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S1E9 – The Only Constant is Change

In IT we know that the only constant is change. And for the most part, that’s OK. What is difficult is when standards or processes are framed as immutable, and THEN they change. How do we adjust when the company spends $5million on a data center expansion, and then moves everything to the cloud 2 years later? Or when Windows abandons the GUI and goes to CLI, while Cisco moves away from IOS commands and on to GUI and API-driven interfaces? Does our religious/ethical/moral background help (or hinder) us from accepting and adapting to these moments in our work as IT pros? In this episode Kate, Josh, and Leon try to unpack the question and formulate some answers. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon: 00:00 Hey everyone. It’s Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It’s called The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked”, and if you like this podcast, you’re going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of IT with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it including where you can get a digital or print copy over on 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 Last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints made an announcement which sent shock waves through the Mormon community and tremors throughout many other religious communities as well. We’ll get into the details about that in a minute. But it caused us here at Technically Religious to think about how supposedly immutable truths, whether we’re talking about replacing Latin with English during mass or Microsoft’s adoption of open source, affect us and how we deal with those changes. Joining the conversation today is Kate Asaff

Kate: 01:17 Hello.

Leon: 01:18 And Josh Biggley.

Josh: 01:20 Yeah, it’s still cold in Canada!

Leon: 01:23 and I’m Leon Adato and it’s slightly warmer here in Cleveland. So Josh, do us a favor and run us down just the main points of the announcement from last week.

Josh: 01:34 Sure. So this announcement was made in early April, and in order to understand it, we have to go all the way back to November, 2015, and maybe even a little further. So the Organization of the Mormon Church, or the LDS church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is such that it’s a top down organization. So the President, or prophet, of the church, he makes a declaration, often he has to get his two counselors and the other 12 men that sit on the quorum of the 12 apostles. And then those 15 men make these proclamations. So in November of 2015, the church released a policy internally, that was leaked, and then they had to address it publicly, that said that any child who had parents who were of the same gender, so you’re in a same sex-relationship or a same-gender relationship or if you are trans-gendered – first, they were now labeled apostates. And that’s really heavy language within any religious community. There’s one thing to have transgressed, but there’s another thing to be considered an apostate. And then in addition to them being an apostate, they also said that no child whose primary residence was with those same sex couples could receive any ordinances within the church. So that spans the entire gamut of: You could not be blessed as an infant within the church; to: you couldn’t be baptized; to: if you were in the church – there are certain things that you that you undertake within Mormonism, you know, if you’re a boy at the age of 12 (and now the age of 11) you can receive the priesthood – just things that you can’t do, many of those rites of passage. So last week, and of course we’re recording this in the early days of April, so last week the church came out and said, “Hey, that policy that was put into place in November of 2015? We’re going to change that policy. And we’re going to make it so that now if you are the child of an LGBTQ family, you can be baptized as an infant, you can be blessed within the church, under the understanding that of course the church is going to reach out to you and, throughout your lifetime because you are now officially a member of the church, once you’re, once you’re blessed and in the LDS church. That’s a huge change because leadership within the church and members at large – admittedly myself prior to my transition away from Mormonism – defended that policy with a couple of talking points. First and foremost that the prophet, he specifies what is the will of God. He speaks for God. He’s God’s mouthpiece on earth. And second that this was an act of kindness, because we didn’t want to – as a church – we didn’t want to have people, with their children attending the Mormon church where the Mormon church was teaching that their parents were apostates. And then having to go home to their parents and say, “Hey mom and dad…”, sorry… I got… hey, look at that. “Hey Mom and mom, dad and dad.” Or “Hey, mom and dad, you know, dad and dad or mom and mom. You’re an apostate.” Or “You know, we think that you should be excommunicated.” And all those horrible things that go along with that. So yeah, that’s um, that was huge. I was pretty… I’ll admit I was pretty pissed off on Thursday. Not because I disagree with the change that children should be allowed to join whatever church they want to regardless of their parents. I was just pissed off because lots of people put a lot of time and effort into setting aside their personal views and trying to make it so that they align with what they were being told from the top of the church. And then the church went, “Hey, by the way, we’re going to change.”

Leon: 05:36 Right. And you’d actually mentioned in an earlier episode when we talked about opposing as you follow, you said that that was one of the things that caused you and your family to move away from the Mormon church for a while. And then you came back and you suffered censure and a bunch of other things for those views. So you directly experienced some of that just for expressing an opinion.

