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Catch Up: Tales From the TAMO Cloud with Jesse Nowlin

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 the founder of TABGeeks, Jesse Nowlin. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon (00:32):

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 careers as IT professionals mesh or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon (00:53):

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 (01:39):

My name is Leon Adato, and the other voice you’re going to hear on this episode is Jesse Nowlin.

Jesse (01:45):

Hi everyone.

Leon (01:45):

As is there a want on Technically Religious. We don’t make the uh, audience wait to hear all the good stuff the juice news about our guests. So Jesse, you’ve got a moment here for shameless self promotion. Tell us who you are, where you work, what’s going on in your life, and just remember to tell us, uh, what your religious or ethical and moral point of view is somewhere in there.

Jesse (02:06):

Yes. So first off, I’d like to say start by saying, thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be on your podcast and on the other side of the mic so to speak, I’ve got my own podcast as well. Just finished recording an episode. So it’s fun to be on the other end now, or on the receiving end of this, I am the founder and head geek at a company called Tab Geeks, which is a conference for a small to mid-size IT support professionals. We focus on a sponsor free show that is focused on the content and not a pitch session, which many of the largest shows are, or only on a particular type of product line. Whereas most people in small to midsize companies, you’ve got everything from working on the printer to the coffee machine is under your purview. And there really isn’t very much in the way of other conferences out there that are addressing all of those in a show.

Jesse (02:59):

So we’ve built a community in the conference, uh, focused on training on those particular topics. Again, it’s sponsor free. Our stage is kind of like, uh, the Holy ground. You can’t go up there if you’re a sponsor. We don’t even have sponsors on, uh, on our, uh, we don’t even have sponsors at the conference at all or in our Slack channel, which is a, another safe space for IT to be able to just come ask for for help and uh, and even vent sometimes and my day job because that’s not enough to keep me busy on top of being a father of two kids under three, I also am, I am also the CTO of a 500 employee real estate company that has about 75 offices across three States and I manage all of that with a team of five IT professionals. And I as you go into this, in the beginning of the podcast you asked me to mention the religious affiliation. Obviously that’s the point of this podcast. I am an Orthodox Jew and I have found that for me, being able to take that break every week is one of the things that has helped me to avoid burnout and has helped keep me sane in this industry.

Leon (04:07):

Awesome. Okay. We’re going to get, definitely get into that more. Um, any, how can people find you on social media if they wanted to find you someplace, where would they go?

Jesse (04:16):

Yeah, so I’m on all the major platforms. I am @MrJNowlin on Twitter or @TabGeeks. If you want to check out the uh, the tech community that we’ve got on LinkedIn, I’m just Jesse Nowlin, Facebook, I’m just Jesse Nowlin and uh, I’m active on all of them posting all kinds of content. We’ve also got our Tab Geeks website is tabgeeks.com. And our Slack is tabgeeks.com/slack.

Leon (04:46):

Fantastic. All right, so I’m going to round this out. Uh, I am Leon Adato. I am my actual title, my official title is head geek. Uh, I took the job sight unseen when they told me that was going to be able to be on my business card. I work for a company called SolarWinds, which is another solar nor wind. It’s a monitoring software vendor because naming things is hard. You can find me on the Twitters @leonadato. I pontificate about things both technical and religious at www.adatosystems.com and I also identify as an Orthodox Jew. And if you are frantically scribbling that stuff down, trying to figure out whether it was two W’s or three or whatever, uh, stop. There’s going to be show notes with all the links to everything that we’re talking about today. Uh, so you don’t have to do that.

Leon (05:31):

Just sit back, relax and let the awesome wash over you. Um, okay. So I want to dive into the structure of this now. This is the tales from the TAMO cloud. You know, where we talk about our journeys both through the world of tech and religion. And I want to start off with the technical stuff. So tell me a little bit more, you sort of gave us a sketch, but tell me more about what your work is on a day-to-day basis, whether that’s with Tab Geeks or as part of the real estate firm, you know, what is, what is your daily job look like today?

Jesse (06:01):

So day to day, uh, during the day I’m at the real estate gig as I mentioned before, and that is managing a team of five people, uh, which is a challenge of handling the amount of employees that we have to support with that amount of people. That’s not the greatest of ratios from what I’ve been able to see in my research. Um, I’ve recently been doing a lot of research into this area because we, over the last couple of years, the real estate company grew, uh, pretty much tripled in size in the last three years. And I came on about four and a half years ago and when I started, it was just me and one other guy and he had been shipping computers in from Vegas to California when they would break. And it was literally like a 10 day turnaround time for a computer that had, that had gone down. But if you’re not, not counting, of course the costs that it would take to ship it, the downtime costs and the fact that the people didn’t have anything to work on in the meantime.

