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Referral Talks

Interview: Ruby Bhattacharya, Astra

Nasser Oudjidane
December 19, 2022

They say recruitment isn’t rocket science, but in Ruby Bhattacharya’s case, it actually is. Astra is a rocket manufacturer and the fastest privately-funded company in history to reach space. It’s not every day that we get to sit down with someone who hires rocket scientists for a living, so we were really excited to catch up with Ruby Bhattacharya, lead technical recruiter at Astra. 

The company has recently raised around $200m in VC, so it’s fair to say this fast-growing juggernaut – led by a CEO who was previously CTO at NASA – is going stratospheric. In a wide-ranging discussion for Scaling Stories, we covered everything from building a team from scratch to interviewing and hiring at speed.

Listen to our conversation with Ruby

Ruby has been with Astra for little over a month, but has already set about improving the company’s recruitment processes in hiring the software engineers and scientists they need. But this is no small challenge. Astra is due to scale-up from a workforce of 250 to 300 people this year to an expected headcount of around 1,000 people next year. How does Ruby expect to manage these growing pains?

“In the first month or two, if I come into a new role like this, you really have to assess where things are right now,” Ruby explains. “And I think typically, things can be a little bit messy.”

Ruby says that in a company’s infancy, there is a certain casualness where the candidate can often “waltz in” without a dedicated recruitment process. 

“It’s a case of trying to streamline processes,” Ruby says. Already, Ruby is looking to standardise the interview process, from the length of the interviews to the content of the discussion. Group presentations have been ditched. Inclusivity is a priority.

“My focus is on making sure everyone that comes in has an awesome experience of Astra,” says Ruby.

Ruby also identifies the challenge of “reactive recruiting”. Or as Ruby explains: ​​”Right now, I need to hire people for yesterday. But I also need to build talent pipelines for tomorrow.”

Ruby made the transition from working for big global agencies to building startup teams. While hiring for Astra at supersonic speed may sound exciting, there is of course a danger of doing ‘too much, too soon’. And even getting a spectacular funding boost can be its own mixed blessing.

“As soon as that funding is obtained, it's like, ‘Oh, my God, we need to just hire loads of people’”, says Ruby. “And it’s just like this big panic. I think the thing is: you’ve got to remain calm at all times. And just because someone's saying they need to hire 100 software engineers in three months, it doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna happen, right?”

As far as Ruby is concerned, a calm and measured hiring strategy could pay dividends. In terms of tools, Ruby steers away from a volume-based approach to hiring and instead sees technology, and tools like Gem, as a way of boosting efficiency when used correctly.

“I don’t want to be sending emails every day; I don't want to be creating them,” Ruby says. “I know people do. But I’m sorry, I think it’s a waste of time spending hours every day emailing when I can automate that.”

Equally, Ruby cautions against simply using tools as a substitute for human decision making: “I could use a tool and use it really badly.”

In our discussion, it’s clear that Ruby is dedicated to a more people-centred approach to recruitment with integrity at its core. Ruby says she considers questions like, “How can I make other people’s lives better? [Or] just be a better person?”

On the importance of hiring managers, Ruby takes a similarly holistic approach. “Hiring manager relationships are so critical…They have to know that I get what their pain is, you know, and that I’m addressing that pain.”

Astra is on an incredibly exciting journey, or in its own words, ‘improving life on earth from space’. It’s fascinating to hear Ruby’s insights, and you can listen to the full interview or read the transcript.

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