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S1E29: Tales from the TAMO Cloud featuring Al Rasheed

Did you ever wonder why IT diagrams always use a cloud to show an element where stuff goes in and comes out, but we’re not 100% sure what happens inside? That was originally called a “TAMO Cloud” – which stood for “Then A Miracle Occurred”. It indicated an area of tech that was inscruitable, but nevertheless something we saw as reliable and consistent in it’s output. For IT pros who hold a strong religious, ethical, or moral point of view, our journey has had its own sort of TAMO Cloud – where grounded technology and lofty philosophical ideals blend in ways that can be anything from challenging to uplifting to humbling. In this series, we sit down with members of the IT community to explore their journeys – both technical and theological – and see what lessons we can glean from where they’ve been, where they are today, and where they see themselves in the future. This episode features my talk with friend, sysadmin, Tech Field Day representative, and recurring Technically Religious guest Al Rasheed. Listen or read the transcript below.

Josh: 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: 00:22 Did you ever wonder why it diagrams always use a cloud to show an element where stuff goes in and comes out, but we’re not 100% sure what happens inside. That was originally called a TAMO cloud, which stood for Then A Miracle Occurred. It indicated an area of tech that was inscrutable, but nevertheless something we saw as reliable and consistent in its output for it pros who hold a strong religious, ethical or moral point of view. Our journey has had its own sort of TAMO cloud, where grounded technology and lofty philosophical ideals blend in ways that can be anything from challenging to uplifting to humbling. In this series, we sit down with members of the IT community to explore their journeys, both technical and theological and see what lessons we can glean from where they’ve been, where they are today, and where they see themselves in the future.

Leon: 01:08 My name is Leon Adato, and the other voice you’re going to hear on this episode is my friend and recurring guest on Technically Religious, Al Rasheed.

Al: 01:16 Hi Leon. Thanks for allowingme to participate. As you mentioned, my name is Al Rasheed. I’m a systems administrator. I can be found on Twitter, @ Al_Rasheed, and you can follow me or follow my blog, I should say at I’m a Muslim. I believe in practicing good Karma, in remaining conscious of your decisions in life, and in one.

Leon: 01:40 Okay. And if you are madly scribbling down all those websites and stuff, you can stop and just listen and relax. We’re going to have show notes so that you can find all that stuff without having to write it down. So let’s dive right into it. I want to start off with the technical side of your life. Where, what do you, what work are you doing today?

Al: 02:01 Ah, so currently I’m a systems administrator. I’ve been in it for approximately 15 years plus. Um, I’ve got various certifications. I’ve been, I’ve worked at all different gamuts. I’ve been in the education field for IT. I’ve worked as a federal contractor forITt. I’m a DCVmug leader. I’m also a member of the VMVanguards, the a Vmware Vexperts, Cisco Champion, Nutanix NTC. I’m also Tech Field Day delegate. And most recently I was awarded, uh, with The VMug President’s award at VMWorld 2019 in San Francisco.

Leon: 02:37 Right. I was there for that. So that was kind of exciting. That was amazing to see. Congratulations on that one. Um, okay, so that’s where you are today. All things virtual. Uh, that’s incredible. And it’s always a lot of fun to have. For me, it’s always fun to have friends who have those bases of knowledge because A) I have somewhere to turn when I have a question, but also B) when I get more curious, I can always turn and say, okay, “what’s the cool thing? Like what should I be working on next?” So it’s always neat. Um, but you probably didn’t start off in all the virtual stuff with 15 years. VMWare wasn’t around. So what did you do when you were just starting out?

Al: 03:13 So, just starting out right out of school, uh, relatively new. Uh, I was relatively new to marriage and in my early twenties, I was in retail. And at the time it was a career that I pursued. Also, it was the, um, degree that I pursued in school. Uh, it paid well. It got me through it, provided what I needed at the time, but as my wife and I sat down and started to focus on putting, you know, we were working on a family and then having kids, the along hours got tiresome working from four to midnight and then being back four hours later, uh, gets a little bit old after a while. Again. Weekends weren’t off the, there were long days. And as most of us can really relate, whenever you’re in retail, a customer service customer is always right. Um, but not necessarily, but you have to take your medicine and accept it.