Leon (06:55):

I’m sure the end users were delighted with that. I’m sure they loved every part of that.

Jesse (06:59):

To be honest. They didn’t really know anything better. They were using Pentium 4 computers on a, um, Exchange 2003 mail server. And this was four years ago. This is, we’re now in 2020 is, you know, in terms of, uh, the, the forever evergreen content of podcast world. We’re now in 2020. And this was only a couple of years ago. I’ve only just, uh, recently managed to get rid of the Windows 2000 domain that’s been running for a long time because there was just so much other stuff that needed to be done. Uh, the first thing I did when I came on was up the internet from a 80 meg shared cable coax internet line to a 200 meg synchronous, you know, proper internet connection and get everybody off that exchange server and onto G suite. So I’m a, I’m a big G suite fan and um, you know, so that’s, that’s pretty much what’s going on in the day job. We um, have been working, in why I mentioned that I do a lot of that research or have been doing a lot of that research is because, we scaled so much, we haven’t really had time to catch up. We were just duct taping things almost literally just to get them working. And so now we’ve been taking time to pull back and reorganize and create policies and procedures and actually get this stuff standardized. And uh, I hope to actually write a book on this one day. Managing a small to mid size IT department.

Leon (08:19):

That’s fantastic. Okay. So that’s where, where you are today,

Jesse (08:22):

right. So that’s the day job and that I come home, eat dinner, well come home and put my kids to bed, eat dinner and then work for two or three hours a night on Tab Geeks doing podcasts and content and stuff like that. And you asked, um, you know how I got into it and you know, where, where all this came from. I’ve been into tech, uh, since I was a kid. I’ve told the story before on my podcast that I was, uh, my earliest memory is as a three year old, I had a toy truck that I absolutely loved that broke down and what else was I to do other than to take it apart and try and fix it and sure enough, and I don’t know how I did it, but I took it apart and mess around with some wires, put it back together and it turned on and it worked.

Jesse (09:03):

And that was, you know, that set my brain on fire. I was like, Hey, there’s really something here. And then throughout my formative years, so to speak, I was one of the kids that would just pick up computers off to the side of the road when people would throw them away. Of course, back then people didn’t really have in mind data privacy. So there was all kinds of stuff on their computers, which made it very entertaining to look through as a teenager or pre teenager. Um, and I would basically just take these home and build my own home lab and then, uh, build environments that would get viruses on the computers and I’d work on destroying them and then try and figure out ways to figure my way out of the holes I was putting myself in. And then in high school I started my own company fixing computers and the rest is history, self-taught all the way.

Leon (09:49):

Wow. Okay. So that, uh, that explains both where you started and how you pretty much how you got from here to there. So, cause I know that a lot of people who listen especially to the TAMO series, uh, are interested to map their own career, whether they’re at the beginning or the middle or, or even, you know, near the end where they’re just passing along knowledge themselves, um, to hear how other people got through it. So let’s turn, let’s turn things around a little bit and let’s talk about the religious side. You mentioned the top of the show that you are an Orthodox Jew. And I would like to clarify that labels are really challenging that when you ask somebody, so, so what are you, more often than not, you’re going to get an answer of something like, well I, it’s a little complicated, I’m sort of this or sort of that. So understanding that any, you know, two or three word label is not going to be able to capture the full complexity and nuance of your religious life. Um, how do you define your expression of Orthodox Judaism today?

Jesse (10:48):

Well, it’s kind of the same way that I describe my title as IT manager. Despite being CTO and highest ranking a it professional in the business is that, you know, it depends what you’re doing. Titles are, especially in this industry, in the tech world, titles are all over the map. It depends the size of the company you’re at. It depends what you are tasked with or what you’ve picked up over the years. And you know, religion is the same way. At least for me, it’s, there’s a lot of things that we’re told to do. Some of it it makes sense. Some of it doesn’t make sense. Some would, some people would say none of it makes sense. And uh, you know, it’s, it’s kinda just figuring out really what works for you. And what works for me is having that time every week where I have the Sabbath and from sundown Friday night to sundown on Saturday night, I’m totally disconnected and I will read, you know, uh, secular books.

Jesse (11:39):

I’ve been an avid fiction reader my whole life, but a couple of years ago when I realized that IT management was really a direction I wanted to go in, uh, and coinciding with a book reading challenge that my sister-in-law and some family members and I set upon to do a book a week because we’re all crazy.

