Intrro FM: Scaling Stories

Ruby Bhattacharya
Technical Recruiting Lead
Astra

Ruby B - Lead Technical Recruiter @ Astra

In this episode we learn from Ruby B, who is leading technical tecruitment at Astra and is an active career coach. Astra is a uniquely cool company that manufactures rockets and are hiring some of the world's smartest minds {their CEO was the CTO of NASA}.


Recorded at “the office” Ruby spoke to us from the Naval Air Station Alameda, known as "Orion" which is a former naval jet engine testing facility!


Ruby has scaled teams ranging from small YC startups to Coinbase, Lyft and Waymo. We get into the nitty gritty areas of building a well oiled TA function from scratch at high quality and speed, as Astra are set to scale from 250 to 1,000 FTE next year. 


This was a remarkably candid conversation, with amazing actionable tips on eliminating practices that negatively impact the company’s D + I initiatives, the importance of interview standardization when scaling, building solid relationships with your hiring manager & so much more!

Transcript

Nasser Oudjidane

Hello and welcome to our series of scaling stories are discussions with talent leaders about their lessons building teams at some of the world's fastest growing companies. I'm excited to introduce our guest today Ruby technical recruiting leader Astra, a uniquely cool company that manufactures rockets. Astra has recently raised around $200 million in VC, and are hiring some of the world's smartest minds. 


Fun fact, I recently noticed that their CEO was the CTO of NASA. Ruby, huge welcome, and thank you for joining us.


Ruby Bhattacharya

Thank you. Glad to be here.


Nasser 

Great to have you. To get started. Could you give a brief introduction about you and about your company?


Ruby Bhattacharya

Yeah, so I'm a technical recruiting Lead here at Astra. So I'm focusing currently on some kind of hardcore engineering teams, hiring talent, just starting up talent pipelines, we're actually kind of almost starting from scratch, because the company, as you mentioned, raised a huge amount of money. And so we're scaling everything crazily across across the board, software engineering and hardcore mechanical engineers. So I really I'm hiring rocket scientists actually.


Nasser Oudjidane

Okay, and how's it going? And of course, I failed to mention that you've recently joined as well. So yes.


Ruby Bhattacharya

So basically, I joined about a month ago, with only a few recruiters here, we're about 250 300 people, we need to scale to 1000 for next year. So you can imagine then what that entails. So I'm coming in really in the thick of it trying to just pick up a bit higher as we go in and then change, improve processes and make sure that this whole thing could run smoothly, as we scale and try and hire at quality and at speed. So yeah, so that's so I'm focused on a few different teams here, building out the teams, again, from these new teams, with new hiring managers trying to build these teams from scratch and growing them out.


Nasser Oudjidane

Okay, and perhaps we can get into that. How you going about doing that?


Ruby Bhattacharya

So yeah, this is this is an interesting one. So like the first month or two, if I come into a new new role like this, you really have to assess whether things out right now, how is the hiring, you know, what is happening right now. And I think typically, things can be a little bit messy, because teams can be used to hiring a certain way, they'll do seven or eight interviews have the candidate just waltz in and let's have a casual launch. Well, you can't do that when you're hiring 50 people, you know, in a couple of months, you just cannot. So like. So this is a case of trying to streamline processes, things like the interview process. And my focus is I want to make sure everyone comes in our awesome experience of Astra they have an awesome candidate experience. They have a good interview. So it's even focusing on making sure that their interviews are right. Are they the right length? Even? are we even doing the right things in them and standardizing so that every time someone comes in, it's the same interview type thing that being assessed every time and and making it inclusive. So I'm doing things like removing things like group presentations as the first thing you do when you come into an interview and Astra with 20 execs from Astra No, we won't do that. That's not a good idea. So things like that, just trying to sort that out. And also, like I'm very keen, keen on putting getting some female engineers and minority groups, people from different backgrounds into the company, as well. So got that there is so much and also like, I know, you'll want to touch on this. Obviously, talent pipelines, like I've got coming here and working with a saucer. And we're trying to now build up engineering talent. So we're looking at the top companies that we want to hire people from people who already fought for most in space technology, SpaceX, Virgin orbit, Blue Origin, all these folks like that. I'm all about trying to get poach people from those companies, trying to build up sourcing strategies, ways of really mapping out where the talent is, how to engage with this talent over a period of time. You know, it doesn't help with reactive recruiting, because right now, I need to hire people for yesterday. But I also need to build talent pipelines for tomorrow, you know, of people I'm going to hire in six months time. So I have to try and predict. Have those meetings, find out what who was doing when what projects they have rolling out at whatever time, and when can we start having having these kinds of talent coming in? So yeah, I'm at the start of building the talent pipelines.