Josh: 05:58 Yeah. And that actually goes back pretty far in my marriage. That goes back probably 15 years ago when that particular experience happened. I mean, just to give some context and then, and I know that we want to talk about this as a foundation for IT. And I think there’s a great parallel. And Leon, thanks for calling it out. Harold B. Lee, who was the president of the church from July of 1972 until his death in December of 1973, he said this: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.” So, you know, pretty powerful language from the LDS church. Fortunately in IT, apart from Mac users, right Kate? Nobody thinks that their salvation from any of their other platforms.

Leon: 07:09 I think actually, yeah, there is actually a Mac airbook that blocks the gates of hell.

Kate: 07:14 It’s actually an iPad.

Leon: 07:18 Oh, of course. It would be. And that, with making a little bit of lighthearted humor is where I actually want to go, which is the IT aspects of that. But before we dig too far into that can we think – the three of us – can we think of any other analogs in religions that may have been that same kind of thing? Again, I’m not talking about the fact that things change. I’m talking about things that were supposedly immutable, or somewhat permanent, and then the group, the organization sort of pivoted away from it. And, and I brought up one which was the change from the Catholic mass from Latin to English, which you know, happened I think in the seventies, if I remember correctly? I could be wrong because I don’t pay very much attention to that kind of stuff. But I remember that it caused quite a bit of a stir,

Josh: 08:13 Yeah, the ordination of women in the United Methodist Church, which happened well before I was born back in the mid fifties is an interesting one. Again, linking it to Mormonism. A woman named Kate Kelly founded an organization called Ordain Women. She’s a lawyer and an activist and she was excommunicated by the LDS church in June, 2014. So everyone kind of waits for the day in which women will be ordained within the Mormon church or within the the LDS church. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but we certainly see that adopted. And that’s a huge thing, right? Because traditionally, you know, as far back as tradition goes religions tended to be very patriarchal. Where, you know, men were the heads, the household, they were the heads of the church. And so for the United Methodist to allow women to be ordained officially, even though it had been doing it for a long time, unofficially. That was huge.

Kate: 09:04 It kinda reminds me in the 90’s when the Catholic Church decided to start allowing girls to be altar servers. I remember there was a cardinal in Boston who had saw these girls serving and before the proclamation came from the Vatican, the story I heard was that he told the congregation, “Get these girls out of here.” He didn’t want to see them serving and that it was something, obviously 20 years later it has stuck with me

Leon: 09:34 With religion you have things that really are dogmatic. Sometimes we throw that word around somewhat flippantly but religion actually is dogmatic. It has, you know, strictures or rules that are, at least in the eyes of it, internally immutable. And so you’ve got that. But pivoting to the IT piece, I want to talk a little bit about, about that. What are some of those changes? It’s not going to change and then it does and you have to suddenly cope with it. What are some of the ones that we’ve either heard about or experienced ourselves?

Kate: 10:08 Well since you guys were poking fun of me a little bit earlier as being a devoted Apple fan girl I will bring up the 2006 when Apple changed from Motorola to Intel processors. That was a huge thing for the Apple community and you know, many of us had spent years structuring these complex arguments as to why RISC processors are better than CISC processors and you know, insisting that megahertz and gigahertz aren’t true measures of processing power. And then all of a sudden, like everything for us was just blown away overnight. Now Macs were Intel based and we kind of had to let go of, you know, our are sworn allegiance to the Motorola chipset.

Leon: 10:56 That’s, I’m going to say funny, not funny ha ha, but I just had, I would never have expected that to be overwhelming to a community. But I can see that the way that you describe it, I can absolutely understand that you had an emotional investment in a particular hardware standard.

Josh: 11:16 Yeah. Well, I think that functional workspace, right? You know, Kate, you talked about defending the position of you know, RISC processors. That’s why it’s good. That’s why it’s the thing that makes Apple as awesome as it is. And we all go through that. You know, I’ve been in the industry long enough that I remember walking into data centers and seeing literally big metal, there were mainframes sitting on the data center floor. The idea that we would virtualize? It blew people’s minds and I was like, I thought that was a great idea. Let’s virtualize, let’s get density. I will admit to being a little slower to adopt a shift to cloud because it, it put in place some barriers to entry for me. When I started my career, I loved the idea of networking, although I’m not a networking engineer, but I loved the idea that you could plug in cables and lights would start blinking and things just work. You know, there was, there was a command line and I actually, I had a reputation for asking questions in class, like “How do you do that from the command line?” But it got beaten out of me. I was that guy. But it got beaten out of me because Windows was the thing, Windows and at the time, a Netware were the platforms for for server managers and that’s where I was headed. We’ve made this swing to having to code, and I don’t code, but everything is code now. Networking is code, storage code, servers are code, everything is code. I’m made a very firm stance early in my career that I didn’t want to code because I wasn’t good at it. I’m still not good at it. I feel like I’m fumbling with 14 hands tied behind my back. I don’t know what the analogy is. I just feel dumb. I feel like I’m the guy smashing his face on his keyboard trying to make things work anytime I code. So I get it. Those shifts are hard, and they’re not hard because we don’t, I don’t want to accept the shift to cloud. It’s hard because it makes me address other deficiencies in myself that I don’t know that I’m 100% ready to address.

