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Monday, June 30, 2008

Software a Religious Experience...

Software and Religion, not a conventional topic to really blog. And I sure don't want to start any controversies with the same :-). So what brings me to blog on this topic is that I remembered an incident that occured a long time ago while working for one of my former employers. It's so long ago that I might be bordering on exaggeration and hyperbole as I pen the following... I however need to document this rant for memory.

One fine day, a long time ago, in a galaxy that I happen to live in, the system administrator (an extremely nice person, one of the nicest I have met) at my employer stopped by my cube to enlighten me about the fact that after much pondering he finally had the names that they had been searching for the different environments of our different deployment tiers. I eagerly awaited his revelation. Very enthusiastically, he said the names, "Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva". These three names were to represent the development, testing and production boxes respectively.

To those unfamiliar with Hindu mythology, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the supreme gods of the Hindu religion. Brahma is known as the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. It made sense that the development environment was to be known as Brahma, the QA environment as Vishnu but the fact that production was to be named as "Shiva the destroyer" escaped me :-).

Regardless, the point to note was I expressed my displeasure with the names chosen. I cannot claim myself to be a zealot Hindu (I am a Krishna devotee and fan though). However, I do pray and do believe in some superior power who makes everything work so fantastically in harmony. Such a well oiled machine IMO is definitely more than the work of evolution, i.e., my stance on the evolution versus religion debate; "This is too good to be true!" .. Maybe a later blog on Quantum physics, Temporal Physics, Universe expansion theories would be nice.

So where does the displeasure part come in? Well the three deities mentioned have a very prominent foothold in Hindu mythology and religion. Hindu's, pray to these deities constantly. It was great that our deities were also given the honor of having their names included with current day technology. But, the reason why I did not want the different systems named after the deities was, I was concerned that a developer/QA person/Manager might in a bout of frustration say some untoward remark toward the environment that would inadvertently reflect on the deity in concern :-). In other words, I was not comfortable knowing that a time might come where someone would utter words that would not be appropriate and I would need to listen to the same.

I guess, my point was well taken by the system admin and his kindness and religious tolerance prevented him from pursuing his most revolutionary naming convention. I acknowledge his tolerance and am grateful for the same!

Now the above are totally my paranoiac assumptions. The repercussions to the act mentioned might never have occurred. However being in the software industry, I have seem my share of people cursing different environments for one reason or another. I do not know whether I over reacted in this case. Maybe I did. However unapologetically!

I must acknowledge that I am a hypocrite in a way. I have worked on environments titled "Apollo", "Saturn" and even "Venus"..The last one I am least apologetic about ;-). I too might have stated things that might be conceived as religiously/sexually incorrect . I apologize if there is a greek who's sentiments I might have inadvertently hurt :-(. I might have made statements such as "Apollo is down! Venus sucks big time", i.e., statements that might be considered religiously incorrect . Please note that with Celestial bodies we have the same risk right now.

Regretfully, I must state that if tomorrow I was asked to work on an environment titled "Aphrodite" or"Venus", I would not be the first with a protest (sheepish) of the naming convention..:-)

It seems that gods of the past, i.e., those that do not have a following in the current main stream religions do not have advocates defending how their names are used. The gods of the present day, i.e, those with an active religious following do have strong advocates.

Growing up, I remember that my family used to often pay obeisance to a deity prior to starting some critical task, i.e., starting an industry, buying a car, building a home etc. A token of that prayer often found itself itself into the endeavour. For example, we buried a metallic symbol of our deity under the foundation stone of our home when we moved in for luck and to guard us from some untoward incident and bad luck.

Another case in point, during my university days, I was a Teaching Assistant. One course that I taught was Internet technologies such as HTML, Archie, Gopher etc etc...I used to take my students to a sample home page that I created. I was young and during that phase, I had different preferences. My home page had a banner with two flaming skulls decorating the same. Well, the skulls were not well received and one of my students complained to the professor in charge that she believed that I was a "Satanic Worshipper" and took objection to the skulls. My professor immediately ordered me to take down the site. Phew! Do I look Satanic in any way? People please go beyond my features when and if you decide to comment :-)))! Anyway, the point to note is that my actions had hurt someones sentiments.

Being religious as I am, I often wonder, what would be consequences if I had a simple TEXT file along with my software project that wished the project well. In Hinduism, we have prayers that are executed when an auspicious task is to be performed. As a religious software person, if I were to include a text file with prayers for the success of the project, would I be placing myself in bad light? How would it be received?

The atheist would not prefer its presence as they would argue that software is based on pure science without religious connotations. A person from a different religion would potentially not feel comfortable with working on a project that has the blessings of a deity that is not part of their religion? If the language of the well wishes were not based off a particular religion, I guess the latter audience could be appeased.

The software developer and audience therein are a mix. It is a blend of people from multiple religions, races, atheists, agnostics working together to accomplish a common goal. We break barriers such as races, religion and other separations to achieve our goals. We each subtly bring in the richness of our beliefs without imposing the same over our fellow man. These hidden beliefs and strengths cannot be discounted...

In conclusion to this light hearted memory, I would say, like in politics, one needs to be careful regarding where religion and software meet. Tolerance is the word my friends!

Live long and Prosper!

3 comments:

Sai said...

I partly agree on your post Sanjay. But me being little pragmatic (believe me I am not a atheist) I would simply consider them names. It does make a difference because I know what the name Shiva, Vishnu, brahma refers to though....

As you rightly pointed out, Tolerance is the key...

Have Fun...

-Sathya

Sanjay Acharya said...

I guess its also no different with names of people named after god. We do have Shiva, Vishnu as common names, and we don't really get upset when someone calls individuals with curses :-)...

Sanjay Acharya said...

Also my concern was one thinks twice before abusing a person but are often verbally abuse systems when there are issues with it. Humans can defend back but Systems do cannot and I personally am not comfortable when my god's name appears in a derogatory statement :-)..but thats me...