Leon (11:57):

cause you have nothing else to do. Right. You needed a hobby.

Jesse (11:58):

Nothing better to do. Yeah, exactly. So it turns out when I read a nonfiction, I don’t read it nearly as fast as I read fiction. So I did not succeed at that challenge. But I, I challenged myself further by saying, Hey, I want to see if I can actually learn something this year instead of just reading, you know, 52 books, which is easy. I could do that. And um, it really broadened my knowledge and accelerated a lot of the things that I was working on in my career because I was taking the time to do that.

Jesse (12:24):

And a lot of that time where I was able to do that was because of the Sabbath. Because I’m not using electronics. I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on Twitter, I’m not, you know, reading some article that that is sitting in my queue of things to read or one of the 8,500 tabs that are open on my browser at all times. And you know, things like that have really been both a strength for me. And also sometimes frustrating because we’ve got a lot of holidays where you’re also not allowed to do the whole technology thing. No work, no driving, no computers, no internet. And uh, there’s one story that comes to mind since we are talking about being religious and tech, is a couple of years ago it was one of the high holidays I believe. And there was something going on at the office and they just, they couldn’t crack it and they couldn’t figure it out.

Jesse (13:14):

And they were working with the service provider trying to get an internet back and going and something and like they refuse to talk to anybody because they weren’t the authority on the account. And they actually ended up saying to the tech who was on site, let’s go for a ride. And they drove to my house and said, can you tell this guy that he can talk to us please and what he’s supposed to do. And I was like, all right, fine. No problem. Because it didn’t break the rules. Technically I wasn’t, you know, getting on my computer and doing it. I was just saying, okay, here’s how this and this is connected and yes, you are authorized to do whatever they need you to do.

Leon (13:45):

Wow. Okay. So we’ll, yeah, we’ll, we’ll, we’ll dive into some of that in a little bit, but okay. So that’s, that’s where you are now. That gives us a good sense of where you are now. The question is, is that the environment that you grow up in? Because when we start out, we were sort of, you know, we, we are in the environment that we’re born into usually. And for most of us, we don’t start to question it until, you know, our teens or maybe a little bit earlier, maybe a little bit later, maybe never. So the question is, where did you start out religiously? Does it, you know, uh, did it look like what it looks like today?

Jesse (14:20):

So until age seven or eight, I was a practicing religious Christian going to church every week. And that’s because my father’s not Jewish. My mother left the faith when she went off to college. And, um, you know, that’s just, that’s where we were at that point in life. And I remember being a five year old when my mother told me that we’re Jewish. And I was like, okay, whatever. You know what that means? Cool. And then, um, a couple of years later, uh, she was looking for some more meaning and with some of her family and kind of getting back to her roots and realized that she had a lot of questions that were really related back to her roots in Judaism. And the questions that she was asking was based on the stuff that she had learned when she was a kid in Jewish school. And, uh, we were paired up with a rabbi in, in, uh, somewhat near to our house at the time.

Jesse (15:11):

And they started, you know, the process of, not necessarily the process, but just kind of talking and, and learning, learning together. And, um, at some point it became clear that we were learning a whole lot about being Jewish and what that meant. And then we started doing those things. And a couple of years later we moved to a more religious area, which was back where my mom had grown up in the New Jersey, New York area. And then I, that was when I was 10, we entered into a major Jewish community and a, a proper Jewish school, which had like, I don’t know, 600 kids in it, which for me coming from rural New England at the time with a school that had, I dunno, a hundred kids in it total was quite a culture shock. And I knew none of the language. I knew no Hebrew and not that everything was taught in Hebrew, but it’s still the, you know, they teach the texts and stuff like that that you’re, you’re trying to translate.

Jesse (16:02):

And I had a serious handicap in that. And what ended up happening to me is interesting and it’s probably something that that helped me a little bit later on is that the school I had entered into, uh, for the grade I was in at that time for Judaic studies, they actually held me back two grades. And then because I’d moved around so much getting there, I had to repeat fifth grade on the secular side, but advanced on the Judaic side. So now I had three years of friends and people that I knew in those grades, which then translated into a very wide network as we grew older and went off to school or when it’s college, went off to study and you know, abroad we do a gap year in Israel. So I knew just a ton of people and you know, networking is really everything or almost everything in this business. And that really gave me a great foundation.

