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Catch-Up: Convention-aly Religious

Last year CiscoLive overlapped with Ramadan which was not a lot of fun for the Muslim attendees. This year it conflicts with Shavuot, requiring observant Jews who planned to attend to arrive a week in advance. Add those challenges to the normal stress an IT person with a strong religious, moral, or ethical POV has: finding a place to pray, navigating how “outwardly” they want to present as a religious person (and if that’s even a choice), managing work-mandated venue choices for food and “entertainment” that push personal boundaries, etc, and it’s a wonder we’re able to make convention attendance work at all. In this episode, I speak with Mike Wise, Al Rasheed, and Keith Townsend about how they make conventions not only possible, but a positive experience religiously as well as professionally. Listen or read the transcript below.

Dez: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways we make our career as it professionals mesh – or at least not conflict – with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon: 00:24 Last year, Cisco live fell squarely in the middle of Ramadan, which created a challenge for followers of Islam. Here in 2019 it coincided with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, meaning that many observant Jews had to skip or cut short their attendance. Between these special situations and the more common stresses of finding a place to pray – sometimes multiple times a day; navigating dozens of interactions where we find ourselves explaining our religious limitations regarding food, venues, and even personal contact; and asserting boundaries between the requirements of our work and the tenants of our faith. Between all those challenges, it’s a wonder we choose to attend conferences and conventions at all. In this episode, we’re going to hear from a few folks about how we survive and even thrive in this environment. While holding strong to our religious values or moral or ethical points of view. I’m Leon Adato and the other voices you’re going to hear on this episode are: Al Rasheed, who’s a sysadmin for a federal contractor.

Al: 01:16 Hello!

Leon: 01:17 Welcome to the podcast.

Al: 01:19 Thank you.

Leon: 01:20 Mike Wise, a freelance consultant in insurance technology and specializing in blockchain.

Mike: 01:26 Hello.

Leon: 01:27 And finally a returning guest, Keith Townsend from CTO Advisor.

Keith: 01:31 Well evidently the unedited version of the podcast hasn’t gotten me kicked off . Halooo

New Speaker: 01:36 Right. I’m not going to give the number, but there is one where I forgot to post the edited version. So before we dive into this topic, I want to give everyone a chance for some shameless self promotion. Al why don’t we start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Al: 01:51 So I’m a SysAdmin here in the northern Virginia area for a federal contractor. I am a Palestinian American, born in Jerusalem and a, I am Muslim as well. You can find me on Twitter @Al_Rasheed. And my blog post is also listed on my Twitter profile. It’s

Leon: 02:15 Perfect. Mike, how about you next?

Mike: 02:18 Yeah, so thanks a lot for having me on the show. I’m, you can find me at “MikeY07” on pretty much every social channel including Twitter. I’m doing a lot of tweeting. I’m also sharing a lot on Linkedin and my website is It’s a play on my name.

Leon: 02:40 Nice. Keith, for those people who might’ve missed the other episodes you’re in, where can we find you?

Keith: 02:45 @CTOAdvisor on the Twitters, which my daughter hates to say And you can find the blog,

New Speaker: 02:54 Great. And just around things out. I’m Leon Adato. You can find me on Twitter, on “the twitters”, I’ll say that just to make a Keith’s daughter’s skin crawl. You can find me there @LeonAdato. And my blog is And as a reminder, all of the links in all the things that we’re talking about today are going to be in the show notes. So if you’re scribbling madly, don’t worry about it. There is a place where this is all written down. So where I want to start with this just for a little bit is to talk about how conventions are challenging in general. A lot of folks who listen to this podcast may not be lucky enough, have the privilege to go to conventions, and maybe you’re thinking “It sounds like a vacation man! You go to Vegas or Orlando, it’s nothing but fun. You get to go to…” You know. So why are conventions challenging, just generally speaking? And I’m going to start this one off and say that you have to deal with time zones, sometimes two or three. I actually have one of my coworkers, Sascha Giese is from Germany, so he’ll travel four or five times zones, not to mention 12 hours at a shot to get to some of these places. So you’re just generally exhausted and generally sort of strung out. And then you have to hit the ground running, attending classes and you know, your brain has to be at it’s peak performance. So that’s one of the first things that people don’t expect. What else is there?