Speaker 1: 13:24 And I think that that’s actually a good point is that the change, the changes themselves may not be so troublesome, but they address either inadequacies or perceived inadequacies in ourselves and we don’t like that. We don’t always like to have a mirror held up to it. Sometimes I think it’s not that though. So given a quintessential example, and I think many of us in IT have experienced this, where on Monday the business says, “Hey, you know, this event is occurring,” whether it’s a merger or an acquisition or whatever it is, “but don’t worry, nothing’s going to change for you. Everything’s going to be just fine.” And then Friday, metaphorically, they say, “Oh, by the way, we’re shutting down the location” or “You’re being let go” or you know, “We’re moving this entire department to merge with this other department” or whatever it is. And, whether it happens in days or weeks or months, “You first told me nothing was going to change. And then it did.” And that’s the part that I think a lot of us have a hard time coping with. Don’t tell me that it’s not going to change when you know full well that it is. Enough times in business, things change and everyone says, oh yeah, we had no way of knowing that was going to happen. Those changes are unpredictable and so you just deal with them. But when it’s clearly predictable, that’s the part I think that is more difficult for us in IT to deal with. And I think that’s the whole point of vendors offering what’s known as LTS, Long Term Support, for something, like “We promise we’re not going to pull the rug out from under you for x years.”

Josh: 15:09 I want to make sure that we understand or at least that we agree that IT is not religion. Religion is not IT. There’s certainly some overlap and are dogmatic beliefs on both sides of of the row. But I tweeted earlier today and I’m going to read it, “A gentle reminder that you are more than your nationality, favorite sports team, political party, or religious ideology. Be more than the sum of your parts. Be better than your weakest part. Be human.” And I think that that applies to IT as well. You might have been the person who was responsible for gateway computers, probably cause you liked cows. I don’t know. Just because that is what you’ve always done doesn’t mean it’s what you always need to do. You are more than capable of transitioning and learning something new. And a coworker of mine, Zach, if you’re listening, shout out, he will, he will admit that I am not a great scripter, but I’m also more than capable of being taught how to be an okay scripter, you know? Under his tutelage, I’ve become kind of useful with powershell and I have even remotely built some shell scripts recently. So it’s possible you can be something more than what you thought you always were. And that is really a beautiful thing, both in IT and in humanity.

Leon: 16:31 And I’ve written about that in the past. And I probably will again in response to this podcast about that’s actually not what you are. You might be, you know, a Cisco IOS command line jockey. You might be, you know, you might know everything there is to know about the Apple platform, whatever it is, but that’s not actually what makes you a great IT professional. What makes you a great IT professional is your sensibilities. The fact that you understand how networking works, how hardware reacts with software, how architecture and design and you know an idea converts itself and moves through the pipeline into an actual product. Those are the things that make you a great IT practitioner and those things will persist even when the foundational platform – software or hardware – change. But again, just to drive it back again, the point is that, you know, we know things change, but when we are told something is not going to change and then it does, what do we do about that? So my question does our perspective, our outlook, whether it’s religious or philosophical, whether it’s moral or ethical, does that make it easier or harder to deal with? Kinds of events that you know, we promise it won’t change it than it does. On the one hand, I could see someone saying that if you are heavily religious, you come from a strongly dogmatic frame of view, then you carry with you baggage of what “forever” means. And when a vendor or my employer says “It’s never going to change, we are standardizing on x,” and then they change. That can feel like a betrayal because I brought along, “No, no wait, you said the f word, “forever”, so you know that means something to me and you just broke your promise.” That could be much harder than somebody who might not have, like I said, that baggage coming along with it. I don’t know what, what’s your take on that?

Kate: 18:36 We talked about this a little bit before, but what I found was interesting about that question was that as an atheist, I obviously have a somewhat fluid view of, you know, how the world works and how things are. I am also, technology-wise the quintessential early adopter. I’m the first day that it’s available. I will consume it, upgraded, download it, in any way that I can get the new stuff. I’m on board.