Leon: 04:05 Yeah, it’s a lot of “grin and bear it” kind of stuff. Right. Okay. So that’s where you started, but how did you get from there, from that retail space into where you are today?

Al: 04:16 So, um, I took a chance on myself and when I say myself, that obviously includes my wife and at the time my son, he was about two years old. Um, I jumped into IT into a help desk position. It was a relatively low paying job, but it was a starter. It was a starter role within IT and it was a sacrifice that I was willing to make. Um, but at the same time I held onto my retail job in a part time position to make up for some of the money that I’d lost during this transition. And I held both jobs roughly for about five years. So give or take on average and I’m not making excuses for myself. Everybody’s got to go through this, but it’s, it’s worth the sacrifice and the challenge. Um, for about five years I was putting in 60 to 70 hours a week and that included weekends, but, but I knew there was going to be a reward because IT was booming. Everybody was jumping on it. The Internet had just blown up for lack of better way of putting it. And um, you know, I just wanted just like anybody else, a comfortable… I thought at the time, low stress job. But IT can be stressful. We all know that as well. Um, I don’t have any regrets. I’m glad I did it. It’s definitely elevated me to a point in my life in career, but also provided for my family in areas where I never thought were imaginable.

Leon: 05:36 Great. That’s, that’s, I mean it’s a lot of dedication and as a lot of us who’ve been sort of through that in that time period, you know, those 10 to 15, 20 years ago or (cough) more for some of us, uh, whose beards are a little grayer, it, you know, there is some sacrifice at the, at the beginning, but you see that there is you, there’s a brass ring, you see that there’s a reward at the end and so you’re not just working for the sake of working more. Um, and that’s, that’s an important lesson to take away I think. Um, all right, so we’re going to come back to that, but I want to, I want to flip over to the religious side. This being Technically Religious. So we’re going in order, we talked about the technical, now I want to talk about the religious side of your journey, of your growth. Now I find that labels are really hard for folks. Um, you know, you say, “So what kind of Blah Blah…” whether it’s Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, “…like what kind?” And the answer is always, “Well, I’m sort of this and I’m sort of that…” There’s, there’s always an explanation to go with it. So labels are imprecise, but I’m curious how you would define yourself. Uh, you know, in a religious way.

Al: 06:42 Correct. So as I mentioned, to start off this conversation, I am Muslim, but I would consider myself a conscience, conscious based Muslim, a conscious based religious person. Can I be better? Absolutely. Am I terribly bad? I don’t think so. I know my right from my wrong, I try to convey these lessons learned not only to, you know, for myself but for my wife and my kids, but those around me. And um, we just try to focus on positivity, help others out as best as possible. But you know, when I have to, if I have to look myself in the mirror, I do have a lot of room to grow with and uh, there’s a lot expected of me and um, I can always improve. But there are, you know, religion is a delicate subject depending on who you speak to. It can be interpreted in so many different ways. So I’m trying to be as gentle as possible when I explain how I approach it. Um, because you know, just some people take it to another level and I, I don’t want to A) offend anyone, nor do I want to get into a, a “beef” for lack of a better way of putting it online or on Twitter or however, if I were to see somebody in person.

Leon: 07:47 Got It. Okay. Well I will respect those boundaries too. But, uh, you know, again, I know from our other conversations that you have, you know, a pretty strong point of view for yourself, not for, uh, for anyone else, but you hold yourself to a very high standard and it definitely informs the way that you approach work. And, um, okay, so the same way I asked you about how, where you started in IT and how you got, uh, to, you know, this point in your life. So is this where you are now? Is that where you started? Is that, you know, your sort of level of observance and consciousness, religious consciousness when you started out?