Keith: 04:14 Well, I hate people.

Everyone: 04:15 (laughter).

Mike: 04:15 People suck.

Keith: 04:20 You know what? For someone with 7,000 plus whatever Twitter followers and as much social media that I do, crowds are just too much for me. VM world is going to be 20-something thousand. AWS Reinvent it’s 47,000 and I go and I just get exhausted.

Keith: 04:35 Right. So yeah, if you’re, if you’re not an extrovert, if you’re an introvert, then that by itself can be draining. Absolutely. What else? Al, you had something we talked about before we started.

Al: 04:46 Staying in touch with your spouse and or your kids. I’m fortunate where my wife has tagged along on some recent conferences with me. Also we’re, we’re blessed because both of our kids are old enough to mind for themselves, care for themselves. But you always have to remain in contact, keep tabs on them and just make sure they’re safe.

Leon: 05:02 Yeah. No matter how old they are, that never ends.

Mike: 05:06 It’s a juggling act between personal and professional.

Leon: 05:09 Yeah. You definitely have to juggle. So, not only the wife and kids, the spouse and kids, but also Mike, to your point, you have to juggle other aspects of your life too, right?

Mike: 05:19 Yeah, that’s right. We’ve got, you know, we all live in the blur, right? And so we’ve got personal stuff going on. We’ve got professional stuff going on, we’ve got community things that we’re involved in. Board, you know, everything’s constantly happening at the same time and it’s all going right through our mobile device. So it’s really challenging.

Leon: 05:39 Yeah. There are times when you’re walking through a convention and you don’t even know you’re there because the screen in front of you is taking precedence over it. All right. So for those people who haven’t been to conventions, that’s just a taste of why they’re not a vacation. There can be, there can be aspects of it that are vacation-like, and I think that it’s important for those of us who attend conventions often to find those moments. Al, to your point, seeing if a spouse or even kids can tag along. I know that recently Phoummala Schmidt, brought her daughter along to a whole series of Microsoft events. And it was a real eye opener for both of them. Her daughter got to see what Mom does and the kind of people that she interacts with; and Mom got to show this whole other like, “No, I’m not just going out for drinks or whatever. Like there’s real work happening.” So those are the ways in which conventions are challenging…

Mike: 06:36 Yeah. Yeah. So, so the other, one of the other ways that the conventions are challenging, and they’re definitely not like some sort of vacation… You know, unless, and I’ve started to do this more and more often, is I schedule a day ahead or a day on the back end, to make them into some quiet time somewhere, you know, if I’m going to some place that’s awesome, and I know the convention is just going to be nonstop one after another, three days of hard running the whole time. I’ll schedule my return flight for 24 or 48 hours later so that I can go and go to some sort of temple or some landmark or something like that and debrief and decompress after that. Keith, I would think that, for an introvert that would be super helpful just to check out for 24 hours, you know?

Keith: 07:39 I don’t do many of the parties at any of the conventions though. I’ll meet the rare exception, like run DMC was at VMWorld last night, you know, it’s run DMC, so you’re going to do that. Uh, but you know, about one o’clock in the morning and I’m pretty, you know, tired of people. So for the most part at night, I don’t normally do the big events just because, you know, I spend so much of the day, I’m visible in the, in, in most of these conferences and I get to kind of the tough part, like where I’m not known at conferences are actually even worse than conferences that I’m known at.

Al: 08:20 And if I could go back to Mike’s Point, I guess it does depend on where you’re going, if it’s a unique location. So for example, for me, I’m Cisco and Tech Field Day were kind enough to allow me to join them for Cisco Live Europe in Barcelona and I hadn’t flown overseas in over 25 years, so I took full advantage of that opportunity. I arrived two days early, did some sightseeing and I was able to kind of just chill, relax, take in the sights and sounds and the rest of the week was relatively straightforward, very easy going, not very stressful at all, but there was a lot involved. Don’t get me wrong, but it definitely helped the cause.

