Relying on Ask.com for quick answers or researching your next role at Glassdoor? You’re likely leaning on innovations Bhawna Singh helped make possible. With over twenty years of helping companies through tech transformations, scaling challenges, and participating in multiple acquisitions, Bhawna brings an understanding of how to deliver growth that serves end users and develops talent on the way to building revenue.
That experience is coming to Auth0 at a critical moment. While we’re seeking to strongly align our product and engineering teams, we’re also working through our recent acquisition by Okta — and we want to do that while sustaining our growth trajectory.
We sat down with Bhawna to learn more about how she grows talent through innovation, what brought her to Auth0, and why she’ll be applying the power of diversity of thought to the global identity market.
Why join Auth0?
Three things intrigued me.
First, you, Eugenio [Pace], Matias [Woloski], were upfront and transparent about challenges. More importantly, though, Auth0’s mission and roadmap was compelling.
Second, I really enjoy the people interaction that comes from working with a global team. But Auth0’s engineering talent spread across many countries presents an interesting time zone challenge.
Third, the technological challenges presented with Auth0’s high growth. Auth0 needs to work across 21 deployment regions to securely and reliably support billions of logins a month while continuously calling the team and technology to meet growth demands. This is an area where I can help and learn at the same time. Bottom line? I see the high growth and complexity of challenges ahead as an opportunity to make a larger impact.
Now that you’re here, what are your short-term goals?
In the short term, hiring is my top priority. Even before Okta’s acquisition, Auth0 had big hiring goals. I am currently partnering with multiple teams and leaders on our hiring and onboarding strategy. At Auth0, we are solving hard problems around authentication, security, scale, and a product that needs to be highly available, along with continuous innovation in the identity space. So making sure new engineers understand that when they come to Auth0, they’re going to get to solve hard problems with leadership support (which means mentorship, team building, and securing proper funding) and strong cross-org alignment, specifically with product and process teams.
Mid-term, I’m looking to build Auth0’s engineering vision and roadmap to align our technology investments and product innovation plans. This will also play into our longer-term Okta + Auth0 vision. As a team, we are constantly innovating and making big bets. It is important that we build external awareness of key initiatives (watch for more engineering-specific content) to help continue attracting top talent and satisfying evolving customer needs.
If I’m a new or current engineer at Auth0, what kind of leadership can I expect from you?
Table stakes for me are genuine empathy. But if I am going to ask you to rally behind me, there are really four core qualities that I look for in leaders, whether I am looking in the mirror or at leadership across an org.
- High-accountability. Everyone is going to make mistakes. I hold myself highly accountable for what happens in my org. This helps build team integrity, trust, and collective ethics. The point is never to be mistake-free but to make sure we take the time to learn from our mistakes.
- Listening-based communication. For a lot of people, listening is passive. For me, active listening means checking that you’ve effectively communicated what needs to be communicated and making sure it was received correctly. Information and feedback need to flow both ways, which is also key to building a transparent organization.
- Planning long-term. As we look at our organization and tech stack, we need to invest in our long-term vision and strategy along with making short-term bets and wins. Aligning engineering with our vision and long-term goals means investing in people, investing in our technology, and strengthening innovation.
- Investing in leaders. The mentors I wanted and needed weren’t right there at the start of my career. If I could go back and change something in my own career, it would be to mentor sooner. Investing in developing team leadership through mentoring, coaching, or providing access to additional training and contacts can make a huge difference in the amount of creativity and innovation that comes out of an org. But more importantly, it helps keep the entire industry growing and innovating. I ensure that I am coaching my leaders to grow, and together we are building an organization inspired by learning and problem-solving. I also make every effort in connecting with underrepresented groups regularly and evaluate how effectively I help them to achieve their goals. If you’re on my team and would appreciate mentorship, I will either mentor you directly or connect you with someone within my network.
What did it take to break into executive roles? Especially if you’re a woman or underrepresented person in tech, what five steps should you take to break in?
- Say yes to stretch assignments. Mentors or coaches are usually telling you what’s happening, but if an opportunity comes your way, it means someone has vouched for you. Of course, you need to evaluate whether or not this assignment is right for you at this point in your life, but if you can, say “yes”.
- Seek mentors — and trust them to identify your gaps. We all have self-doubts, but I sometimes see women calling out “gaps” that I don’t really see as their weakness. Finding a mentor who can confirm your true gaps and strengths is critical. Then it’s important to do that homework to actively address the things you need to do in order to reach that goal.
- Get comfortable with taking risks and failing. As an executive, the situations that come your way usually do not have a playbook. Being comfortable with taking risks, failing, and learning from the experience is the only path forward.
- Network. Look for peers (in addition to mentors) that you can lean on and ask for best practices. This is easier for some than others. Here are concrete steps that work:
- Talk to your manager and express interest in mentorship. Your manager can lean in and help and/or provide recommendations and intros to other mentors.
- Reach out to your People/Human Resources partner for mentorship. They can connect you with internal mentors, in addition to external opportunities.
- Identify your goals. Work on self-awareness. Avoid an open-ended discussion. Identify two to three areas you’d like to work on. This will make it easier for your network to help you take action that matters.
Our security team talks about relying on “diversity of thought” to help secure our product and ensure a stronger security culture that protects our customers and the internet. How does diverse thinking help fuel an effective engineering team?
Security is part of engineering, and the teams collaborate closely to identify solutions grounded in the Secure by Design approach. Diverse backgrounds bring diverse thoughts with multiple perspectives to get us to the right solution for all our customers. Auth0 was not created for just one company in the US or one company in another country. Our customer space requires a large global setup. One perspective just won’t work.
Tell me about why you joined Neythri Futures Fund (NFF) as a founding Limited Partner.
The core reason we all came together to found the NFF was to fuel diversity at the top. We focus specifically on funding companies founded by women and underrepresented groups because we weren’t seeing women investors in this space. If you want to fuel diversity, you have to fund it.
What makes a good ally?
We all feel we should know the answer here, but this is an evolving area. I am a continual learner in this space, so this means making sure I am listening and aware that I am going to make mistakes. Not intentionally, of course, but coming from a place of being comfortable with learning and listening hopefully makes it easier for others to point out my mistakes so I can learn from them. Immediately trying to fix everything is not the answer. The constant learning can’t stop with me. I need to pass it on to my team, leadership, and my network. We need to share what we learn to build collective awareness in this area.
After being through more than five acquisitions, what kind of leadership does it take to move companies through mergers and acquisitions towards success for both employees and customers?
- Aligning mission and core values. How does the acquiree fit in/influence the mission?
- Bringing people along through communication. An acquisition is change management at a grand scale. Being clear about challenges and opportunities, especially for growth acquisitions, helps people bring the collaborative vision into reality.
- Put together a plan for how you will bring people together — and actively communicate that plan.
- Understand that this is a complex process. Know that there are areas that might not work out, while there are people who thrive on complex challenges. Actively choose to let those people lead and bring in those who are looking to work collaboratively. Frankly, I’m excited to be able to help Okta and Auth0 at this time.