12 enterprise tech rock stars quietly building some of the most successful cloud services in 2021

  • The ‘Up and Comers’ Award honors people in enterprise tech who are leading innovative projects at some of the most popular firms.
  • The annual award was created by Okta in conjunction with Business Insider, with help from Twilio.
  • This year’s 12 winners are building some of the most innovative cloud services out there today. 
  • Do you work at one of these companies? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected] or Signal at 925-364-4258. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

CEOs and founders of successful tech companies are often praised for their innovative products and technology. But they’re never building their business alone: Each company relies on teams of lesser-known people who keep things running. 

To recognize some of those unsung heroes, Business Insider worked with Okta — with some help from Twilio — to create the Up And Comer Awards.

Okta’s identity management and access tool for workplaces gives it a unique insight into which apps are successful and growing in popularity. For this list, it identified the 200 most popular apps on its Okta Integration Network and invited those companies to nominate an “Up And Comer.” The nominee had to be someone responsible for an important internal project who had a major impact on the success of the app, but who was not a founder or chief executive. They also had to work in IT, engineering, security, product management, or architecture.

We received 26 nominations total which we narrowed down to the top 12 performers based on the input of a panel of judges: Insider’s Paayal Zaveri, Okta president of technology Hector Aguilar, and Twilio chief technology officer Jeremiah Brazeau.

Each judge scored the nominees on four criteria: their technical chops, the innovation of their projects, the impact those projects had on their companies, and the ingenuity of the projects and the person.

Here are this year’s 12 winners:

Rukmini Reddy: powering a central hub for work

Name: Rukmini Reddy

Title: VP of platform engineering

Company: Slack

Tenure at company: 7 months 

Why she won: Reddy joined Slack last summer as the leader of its platform engineering group, meaning that she’s responsible for the teams that develop Slack’s third-party app platform — which allows outside tools to integrate with Slack — and its no-code tool to automate processes, Workflow Builder.

Since Reddy joined Slack, her teams have launched several new products. Overall, her contributions have expanded the reach of Slack’s platform, made it easier for people to build apps and workflows, and furthered the firm’s goal of becoming a central hub for work. 

Because Reddy joined when the company was fully-remote because of the pandemic, she has never met her teammates in person and launched creative leadership tactics and programs to adapt.

Himanshu Singh: using software to respond to the pandemic

Name: Himanshu Singh

Title: Head of solution engineering (pre-sales) 

Company: Freshworks

Tenure at company: 2+ years

Why he won: Singh leads solution engineering at Freshworks, which makes customer relationship management software. In his role, he has helped thousands of customers adopt Freshworks’ platform and move to the cloud. 

When the pandemic hit last year, Singh’s team helped StepOne, a volunteer group of doctors in India, build a telemedicine tool with Freshworks’ customer service product as its backbone. Now, 13 state COVID-19 helplines and nine city helplines run on the telemedicine tool and over 8,500 doctors use it to provide healthcare services in India virtually.

Khanh Nguyen: building the next hub for getting work done

Name: Khanh Nguyen

Title: Senior engineer

Company: Trello (Atlassian)

Tenure at company: 5 years

Why he won: Nguyen has worked at Atlassian since before it acquired the workplace management tool Trello in 2017. He has worked on a number of flagship Atlassian products like Jira and Confluence, and was one of the original developers who created Forge, its development platform that allows app developers to better integrate their tools with Atlassian’s projects. 

Recently, Nguyen developed a new feature in Trello which allows users to link to apps including YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox, Stripe, Salesforce, or Google Drive. The development represents a turning point for Trello as it shifts from a task management tool to a central hub for getting work done. 

Chitra Dharmarajan: delivering a secure content platform

Name: Chitra Dharmarajan

Title: Director of product and customer security

Company: Box

Tenure at company: Less than a year

Why she won: Security and privacy are important focus areas for Box and Dharmarajan is responsible for setting standards — and fostering communication and collaboration — for the product and engineering teams as they build products. 

Under her leadership, Box has streamlined the process of testing a new security feature or checking a product for security flaws. She has also introduced new programs, like a crowdsourcing initiative to continually check the security of Box’s products.

