Google alum appointed as new Okta CTO

Former Vice President of Engineering Sagnik Nandy is to join the executive management team of identity provider Okta, as their new President of Technology and CTO – the second in as many weeks to leave Google for Okta.

Nandy had been with Google for more than 15 years, leading several teams including building its measurement and analytics offerings, and most recently overseeing several critical components of its core advertising business.

With extensive experience in end-to-end technology development and design in the analytics and advertising sector, aimed at identifying users and predicting their interests and behaviour across the web, it’s easy to see why Okta was so keen to get him on board.

“As an engineer at heart and by trade, I have a special appreciation for Sagnik’s impressive background and depth across enterprise software development, cloud infrastructure, and business-critical systems,” said Todd McKinnon, CEO and co-founder of Okta, to whom Nandy will report directly. “Beyond his technical expertise, he’s a strong team builder and understands the importance of people and culture. Sagnik is the right leader to further extend Okta’s technology and market leadership and drive our next phase of innovation — we’re thrilled to welcome him to the team.”

Google has done very well out of the pandemic, setting an all-time revenue record with its recently disclosed Q2 2021 earnings of $61.9 billion, and record profits ($18.5 billion) for the fourth quarter in a row. Its advertising business accounts of course for a significant chunk of annual turnover, and a report by GroupM showed that in 2020, it claimed 21% of all global ad revenue, far ahead of rivals such as Alibaba (4.5%), Amazon (3.2%), and even Facebook (who come in at a still highly impressive 14%). That’s up from just 7% of global ad revenue in 2010 – though even then that figure was more than double that of its nearest competitor.

Over recent years, increasing pushback against highly specific ad targeting, cross-site tracking, and the use of cookies has led Google to become even more creative with how it delivers ads, such as the development of its Federated Learning of Cohorts (or FLoC) technology, intended to replace third-party cookies by dividing users of the Chrome browser into ‘interest groups’, so that they can be presented with interest-based ads without revealing personal information to advertisers (though Google itself would still be able to see user-specific information).

FLoC is part of Google’s wider ‘Privacy Sandbox’ strategy, which will include discontinuing support for third-party cookies, though the date for this was recently pushed back from 2022 to 2023. An initial trial of FLoC has been running since March, and has not been entirely smooth sailing, with researchers spotting privacy design bugs, alternate browser makers such as Vivaldi describing it as “privacy-invasive tracking technology” which “crosses the line into personal safety”, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation announcing that they “emphatically reject” its use.

So, is Nandy’s decision to move after fifteen years of service another indication that Google’s post-cookie strategy is not yet fully baked?

The past few years have seen Okta’s revenue growth slow somewhat, down to 42.5% in FY 2021 from 45% in FY 2020 and 53.6% in FY 2019. Meanwhile, net losses have grown year on year, from $125.5 million in FY 2019 to $266.3 million in FY 2021.

However, sales have continued to grow and have significantly exceeded Okta’s 2020 predictions for FY 2021, no doubt thanks to the pandemic and remote working, which have increased the need for a more sophisticated approach to cybersecurity. This year has also seen announcements of new offerings in privileged access management and identity governance and administration, as well as Okta’s £6.5 billion acquisition of Auth0, offering further opportunities for Okta to consolidate its position as a leader in the identity management space.

And Nandy is not the only Google alum to join Okta recently. Just a few weeks ago, Okta announced that John Zissimos, previously Vice President of Creative, Brand, Media, and Customer Programs at Google, was to be their first Chief Digital Officer, working within the marketing department with responsibility for holistic creative, campaign, digital, and brand strategy.

“Identity is the most important and powerful component of an organization’s technology and security strategy,” said Sagnik Nandy. “Okta occupies the critical position as the gateway to digitization for companies large and small across the globe, and the opportunity this creates is tremendous. Okta is uniquely able to address the most pressing technology and business problems organizations face to deliver delightful customer and workforce experiences. I’m excited to build on Okta’s already strong foundation and lead the talented team responsible for the future of development and innovation at the company.”

Researcher, writer, recovering medievalist. Currently particularly interested in the cybersecurity solutions market, cyber insurance/risk modelling, and IoT security.

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