Mike: 08:58 That’s a really good thing to do, to go early and get acclimated. You know, the other thing too is when something happens, when you’re at an event that is a significant event. You know I’ll never forget the time I was at a conference and Columbine happened. Right. There. So that was a major event and brings up all kinds of interesting dynamics associated with that particular event – whatever it is. You know, I know people that you know, were at an event when 9/11 happened. I know people that were an event when that Las Vegas shooting happened a couple of years ago. So how do you deal with that? Especially if you’re known to be religious?

Leon: 10:03 So we’re going to to dovetail into that in a minute, but I think, to both of your points, that I was just saying – for people who don’t get to go to conventions, why are connection challenging? But I think just as meaningfully for folks who DO go to conventions and may feel like they’re heading toward that burnout phase, that’s really good advice is to schedule some extra time so that A) you feel like you’re getting some personal time. Some “me time” as you might call it, associated with the event if you can. And then Mike, to your point, when, when something big happens in the world that does change the entire nature of it – of the, of the event – all of a sudden it becomes about something much larger than just, you know, Keith, you said 40,000 people at reinvent, it’s not just 40,000 people reading it. It’s 40,000 people who are all having a shared national or international experience away from home, away from kids, away from their support network. And so everyone sort of becomes the support network for each other. And that can be somewhat transformative. And I think Mike, where we are going with that is, is the next part of this topic, which is: not just the ways conventions are challenging or, or different for everybody, but as people with a very particular religious or moral or ethical point of view, what do conventions represent? You were all talking about taking extra days before and after. So, as an Orthodox Jew, the trick for me is that for the Sabbath, for Shabbat, I’m completely offline. Anything with an on off switch can’t be touched. So I can’t fly, I can’t travel. And even where I stay, hotel rooms become interesting if they have electric doors or you know, entrances that are only… You know, like it becomes this, this piece of calculus that is tricky. So I was at Cisco Live Barcelona last year and my wife and I went out, my wife happens to have been born in Spain, but we came out several days ahead of time so that we could be there in time for the Sabbath. And we stayed several days after. But it creates this even larger buffer, which I’m sorry to say, you know our, I’m happy to say if it’s Barcelona, if you’re in Spain, not such a problem, like who’s going to complain about some more extra days in Spain?

Keith: 12:28 Oh, I’ll throw you a in Chicago in February, you will see.

Leon: 12:33 Right. Okay. Right, exactly. So this past Cisco live with it being Shavuot, I had to come out on Thursday. And Friday night I just sort of hunkered down and I was in the city, in my hotel room, but those next three days, offline – from Friday night through Saturday night, which was Shabbat, and then Sunday and Monday, which was the holiday of Shavuot, were all offline. And it became very complicated. And being away from family was tricky. So scheduling can be an interesting thing.

Al: 13:04 That’s a lot of discipline. I’ll give you a lot of credit.

Mike: 13:06 Yeah, really

Leon: 13:07 You know what, we knew what we were getting into, me and the family and, uh, I will tell you lessons were learned, and we will probably just opt to skip a convention if it happens like that again because it was not the experience I wanted. But I appreciate the support. Okay, so scheduling, like I said, scheduling can be tricky for us with religious points of view. Not just scheduling getting there, getting home. But also daily scheduling, finding time and a place to pray. So I’m curious if you’ve had any sort of experiences about that?

Al: 13:44 Not necessarily. I mean, you can always find a location to pray if one is not provided. But for example, Cisco live in Europe (and I’m sure the same here in the US) they provided a prayer room for all religions to use, which I found very convenient, very kind to them. It actually caught me off, I guess caught me by surprise. Maybe I’d never seen it or stumbled across such a thing. So I thought it was a nice gesture on their behalf.

