Keeping Okta “Always On”: A Day in the Life with Jay Harrison

At Okta, we are “Always On”. The core of “Always On” starts with our Technical Operations team, ensuring that customers never have to worry about the Okta service. When our North America team goes to sleep, Jay Harrison, EMEA Technical Operations Site Reliability Engineering Manager, and team are committed to making sure “Always On” is a reality around the clock. Read on to get to know Jay and learn more about Okta’s engineering-first culture.

Why did you choose Okta? I joined Okta just five months ago. Earlier in the year I got to meet with the San Francisco HQ team in-person for a series of technical and executive interviews. It was clear that they had a great team and an engineering-first culture that I’d love to be a part of. The opportunity to build a team and really shape the European technical approach was too good to miss.

Tell me about your role. We are the first non-customer focused engineering team in EMEA. We take care of the product as a whole, so in UK hours we are responsible for monitoring the service and responding immediately to any issues. We also code the tools and services that build, secure, automate, and maintain the infrastructure and services that the product runs on.

What does an average day look like? We are a small team so we’re involved in all sorts of things. We answer production alerts, rectify issues, improve and maintain the infrastructure, write code, develop tools, and automate all our operations as much as possible. I’m also focused on mentoring and growing my team -- I’m hiring!

What is the best part of your role? The challenges. Because the key aspect of the product is the customer experience, we are the sharp edge of Okta’s “Always On”. We are the first responders for production issues, so when something seems off it’s a race to find the cause. Okta is also a thriving company -- and we have a growing customer base -- so managing that expanding set of infrastructure, is an interesting problem.

The second part is my team. Everyone is focused and collaborative. This isn’t something a customer sees, but this commitment and diligence, in the whole company, to making sure “Always On” is a thing, is really gratifying. There is a fantastic community vibe -- the sense that everyone is involved in this grand endeavor.

What is the most challenging part of your role? Learning everything! Being new to the company and learning a relatively complex product can be challenging. So that learning curve is quite steep when you come in as an engineer. Balance is key!

How would you describe Okta’s culture? In general, Okta’s culture is tight-knit. People are really committed to Okta. You see that as a side effect in the length of time people have been here. Commitment to product, company, team. There is a community spirit that is contagious.

The culture on the engineering team is also unique. It can be demanding because of the nature of Okta as a security product and the importance of product reliability and uptime, but it’s also very rewarding. Okta’s one of the only companies I’ve ever worked at where my type of role is actually celebrated and that starts from the top down with our CEO, Todd McKinnon, and CTO, Hector Aguilar. The engineering side of the house is really well respected and engineering excellence is well-recognized, and rewarded -- and that’s a culture I’m proud to be a part of.

What do you like to do outside of work? I have five children, two sons and three daughters the youngest of whom is nearly three. They all keep me busy!

I’m also a GIANT nerd. If it’s stereotypically nerdy, I’ve done it and I enjoyed it. I’m a Dungeon Master, a sci fi and comic book aficionado, a PC gamer, an IoT early adopter and hacker, and a former Boy Scout and LARPer. I've also recently taken up 3D printing and will happily discuss filament types, bed alignments and object modelling techniques for hours.

Okta in one word? Committed. Committed to the customer and to ensuring their instinctual reliance on the Okta product is justified. Committed to the product -- to engineer it better, and to make it more reliable and more innovative so our customers can do better things with it everyday.

Want to work with Jay and make a commitment to Okta’s “Always On”? He’s hiring!