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S1E21: Convention-aly Religious, part 2

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.

Doug: 00:00 W1elcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have is 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 This is a continuation of the discussion we started last week. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.

Leon: 00:30 Okay. So I think another aspect with food is, um, and you touched on it, dinners out with the team, right? When it’s like, “no, no, no, it’s gonna be a team meeting. It’s going to be a team dinner. We’re all going out.” And uh, again, just speaking for myself, it’s like, “okay, I’m going to have the… Glass of water.

Al: 00:51 Yeah, that’s me

New Speaker: 00:51 “It’s, yeah, it’s, no, it’s fine.” You know, like you want to be a team member, you want to be part of it, but all of a sudden the meeting becomes, at least part of the meeting becomes about Leon and his food issues. Like, I don’t want, I don’t want that to be that either.

Al: 01:06 Right. I was just going to say in some cases, uh, at some conventions or maybe the parties at the conventions, they hand out those drink coupons that you can redeem at the bar. I ended up giving it to others that are with me and I’d get this look like, “Don’t you want to drink?” I’m like, “No, water’s is fine.”

Mike: 01:24 Al, come on. You’re missing a major opportunity here. You got to SELL them. Right. You know, these, these are trades, right? You’re, you know,

Leon: 01:33 So the first episode of Technically Teligious was myself and Josh Biggley, who’s, uh, he’s now ex-Mormon. At the time that we were working together, he was Mormon. And so we we worked together in the same company. And so we had this whole shtick. We’d walk into these spaces and it’s like, “Oqkay, so I’m drinking his beer, he’s gonna eat my chicken wings, and he’s driving me home.” So you just have to find our roles, you know? Yes, yes. Yeah. We just have to find that synergistic relationship where we can, you know, hand things out. So, uh, but yeah, it’s, you know, when they’re handing out coupons for things like, “yeah, thanks.”

Al: 02:13 yeah, “Don’t you want to use it? It’s free. It’s like you’re saving yourself 20 bucks.” “No. I don’t really want it.”

Leon: 02:18 Okay. So, um, moving on. Uh, I think another aspect of, of conventions that can be challenging are just the interactions. Keith, you mentioned, um, just people in general that you don’t like people which, uh, may not be your best advertising or marketing slogan, “CTO, Adviser. I hate people”

Keith: 02:38 Yeah, I’m not what you’d call a people person.

Mike: 02:41 But a lot of people, but a lot of CTOs are introverts, right? Keith? I’m sure of it

Keith: 02:47 That’s absolutely the case. You know what it is, is what I find is that, you know, obviously, um, I’m high profile. So I have to interact with people. Uh, people stopped me in the hall. We have great conversations. Uh, that is actually, I enjoy the interactions at conferences like Vmworld, vMugs, and to some extent AWS because you know it’s kind of the same community that I have on Twitter. What I find exhausting is when I go to something like an open source conference where I have like, I’ve never met these people in slack, I’ve not met them, uh, online, and I have to work so hard to meet people and get out of my, uh, shell. Like when someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, Keith,” I’m like, Oh, okay. It’s, I don’t have to say hello. I the, the, I had this thing when I was a kid. Like I didn’t understand why you had to say hello to someone you saw every day. That kind of didn’t make any sense. Like, I see you every day. Why would I say hi to you every morning? That just doesn’t make any sense. So that’s a carry over I’ve learned, but it’s still exhausting to, uh, to interact and give and give of yourself and be with people. And it’s so many people that want your time.

Leon: 04:06 So that’s, that’s in the, in general. Again, I think a lot of introverts, introverts share that same, uh, challenge. And, and just to clarify, I know we were teasing you earlier is, you know, you’re really good with individuals, with people when you’re having a conversation, you’re not so good with crowds of people. Like that’s the part that like, “I just don’t want to deal with the 800 folks who are standing in front of me right now all trying to get to lunch at the same time. I want all them to go away.”

