Okta’s New CIO Shares Her Thoughts on Business, Building, and Belonging

I’ve spent over two decades working in tech, helping organizations and their customers enable business transformation through disruptive technologies and challenging the status quo. But throughout my career, I’ve witnessed a persistent issue: problematic gaps between strategic business initiatives that fuel revenue growth, versus IT initiatives that keep the engines running and accelerating. Too often, that first bucket takes precedence, and this fundamental lack of alignment leads to narrow silos and lost opportunities.

This isn’t the case at Okta.

As I settle into this role as Okta’s new CIO, I’m impressed, inspired, and excited when I see how well integrated our technology is with our core business. The solutions that we engineer for our external stakeholders are the same solutions we use internally to drive our own growth, and leadership understands that IT and business technology serve as the glue that spans the entire organization—holding it together. 

Already, I feel right at home here, and I have big plans for how we can build stronger strategic partnerships between the business, data, people, and technology pillars of our organization. I look forward to working with all our teams to prioritize the focus areas that will truly move the needle for our organization, and make us wildly successful.

But first: a bit about me and my journey.

From Kuwait to California

I’ve always been passionate about diversity, inclusivity, and belonging, and it’s due to my cultural background as well as being raised in a multiethnic environment. Both of my parents are Assyrian and were born in Iraq. After getting his PhD from the University of Texas on a full scholarship, my father accepted a position as the Head of Geology at the Kuwait Institute of Science and Research. Growing up in Kuwait during my formative years, I was constantly exposed to different nationalities, religions, unique cultures, values, and points of view. Although my family had an incredible experience living in Kuwait, my father made the difficult decision to move to the U.S. for equality, freedom, and the opportunity to pursue the American dream!

Encouraged by my father, I graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in computer science and started my career as a programmer at Dell. I spent the next 17 years growing my career, while also helping to grow Dell into a software solutions company. I led SaaS and Software Enablement, delivering transformational solutions driving Dell’s evolution from a hardware company to an end-to-end solutions provider. I then led M&A Integration, as the entire modernization strategy was tied to mergers and acquisitions.

I was so intrigued by the pace of innovation and incredible talent of the companies we acquired, I felt compelled to leave Dell and challenge myself in a startup environment. I found that opportunity with Zuora in 2014, where I became the company’s first CIO. Over the course of six years, I evolved Zuora’s operating model from a $30 million to a $300 million revenue public company. As a modern-day Business Technology organization for subscription businesses, I highlighted the power of investing in your own technology. Along with many of my peers, I became a happy Okta customer in enabling our employees and customers to securely use any technology. 

Working with Okta, I saw my values reflected, not only in terms of integrating business and technology, but in leading with openness and accountability, supporting nonprofits and local communities, and fostering a culture where people are passionate, empowered, and encouraged to truly be themselves. 

A new chapter with Okta

I’m thrilled to be a part of this inspiring company with the most incredible team and culture. The time I spent as an Okta customer helped me identify opportunities for how we can serve our customers even better:

  1. We can provide improved guidance and best practices to protect our people through constant change. When we took Zuora public, I would have loved to work with Okta to obtain a better understanding of use and edge cases for leveraging Okta to harden our security & compliance posture. We can do more to keep our customers safe and happy and protect our people—our employees, customers and partners. 
  2. As an Executive Board Member for the Identity Defined Security Alliance, we can provide thought leadership as the identity standard. Everyone wants to better understand how to utilize best-of-breed solutions to build an optimal, seamless, and secure blueprint for their organizations, and Okta can provide huge value with our technology Alliance Partners.
  3. There’s a lot of untapped potential around customer identity and access management (CIAM). I know firsthand how challenging it can be to build a strategy and architecture that delivers secure and frictionless customer experiences. It’s important to not only help our customers’ employees and partners have a seamless experience, but to unify identity across the entire customer journey. 

Overall, I’m excited to help hone our organization’s core focus and identify our most promising opportunities. We can’t be everything to everyone—but we can make informed decisions about the business outcomes we want to strive for, and prioritize ruthlessly against those goals to drive the greatest impact. We can also foster a data-driven culture in which powerful insights from across the organization inform our strategies and decisions. For me personally, I’ll strive to empower our IT and business technology teams to be active collaborators in this process.

Above all, I look forward to continuing to set a standard for our industry—and all industries—when it comes to championing diversity, inclusion, and belonging. It’s no secret that the tech sector still has a long road ahead for equal representation, but I’m proud to be part of an organization that’s making strides, and making more room for diversity at the top, by genuinely putting words into actions.

It’s great to be joining such a dynamic company at such a dynamic time. I can’t wait to see what’s next.