Al: 08:22 I would probably say no. Um, maybe prior to getting married I wasn’t as conscious of everything that’s around me or what’s expected of me as a Muslim or someone that’s following any faith. Um, it’s probably, it probably has to do with just being immature at the time or just, um, not really keeping those ideologies in mind that I think as you get older you start to realize life is a little bit shorter, especially as you become, especially as you become a parent. Um, maybe you want to become, you know, obviously you do want to act as a role model and a mentor and more so when I was more actively involved with my kids’ activities, now that they’ve gotten older, you know, they want to distance themselves from dad and mom because they seem to know everything. But we were just like them. So, you know, when I was younger I was actively involved in like their sports, their activities, but I didn’t necessarily do it for my kids. I also did it for myself in the young people that they were surrounded by. Uh, one thing that I, I really cherish and I, and I can’t get enough of it, is if I happen to see somebody, like one of my son’s friends who I coach, let’s say for example in basketball 10 years ago, so that was my son was 12 years old at the time. They’ll approach me and say hello, Mr Rasheed. And I don’t even recognize them because they changed. You know, they’re now young adults. My son’s 22 and he doesn’t look like he did when he was 12, but you know, they’ll always approach me and they will call me by, you know, my name. But not only that, they’ll take a moment or two and say, “You know what, thank you. Because what you taught us and then has helped us grow to where we are now.” And when it was, when I went up, when I was involved in their lives at that time, it was predominantly around sports. I am a sports junkie, but I tried to also teach them life lessons and I think they’ve taken that and learned from it.

Leon: 10:22 Nice. Okay. So, uh, I think we’ve, we’ve covered your sort of religious journey or your spiritual journey along the way. Um, now what I want to do is talk about blending the two because I know that for people who have strongly held religious, moral, ethical points of view that work in general, and IT specifically can be interesting. I’m not saying it’s a challenge, I’m not saying like it’s a problem, but it creates a set, a set of layers to the work that folks who may not have that strong a point of view don’t always, uh, have to manage or deal with. So I’m curious as a Muslim and you know, as somebody who’s worked for decades in IT, you know, what challenges have you had with that overlap?

Al: 11:12 I think both your career in it and your faith as a Muslim, in my case, they both require an insane amount of patience, especially when you are out of your comfort zone or you don’t live in your faith-based country. Uh, I, you know, I’ve, I’ve been a US citizen for pretty much my entire life. I’ve lived here in this, in the States for my entire life. So I’ve adapted to that culture, that way of life in general. But there are times, especially in IT, and I don’t know why it has to be IT-related or specific to IT, but, um, your patients. Yeah, I want to say your faith, you keep faith in the back of your mind more times than not how you are going to react to a certain situation, especially if there is a potential for it to become unnecessarily, uh, provoked or heated.

Leon: 12:06 Okay.

Al: 12:08 Um, I, as you can relate, many of us in, in this industry, As IT professionals, we’re acknowledged, we’re appreciated, but they don’t know we exist until there’s a problem. And they will let us know when there’s a problem. Nine times out of ten,it’s not done in a manner in which you would prefer to be notified there’s a problem. And so when you’ve got a herd of people coming at you and you’re already well aware of what’s going on and you’re attempting to fix the situation on the back end and try to keep it to a minimum, those are the, uh, those are the opport… Those are the moments where you find yourself questioning, not necessarily why you got into IT, but why do we have to go to this level to report something that can be relatively low key and fixed in a quick amount of time.

Leon: 12:56 Right. But I liked it. I liked the word you almost said – it’s an opportunity to have a chance to first of all reframe their point of view. And again, as somebody who has a strong, you know, moral, ethical, religious point of view to be that, uh, to be that example, to be that role model. Um, sometimes we do end up representing a segment of the population. You know, I know that a lot of times for people who especially don’t know, me personally, I am a 5′ 8″ kippah and you know, seat seat. I’m just this religious dude who’s standing there. And that’s what they see. And so I do recognize that my interactions carry a weight that isn’t just, hey, Leon didn’t handle this well. It, it goes further than that. So you have an opportunity to not only help manage expectations as an IT person, but you have a chance to manage expectations as the whole person who you are standing in front of them.

