Last Thursday, I woke up to a pile of emails that I was, in truth, half expecting. They were all worded a bit differently and came from different senders but the message was the same:
Today, Okta made the decision to eliminate a number of positions across multiple organizations. Unfortunately, your position has been eliminated as part of this reduction.
Things had been a little strange at work since the end of last year: unclear priorities for our group, an awkward reorganization, rumblings that something was going on. All of that contributed to a surge of professional anxiety and a sudden urge to make sure I had all my digital affairs in order.
And then it happened, I got the email. Slack didn't work. My laptop restarted and came back with accounts missing. It really, actually happened. And even though the writing seemed to be on the wall, I was still caught a bit off guard. What about that high-priority project I was helping to lead? What about the training I was scheduled to deliver? What about the offsite next month?
I wasn't totally sure what to do with myself so I tried to follow the instructions that were sent to me to log into the minimal number of apps I still had access to for the rest of the day. I found a few groups of former (or were they still current?) teammates collecting on Google Chat, Slack groups, and LinkedIn, everyone exchanging personal contact information and messages of support. I walked the dog and said "I can't believe it actually happened" to my wife several times.
By the end of the day, my phone was at record levels of screen time logged and I was exhausted from doing what probably looked like next to nothing but I felt ... OK. I had spent all day reading and responding to deluge of support, kind words, and offers to help on LinkedIn and was told that the severance offered would give me at least a few months free from acute financial stress. I already made plans to see some former teammates, friends, and family in the next week. Things were going to be just fine.
I don't think there's any reason for me to dwell on the how and why these layoffs happened. There were reasons, some I was told and some I can guess. What I want to remember as I move on from the last 6 years was how it all started, what Auth0 meant to me, and why I will proudly wear that shield for as long as the hats, shirts, and socks hold up.
I'm sure I'm missing something ...
My journey with Auth0 started in January of 2018 working on SDKs, open source libraries that customers use to make integrating their applications with Auth0, hopefully, a bit easier. I was sent the job listing by a fellow preschool dad who thought I would be a good fit. The company culture sounded good (but who can trust that stuff), working in open source sounded fun (but maybe it's just a slog of support requests), and the security/authentication space felt like the challenge I was looking for (but could I hack it). I applied, made it through the interview and take-home project, and got an offer. I accepted and started my first W2 job in 4 years.
The SDKs team was scrappy, totally overloaded, and somewhat of an island in Auth0 engineering. We were mostly left to our own devices to manage somewhere around 60 open source libraries with only 4 engineers. I scrambled to learn about OpenID Connect and OAuth 2 while figuring out what, exactly, the WordPress setup wizard was doing. I learned Laravel for the 3rd time, tried to dig back up what I remembered about Drupal, and squinted my eyes at Symphony code over and over. I dove into Ruby because I had gone through a tutorial a few years ago and remembered liking it. All the while I was being exposed to engineering concepts that just weren't a thing in agency work: unit testing, CI/CD, git hygiene, release management.
I wrote a post that year that would have been confusing to me the year before. The amount of things I learned during my time there is hard to wrap my head around, even having been through it myself. I was surrounded by smart, talented people in a safe, growth-minded workplace. There was chaos and uncertainty but everywhere you looked there were people doing the best work of their career trying to get this cool thing off the ground.
That "Auth0 feeling" was made tangible on the first offsite I went to in Panama City. Everyone around me told me that it would be amazing and I would have a great time. I was, to be honest, a bit skeptical. I'm not typically a company kool-aid drinker and I was expecting a lot of eye roll moments. I was, thankfully, completely surprised.
There was something truly special about what happened during that offsite. You felt like a part of something, like you were contributing to something singular and unique. There was talk of growth and ARR and everything else but the passion that everyone had to do this to the best of their abilities was clear in almost every conversation you had. And it wasn't obsession or fanaticism, it was confidence and excitement combined with camaraderie and just genuine good vibes. You were accepted here, regardless of where you came from in your career and in the world. Just give us your best and we'll use it.
I was caught up in the feeling but my own internal stuff was looming large. I wrote this journal entry while I was there:
I'm in Panama, building a raspberry pi to pull data from secure internal sources and display to everyone in the company. Imposer syndrome in full effect at the moment ... right up until I stop thinking about it and just collaborate with someone. If I lose myself in the work at hand, that's where I become valuable, focused, and productive.
I can remember this precise feeling, trying to write Node.js code in vim in a terminal connected to this misbehaving little gadget. I was quaking inside, feeling like someone would call me out. But that never happened and I doubled down on learning and growing from that point on. The excitement I felt leaving Panama was like nothing I had ever felt in my professional life.
After a year (that felt like 3), I was approached to be a part of the technical onboarding program that happened monthly in Bellevue. I wrote about that experience recently and, when I look back on that time, I remember being so humbled and proud of where I worked as I met all the incredible people that came through from all over the world. Once I got my footing as an instructor, I felt like a critical part of creating the culture at Auth0. I got to meet about half of all the new hires for a year or so and was a part of them learning the product and digital identity. Everyone would work through 4 technical labs, each one hour long, and it was so rewarding to see folks try and fail and try something else and ask a neighbor and ask me and then get it working. We gave them a safe space to try something totally new right away and just about everyone walked away with something positive. Just writing these words gives me warm, fuzzy feelings ...
