Mendel Bakaleynik


Religion In The Workplace?

I’m a Chassidic Jew and I’m proud of who I am.

That’s very nice, Mendel, but what does that have to do with technology or the workplace?

Well, recently, there was an issue at the software development bootcamp that I’m attending. Apparently, some people were using methods to pass their belt exams (the exams in the Coding Dojo Software Development Bootcamp are called belt exams) that were heavily frowned upon. While I know that those students believed themselves to be acting with positive intentions, those who were determined by the staff to have acted untowardly were required to retake their Python belt exams. So, that was embarrassing for everyone.

When I asked our lead instructor about the issue, he seemed more disappointed than upset. Potential employers don’t really care about your 14 week coding bootcamp certificate. However, since anyone can write on their LinkedIn profile that they went to a bootcamp, if you have earned a black belt, what it does show is that you have achieved the expectations of the bootcamp instructors and that you are receiving a form of “recommendation” from them and the company as a whole. A person who cheats will undoubtedly be proven to have poor skills in interviews or during actual development. Additionally, this will inevitably reduce the perspective of the general tech community towards that bootcamp. There is really no purpose to cheat, except perhaps if someone would feel poorly if they didn’t place well on an exam.

Now, how does this relate to religion? It has something to do with what the lead instructor told me as we were discussing the issue. Although my exam had also been reviewed by the teaching staff to ensure compliance with testing standards, he mentioned that he was confident that I would not have used such methods to pass my exam. The reason for his confidence? The fact that I was a religious Jew.

One of Judaism’s main tenets is the pursuit of truth and living a truthful life. I had discussed with my instructor many times how, as a religious Jew, I live my life differently from many, in the attempt to seek that truth.

Judaism teaches us, for example, to be exceedingly careful with our words, in order to only speak the truth as well as to avoid harming people with our words. I therefore attempt to speak appropriately, refrain from speaking gossip about others, and avoid crude conversations.

Another example is that Judaism teaches us not to steal. Stealing is obviously a morally reprehensible action, but how many of us are guilty of it, even if only due to simple carelessness? This reminds me of a story of a young girl who was expressing her pride in her grandfather. What was her claim as to the special qualities that her grandfather possessed? It was that while most of the other employees at the factory where he worked punched in to the time clock and then changed into their coveralls and prepared themselves for work, this little girl’s grandfather first changed into his coveralls, prepared for his work, and only then did he punch in. Paying attention to small details like this can make the difference between living a truthful and honest life, and the opposite.

Many people have told me to leave my faith and religion at home or at the shul (synagogue). Many of my friends and peers adopt non-jewish names to more easily integrate and to, at least conceptually, prevent their religious appearance from being a barrier to their success in the workplace.

I would like to respectfully disagree with people who are of that opinion. Needless to say that I would disapprove of people who proselytize at work, who are being overbearing by making demands that are extremely difficult to comply with, or are generally creating a difficult and uncomfortable work environment, I would also strongly disapprove of those who would lessen their work productivity while using religion as their pretext. This would likely fall under the previously discussed category of thievery and must not be done.

However, as implied by my instructor, a truly religious individual would be an inherently trustworthy asset, and not a potentially hazardous liability. The pursuit of self improvement, necessitated that I not cheat on my exam, otherwise, I would have passed easily, but would not have learned or improved myself.

A practical example of this value brought by religious people into the workplace and to their employers can be seen with my father. My father, a senior developer with a lengthy career in the finance industry, takes off for religious holidays, like myself, and sometimes has obligations or restrictions that enter into the sphere of his work. However, instead of celebrating his liberation from responsibilities due to religious privilege, he strives to figure out how to balance the equation and pull more than his weight. So, if he must take off for a Jewish holiday, he’ll come in on Labor Day or some other public holiday. Since he can’t stay late on Fridays, he’ll instead volunteer for a tedious or frustrating assignment.

I aspire to be like my father. My religious observance should improve my value to my employers and co-workers, not decrease it. I aspire to represent the values espoused in the Torah truthfully, and be a positive, hardworking, honest, kind, and valuable asset to any team.

If you have a respectful response, for or against, my arguments for the value brought by religious employees, please express it below.

PostScript: The staff at the Coding Dojo have addressed the exam issue, are recreating all the exams, and are continuing to work towards the training of motivated, creative, and capable, fullstack developers.

Post PostScript: There is a reckoning of the times for immoral behavior, currently. There has been much news, much of it horrifying, regarding sexual abuse or harassment, lately. I would further like to point out that Judaism has strict guidelines which help prevent much of that behavior. For instance, men and women who are not related to each other should not touch one another, even casually, as the power of touch is great and can lead to undesired scenarios. There are additional guidelines that state that a man and a woman cannot be together, alone, privately, since that too can also easily lead to undesired outcomes.

Essentially, Judaism, when adhered to properly, helps provide us with safeguards against our own desires. Immoral and inappropriate behavior has a much more difficult time occurring if a person is constantly striving to improve those areas, is following time-tested and proven safeguards against such behavior, and is, generally, living with the recognition of a power higher than himself. This idea, of moral and ethical self policing would seem to me a very valuable trait in a potential employee.

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