A Day in the Life of Brian Hansen: Wonderfully Designing Okta’s User Experience

You might not know this, but we’ve got some pretty fascinating people working behind the scenes at Okta. We sat down with one of them – senior UX designer Brian Hansen – to discover what’s in the company’s special sauce, discussing what he does day-to-day, why he chose Okta and what drives him to come to work every morning (and no, we don’t mean MUNI).

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What is your current position and role at Okta?

DSC 2119 Brian Hansen

Brian Hansen, Senior User Experience Designer at Okta

I’m one of two user experience designers at Okta. To explain my job in the simplest terms, I’m responsible for designing, and to some extent implementing, the user interface of Okta’s product. I was hired on as the sixth employee and have been with the company for almost four years. (Quite frankly, that’s rare for an enterprise to hire a UX designer so early on!)

Was Okta’s decision to hire a UX designer so early on important to you?

It’s one of those things you take for granted – because as a designer, you not only assume what you’re doing is important, but that others recognize the value and purpose of a great user experience in any given enterprise product. The fact that [co-founder and CEO] Todd McKinnon brought me on so early shows that he’s committed to user experience and values it. And as a designer, that obviously means a lot to me.

Creating a wonderful user experience is one of the challenges Okta – and many other enterprise ‘cool kids’ – face since historically the enterprise space hasn’t been easy-to-use. That’s something that motivates me.

The cloud has not only lowered the cost of ownership and accelerated implementation times for businesses, but it’s also put more attention on UX. It’s almost effortless for companies to switch between services these days, which just wasn’t the case with on-premise software even five years ago. This is why it’s incredibly important for users to love a product and adopt it, and Okta recognized that early on.

What first attracted you to Okta?

I actually got to Okta before it was even called Okta. It was called SaaSure. (And thankfully that didn’t stick. It sounded too much like a hair product rather than an enterprise software company!)

Looking back, having Todd at the helm was a major influence. He was a mentor for my boss when he was at PeopleSoft and was respected by people who mentored me, so I saw joining the Okta team as an opportunity to work with him. Then I realized during my interview with Todd and [his co-founder and Okta COO] Freddy Kerrest that these guys were winners and I would learn a ton from working alongside them. The decision was simple.

What is the best part about working at Okta?

It’s definitely the people. Okta has assembled the most talented team I’ve ever been around and the opportunity to work with extremely smart, hardworking people that make you better everyday is one of the most important things I can ask for in my career. If you’re not working with great people, you’re wasting your time -- plain and simple.

What is the first thing you do when you get into the office?

I start my mornings before getting into the office by checking emails and other non-design related tasks. (Emails can be really distracting, so I try to get that out of the way.) The other reason I do this is that I hate long commutes. I’ve found that leaving my house (in Oakland) around 9:30am gives me a better chance at dodging the Bay Bridge traffic, and I can get to the office in a very tolerable 25-minutes. I also mix BART in when I have to get in early or it’s clear the bridge is a parking lot.

When I get to the office, I slap on my headphones to get in a good flow and start to design and build. If I’m designing it could be anything from a quick sketch to help an engineer get unblocked to a hi-fidelity Photoshop mockup for a brand new feature. There are many degrees in between as well, part of what makes my job so fun. I also enjoy front-end development so I will prototype new UI patterns in HTML/CSS/Javascript as well as help the engineers implement UIs. If you have the passion and the skills, even if it’s not expected for your role, you can do just about anything you want at Okta.

Do you have a favorite memory from working at Okta?

This is a tough one. To point out one single memory doesn’t do justice to the experience. I see being part of Okta like running a marathon. We’re solving a big problem and building a long-lasting company, and to do so successfully takes time.

If I had to pick one though, it would be when we hired our second designer, Shawn Gupta. That was a huge moment -- having another peer that I’m able to bounce ideas off of, someone who is super talented and inspires me -- it gives me a ton of confidence knowing he’s my teammate. We have a great rapport that allows us to push each other to create something better than we would alone. There is a kind of multiplier effect that occurs when we work together and that’s when you know you made a great hire.

What stands out about Okta compared to other companies?

The combination of talent, opportunity and momentum is special. I’ve never been part of something that I strongly believe has the potential to impact the market in a big way. There’s a huge opportunity here. I’ve worked with some great people in previous jobs, but the concentration of talent here at Okta is unmatched.