Keith: 04:32 But you know, Chicago, we have some big festivals here and I, I’d go to none of them. I don’t like amusement parks. I just don’t like crowds. So, you know, the conferences are probably the worst place to go if you don’t like crowds. The one of the reasons I don’t go to the parties at night because it’s just too many people.

Leon: 04:52 And at that point your battery’s empty.

Keith: 04:54 Already because you’ve just spent the whole day. Uh, you know, I go to a Tech Field Day and talk to folks like Al and Mike or whoever and just have a really great time, but I’m exhausted because I’ve spent the whole day socializing. Now I have to go by and be around a bunch of people that I generally don’t know. It’s even tough.

Al: 05:13 I was just going to add, not a knock on any of the conferences again, but what I appreciate the most about Tech Field Day is you’re introduced to your fellow delegates weeks in advance. You have an opportunity to, you know, get to know them in some way, you know, via Twitter, Linkedin or the slack channel. So I think that helps break the ice and it definitely makes it a lot easier when you first meet them for the first time in person.

Keith: 05:36 And then going back to kind of a religious thing, uh, I’m pretty, you know, all of us pretty much where our faiths on our sleeves. No one in the community would be a surprise that we’re, uh, we, that we follow Islam, Orthodox Jew or devout Christian. Uh, one of the other things that is possible

Mike: 06:00 Hopefully, anyway. Hopefully they wouldn’t be surprised.

Keith: 06:00 Especially if you have an evangelistic type faith and your call to share your faith. You know, I’m really not great at that. My wife is awesome at it and it can be really a challenge where I’m at a dinner where I don’t know a bunch of people in a bunch of people don’t know us and Melissa has no problems, you know, saying, “Hey, uh, before we start, can we say kind of a nondenominational prayer before meal” and, and I’m like, oh, I don’t, it doesn’t bother me. But it again is just one of those things. It’s uncomfortable and, and, and, and sometimes our faith calls us to do uncomfortable things.

Leon: 06:37 Right? Yeah. It’s not that you wouldn’t volunteer that as, as readily as she does.

Al: 06:42 I’m just curious, since we’re speaking of faith and saying a small prayer, I’m sure we all do it, but I don’t want to single anybody out. But anytime I fly I always say a prayer and you know, so I’ll clasp by hands together and I’ll say a few words and then I’ll do this. It’ll make this motion. And sometimes I’ll get a look from someone beside me. Like, “what’s wrong with them? Is Everything okay?”

Mike: 07:04 “Is there anything wrong with the plane?”

Al: 07:06 I don’t explain myself. I just stay focused. I stay looking straight ahead. I don’t even get caught up in it.

Keith: 07:12 So I, I do, I do a small prayer too, but, you know, I don’t have, you know, my faith doesn’t have traditions like that where it’s obvious that I’m doing something of, uh, of, uh, of inference and, you know, we talk about it, you know, Leon talking about prayer and this is a theme that’s at conferences. So Scott Lowe a of VMware of, of, VMWare and then Heptio and then at VMware again, uh, at VMWorld does a, a prayer group in the morning. So, uh, it’s common for us, uh, faithful, whether it’s regardless of religion to pray for one another. You know, Leon has three congregations praying for my wife. Uh, so I, I, you know, I really, uh, appreciate that. So, you know, I don’t think there’s anything, uh, uncommon about, I think it’s actually fairly common.

Leon: 08:03 So in, in Orthodox Judaism, there’s a specific traveler’s prayer and, uh, that’s, but I, I think to your point, like on a plane, um, you know, just like there’s no atheists in foxholes. There are very few atheists before the airplane has taken off. I think lots and lots of people are very like, you know, there’s also no atheist right before…

Mike: 08:24 “Do you pray?” Yes I do. “Could you pray for us?”. Yes. Okay.

Leon: 08:26 Yeah. Yeah. It’s also, you know, it, you’ll still find the same sort of, uh, preponderance of prayer right before a pop quiz the teacher just called. Like lots of people will, you know, I think it’s the same sort of reaction there. That’s, that’s less, uh, I think that’s less uncommon or less confusing for folks. Um, then again, at the team meeting, you know, at the, I’m sorry, at the team dinner where, you know, all of a sudden it’s like, “But, uh, I have to go wash my hands and then I can’t talk between washing my hands and eating this bread.” And like, then, and people want to have this conversation. I was like, “Mmm. uh-huh” like, you know, so it becomes an interesting, uh, hiccup or, you know, an awareness thing.