Al: 14:00 Correct. Correct. And I find it’s not, like I said, it’s not about me when I put it this way. I think it does apply to a lot of us in IT. Honesty can be a challenge. And I’m not saying that we always have to lie, but sometimes you’ve got to beat around the bush to put it mostly because if there is an issue and you’re upfront and you give the end user who the individual, whoever the individual is, that’s asking for an update to the situation, uh, the truth, they may overreact and take it up to another level that’s completely unnecessary. And unprovoked. I’m not saying lie, but sometimes, and I hate to use expression beat around the bush, but kind of just give them as little as possible without putting yourself out there in a tough, in a tough area.

Leon: 14:48 Well, and I would also say that there’s, there’s a way to, you don’t have to say everything right. And that counts for lots of people in lots of situations. That truth is answering the question that you’re being asked. Um, I will never forget that one of my children asked me, you know, ‘Dad, where did I come from?” And so we sat down and had this very long, very specific conversation about biology and when I was done, my childhood, oh cause Bobby’s from St. Louis and I realized I was not being asked the question. I thought I was being asked. And so answering the question that, that you’re being asked, you know, “what’s wrong” is a very open ended question. And if you give too much detail, people can, at best they’ll ignore the answer. But at worst you’re giving them bits of information they didn’t really, they weren’t really looking for in the first place.

Al: 15:47 No, that’s, that’s a valid point. As the kids say TMI, too much information. I totally get it now as we’ve gotten older, but I know we’ve mentioned on previous segments on your podcast, I’ve acted as a mentor in my career in IT, and one of the pieces of pieces of advice that I give to young people getting into IT is keep it – and with all due respect – keep it simple stupid, the KISS method. Don’t go out of your way to offer the end user, whoever you’re explaining this to, an opportunity to twist your words around or maybe they just don’t quite understand what you’re trying to explain to them and then they can convey it incorrectly to someone else that could elevate it to a just a very challenging awkward position to be in.

Leon: 16:32 Okay. So any, any other challenges that you’ve had again with your ethical, religious, moral point of view, blending that with your IT experiences?

Al: 16:42 Um, communication is very important to me. Everyone should have an open door policy. Um, feedback should always be provided in good and bad situations cause we can only improve from it. Um, there are times where if you are going back to the honesty key point, if you are honest and upfront, there is a tendency, not, not necessarily all the time, but the occasionally that it could backfire. And um, it’s, you know, the old expression, “you have to play the game” or “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” I don’t like to be that way. I don’t think anyone wants to be that way. And it’s not something that I would encourage anyone to go down that path or act in that way. Um, but you know, it’s a delicate balance and you just gotta be aware of your surroundings, but do it morally and ethically without not only, you know, putting yourself in a bad position, but your team as well. At the end of the day, you’re a team. You have to function as one and, uh, we have to improve collectively.

Leon: 17:39 Right. And, and again, you want to answer the question you’re being asked, you want to offer the, you know, that those pieces of information don’t overshare because at the end of the day, people, you know, they have a quick question. They want a quick answer usually, especially when something’s really happening in IT. You want to be able to be brief and be brilliant and be gone.

Al: 18:01 Yes, right. And all but, but be authentic, be original. You know, it’s going back to what you just said and don’t try to create something that you’re not cause that that hero mentality sooner or later we’ll come back and get you. And before, you know, you have a reputation of being that type of person and it’s not something that anyone in IT or any, any, any career for that matter wants to be. Because once you’ve been singled out or blackballed or considered this type of individual, it’s really hard to recover from.

Leon: 18:35 It definitely can be. All right. So, so that’s sort of the challenges. But, um, I’m curious if there have been benefits or surprises, uh, or just, you know, positive things that this overlap between your religious perspective and the IT work that, uh, you’ve had. If there’s anything that, that you’ve experienced over the last 15 years.