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah, very, very interesting. Could you tell us a little bit more about your story? Have you always been in startups? I mean, people focus. 



Ruby Bhattacharya

Oh, yeah. Yeah. So I, I came to the US from the UK. I was working at an agency. It was a big global agency. They're owned by a deco now called Modus. So I still contract recruiting. I still just hire desktop helpdesk people. That's all I did in the in the UK is pretty much project managers. Then I moved to the US and I started hiring hundreds of contractors and people like Charles Schwab financial gun in the financial district and stuff Francisco. But I got out of there when we got like a.com bust happened, I got out of that I didn't want to do agency work, it wasn't really fulfilling. I wanted to build teams at startups I wanted to go in and I worked in a small YC startup first. And then I had a series of runs at places like Coinbase, and lift and way Mo and just trying to just getting in at sweet spots. You know, I think I particularly like coming in at this point, when it's like, Oh, we got all this money. Now we need to hire now we need to like grow and scale, and then trying to scale a recruiting process to match and predict what these people want to hire so that you know, it's successful so they can build these rockets. So it's, that's the thing that I like, I think building these teams from scratch, trying to create and then building a culture because I've got a huge, a huge impact here on Bill bringing in people that are going to reflect the culture of tomorrow for this company. So a little bit about explains a little bit where I'm at. I also do coaching, by the way, as a side thing I do on the side. purchasing these Well, yeah, I'm doing I actually coach these kids, they weren't there bipoc minority kids who are making filmmakers media, and I'm helping them with coaching them how to get a job. You know, so if that's something that I do on the side, I really enjoy doing that as well.


Nasser Oudjidane

Okay, super cool. And thinking about your, your experience like these amazing companies waymo coinbase lyft? Of course, Astra. Do you see common threads as a company is going into that kind of hyper scale that growth, and perhaps lessons and mistakes that you've seen commonly commonly seen and anything? 


Ruby Bhattacharya

Perhaps the audience would want to take on board that, you know, I think the thing, basically, the same problems occur every single time when you come to the point where, especially when huge rounds of funding are, are tamed, right. So as soon as that funding is obtained, and it's like, Oh, my God, we need to just hire loads of people. And it's just like this big panic, I think the thing is, is just you got to remain calm at all times. And just because someone's saying they needed to hire 100 software engineers in three months, it doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna happen, right? Because you have to figure out a strategy, like, what about the internal people as well? So you have to partner with HR massively? Do we need to pull our people up? Do we want to develop them, like Astro, there's a very big, huge push on career development within the teams. So we'll focus on that first and then look at what we need. Also, I think people can get stuck on process so much, it's important, but hiring is what's important, and quality and hiring the right people. And they sort out the process later, because it does, it does fall by I think it's important when you're scaling, standardization is important. The interviews have to be a certain quality, same thing every time. Otherwise, you just don't have you don't know how you're hiring people. There's no standardization in hiring at that level. I think one thing to point with at this point, I mean, I not that you asked me to say this. But referrals are huge at this point, at any point, to be honest. Like at this point, it's massive, because I actually go around, I'm asking you work to Blue Origin. Can you tell me can you give me all your people, this is a complete Pain is pain in the ass for me to do? If I have to hand do it? And sit down with people? It's not present? I have to literally every couple of days, hey, you know, can you give me a few more notes. I mean, this is just like a really rubbish way of doing things. And if I'm not on it, and I don't see that person, that I'm not going to get a referral. So yeah, I do want to mention that because like, at this point, I still stand to the fact that referrals are okay, you can't completely hire through referrals, because you need a bit of diversity there. Otherwise, you can end up with the same, it can be difficult. But it is important to really fill up most of your funnel with people who, you know, you already know this is gonna be this could be a slam dunk with someone coming in. So I can't even push that enough at scale. You want to push all of your avenues sourcing, referrals, inbound, everything, all of them need to be on all cylinders, if that makes sense.

Nasser Oudjidane

Yes, it does. So one thing that I've noticed about you is that you're an avid early adopter of tooling and technology. You've always thought you're you're into the market. I'd love to learn about what tools are you going into Astra when, like, if you've got to get the job done, what do you think is absolutely necessary where you're going to be, you know, advocating and talking to your team from top of funnel perspective sourcing, etc.