Leon: 14:08 So I saw the same thing. I was ecstatic. I actually took a selfie in the room. I was, you know, had my tallit and tefillin on. I’m like, “THIS IS AWESOME!!” So, uh, it was really wonderful. Not only was it a room to pray, but they had removed all iconography. There was no, like, sometimes you’ll find a place and they’ll be crosses up or something like that. And it can be very challenging for some folks. Where like, “well, wait, but that’s not my space.” They just made it a very generic space. Cisco live us does not do that, just FYI. But it was deeply appreciated, especially because, you know, you’ve got to duck away for three times a day or five times a day. And it’s like, “No, I got a place, like there’s a room.” I find a corner. I literally just like walk off the floor and find a corner to stare at a wall. Like, “What’s he doing?” Like, “Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”

Mike: 14:55 So you’re in the middle of your prayer. You know, you’re doing this heavy duty, some heavy lifting on prayer time with God and all of a sudden some guy comes in and starts taking selfies cause he’s so excited that there’s a prayer room.

Al: 15:10 That’s a good point.

Leon: 15:13 Okay, so the room was empty. I was not, I was not going to take my enthusiasm. I was going to curb my enthusiasm if anybody else was in the room. But in fact it was, the room was, was all, it was all clear.

Mike: 15:27 I’m so glad you were sensitive about that.

Keith: 15:28 Al you missed the chance to say “a Jew and a Muslim walking into a prayer room.”

Leon: 15:33 I…

Al: 15:34 I wanted to but I didn’t know how that would come across.

Leon: 15:36 No, no, no, no. I I keep on waiting. I keep on waiting for that opportunity for like, you know, for, for the, the folks who follow Islam and, and you know, the Jews are like, “Yeah, we got to do that. Okay, this is our room? All right, cool. Great!”

Mike: 15:50 So Jew and a Muslim and a Christian go into the prayer room at Cisco Live…

Al: 15:57 I like that Mike. That’s, that’s a good one.

Keith: 16:00 That’s literally the joke.

Leon: 16:03 That’s the tagline for the entire podcast. Okay. Okay. So finding a time and a place to pray. So with the prayer room, that was wonderful. But have found that breaking away, you know, if I’m in the middle of a session, a class or I’m in the middle of a conversation, realizing that… So for Orthodox Judaism, there are specific times that you pray – windows in which you can pray. And the windows are hours long. But sometimes you realize, “oh my gosh, the day is getting away from me.” So finding both the time and the ability to break away is a challenge. I don’t know if it’s a challenge for any you folks.

Al: 16:42 It could be. I mean, you can always make it up as long as, at least the way I feel, you have the intent, uh, you’re doing it for the right reasons. You’re not doing it to show off or gather attention. You know, it’s, it’s, there’s a purpose behind it and in its most times in that it’s respected. It’s not a big deal.

Leon: 16:59 So another challenge that I think folks with religious points of view have a with conventions is just eating, just finding food. Now a lot of conventions will have options. In fact, I remember laughing because of the two dozen different dietary options. One was “gluten free, low sodium halal.” Like that was incredibly specific.

Al: 17:21 It’s pretty detailed

Leon: 17:22 But not always. Um, so I dunno what’s, what kind of food challenges have you run into being a conventions?

Keith: 17:32 So every now and again I’ll do a “Daniel fast” where, you know, I’m not eating any meat or choice foods. You find that it’s hard to find non-choice foods during a convention. And the other thing is that you know, you, and this is a, a challenge that you know, vegans and vegetarians have. And then when you go for meals at night, like the convention will at least have Vegan options. When you go to dinner with your friends at night? You know, my Tech Field Day brethren love their steak. And it can be really difficult to find some place. So, you know, that’s happened to me more times than I would like where I, where I had bad timing, where I did this fast, that didn’t allow me to eat choice foods. Great thing about it is that it, you know, the purpose of it is for me to pray and, and be reminded of my sacrifice, the bad part about it. There’s a lot of times for it to feel like it’s a sacrifice.