Al: 18:54 I think getting more involved more recently in the, the community in general, that the community, regardless of what platform it is, has been inspiring for me. It’s opened up so many doors and created so many friendships, including with you and Josh on the podcast. Uh, it’s refreshing to know that there are individuals out there that care for one another, not only from a professional aspect but from a human perspective as well. Because, you know, we work to live and we’d hate to work or we’d hate to live to work. And so I, I, that’s something that I’ve learned over the past few years is, you know, you can put in 70 hours, but it’s, and that’s fine and dandy, but sooner or later it’s gonna catch up to you. And before you know it, you’re not going to be happy professionally. If you can’t do your job in a 40 hour a week. And, and I get it occasionally you have to over your, you know, you have to overextend yourself. You have to sacrifice an hour or two here and there. But when it becomes a consistent part of your life, when you’re putting in 70 hours a day, you’re defeating the whole purpose of everything that you’ve worked so hard to get to.

Leon: 20:00 Right. And again, I think that the, some of the guiding principles of our, our faith lives start to put, to put that into a particular framework of, you know, what are you doing this for? What’s the point? Um, I was listening to someone speak the other day and they said, you know, if someone showed you a machine that was a perfectly self running machine, “Look, I turned it on and it never, it just completely feeds itself!” And you’d say, “That’s wonderful. What does it do?” “Well, it does that, it just, it runs and it, it, it keeps itself moving and it keeps itself oiled and it’s self repairs and stuff.” “Yeah. But what does it do?” “Well, that’s what it does. It just, you know…”, You’d say, “Well that’s cute, but a machine that works so that it works, it doesn’t even make me a cup of coffee. It doesn’t, you know, Polish the dog or like that. That’s sort of a pointless, a pointless machine.” And if we’ve become that pointless machine where we are working so that we can work so that we can keep working so that we can work, it’s that sort of never ending loop. And I think that again, our faiths point us toward like, that’s not it, that’s not what you’re supposed to do.

Al: 21:06 I was just going to say, sorry to interrupt you, but then you do lose sight of faith when you’re working night and day and all you do is think about work, work, work. And I don’t want to come across the wrong way. Um, I, you know, I would hate for someone to characterize me in a different manner. Um, but I, you know, I, I’m a hardworking individual. I’m diligent, I’m thorough. I’ll do the best to my ability. I am a team player, as I pointed out earlier. But you know, at the end of the day, I want to come home and separate work from life.

Leon: 21:37 Absolutely. And I think that when you have that, when you have that ethic, everybody except the most, uh, abusive or small minded people will respect you more for it. Okay. So any final thoughts? Anything? If somebody listening this and saying, “Wow, that sounds just like me except, you know, he’s way further ahead than I am” or whatever. Like what lessons do you want to share? What final thoughts do you want to leave everyone with?

Al: 22:02 I would say based on where my path has taken me, you should always take a risk on yourself, especially if you’ve got an opportunity to do so. Uh, without, you know, without risking a lot, you’ll realize sooner than later that the effort that you put into it, you’ll be rewarded for it in time. Um, if you sit back and wait for someone to do something for you, nine times out of 10, it’s not going to happen, but do it the right way. Um, seek help, uh, become a part of, you know, the various community groups. Um, occasionally, you know, you’ve got to volunteer because you’ve got to give and take. So you can’t have everything, uh, put out on a silver platter. You’ve got to put in the time and effort, the blood, sweat and tears as they say. But a don’t make yourself miserable doing so. And when I reflect back, I, I don’t really have any regrets, uh, with what I chose to do at the time. I’m happy I’m, I’m, I’ve gotten to this point in my life and in my career, but moving forward, I, I still want to elevate and I still want to grow. And, um, I’m looking for that next challenge in my career. And, uh, if that opportunity presents itself for the right reasons, and if that a organization finds, um, that I am the person that they’re looking for, you can always reach out to me. I’m more than willing to have a conversation.

Leon: 23:17 They’d be idiots not to take you. I will, I will go out on a limb and say, Al, it is always so much fun to talk to you. Uh, I know we’re gonna have you back on the Technically Religious podcast here in the near future, but thank you so much for taking some time out of your evening to talk with me.

Al: 23:36 Thank you as always, and I appreciate your time and support and if there’s anything I can do for you, the podcast or anybody in general, you’ve got my contact information, you’re more than welcome to share with me if they reach out to you directly.

Doug: 23:48 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.

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