Elvis Ha: creating the "Netflix" of corporate learning

Name: Elvis Ha

Title: Senior director of product management

Company: Cornerstone on Demand

Tenure at company: 9 years

Why he won: Cornerstone sells software that helps companies recruit, train, and manage their employees and as a senior director of product management, Ha has been leading Cornerstone’s innovation and development.

For example, he led a team in 2017 that launched a subscription offering that creates a “Netflix-style” interface that gives users content recommendations, as well as playlists and sharing capabilities.

During his tenure, his team has been responsible for the release of 9 major products and features and developed integrations with Linkedin Learning, Workplace by Facebook, and Microsoft Teams. 

 

 

Natalia Baryshnikova: redesigning Atlassian's popular collaboration tool

Name: Natalia Baryshnikova

Title: Head of product management for Confluence experience

Company: Atlassian

Tenure at company: 6 months

Why she won: Confluence is Atlassian’s second most popular product and has evolved over the last few years from a documentation tool into a content-centric collaboration platform.

Baryshnikova recently led a 6 month vision and strategy initiative for the tool that brought together R&D teams, global marketing, and others to outline the future of Confluence. Her work is key to how the product will evolve, including how it will look and feel for users and how it can solve the productivity and collaboration challenges companies face. 

Gary Chan: helping Zoom employees keep working to support huge demand

Name: Gary Chan

Title: Head of IT infrastructure and employee services

Company: Zoom

Tenure at company: 2+ years

Why he won: Zoom saw its business explode during the pandemic and Chan’s work helped employees to keep operations running smoothly during the period of immense growth. 

As the head of  IT infrastructure and employee services, his team was responsible for making sure Zoom could handle an influx of new employees who would be all remote. He also put in place projects that improved the employee experience and up-leveled the company’s security.

Lindsey Martin: infusing customer feedback to design visual collaboration tools

Name: Lindsey Martin

Title: User experience manager

Company: Lucid

Tenure at company: 3 years

Why she won: Lucid creates a set of visual collaboration products, including a virtual whiteboard tool and a data visualization tool.

Martin played a major role in setting up the company’s design research process, encouraging the company to get feedback from customers to inform the usability and the design of its products, starting with the data visualization tool Lucidchart. 

After her work on Lucidchart, Martin applied her design knowledge to Lucidspark, the white-boarding tool. Ultimately, her work has made design a critical component of the product development process — which has helped keep Lucid customers happy.  

Varsha Garje: making social media analytics run more smoothly

Name: Varsha Garje

Title: Director of engineering 

Company: Sprout Social

Tenure at company: 3+ years

Why she won: Garje is the director of engineering at Sprout Social, which that offers social media analytics and management tools.

Garje recently led a two-year overhaul of its EonStore platform, which updated Sprout Social’s technology and allowed the company to cut costs and operational overhead and make the product easier to use. 

Sara Asher: building easy-to-use AI tools for any skill level

Name: Sara Asher

Title: Senior director of product management for Einstein

Company: Salesforce

Tenure at company: 4 years 

Why she won: Asher leads product development for Salesforce’s artificial intelligence tool Einstein and her efforts are helping it become an easy-to-use AI tool (even for non-technical users) that integrates with the rest of the Salesforce platform.

For example, she led the creation of Einstein Prediction Builder, which helps Salesforce administrators who don’t know data science create custom AI predictions.

Shayani Roy: delivering new survey experiences

Name: Shayani Roy

Title: VP of product management

Company: SurveyMonkey

Tenure at company: 7+ years

Why she won:Roy manages product development for SurveyMonkey’s core survey creation tool, including product lines aimed at small businesses, large enterprises, and data visualization.

Overall, her contributions have added new capabilities to SurveyMonkey’s products without compromising their easy-to-use nature and scalability and products under her purview have been steadily growing their revenue.

 

Shilpa Varma: moving content management to the public cloud

Name: Shilpa Varma

Title: Chief architect

Company: Box

Tenure at company: 3 years

Why she won: Varma joined Box to build its data platform, which helps customers manage the large amounts of data they have stored within the product.

She’s now a chief architect for the company, leading the migration of Box’s software from its own cloud servers to the public cloud without causing any disruption.

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