A Day in the Life of Ryan Carlson: Powering Up Okta

As the second installment to our ‘Day in the Life’ series, we recently spoke with Ryan Carlson, Okta’s director of product marketing, to get a taste for his day-to-day life at Okta, as well as what he finds most unique about the company and his role within it.

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What is your current position and role at Okta?

Ryan Carlson Okta headshot

Ryan Carlson, director of product marketing at Okta

I’m in product marketing; that means I help the company tell the world what Okta does, why it matters, why we’re different and why they should use our service. I'm not going to lie: basically, I create a lot of PowerPoint presentations. With animation. But we should make it sound way cooler than that before we post this interview, OK? Say something about “enabling disruption.”

Why Okta? What first attracted you to the company?

Truthfully, I heard about Okta because it was Andreessen Horowitz's first cloud investment, and given Marc’s and Ben's history in creating LoudCloud/Opsware that was pretty noteworthy. I got a chance to meet the founders when the team was super small — I wish I had joined them then — and I became convinced they were building not just a great product but also an important company.

I also was attracted to the location of Okta's offices, which were 50 feet from my house in San Francisco. But alas, I've since moved and joined the hipsters in Oakland, so I guess I’ll just go with: “I liked the founders and their vision for the company they were going to build.” But come on, that commute would have been sweet.

What’s the best part of working at Okta?

In a typical product marketing role you're trying to highlight the reasons to use or buy your product, while also "explaining away" the reasons not to. You're positioning the product in a way that makes people say "Yes, I would like to buy that.” At Okta, it's a little different. We're basically trying to explain what it is we do, as succinctly as possible, and then get the hell out of the way. Once customers see what we do, the money just rolls in (I kid). But seriously, this product sells itself. It’s awesome. Wait, is this interview going to be online somewhere? I don't want people to think my job is easy, I kind of need this job.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

I just dive right into PowerPoint. No point in putting it off, am I right?

What stands out about Okta compared to other companies/startups you’ve worked at?

Building a company is incredibly hard. Forget what you read in TechCrunch. I've been a part of several startups, at different stages, and I'm convinced the team at Okta is building this company the right way. A lot of people tend to look at startups and say, "Oh, that's a great idea, those guys will do well,” but in my experience the product / idea is definitely secondary. More than a great product, you need to go after a large market with a killer team that works well together, and they’ll figure out the product details. I trust the team at Okta with the challenge of building an important company. The fact that we've built a great product that customers love — and in the enterprise software market that is almost unheard of — shows that Okta is on to something big. Okta also stands out because we have a ping pong table and an Xbox and beer. Oh wait, everyone has that these days. But we have craft beer.

What is most rewarding about your role?

Most definitely the paycheck. And innovation, disrupting a big industry, great co-workers, collaboration, blah blah blah. That stuff is great too, so put that in there. It will sound good. Will I get to see this interview before it's posted?

What is your favorite memory from working at Okta?

We put some members of the Okta team in front of a camera and asked them about their vision for identity, for the company, for what we're all collectively building every day. My favorite memories from Okta are the outtakes from those videos. I wish I could link to them, this blog post would probably get more views, but I would also get fired. You'll just have to take my word for it.

If you could define Okta in one word, what would it be?

Tolerant of rule breakers