Josh: 19:03 So I think that that makes you Kate an IT relativist. There’s this great thing within Mormonism about moral relativism and how it’s such a bad thing, which that is a whole different discussion, but I think that the very best IT practitioners are those who can balance a bit of that. Conservativis… can’t say that word… Conservativism plus that moral relativism within IT that you see the changes, you’re willing to bring them in, but you do it in a way that requires that you parse them through your personal and your community experience and then say, “Yes, that’s something we actually want to bring in to our enterprise. We’re willing to adopt it.” You need to know about it so that you can also say to someone who has read a shiny brochure or seen a vendor pitch about how amazing a product is and say, “Nope actually that’s not something that we want to do and here’s why.” And being able to speak to a multitude of points. I think makes us great IT practitioners, if you are just that sole sourced individual who only knows about one technology, you’re going to find yourself in some IT challenges. I’ve got a great friend, who coincidentally is also ex Mormon and his name is also Josh. Interesting point. It’s interesting for me to listen to him talk about his challenges within his career. He’s a great DBA. He is actually not just a DBA, but he designs databases and he’s worked on a bunch of different areas and he has really struggled because he thinks that he’s only in that data space. And I want to say to him, “Hey Josh,” which is a little weird cause I’m calling my name, “Hey Josh, you need to understand that you’re better than what you think that you are because first, you’re willing to look at your career and figure out the parts that are really useful for you and you know where your weaknesses are.” That, for me, is the big part. Are we willing to look at what we’re doing today and understand both its strengths and weaknesses and then leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses by adopting other technologies? It would be kind of like me saying, “Hey, Mormonism is still really awesome,” – which I do think. There are some wonderful things about Mormonism, but I also am willing to adopt some ideologies from Judaism. Thank you Leon. And I’m also willing and very open to adopting that moral relativism that comes along with atheism and other non traditional religious beliefs.”

Leon: 21:36 I definitely think, Kate, that we have a new topic idea on the horizon, which is whether or not being staunchly religious makes you more or less likely to be an early adopter of technology. I think as an IT person, I really want to solve that problem because I like new technology and I would hate to think that I’m predisposed as an Orthodox Jew to like not want to do the things. Of course I could be an outlier. I could. So Josh, to your point, I think that that IT is not like religion in the sense that no matter how strongly a vendor or an organization says that something is never going to change, it’s gonna. Right? Yeah. I mean we just know that that’s the nature of IT, is that things are going to change and probably sooner rather than later when you look at the long game. However, I think one of the things that makes this issue, you know – “It’s not going to change,” and then it does – similar in both religious and IT contexts is what we as people hope and expect from that event. Which is, I think, that whoever’s making the change needs to be transparent about it. I think they need to be intellectually honest about it. And they need to be consistent about it. And what I mean by those things is that they need to say that “This change is happening. We saw it coming, even if we couldn’t tell you at the time, but we’re telling you now that we knew it was coming. We just had to,” you know, whatever it was, the merger was coming, but we couldn’t say anything because blah, blah, blah, legal, blah, blah, blah, Wall Street, whatever. Right? Um, it needs to be intellectually honest. We’re doing this because it supports our brand values. It supports our corporate goals. It, you know, whatever. And it needs to be consistent. And I think most of all, if people were hurt by that first statement, this is the way it is. “This is the way it’s always going to be.” And then it changes. And people were hurt. You know, an example that happened a couple of jobs back for me: $5 million investment in a data center, building it out, putting tons of hardware in there, and then they moved to the cloud. What are you kidding me? Like, we just bought all this stuff and the company did say, “We know we hired a lot of you for your depth expertise in on-premises data center operations. And now we’re asking, you – we’re in fact demanding – that you move to a cloud based model. We know that some of you are going to be upset by this. Some of you may want to leave. We’re going to support you in whatever decision you make, but this is the direction we’re going. That kind of statement makes it a lot easier to accept the, “We never will… Oops. We are” kind of thing. And I think just to tie it back to our opening topic. I would hope, although I’m not in the community, but I would hope that a statement is made to the families that were hurt within the Mormon community for, you know, the years of being called, you know, apostates and all that stuff, and say “We’re really sorry about this and we’re going to do what we can to make it better.” I would hope that that statement would be forthcoming. I guess time is going to tell.

Josh: 24:55 Time will absolutely will. Unfortunately Mormonism does not have a history of apologizing. The unfortunate reality of some of the current leadership has come out specifically and said that the church does not ask for, nor does it offer apologies.

Kate: 25:12 A long, long time ago I worked for MCI Worldcom and, if you recall, it is now Verizon business. It was sold to Verizon about 18 months after the CEO promised all of the employees that he was not looking to sell the company. MCI is also a huge company. It had definitely been in the works. So your comment about honesty really struck home with me. Nobody likes to be blindsided by change, but even more, nobody likes to be lied to about it.

Josh: 25:45 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.

Kate: 25:59 To paraphrase and old Greek guy, “the only constant in IT is change.”

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