Alesia Braga is the CTO SmartRecruiters, the talent acquisition company. The San Francisco-headquartered startup founded in 2012 today has close to 600 employees. The company most recently raised a $110m Series E funding round at a $1.5bn valuation in July 2021.
In this CTO Talk, the SmartRecruiters executive addresses the challenge of finding new talent in the current candidate-led market.
Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Alesia Braga: I’ve worked in a variety of roles across software, programme management and engineering across my career. The first job I had in IT was in sales for a software company, however, after two months I realised it wasn’t where my passion was. My roles and responsibilities were largely cold calling – a job no one else wanted to do.
Once the team realised I had experience in coding, I was transferred to a software engineer role. From then on, I spent a large portion of my career in Software Engineering before moving on to higher level, strategic technology roles. I then I moved into the role I have now at SmartRecruiters.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
Throughout my youth I went through phases about what I wanted to be; from doctor to lawyer then an astronaut. But I’ve always loved working with computers – I first started coding when I was six years old. As I got older, it became clear that I wanted to study math and computer science. At 21 I received my master’s in applied mathematics and computer science. My interest in tech has always been there, it has just evolved over time.
What is the biggest technology challenge in your field right now?
Businesses are struggling with the sheer amount of technology solutions that help with recruitment and HR in one way or another. There are AI-based solutions that help with application sifting, entire talent acquisition suites, payroll systems. It can be very overwhelming for organisations to decide what will work best for them. Overcoming this is simple once you establish what you desire from your recruitment system.
Talent acquisition suites are becoming more common place due to the ease, efficiency and how in-line they are with modern hiring markets. Businesses must outline the recurring challenges in their hiring systems to ensure they install a model to suit their business’ needs.
How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?
Innovation is not always widespread and talked about, but generally, I would look for a genuine solution to a problem that exists versus a solution that is looking for a problem. Innovation is often another take on a solution whereas “hype” focuses on how often ignoring the why.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
Don’t get comfortable thinking you know everything. There are significant changes, developments, and updates every year in our industry, change is accelerating even faster. To be part of the C-suite in an innovative sector, you need to have a creative and curious mindset.
It’s not just about learning a framework or one tool, but continuously working to understand the integrations of how that next generation of technology fits into existing tech and how it all unites to deliver maximum impact.
CTOs need to focus on understanding the ‘why’ behind the solutions: how it maps to wider business objectives, which teams will achieve those results. The answers to these types of questions are your responsibility.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
How much of an impact technology can have on multiple aspects of business. Not just the operational, technical side of business, but also the business strategy. Naturally, as tech constantly evolves, so does a CTO’s wider role. Understanding how technology links into business strategy is something I have found interesting, and it has been great to have that experience.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
The skills gap. IT has pushed every industry further in the last 10 years, and people are struggling to keep up. A McKinsey survey found that 87% of businesses are aware that they either already have a skills gap or will have one within a few years. When businesses are unable to find people with the right skills, it can slow productivity, stunting the growth and innovation of that business.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
I wore a neon pink hoodie to an executive interview. In fairness, the hiring manager was wearing a “Mr Incredible” costume and one of the interviewers was dressed as a unicorn.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
Businesses are attempting to traverse the tricky landscape that is recruitment with challenges being thrown at them left, right and centre. The Great Resignation, the aftermath of the pandemic, the rising cost of living and talent shortages are all impacting recruitment in different ways. Businesses must be able to navigate this effectively in order to hire the top talent. The biggest problem is talent shortages – the best candidates are being snapped up, and businesses are struggling to keep up with their competition.
In another life you’d be?