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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a Staffer: FFRF’s IT director fosters positive tech experiences

James Phetteplace (Submitted photo)

Name: James Phetteplace.

Where and when I was born: Southern Wisconsin in 1971.

Education: Attended Ripon (Wis.) College, Madison Area Technical College, and University of Wisconsin-Madison; sociology. I have many certifications, including professional trainer, project management, Leadership for Inclusivity, and as a trauma-informed parenting instructor. I’m a lifelong learner!

Family: Wife (Tiffany) and one child.

How I came to work at FFRF: Previously I was the director of IT for the Willy Street Co-op in Madison, and was employed there for 11 years. After accomplishing many career milestones, I was ready for a new challenge! The most important aspect of the workplaces I choose is the mission and vision, and FFRF fit the bill for me.

What I do here: I am the director of IT, so it’s my duty to make sure that the technology needs of the organization are met.

What I like best about it: There are so many aspects of working for FFRF that I love. It’s hard to choose one! I would have to say it’s the people that I work with — they are kind, intelligent and very dedicated to the mission and vision of FFRF. I look forward to coming to work every day, which is such a privilege.

What gets old about it: Sometimes, in technology, you come across problems that are truly baffling! I enjoy being a problem-solver, but I get frustrated when I can’t immediately resolve an issue and it prevents a co-worker from getting their work done. I happen to be as tenacious as a bull terrier when faced with these challenges — I never give up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: In the workplace, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can make the experience of technology so excellent that my co-workers don’t even notice the tech. Additionally, I think about equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and have dedicated myself to that cause. This includes regular self-reflection about my own social identities and how it relates to others. I strive to become interculturally competent, and to deepen my skills with communication and adaptation, and to seek out (and value) difference. One of my social identities is as an atheist, and I use my experience of being considered “different” to better understand and empathize with those who have nondominant social identities.

I spend little if any time thinking about: Sports. Imagine that, a tech nerd who isn’t a sports fan.

My religious upbringing was: Messy. We were raised as Christians off and on. We attended some United Methodist and Catholic churches over the years.

My doubts about religion started: When I was 12. Up until the age of 12, I was a devout Christian. I have an all-or-nothing personality, and I was all-in with Jesus, even more so than my immediate family. I was also obsessed with science, particularly astrophysics (stars, black holes, galaxies, big bang theory, etc.) In sixth grade, I came across an anthology of Greek mythology, read it cover to cover, and I had an epiphany — no one could argue that Yahweh is any more “real” than Zeus, so I was free to make up my own mind on the matter! Immediately, all of the contradictions between religion and science evaporated. I didn’t have to tie myself in knots to reconcile faith and reason if I eliminated faith from the equation. Some months later, I was in the backseat of my parents’ car, and they asked me point blank: “James, do you believe (in God)?” I confidently said “No,” and that was the end of the conversation. I feel lucky that they accepted me in that moment, and didn’t try to indoctrinate me any further.

Things I like: My family and friends, traveling, hiking/camping, kayaking, creative writing, music, reading, technology and science.

Things I smite: Willful ignorance. Stereotypes. Inequality and injustice. Coconut flakes (literally).

In my golden years: I hope to travel a lot with my wife Tiffany. We have a long bucket list of places to see when we retire.

What is it like to be a foster/adoptive parent?: I added this question, as it comes up all the time! People tend to be very curious about our experience. It can be very rewarding, but it is a big sacrifice and it comes with many challenges. If anyone is considering becoming a foster parent, here’s my advice: Learn as much as you can about trauma and how it impacts children, and take your time exploring the possibility before you start the certification process.