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Owning Your Career: A Day in the Life with Jen Ryan

Lauren Sheppard
Content Marketing Manager

It’s that time of year again! New Year’s resolutions have been set, but turns out only 9.2% of us will actually follow through with them. At Okta, we’re lucky to have learning and development partner, Jen Ryan, to help us set attainable career goals that we nurture year-round. After recently completing Okta’s “Owning Your Career” workshop, I was eager to chat with Jen to learn more about her critical role and share some of her career development advice.

Why did you choose Okta?
I really enjoyed meeting the people that I spoke with during the interview process, and discussing what the challenges and opportunities were for employees at Okta when it came to their learning and development needs. There was a strong desire to make an impact with employees regarding their learning and development. I also learned that Okta doesn’t only hire people just because they’re rockstars in their area of expertise, but because they are just as great at effectively collaborating with others to get sh*t done. That’s how I knew this was the right place for me.

Tell me about your role.
When I joined Okta, I was the first internal learning and development (L&D) hire focusing specifically on employee and manager development. Once onboard, my first objective was to determine at a high level what the top L&D needs were at Okta. I spoke with executives, senior leaders, and key people in the organization to determine what was in place, where the gaps were, and how to prioritize next steps.

Through this exercise we determined that our biggest areas of focus were going to be career development and manager development. With that, we piloted some courses and workshops including Situational Leadership, Crucial Conversations, and Owning Your Career, and adapted these solutions based on participant feedback.

As we grow, I’m also focused on scaling our L&D opportunities by adding instructor-led training beyond San Francisco to include our other sites such as London, D.C. and Sydney, as well as on-demand trainings for both soft and technical skills. Whether you want to improve how you communicate, or get skilled up to pass your AWS certification, we want to help you do that. Many of our employees don’t sit in our San Francisco headquarters, and we need to ensure that they have the same learning opportunities as those who sit in HQ.

Along with specific learning solutions, L&D owns our employee engagement survey. This survey gives employees the opportunity to give the business feedback on how things are going within various aspects of the organization, as well as their development. This feedback is key to ensuring that we’re hitting the mark as an organization.

What does an average day look like?
That varies depending on what’s going on in the business. One day I’ll be facilitating a day-long training and another day it’s all about the backend pieces of researching, scheduling, planning coaching sessions, and specific team development.

What’s the best part of your role?
I’m an extrovert, so I love talking to people, hearing about their work, and understanding how we (L&D) can help them and their teams be even more impactful to the business. It’s really rewarding when I’m in a training session and I see folks having fun while also having their “ah-ha” moments. The people at Okta are really receptive to these learning opportunities which makes my job fun and incredibly worthwhile.

What is the most challenging part of your role?
There’s a huge desire for more learning and development opportunities and solutions. However, as with many teams, we are constrained by resources and time. We can’t always do as much as we would like to do in this space, but we’re slowly moving towards being able to more effectively support the organization as its grows.
 

How did you get in to learning and development?
Early on, I didn’t know this space existed. My undergrad was in computer graphics, so I was straddling the two worlds of art and computer science/engineering.

As great as this was, when I graduated, the economy was in a downturn and I couldn’t find work. After a few years of odd jobs, I decided to go to graduate school for instructional technology and headed west on a plane with my two cats.

Not long after starting graduate school, I was able to see how leveraging computer graphics to create computer-based training could help people learn. This allowed me to see a different path for my computer graphics work. Once I began my first L&D graduate internship in high-tech, and could put this into action, I was hooked on the L&D space. I’ve since moved from the computer based learning space, to online learning, to overall employee, manager and team development. It was not a linear path, but that’s what makes it interesting!

What is Okta’s culture like?
Culture to me is how we, as a company, do things around here, from how we interact and what we spend time on, to how the furniture is arranged. At some organizations, people say one thing and do another. To me, Okta aligns really well with what we say we’re going to do and what we actually do.

People at Okta work well together. They have good intentions. They are clear about their expectations. They are open to active dialogue to ensure there is clarity. People also listen and adjust when they’re given feedback.

What are you passionate about outside of work?
Fitness is important to me. I refer to my fitness regimen as “Operation Keep Jen Vertical”. I attend a Pilates class twice a week and do weight training with my hubby twice a week. In Pilates, I’m the youngest person in the class. The classes I attend are all women for some reason and these women are in their 60s and 70s. They can balance on one leg without falling over, do a roll up and the 100s with ease, and are more flexible than I’ll ever be. After class we all have coffee and a chat, and I really appreciate their perspectives on life. It makes for a good combination of mental and physical fitness.

I also love to travel and meet new people. Nothing beats sitting in a pub and talking to people I might not have met otherwise.  

Okta in one word?
Fun! If I’m not having fun in what I’m doing and who I’m working with, then that’s not a place for me. For me, it’s fun to help people see and think about things differently than they did before and then see them grow because of that!

We spend a lot of time at work, so we better enjoy what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with. Life is too short to ignore that.

As we kick off 2018, do you have advice for people looking to continue to develop their careers?

  • If there’s an opportunity to do something new, take it! Even if you’re not excited about it at first, just take it. Who knows, you might surprise yourself! And no need to advertise to everyone that you’ve never done something before. Find someone who has some expertise, partner with them and/or pick their brain, put a plan together and get ‘er done!
  • Don’t wait for someone to hand you opportunities. People often wait for some magical recipe to get to the next big thing or next level. Majority of the time there is no linear path or recipe.
  • Sometimes what you want to do to grow your career isn’t always a possibility at your current organization. Look beyond the four walls of your organization. Whether it’s helping a nonprofit or doing something on your own, there are multiple side roads to take you where you need to go, don’t overlook them.
  • If you’re a manager, it’s important to give your employees support, and in some cases a safety net, when they’re trying something new that aligns with their development plans. Be sure to set them up to succeed.

Do you have new career goals this year? Okta’s hiring!

 
Lauren Sheppard
Content Marketing Manager

As a content marketing manager, Lauren manages Okta’s corporate blog, social media, and video content. She graduated from Gonzaga University where she studied Marketing and International Business. In her free time, Lauren loves cooking, being outdoors, exploring all that the Bay Area has to offer, and planning her next adventure.

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