Leon (16:53):

So that definitely, uh, tells us your whole progression from, from there to here. So that’s interesting. So now being in the world of tech and having the strong religious point of view, um, a lot of times we find that we’re, those two things are brought into conflict that are IT life. And, and you were mentioned one case already where our IT life sort of encroaches on a religious life and sometimes vice versa, sometimes our religious life encroaches our IT life and it makes it challenging. So I’m curious if you have any other stories. Cause you did tell the one about having to drive the technician. Somebody had to drive the technician to your house, just so you could give approval, but, uh, were there any other situations you can think of that, uh, where the two things were brought into conflict and how you resolve them?

Jesse (17:34):

Well, as I was saying before about the high holidays, um, for anybody who knows anything about Judaism and the high holidays, the entire month of October or September, wherever they fall is basically nonexistent for me. I’m like, nothing can happen during October is dead during the month of October. Don’t try anything new, don’t want, don’t look for any new projects. We’re going to make zero progress. And that is okay. Um, I recently had several, uh, religious Jewish people on my team and, um, for various circumstances they were reassigned or left to, uh, to move or, um, to look for a new position. And I diversified my team a little bit because, um, you know, not that I was trying not to hire Jewish people, we actually didn’t have really any of them, um, apply, which isn’t surprising we’re at a small Jewish community in long beach, California. But it was helpful that I actually did not hire Jewish people for my entire team because now I have some of that coverage where they are there and I don’t feel uncomfortable telling or asking somebody on my team who is Jewish but isn’t religious.

Jesse (18:43):

Hey, can you do this thing over the weekend that I can’t do because somebody has to do it when I really shouldn’t be telling you to do that. Right? So now I don’t have that conflict internally. Um, you know, it’s, it’s things like that that crop up over time that you really wouldn’t think is an issue and then all of a sudden you’re on vacation for Passover in a different country and there’s nobody to do tech except the one older IT guy who’s been there from the beginning who is just completely overwhelmed now and has do everything himself.

Leon (19:15):

Right. And, and that was a point that we covered. Um, in our very first episode we called religious synergy where you realize that having that mix of people from different, um, you know, faith experiences allows you to see the world from multiple perspectives but also lets you get things done in a way that you couldn’t if it was all homogenous. So, yeah, that’s, that’s definitely, that’s interesting. I like it.

Jesse (19:36):

Yeah. I like to joke around that the time between Christmas and New Years is my most productive time of the year. Yes. Everybody goes on vacation and I get some work done.

Leon (19:45):

Right. It gets real quiet for everyone, but you and you can finally get that flow time, that mythical flow time that people talk about all the time.

Jesse (19:52):

Yeah. Well that’s when I catch up from October.

Leon (19:54):

Yes. Well, there, yeah, there you go. Yeah. And you start the year sort of on an, on an even playing field, um, at least until it gets to Passover and then, you know, everything goes out the window again. Um, which is what we’re facing now. We’re actually recording this just the beginning of March. And, uh, I think for a lot of us Orthodox Jews, we see Purim is just a week away. Passover is just peeking over the horizon and we’re like, Oh, I don’t know that I’m ready for all of this yet. Um, in any case. So the flip side of those challenges is that sometimes unexpected benefits pop up that, that either our perspective or our training or something about our religious or ethical or moral point of view offers us an insight or a capability in our tech work that we wouldn’t have otherwise had and certainly wouldn’t expect it. I was wondering if you had any situations that were like that.

Jesse (20:46):

As I was talking about in my intro, uh, I’ve been, I have moved around a lot as a kid. I’ve been in different cultures and I, as many Orthodox Jewish people do, at least from the Tristate area, they go and study abroad in a Yeshiva or a religious school in Israel for a year. And that can give you some wonderful experiences. For me, it was a particularly difficult experience because I’m not the scholastic type. I actually didn’t go to college. I’ve just been in it in my whole life and I’m, you know, community taught, self-taught and have managed to, to make a career out of it. And um, going and traveling around different parts of the world gave me an appreciation for what is now our reality in cloud computing and always on, always available access to different, um, solutions because I was in Israel where, and it’s funny to think about it, but because they don’t have work on Fridays because you know, Saturday, Friday night to Saturday night as the Sabbath.

Jesse (21:47):

Thursday night is the party night. And so if you’re trying to work, which I used to do remote work for an American company, if you’re trying to work on Thursday night, the entire country goes on the internet. And then again, Saturday night the entire country goes online and now Israel, I mean over the years they’ve increased their, their bandwidth, but they have one pipe that goes over the ocean that comes over to all of the wonderful servers providing these services in the US or in the other direction to Europe. And it gets abysmally slow and things are not necessarily available over there as readily as they are over here in the States. And so having to come up with creative solutions, even five, six years ago, have given me insights to kind of how to build out a distributed team here because I was forced to think about, okay, well if I connect this service to that one, my Google voice calls my Skype number and Skype will work in Israel, then I’m able to combine these services and I can have an American phone number or if I want to stream the Superbowl or if I want to, you know, be able to use a different services over there, whatever.