Mike: 09:13 Well, I think it just, I think it just adds richness, you know, I, as long as it’s honest. Okay. So in Christianity, there’s a couple of stereotypes that you don’t want to become. You don’t want to become the holier-than-thou person. You know, “oh, well, you know, if you were real Christian.” You wouldn’t do that. Right. You don’t want to be the in-your-face Christian. Right. Who is, you know, preaching to people the entire time. Right, right. But if you’re just sort of, you know, walking your faith. Um, so one of the things that happens to me almost all the time is that people will say, “oh, Mike, yeah. So good to see you,” or “So good to meet you.” You know, and, and we’ll, we’ll talk about children, right. They’ll ask me. “So, you know, are you married?” “Yeah, my wife and I are empty nesters.” Okay. “So, well do you have any kids?” “Yes, I’ve got a 30 year old son and a 28 year old daughter.” “Well, what are they doing?” “Well, my son is in the army, you know, and he’s been deployed twice and now he’s getting into navigators, which is, uh, army discipleship ministry. And my daughter is a missionary in Cambodia.” And so, you know, that just opens up a whole rich conversation about why and what’s going on and how did they get there? And you know, what’s their goal and how does that impact you? “Gosh, your son was deployed, you must’ve been on your knees the whole time,” you know, all of this stuff. So to me, I really see there’s really no way around unless you really get into a shell. There’s really, I mean, faith just, you know, always comes up. You know what I mean?

Leon: 10:57 It certainly, it certainly can. And I think also it comes up in ways that, especially at conventions, that are either unexpected or I’m going to say, uh, not normal. And I don’t mean like abnormal, but what I mean is that when we’re home and we’re in our neighborhood, we’re in our space, certain kinds of interactions just don’t come up because we structured our lives around around not having them. Um, and an example that I’ll, an example I’ll use is that, um, in, in Orthodox Judaism, generally speaking, men and women don’t touch. It just, you know, unless somebody is, you know, it’s, it’s your kid or whatever, you just, you know, there’s no, there’s no hugging, there’s no any of that stuff. It’s just, yeah, so here I am working in the booth and people are coming up of, you know, all different types and you know, whatever. And all of a sudden, you know, you’ve, people have extended their hand. Now what’s interesting is that having that, that physical contact is not a sin. It’s not a problem. It’s just not, it’s just not done. I’ll say it’s not done and it’s not done for particular reasons, but it’s not like you violated a tenant of your faith to do it. It’s just not done. What’s worse is publicly embarrassing somebody. That is actually akin to like murder, you know, really like it’s, you know, considered, right? So if, if a person, if a woman puts her hand out, I am going to shake her hand like absolutely no doubt about it. But over the course of multiple days. After a while it just becomes tiring. Like every time a woman puts her hand down, it’s like, of course I’m going to shake your hand. Of course I’m would be gracious. Of course I’m doing it. But it is something that is contra. It’s just contra normal to my normal experience and it feels like that. And so, uh, you know, those kinds of of interactions are still religious and they’re still, you know, happening. But you have to find ways to navigate them. I, I don’t know if you folks have had, you know, any other like things that push those limits in any way. Um,

Al: 13:09 I guess if I’m approaching, a Muslim woman that’s wearing hijab, and I don’t know her. There is a bit of, there is a moment of awkwardness. I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’m, I’ll probably wait for her to initiate the conversation where, or the handshake per se. But uh, in terms of, you know, hugging and whatnot. Yeah. You know, sometimes you just have to know your limits.

Mike: 13:38 Now as a Christian, Al, should I be doing that too? I’m just curious. Should I be waiting for them to initiate a conversation if I, if I’m approaching somebody with hijab?

