Connecting the Dots to Opportunities in Tech
Some people are unaware that the late visionary Steve Jobs was actually a college dropout and went through a time where he despaired that he lacked any direction in his life. He once gave an incredible commencement address about how pivotal life events can be viewed as a series of connected dots. Hindsight is always 20/20 and, looking back, it is easy to see how the decisions and paths we chose led us to where we are. But it requires a great deal of courage and faith in yourself to move forward when it is impossible to predict the dots that lie ahead.
Over the years, two things from this speech have stuck with me. First, the importance of trusting your gut—recognizing that, even when life is in flux or uncertain, if you stay true to yourself, the dots will ultimately connect in a way that makes sense. When I was a barista ten years ago, I received a telemarketing call from Yelp that turned into a great conversation, and then an in-person interview in San Francisco. I couldn’t have known that this would be the dot which catapulted me into my first corporate job, eventually leading me to my current career in corporate philanthropy for Okta.
The second thing that has stuck with me is the importance of being available and open to opportunities. This one is more complicated, as it involves luck (where you grew up, ability to attend college, having the right network), but also determination and a willingness to put yourself out there.
At Okta, we understand that some of the most amazing talent in our communities is often harder to reach. For this reason, it’s crucial to help create pathways into careers for underrepresented youth and jobseekers. Last year we launched “Tech Pathways Week”, which this year expanded to a month. Depending on the nonprofit partner, these visits included office tours, practice interviews, employee career panels, and—most importantly—1:1 conversations between visitors and employees around career experience and advice. 43% of this year’s participants had never stepped foot inside of a tech company and 26% had never spoken with a tech professional before, so it was a great opportunity to reach new communities just by opening our doors.
We’re proud of what we were able to achieve within a month: events at every Okta office in the world—16 in total. Our team of sales engineers even planned a hackathon during their team offsite in San Diego, connecting with a local workforce development organization and inviting them to code at a local hotel. Over 250 employees volunteered in person, with more than 300 students and jobseekers.
For employees who couldn’t attend sessions, or those in remote locations, we also partnered with CareerVillage.org—an online platform that crowdsources career and education advice for youth. Over 100 employees offered advice to students on this platform on topics such as college major selection, avoiding financial debt, and choosing a lucrative career.
We wouldn’t be a technology company if we didn’t care about measuring success with data. But I think the most inspiring part of this campaign was reflected in the small moments, reactions, and stories that naturally surfaced over the weeks. Here’s one reflection from a student who visited Okta once a week for a short job shadow program:
“Being here has actually taught me a lot about myself that I didn't even know. When I first arrived, I thought I had my whole career path picked out. But experiencing what actually happens in a business changed my perspective.” —High School Student from JVS
These interactions were inspiring for Okta employees, too. The campaign ended weeks ago, but our employees are still continuing to give advice and interact with mentees on CareerVillage. We surveyed employees for feedback and insights, and the results show that people are ready for more: 82% of employees reported they were likely to volunteer again with the same organization and 66% said the experience had an impact on how they would approach hiring and the types of candidates they would consider in the future, in fact many of our teams have already requested interns for fall. This year we will focus on deepening our relationships with organizations like Year Up, Genesys Works, and others to bring more student interns into departments across Okta.
Just a few days ago, Nola Turange, a contracts manager on the Legal team, ran into a student from Year Up. This student had visited the office a week prior and watched an employee panel, which Nola had participated in. The student waited an extra stop and exited the BART train with Nola, shyly explaining that she recognized her from Okta and would love to grab coffee to talk more about career opportunities. When Nola hadn’t heard from her the next day she stopped by my desk to ask for the student’s Linkedin profile, so she could reach out (in case she lost the number or was too nervous to follow up). To me, this is the heart of Tech Pathways Month, and what each of these visits are about—creating opportunities and human connections, both small and large. We’re excited to kindle these initial connections this year, in hopes that this is just one of many exciting dots and stories ahead.