Employee Spotlight: Coffee with Karim Toubba
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My first week at Kenna Security in early December 2019 was predictably busy: new-hire paperwork, meeting new teammates, getting to know Kenna’s amazing technology, etc. But among invites to training meetings and onboarding sessions, I received an invite to an hour-long event titled “Coffee with Karim.” I was soon told this was an opportunity for us new employees to meet face-to-face with our CEO, Karim Toubba, get to hear his perspectives on the company first hand, and personally ask him any questions as we start our new journey with Kenna.
Unaccustomed to this type of access to any CEO as a newbie, I immediately felt pleased with my decision to join the Kenna team. And when I went to sit down during our Coffee with Karim session, my excitement grew. At the head of the table sat Karim, bantering quietly with an employee with an approachable smile on his face. He introduced himself to the broader room and began to tell us about his background. His character shone through: Articulate, expressive, personable, and poised with a natural authority. And as he delved into some of his personal stories—his affinity for hip-hop and a short stint as a street breakdancer—his creativity, humor, and kindness were immediately apparent.
I’ve always been a firm believer in a CEO’s ability to set the tone for a company, and Kenna Security has an exceptional role model at its helm. It’s no surprise that Kenna commits itself to customers, trust, and character above all else; our CEO himself is the embodiment of transparency, dedication, and genuinely wanting to make a positive difference in the world around him.
Alas, we employees will happily rant and rave about Karim all day, but perhaps it’s best if you learn a bit more about him yourself in our Q&A.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Aleppo, Syria. I grew up there until I moved to the United States when I was about eight years old. My parents wanted better opportunities for their children, and my aunt had come to the States with her husband, who was getting a Ph.D. at Berkeley at the time. Since then, I’ve lived mostly in Berkeley and Oakland.
Q: How did you come into this field of work?
A: My major in college was environmental engineering, but I also developed an interest in computer science at the time, so I started taking some computer science courses in addition to my normal workload. At the time, the environmental engineering department wanted help with building a website, and I was immediately interested. I started working on building a website for the department and started taking more programming classes. So, while I never majored in computer science, I had taken enough courses to figure things out, and when I graduated in the mid-90s, I had a strong enough foundation to pursue a career in technology. I was fascinated by the ability to do some work, compile code, and immediately see a result. That’s how I became hooked.
Q: What keeps you motivated to get out of bed and come into work every morning?
A: I’d say I’m a pretty motivated person in general, but I do find the security space particularly motivating. Our space is so unique. In every other industry, you’re driven so heavily by competition or innovation, but in security, we’re driven primarily by the pace of innovation of our adversaries (i.e. the attackers). I’ve been in security for nearly two decades and there’s always been a very frenetic pace between the good guys and the bad guys, and that’s always kept me motivated not just to get up every day but to stay on top of the latest information and help to make a difference. If you can’t get motivated about helping customers stay ahead of the bad guys then you should not be in our business!
Q: What do you feel makes Kenna Security’s culture so special?
A: We spent a lot of time early on really thinking about what is important to us as a company and what we wanted the culture to be, and I think what’s really unique about Kenna is our ability to live what we preach. Kenna’s culture is very much focused around customers, trust, and character, and what’s unique is that while we’ve codified it (as many companies do), we tend to exhibit and live by that culture on a day-to-day basis. The ability to clearly articulate our culture and then for people to actually take that to heart and live it makes our company so special, because that’s something that’s typically really hard to achieve and maintain.
Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
A: I’m not sure if it counts as hidden talents but I do speak Arabic and French. I also have some diverse interests and hobbies. I play the djembe. And I love to cook (Middle Eastern and Italian cuisines are my favorites). I hate to bake, though—it requires too much exact measurement.
Q: What are 5 must-have songs on your road trip playlist?
A: Space Cadet by 21 Savage
Middle Child by J Cole
Still – Dr. Dre
All In A Day’s Work – Dr. Dre
Earthquake – Kahleo
Q: If you could have an all-expense-paid dinner anywhere in the world, which restaurant would you go to?
A: Noor Jahan – most amazing Curry.
Q: What is the best concert you ever attended?
A: Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation Tour, 1989.
Q: If you had a warning label, what would it say?
A: Don’t make me wait.
Q: Coffee or tea?
Q: Pancake or waffle?
A: Pancake. Banana.
Q: Sweet or salty?
Q: Cassette tape or CD?
A: Cassette tape.
Q: Superman or Batman?
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