Al: 13:49 Um, probably so to be honest with you, and to Leon’s point it is slightly awkward. It’s not fair to both parties. There is a sense of uneasiness. But I would, if you asked me my opinion and I’m a, I’m a Muslim, as I mentioned, I would allow the lady in this case to, uh, initiate the, um, the, uh, the handshake or the greeting.

Keith: 14:14 Yeah. That makes a point of lot of a, a lot of these conferences are international and you get not just religious cultures, but different cultures in general, you know, giving the thumbs up to the wrong culture who, you know, looks completely different than a thumbs up here in the US or the “OK” sign. You know, it’s, so, it’s, it’s one of those things that I try to be… It’s like Twitter in real life. Like you can easily offend another person, uh, just by your body language and gestures or saying hi or not saying hi.

Leon: 14:51 Yeah. I think, yeah, that cultural sensitivity, it puts the concept I’m going to use, I mean there’s a word that started a little bit charged in today’s society, but it’s, it’s, it puts the concept of consent. Did that person invite that contact or that interaction? Again, you know, the thumbs up sign or whatever it was, you know, you in one respect, it’s nice to be aware, sensitized or sensitive to that, but a, in another it’s, you know, again, it challenges us in some very particular ways.

Al: 15:23 I think it’s situational awareness. It just depends on the situation you’re in, the surroundings you’re in and just making good judgment and as long as you have good intent, I think ultimately that’s what really matters.

Mike: 15:34 Well, I think one of the problems, one of the challenges with conferences in particular is that they have a tendency of of amping up the adrenaline that’s coursing through your body. You got all these people, you know, if you’re, if you’re in sales or business development, you got all these prospects around, you know, you’ve, you’ve also got the glitz and glamour of the location. You know, these places are always in nice places, you know, and so not something that you normally do. You know, gee, this is like a pretty nice place, you know, and then, then you have the, the alcohol, right? The effects of alcohol. And then you have the effects of travel, which we talked about before, um, where you’re tired or you’re suffering from jet lag. And so, you know, it changes your whole, you know, you would like, you know, how many times have you heard somebody come back from a conference and tell some story in the board room, you know, the next day about, “hey, did you see what that person did? Can you believe they did that?” You know, but this is what happens at conferences. So you really, you know, it’s even extra important for us that are really out there with our faith, uh, to really be careful with what we’re doing.

Leon: 16:58 Well, and I’ll just, I’ll add onto that, that along with the social lubricant and things like that, I think there’s also a lot of folks running around feeling a lot of pressure in the sense of, uh, you know, maybe they’re looking for their next job or maybe they’re a little starstruck. You know, you’ve got some of these big CEO, CIOs, uh, or people like, yeah, I mean, and, and as much as you know, I want to tease Keith, the fact is the reality is that you’re a very visible face and if somebody has been following you on Twitter and finally gets a chance to meet you and say a few words to you, it’s easy to imagine them sort of losing some filters along the way.

Keith: 17:37 People feel like they know you in and there’s nothing wrong. They mass share a lot of my life, uh, you know, end the public. So, you know, a lot of people are going on this journey with me and wife. So, you know, when they see Melissa, uh, if she makes it to VMWorld, when they see her, there’s going to be like this automatic feeling that they know them. You know, we don’t have any women on the podcast today, and maybe it’s a good topic for future podcasts. You know, we get, um, Melissa or some of the wives on to talk about their experiences in the community and around the community. But, uh, you know, I absolutely have been in those situations. I, I’m in that situation sometimes when I walk up to a, somebody who I’ve been following them on Twitter for years, I’m like, “Oh, Larry, don’t… Wait. How do, how do you not know me?” Like I’m certainme and Michael Dale are like best friends, right? Security felt otherwise the first time I tried…

Leon: 18:36 Right? Right. Exactly. So, so there’s all those pressures.

Leon: 18:40 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.

Destiny: 18:49 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: 19:03 Hey, there’s this great convention happening next week in Cleveland who’s in?

Everyone: 19:06 (a lot of nope)

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