Finding the Okta DNA: A Day in the Life of Aisha Stephenson
Competitive sack races aren’t usually top of mind when you think about enterprise cloud startups. But when it comes to ensuring our people find their workplace as productive and enjoyable as possible, Okta’s director of people Aisha Stephenson goes the extra mile. For our latest installment of the Day in the Life series, we sat down with Aisha to learn more about how she works with people at Okta and what really makes up the Okta DNA.
What is your current position and role at Okta?
I’m the director of people, and I currently oversee human resources and recruiting. The two certainly go hand in hand: from when we first meet a candidate and go through the process of figuring out if they have that ‘Okta DNA,’ to their start date and throughout course of their employment, it’s great to oversee the seamless transition between a candidate and employee.
Why did you want to work with people at Okta?
I went to college with Okta’s co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, but I didn’t have something like this on my radar initially. At the time, I was living in Santa Barbara and had been at the same company for about seven years. One day I woke up and realized that while I liked the people I was working with, the job that I was doing wasn’t challenging me and I wasn’t motivated to doing anything different or creative. So I started looking for other jobs, and happened to hear about the director of people jobs here from Frederic.
I got to San Francisco and I was blown away by everything that Frederic and his co-founder and Okta CEO Todd McKinnon had created so far. I talked to everyone on the executive team, and they were all excited, passionate and really pumped about the future and what we could do as a company. I was really lucky and humbled to receive the offer to join as director of people and I haven’t looked back.
Now as the director of people, what does your typical day look like?
First, I check in with my teams to make sure they are set and on task for projects we're currently working on. If not, then I try to do any emergency blocking and tackling to make sure the teams can get back on track.
From there, my days are mostly taken up by meeting with different people across teams, and collaborating on different things like recruiting strategy or the different types of programs that we have (benefits, perks, awards, etc.) that make people want to stay at Okta. We want our people to find that their workplace is as productive and enjoyable as it can be.
What kinds of things do you work with the teams on?
I collaborate with the hiring managers and work with them on the types of roles that will take Okta to the next level. I knew early on from a company-wide standpoint what made up the Okta DNA, but working more closely with the hiring managers to figure out specifically what works for their teams is incredible. We discuss what makes them the best at what they do in their field, and the piece that ties it all together is that we’re passionate about what we do.
So, what is the ‘Okta DNA’?
People here are really passionate, and that’s the most important part of what I keep calling the Okta DNA. We have photographers, artists and musicians; we have people who are running marathons and doing Tough Mudders on staff. There’s a diversity of thought and interest -- not just of people. That’s what makes us an exciting group of people and what makes Okta a great company to work for. And because of all of these different interests, there’s a lot of cross-pollination, too. Most people are not just collaborating for their jobs, but they’re friends outside of work across teams.
People with the Okta DNA are the best in their fields, love what they do and are ambassadors for their passions. They have the ability to participate in a collaborative way and to work on cross-functional teams. They don’t feel as though there are any obstacles towards asking questions, getting involved and rolling up their sleeves – and that drive is a key part of our success.
Do you have any particularly enjoyable memories that stand out since you’ve started working at Okta?
There are so many! We recently had an Okta BBQ on Angel Island. It was the last of the great summer weather, and we got to ride on the ferry, which was beautiful. When we got there, we had a spread and visors and frisbees with the Okta logo on them. People brought their kids and their friends and family, and we all hung out.
Did you do any people-directing while you were there?
Sort of – we were worried that we were getting a little too kid-friendly with the activities. We had come up with all of these games and people seemed to be getting into them. The sack races were the first game that started, and one of the event planners called over the kids to try it out so we all watched and cheered.
Then the event planner called for the adults, who looked around and must’ve been thinking, “What? I didn’t know these games were for the adults.” We weren’t getting any volunteers, and when you see that and you’re me on the people team, you think, I will make this sacrifice for the team. So I started walking over to people and got Hector, the VP of engineering, and several others to come over. We all got into the race and I swear it was a brutal competition.
How’d you do?
Hector beat me by a nose, and I have to tell you -- I want a rematch.
Aside from the sack races, what’s your favorite part about working with people at Okta?
I feel like one of the luckiest people in the company. I get to not only in the course of my job talk to people across all functions, but I also get to make sure I allocate time in my day to make sure that things are running smoothly in terms of facilities and work environment, and, in the course of that, see how people are doing.
What are you most looking forward to in your role?
We’re growing so quickly that we decided we need to have a separate head of talent acquisition or recruiting. Especially now that we are moving into EMEA, there’s a need to really solidify a domestic as well as global talent brand and strategy. I’m excited to find, develop and collaborate with that person.
Want to see if you can beat Aisha in a sack race, and think you might have what it takes to join our growing team? If so, we want to meet you. Check out our Careers Page for available positions.