Morgan Eisler, lead UX researcher at Okta, gets to “pick people’s brains for a living”. A vital link between our customers and product, Morgan spends her days working cross-functionally to discover Okta’s research needs and then work with customers to make sure our products deliver and meet their needs.
After getting a taste of Morgan’s work in her Oktane17 session, You Had Me at Hello, I was excited to get to interview the interviewer!
How did you find out about Okta?
I learned about Okta from an old colleague of mine, Alex Bovee. He had just moved to Okta and sent me a Facebook message letting me know that I needed to check out Okta. Okta didn’t have a researcher at the time and he felt that it was a mature company with a great product and good customer base. For me, I knew it would be a technical growth opportunity in an interesting area.
Why did you choose Okta?
I chose Okta largely because of the people. My manager, Brian Hansen, our senior director of UX, is a really great person. The whole team educated me about Okta and wanted me to choose Okta because it would be what I wanted and they wanted it to be a good fit for me. I was interviewing at other companies but the support that I felt from the team early on and their commitment to finding a good fit for everyone spoke volumes about the company. The icing on the cake was that everyone I interacted with was smart and dedicated to building good things. This is an important ethic and attitude that allows the team to be open to research, which makes my job more fun!
Tell me about your role.
Research is one of my favorite things to do because I do something different every day. Even if it’s the same combination of things across days or months, no day will look the same.
It also forces my personal growth. Personally, I’m a very plan-oriented person. In research, you can always count on something going wrong so it’s forced me to plan for contingencies and to be comfortable with things going wrong. This has become a great coping mechanism for daily anxieties, because I just have to accept that nothing ever goes 100% to plan, both in life and in research.
What does an average day look like?
It usually starts with a meeting with product management or design about a project that they’re working on, and if they have open questions. At Okta we practice goal-oriented research, which means it’s about applied work. We want to understand people’s goals for the research and we structure our studies to ensure that those goals are met and that those questions get answered. From a product perspective, a goal may be to validate an assumption. If we’re wrong, it could sink a feature. So, we spend energy doing research before we code things to make changes less expensive.
The rest of the day is usually spent doing admin or user testing. I’ll share a prototype for people to use and they’ll share their thoughts while they’re trying to use a new feature, or a change we’ve made in the UI. We want to make sure it’s intuitive to them and that the more complex pieces don’t overwhelm; Okta has a ton of functionality.
Then I’ll wrap up with some customer outreach in hopes that we can get more people on board to participate in testing, or in our more strategic, forward-thinking work.
Overall, it’s mentally challenging and exhausting to do these interviews correctly and without bias. But we need to make sure we can trust it-- biased data are not results you want to count on to make product decisions.
What’s the best part of your role?
I get to pick people’s brains for a living! Understanding how people interpret their work as it relates to our software is a very interesting thing. We work with complex technical concepts and simplify those complex things into a physical and visual interface for people to get their work done-- and that’s just cool!
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Keeping all of the balls in the air. We have six major product areas and research amongst many teams. I could have strategic studies that take months, along with research that’s done in days or weeks. These all require different conversations and different goals so it’s a mental switch, and I often switch between projects several times a day.
How did you get into research?
When I was in college I worked in a psycholinguistics lab doing clinical eye tracking research on transposed letter pairs, which is basically about the way your brain processes words when you read. I realized I loved research, but writing the papers and waiting years for it to get published as just one piece of a greater goal, not so much. After this, I realized I didn’t want to be a clinical psychologist, nor did I want to get a PhD.
At this point, I had a Liberal Arts degree, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided law school might be my next step, so I went to work as a paralegal before making the leap. I joined a large international firm and quickly saw the results of an unhappy workplace. This led me to discover a whole branch of psychology dedicated to making the workplace a fulfilling place. I got my masters degree in social and organizational psychology with a goal of making things more fulfilling at work and facilitating organizational change.
As part of my masters, I took classes on cross-cultural communications, group dynamics, conflict mediation, and even a mini MBA. This, paired with my work as a management consultant, set me up to understand businesses very well. However, I still wanted to be more impactful. As a consultant, you don’t often see the end-result of your work, so I decided I wanted to move in-house.
At the same time, my long-time partner was moving to California to open an office for Bonobos. A product manager there wanted to do user research but needed to make a case for it. I was their low-cost, contractor solution. Frankly, I read three books on UX research, and got to work (Editor’s note- it worked and they increased the checkout conversion rate by 30%!). When Bonobos made their move back to New York, I made my move to Lookout where I delved deeper into security, which ultimately led me to where I am now at Okta.
What is Okta’s culture like?
People at Okta are very curious. We want to know how it works. And that is the best culture for research because research is asking important questions that lead to a better understanding or our users and our product-- and that helps drive a successful product. We’re a questioning culture, but also a supportive culture.
I’m very proud to work here. Things like our cofounders matching donations to the ACLU, our Okta for Good fund, and our flexible PTO that people actually take. A lot of companies talk the talk of flexible time, but a lot of them don’t walk the walk. I have the flexibility to work in the way that’s best for me, without anyone looking over my shoulder.
We’re also a goofy, fun-loving bunch. People are wacky and everyone here is a nerd in the best way. I appreciate that everyone is so dedicated to whatever it is they do.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
My horses. I rode as a sport in college, and I continue to do this recreationally several times a week, and even get to a competition or two. I’m also a fitness junkie. For me, “sound body, sound mind” is the truth. Nothing keeps me steadier than working hard, working out, and sleeping well as a result.
I also mentor women looking for a career change to UX with a program called Hexagon. I’m happy to do this because a mentor was all I ever wanted when I was making that career change, especially as a woman, so to mentor now is really full circle for me.
Okta in one word?
Want to work with Morgan and the curious folks at Okta? We’re hiring!