Accepting a CIO role in the middle of a pandemic

Alvina Antar headshot 1

Since October 2020,  Okta’s SVP, Chief Information Officer, Alvina Antar has been responsible for enabling a seamless employee and customer experience.

Joining a new company as the CIO during a global pandemic, with the ability to only work remotely is a unique experience, and it’s now an experience Alvina Antar SVP CIO at Okta can cross off her career list.

However, she was hesitant at first to make a big career change while the world was in lockdown, but Antar learned that crisis isn’t a reason to stop moving forward.

“In order to navigate the challenges successfully, companies must continue to make critical hires and shake things up by bringing in fresh talent,” she told CIO Tech Asia in an interview. “I see myself as a change agent, capable of helping guide the team through the uncertainty and positioning Okta to come out of the pandemic with momentum driving growth and success.”

At Okta Antar is responsible for enabling a seamless employee and customer experience. She most recently spent six years as Zuora’s first ever CIO enabling business growth from $30M to $300M in revenue including a successful IPO in 2018.

She built Zuora’s IT department ground-up into the modern-day Business Technology organization for subscription businesses. Prior to Zuora, Antar spent 17 years at Dell focused on Digital Transformation, Global Delivery and M&A.

The combination of Fortune 50 and high-growth start-up experience provides Antar with an intangible perspective on agility required to scale while maintaining operational efficiencies.

Rise and fall of technology

“Over the past seven years that I’ve been in a CIO role, the technology industry has changed dramatically,” said Antar. “I’ve seen the rise of cloud technologies and software-as-a-service models alter the industry forever.”

Enabling business transformation through disruptive technologies and challenging the status quo is now a directive, she noted. Data has emerged as a critical commodity, with data analytics and insights driving the growth of businesses and industries across the board.

“In just the past 12 months, I’ve seen trends like ecommerce, mobile and remote work – which have been bubbling up for some time – go through an enormous boom due to the pandemic,” Antar said.

All these changes are what gets Antar “up in the morning”, because she has “always been a problem solver – from high school mathematics to my current role as a business leader”.

“I naturally seek out areas that need change and thrive on dealing with ambiguity and identifying and solving hard problems,” she said.

Her love of maths had really set her on her career path to becoming a CIO. Antar said studied computer science and mathematics at college, which was encouraged by her father, as a way to continue to explore my love for math while also broadening her knowledge and career options. “There were very few women in computer science at the time which made me feel like an outsider – I wasn’t sure I belonged in the male-dominated computer engineering community,” she said. “I asked myself whether I loved the field but felt uncomfortable, or whether I wanted to give it up because I didn’t love the field? I realised that I just felt uncomfortable, so I pushed forward.”

How it all began

Antar began her career at Dell Technologies, where she worked for 17 years and went through a huge career development. As a software engineer, she loved learning about and being at the forefront of new technology. Antar wasn’t interested in managing people, but, through encouragement from my manager, I found passion in leading through influence as a development manager.

“That was the pivotal moment for me,” she said. “Understanding the power of leading and supporting people in achieving their goals. I realised the impact that I could have beyond my day to day was tenfold because I was able to help my team achieve their career aspirations and challenge themselves beyond their own expectations.”

After that, Antar continued to take on more senior-level positions and tackled areas that needed disruptive change – where she could identify a problem, bring a solution to the leadership team, and be empowered to develop and deliver that solution from the ground up.

“During my time at Dell, I took on a number of leadership roles in vastly different areas, which set me up for success as a CIO as the importance of breadth and depth of experience and business impact was far more important to me than a title,” she said. “After Dell, I took on my first CIO role at subscription management SaaS company Zuora, where I worked for six years.

I then joined Okta as CIO in August 2020 and am thrilled to be a part of Okta’s inspiring culture, incredible talent and transformational vision for creating the Identity standard.”

Supporting women

Antar said she has been lucky to have the support of her entire family behind me throughout my career.

“It’s a tough path to forge – especially as a woman in this industry – so I’ve been very fortunate in that regard,” she said. “I’ve also had amazing sponsors that have helped me with my career progression – without whom I might have never taken on a management or leadership role.”

Antar noted for a lot of people it’s about moving up the chain as quickly as possible – getting the next title, and then the next one. But for her, it’s always been about creating an impact with each role – finding and solving problems; establishing a level of influence that amplifies my work. It’s this approach to progression that has led Antar to where she is today.

For women in the industry there’s nowhere to go but up and Antar believes the industry is making progress at the rate that is needed.

“A recent study showed that technology companies in Asia have a higher proportion of women than tech companies in other developed countries, however there is still a way to go in achieving gender parity,” she said. “The only way that we will see more women in IT leadership roles is to proactively drive inclusion and diversity as a business imperative and track and measure progress –– we all know that change will only come if we measure what matters.”

Antar is personally passionate about creating a safe and supportive community for women in an industry that continues to be dominated by men.

“That’s why I partnered with leading female CIOs to create a Silicon Valley CIO women’s network three years ago,” she said. “It’s a space where women can support each other through professional and personal challenges and help other women aspiring to become CIOs. It’s an incredible group that should be replicated across industries and geographies, including APAC.”



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