Okta Joins Techwomen—Mentoring Across Cultures

For the first time, Okta has joined the TechWomen program earlier this fall. The program brings young women professionals from Middle East, Africa and Central Asia to the US for 5 weeks of a professional mentorship, allowing for both a professional and cultural exchange. It's a new way to give women professionals from different global locations the opportunity to connect with tech professionals in the Bay Area. As part of this program, Okta hosted 2 professionals for 5 weeks in San Francisco, along with a cultural mentorship and seed fund for the social projects at the home country of the Emerging Leaders.

One of the Emerging Leaders of our program here at Okta is Heba El Houjairy. Read on to hear about Heba’s experience in her own words.

Heba El Houjairy and her story

As a Techwomen Emerging Leader I am super excited to share more about my 5 weeks at Okta and my exciting professional journey. Before we jump to my Okta experience, here is some context about me and my goals for the Techwomen program.

I am a Lebanese entrepreneur and co-founder of Smubu, a music streaming service startup based in East Africa. Previously, I have helped multiple startups in the MENA region build their technology products by leading the operations of a digital agency based in Beirut, Lebanon. My greatest passion is to innovate and create, but I also love to travel, cook and take part in deep existential conversations. I came to Okta with a mission: to learn how to scale my startup. I wanted to learn from the executives at Okta about product management, leadership styles and the different practices to keep teams aligned under one vision while feeling empowered to create a change. My mentor for my time in the program has been Madhavi Bhasin, Okta’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

I am thankful for every call, every connection, and every email Madhavi sent to Okta teams in order to help me get the most out of my time here at Okta. In the 3 weeks of the program, Madhavi has been such a natural mentor. She has analyzed my professional development needs, connected the dots, and paved my path to have a great learning experience.

I left Okta inspired by the passion and commitment of its leaders, and the love for what they are doing; traits that were highly noticeable to me among the women at Okta in particular. In the beginning, I felt a bit disconnected initially in learning about Okta and the product, yet over time I started relating more to their products and realizing the change and impact Okta is bringing. Coming from a purely startup background, I was amazed by Okta’s vision and the culture of building and innovation amongst its teams.

After every meeting, I realized the secret to Okta’s growth was the teams behind the product; specifically, the diversity of backgrounds, the “build” mentality amongst its teams, and their ability to work hand in hand to achieve a single vision. I also believe their current recruitment efforts towards further diversity and inclusion acts as a foundation to Okta’s future growing success.

Okta has left a big impact on my professional and personal life. I am so grateful to have been placed in such a fast-paced environment. I had always doubted my ability to adapt within a big organization, and feared I would be restrained by hierarchy and processes. To my surprise, the Okta experience has reshaped my professional outlook and approach.

To Okta's team, who took time from their busy schedules to meet with me and answer all my questions; with all my heart, I want to thank:

  • Angela Grady for sharing Okta’s approach to creating and tracking progress against VMTs (Vision, Methods and Targets)
  • Ryan Carlson for sharing his innovative and unique approach in marketing
  • Kelsey Nelson for her tips into building a personal and product brand
  • Brett Coin, who helped me learn more about the recruitment of remote teams and sharing hiring best practices
  • Jen Ryan, who generously shared impactful Learning and Development approaches for employee retention and professional growth
  • Bora Repishti, who shared information on mastering the business value pitching for different stakeholders
  • Jess Star, for sharing her intuitive approach to building legacy products and motivation into individual team members
  • Jiong Lu, who helped me understand Okta’s competitive advantage in the identity and access management market, and its unique growth potential
  • Phoebe Venkat, who allowed me to view things from a B2C perspective. I related so much to the approach of building a customer community forum and listening to user feedback
  • Becky Oliver, who gave me great insights and practices on how to lead technical teams. As a non-technical co-founder, I found this incredibly beneficial.
  • Salima Kaissi, who gave me amazing support overall, and helped me make the most of my time at Okta.

And, of course, a big thank you to Madhavi. You have been such a great mentor, friend and role model. Okta’s values have left a lasting impression on me, and will continue to guide my professional journey moving forward.

Join the journey

Okta was thrilled to be part of the TechWomen program, and to host Heba and Imane Chekirine (another Emerging Leader). It was amazing to learn from them and gain a different cultural perspective to the challenges in the start-up space and identity management in the Middle East and North Africa. #lifeatokta is about valuing diverse perspectives and experiences; you are welcome to join us in this exploration, and to be part of more programs like TechWomen.

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