, uh, people, uh, feel valued around you. And what we distilled was when you, it doesn’t matter how good a manager or an engineer you are, if people, if people feel valued around you, then they will want to work for you. And that means you don’t need to know everything. So you don’t need to be the person who knows storage and virtualization and Java and cobalt and knows how to do assembly language and you can solder with your eyes closed with your left arm tied behind your back. You don’t have to be that person. You just need to be the person that really talented people want to work with and in some cases want to work for. Um, I know that I’ve actively sought out people who I want to work with and for, and when I get into a new company, I look for those people, I look for those people whose strength and who have othered themselves because they’re not like, you know, the rest of the quote unquote, you know, typical engineers. And when I find those people, I love to latch on to them. Um, it makes me better. Uh, and again, I’ve got lots of privilege, right? I’m white, I’m Canadian. Um, you know, middle class, middle, upper class, upper class,
Leon: 27:56 (chuckles)
Josh: 27:56 Hey, don’t laugh about… being a Canadian, that’s a privilege, man.
Leon: 28:01 No, no, I’m laughing because it’s true.
Josh: 28:07 It’s only cold here for a little while, you know, months at a time.
Leon: 28:11 I’m from Cleveland and the cold never bothered me anyway.
Josh: 28:18 But, you know, I, I do think it’s really… you know just to finish. I just think it’s really important that we recognize that othering. Uh, we can take the othering. Uh, we’ve talked about being negative and we can actively switch that and make it a positive thing. Um, you know, so when you see that, and I, and I had never thought about the idea of being actively engaged as a bystander. Uh, but if we, if we are and we get involved and we say, Hey, this is, you know, this is good, that’s bad. Um, how, how powerful is that? Uh, and it, I think it, it starts to dissolve the, uh, the efficacy of that negative othering. Um, and yes, we’re all different, right? Uh, each one of us on this call today on this podcast, but we’re different. But that’s, that’s what makes us so awesome and so unique to, you know, what we have here.
Leon: 29:13 Right. And that goes back to, you know, taking this idea of being othered, which is, is intrinsically sort of negative and turning it into recognition, you know, then I think that’s where the, that’s where the real power comes. All right. Well, I, I want to thank you both Josh, Kate for, uh, joining, uh, joining me today and, uh, look forward to having everyone back on for the next episode.
Kate: 29:37 It was great talking with both you guys.
Josh: 29:39 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website, technicallyreligious.com where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect with us on social media.
Josh: 29:52 I think this was a really good session.
New Speaker: 29:54 Yeah Leon you did really good.
Josh: 29:56 Well, for someone from Cleveland
Leon: 29:58 Oh for crying out loud!