My son called the Bellevue office "Dad's Bellevue" and both kids loved the snacks that came back with me.
The offsite that year in Los Cabos was just like the one the year before but even better. I knew many more people because of the onboarding and we were larger and more established. We also heard the news that Auth0 had completed a funding round and was now, based on factors I only partially understood, worth over a billion dollars. And this was all well and good but it meant so much more to everyone who had been a part of it. We had put in our best work, side-by-side with wonderful people from around the world, led by two kind and brilliant Argentinians, and it was working! There was no push to work long hours (even though some of us did because we felt like it) and there was no manufactured pressure around launch dates. We figured out what worked for us, it was paying off, and it felt like we were just getting started.
In the beginning of 2020, something huge happened in the world but, being a "modern" adult with kids, I worked right on through it. I helped convert the onboarding to virtual instead of in-person, transitioned out of the SDKs team, and onboarded as the second person on the Marketplace team. As a part of transition, I worked on a high-severity CVE that resulted in a huge major release for a popular SDK that I maintained. If this happened anywhere else, I might have been too embarrassed to link to that here and, at the time, I was mortified to be a part of such a critical issue caused by something as simple as a misconfigured code analyzer. At every point during the process, though, the security team was so kind and so gracious and everyone made it clear that issues like these were the result of process failures, not individuals. Just when I felt like I should have been hauled into involuntary security training for a month, I was surrounded by supportive folks who helped get the fixes out as soon as possible and even praised me for my work during that release. I learned something about a blame-free culture that I will carry with me to the end of my professional life.
That Auth0 spirit, the feeling that you were a piece of something special, was on full display throughout the pandemic. Our family had some major challenges with two young kids at home and two working parents. My wife and I would switch off on shifts: one person worked from 6AM to noon and the other noon to 6PM, with the other handling the house and the kids. Both of us, exhausted, would convene on the couch at night with our laptops, trying to eke out another hour of productivity, breath held that it would all be over soon.
Not actually, no.
But, once it was clear that we were in it for the long haul, the message at Auth0 was, sincerely, don't make life harder by trying to do more than you can do. The message was clear from the CEO down: take care of your people, do what you can do, don't burn yourself out. We adjusted due dates, spent time on meetings checking in with each other, and just made it through. I've said to many people since then: I would have been voluntarily unemployed very quickly without that support.
12 years 18 months into the pandemic and my tenure on the Marketplace team when I got the shocking news about The Acquisition. One of our main competitors, Okta, had acquired us for $6.5B dollars and we would trade in our fiery Auth0 orange for the more staid Okta blue. I wasn't sure exactly what to think. I was happy that my stock options would be worth something but that meant less than the thought of the Auth0 spirit fading away. We've all heard the stories about the small and spunky startup being acquired and slowly being dissolved into the larger entity.
But, the fact is, I didn't want to leave right away and I had faith that Auth0 would still live on, in some form, even under the umbrella of larger corporate entity. I had faith in the people that started the company and the people that were a part of building it to what it had become.
I spent another 18 months on Marketplace working with my teammates and partners to design and build integrations into our platform. We were flying by the seat of our pants a lot of the time but, as always, the people around me and the work we were doing kept me motivated. In the summer of 2022, however, another catastrophe struck my family and I was, yet again, unable to do much beyond handle the situation in front of me. I was, once again, surrounded by new teammates, a new manager, and a new director, all of whom told me in no uncertain terms: take care of your people and we'll handle it at work. This was over a year after The Acquisition and that support was the same as it had always been. I returned after several months of family leave and jumped right back in, truly excited to have a distraction in the form of writing code.
At the beginning of last year, I made what would be my last team change at the company. I was working with some true veterans with as many or more years in the company than I had. I loved the team and liked the work but something was missing and it didn’t really occur to me until I wrote the bulk of this post what that was: the Auth0 story had been told, the ending was revealed, the future was written. The question of whether we would IPO or stay private forever or get acquired and by what company was no longer a question. We were “Auth0 by Okta,” soon to be known only as “Okta CIC.” There was work to be done and still big hills to climb but the original book is closed and on the shelf. In a world full of companies, we were one of the few that made it and it happened because of the heart and soul and blood and sweat we put into it.
I will forever be grateful to the two incredible individuals who started Auth0, Eugenio Pace and Matias Woloski, along with all the impossibly talented humans I worked with and learned from over the last 6 years. I feel like I accomplished a decade of professional growth during that time and learned an enormous amount about what it means to build and run a people-first company.
So, what’s next for me? I have a few frogs to swallow first (taxes, 2024 budget, resume and LinkedIn updates) the I plan to spend the next 2-3 months writing all the posts I’ve been meaning to write for the last year (commit log) and working on my two main open source projects, budget-cli and api-getter. I also have a bike race coming up that I need to train for and two kids that might let me hang out with them more! After that, who knows? Contact me if I can be useful to you!
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Jan 21, 2024
Vittorio Bertocci passed on October 7th, 2023. He had a major impact on me and I wanted to write a few words in his honor.