Jesse (22:54):

I’m able to do that by stringing these things together. And it’s that kind of mentality that, and we’re sort of raised with this, you know, when we’re learning some of the Judaic stuff that the discussions that they have is kind of the logical mindset. A little bit of a Spock thing going on there to borrow from Star Trek a bit because we are a bunch of geeks, you know, is, is thinking things through and kinda, you know, massaging the system to get what you want out of it. And it’s those experiences and you know, I’m sure that other people from other religions have similar stories or different things that have given them those inspirations. But because I’ve dealt with so many people from all over the planet and so many different types of systems, and I even did a stint doing a networking for the Israeli Defense Forces for the Israeli army, uh, working on some archaic systems in some state of the art systems. It’s all given me the opportunity to have a lot of experience with a lot of different things, um, in my relatively short career.

Leon (23:52):

Fantastic. All right, so any final thoughts? Anything you want to share with the audience? Anything you want them to remember about you? How can they find you? You can remind them of that, you know, any, anything you want to leave us with, words of wisdom?

Jesse (24:03):

Yeah. So you know, religion is community and um, you know, community in IT is difficult especially because a lot of IT people are introverted and are not necessarily able to relate with a lot of other people. And oftentimes just being able to have that time with your family where you get together or as I like to joke, we have Thanksgiving every Friday night. Gives you the opportunity and the ability to unplug and unwind. And you know, one of the big topics that is tearing through the industry right now, and we actually have a session on it at our Tab Geeks conference coming up is burnout. Burnout is an enormous issue for IT professionals because if it weren’t for things like the Sabbath where I am forced to disconnect, I would literally be on my phone, on my computer seven days a week. And you know, there’s some something pulling at my, my brain.

Jesse (24:57):

It’s a puzzle. I’m trying to figure it out. That is our nature as IT professionals, that’s how we work. We want to solve these things and oftentimes won’t be able to sleep until we do. And having that time, whether it’s time with family time, where you set those boundaries or in our case where you know, God, so to speak, said that we’re not allowed to do things. Or at least, you know, we extrapolate from what God actually said, that we’re not allowed to do those things. Gives us the opportunity to, you know, have that back to earth connection and to, and to really take that break that is necessary. I think that for me as I’m becoming more of a manager that focus on family and the focus on the importance of taking time off to be with family and the fact that we’re forced to, and it gives me the insight, not just in tech but also in management, that those are the things that are important and help keep me sane.

Jesse (25:50):

And so as I’m managing my team, it’s important to remember those things and that other people need those things as well. And you will have people that will try to just work all the time. And um, there was a company, uh, Buffer actually, which is a very transparent company. They’re a social media scheduling tool. They’ve been very famous about having total transparency and everything that they do and they talk about all of their internal operations, which would be nerve wracking as hell for me, but Hey, why not? Um, they, they said that they give everybody unlimited vacation and nobody took it. They had to turn around and tell people, here’s $1,000, I think it was even per family member, you must take a week or two weeks, whatever it was off per year and we’re going to pay you $1,000 per family member to go and get away because that’s important, and I think that’s what’s really been able to help me stay so focused and still and so engaged in IT over the years.

Jesse (26:48):

If you want to hit me up on social media, I am always very active and always happy to to meet new people, talk to people. I think that networking is very important. We have a, in Judaism for Jewish people out there, we’ve got that game, Jewish geography, which is basically our version of how many degrees of separation. And in the Jewish world, especially because everybody’s related to everybody else who has lived all over the world or went to school in Israel with, you know, somebody else, it’s been a huge benefit to be able to reach in and tap into some of that network. And, uh, you know, networking is, is really something that helps everybody, uh, get ahead and just learn together, which I think in today’s day and age where it’s so hard to keep up with cybersecurity and all of the vastness that is the, the tech industry.

Jesse (27:33):

The only way we can do it as if we work together. And so, you know, networking is important. And the reason why I’m saying that is because I want you to come and say hi. And on Twitter. I’m @MrJNowlin once again, and Tab Geeks is @TabGeeks. That’s T. A. B. G. E. E. K. S, which, I’ll let you in on a little secret actually stands for tech and business geeks, because we exist at the intersection of both.

Speaker 7 (28:10):

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 us on social media.

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