Al: 18:40 I think for me the biggest challenge, if any, the food options are most times are readily available and most conferences do accommodate, you know, the needs of the specific religion. You know, my case hello, but sometimes it’s a, it’s disappointing to put it nicely when food is not labeled properly. That’s probably the easiest thing to accommodate.

Mike: 19:05 What’s an example of that, Al?

Al: 19:07 If there’s a tray of food, like for example, I don’t want to, I don’t want to call it a specific company or conference, but let’s just say it’s a buffet style set up and they have trays of food, one behind the other, and there’s no label, it’ll just tell you, let’s say for example, “chicken”, but there are other ingredients that you can see for yourself, but you’re not necessarily sure what they are.

KeithSpeaker 6: 19:31 Yeah. So I’m Al’s food taster. So I go in and Al is like “Is there any pork in here?” You know what, Al, I will let you know if there’s pork in this chicken dish.

Al: 19:42 Right. But I appreciate you, Keith. But also for, uh, for allergy related reasons as well.

Keith: 19:49 Yeah. Right. Like I’m allergic to peanuts and there’s not always obvious that peanuts are in, in, in a dish.

Leon: 19:56 So one of my coworkers, Destiny Bertucci, who’s another voice you’ll hear on, Technically Religious has a gluten free diet, and finding things that are really gluten free… And I think we’ve also also run into the well-intentioned, clueless staffer, you know, who’s like, “Is any of this, is any of this kosher?” “Oh yeah. I’m pretty sure that over there is kosher.” It’s like “that’s bacon.” Yeah.

Keith: 20:32 That reminds me that during the superbowl my vegetarian option for chili is a chicken chili. For vegetarians. I have the chicken chili.

Mike: 20:43 Oh, okay. Yes, of course.

Leon: 20:45 Yeah. You know, so there’s no like, you know, gluten free. It’s like, “I see there are croutons on that salad.” What are you, what are you doing? So you have to be sort of vigilant. And I like, I like the idea of having a taster, having like a designated person to help out with that. And you know, Al to your point about like, well, what was the, you know, was it, um, sauteed in a wine sauce?

Al: 21:09 That could be the case as well.

Leon: 21:11 Yeah. Yeah. So for a lot of us, especially those of us who have much more strict dietary needs, the conventions become a big building full of, “nope.” Like, “can you have this?” “Nope.”

Al: 21:23 You end up eating like a rabbit.

Mike: 21:25 Which is, which isn’t bad by the way. Right? It’s a good opportunity to, uh, like, uh, Keith was saying before, you know, sort of sacrifice, right? Uh, what do they call it? A asceticis, right? Yeah.

Leon: 21:37 Right. Well, you become very sensitized both to the, the, the choices that you’ve made. And also you become very sensitized to the blessing of having food available. So, you know, in one respect, when, when you do, you know, when I do go to a convention and there was one point, I remember it was Cisco Live Europe in Berlin and they put out a, and normally those buffets that you were talking about or just again, “nope”. Like, I don’t even look, I’m not like, “nope. Nope. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not”. Um, and, and my coworker is like, “we’ll just go look.” You might have something like, “no, huh-uh, ain’t going to do it.” There was an entire set of coolers full of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream pints, which is kosher, and I just like, I’ll be having seven of these.

Al: 22:28 Can I have it delivered to my room?

Leon: 22:29 Yeah, it was great. Like, but the point wasn’t like I gorge myself. The point was I was so grateful. I felt such a, an a huge moment of, “wow, what a blessing this is.” That it was wonderful and I was giddy from it. So that’s, that’s sort of the, the other side of it. When it happens,

Leon: 22:47 We know you can’t listen to our podcast all day. So out of respect for your time, we’ve broken this particular conversation up. Come back next week and we’ll continue our conversation.

Doug: 22:57 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.

Leon: 23:10 Hey, there’s this great convention happening next week in Cleveland who’s in?

Everyone: 23:14 (grumbling, excutes, nope)

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