Ruby Bhattacharya

So without obviously, obviously, LinkedIn. It goes without saying, I mean, I think if failing or else if you just have LinkedIn you can make do but I like to add emailing tools on top of that. I don't want to be sending emails every day, I don't want to be creating them. I know people do. But I'm sorry, I think it's a waste of time we spending hours every day emailing what I can automate that. So I do use things like gem, and very quick and easy for sourcing. And then I can just whack my emails out once a day. It's very, very easy. And I'm trying to get this trying to get the other team members here on board, because it just seems insane to be LinkedIn messaging people to such a competitive marketplace. So email tools are and then using them correctly. You because I've had terrible emails from recruiters who wrong jobs put there and the wrong thing. And it's like, and then they're emailing you twice in the same day, because they haven't even set up the scheduling. Right? So you got to use those tools correctly. So I need to walk in with those two. The ATS system is very is critical. The correct ATS system? I do have a favorite Yes. I don't like you know, that just whatever, whatever is easier to use the most intuitive is what I prefer to use. What else? I think those are gonna be the key ones. Yeah, those are the key ones. And and really the other thing I know, you know, those are the key ones. Yeah.


Nasser Oudjidane

I think what about looking down the funnel with regards to assessment scheduling? Anything that you think is like, Oh, I'm using that. And that's, that's pretty good.


Ruby Bhattacharya

So, um, it's interesting, you say about scheduling, because that this scheduling is, is I still think it's a bit of a nightmare, unless I'm just scheduling for myself, right? Or just doing, you know, using Calendly, or something scheduling can be I don't think there's still anything that I found that helps with scheduling for whole day, and getting that setup rather than someone by hand doing it. You know, I'm taking a lot of care and making sure those interviews are set up correctly. What else down the pipeline? I think I something that always interests me sourcing tools, anything for aggregating candidates, candidates or sourcing is something that's always of interest to me, I think especially now, in the past, you used to be able to do things like go to meetups, meet people and talk to them, Go to hiring events, there's none of that, really, I don't think there's anything really going on. And I I'm suffering a little bit from it. So I am looking for alternatives. You know, like, what can I do? What can we do? In the meantime? How can I get to this large, large group of people, the only things I'm thinking of doing is actually doing events myself here, to invite people here, trying to set something up, but I just don't know how popular it's going to be right now. So I don't know, I just like watching this space, trying to see how to navigate the new, you know, situation under COVID. And how to do hiring, because a lot of things can't happen anymore. Like for intern hiring and stuff. I just go around and go to MIT and just go there and then collect hundreds of resumes. And there you go. I've got my interns for next year. I can't do that. So there's all sorts of gaps. I don't know, maybe nothing, you could find something a product to fit in that place. But there's loads of gaps in the whole process now of where we could do with something. So I don't know if that that answers your questions. I still think there's, there's loads of tools that can be made. I still think there's tons of opportunity in this area.


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah, absolutely. I think that sometimes recruiting software is catching up with what AE's have been doing and marketing been doing for years. And, you know, all of a sudden it you know, it's it's baked into, into recruiting, which is a good thing, because it means that it's digitalising. And it's moving forward. But as you mentioned, yeah, little it's moving so fast so it's actually hard to determine where it's going, because you've got to automate, but how do you remain human in such a people focused role?


Ruby Bhattacharya

Yeah, it is. So this is the key. That's the thing you just said there. It's so people focused, you still need a person, I still need to talk to someone and persuade them. Right. And I could use a tool and use it really badly. And it'll just, it will just annoy people that I reach out to right, there's that. So I think tools are tools, but you've got to use them properly. And I think we are not at the date. We're not at a time where the recruit is an AI little head talking to you yet. We're not quite there yet. Right? So a lot of this, I think a huge amount of there's so much human element that still needs to be there. You still need to assess using your brain. You know, there's all sorts of things that that just still can't can't really be told. But I think these things if we use them to just so when you're scaling like this, like what we're doing here, I need things that are going to be simple, make my tasks simple to do all the stuff like scheduling, like sourcing, like emailing those needs to be really quick and easy. So anything like that, that will say Time, My Time, so that I can do because the talking aspect, the seeing a candidate in for a whole day interview me being around, just greet them. And that's a lot. That's a lot to have to do. But I needed to be able to do that to convince that person to join, you know, because in such a again, it's such a competitive market. If you're not there, you don't have that person selling, selling, selling, you need to join Come on, join our company and get to happen. Right? Yeah, absolutely.


Nasser Oudjidane

And considering that you've worked to some very, very technical organizations, and obviously not not least Astra, how are you building the rapport necessary? With your hiring managers? Considering, you know, they're out there building rockets right now?And yeah, and they've got a job to do with hiring because they're the leaders of their of their department. So have you got any tips in that area?


Ruby Bhattacharya

You know, here's the thing, the way I look at it with hiring managers, like, like, I want to meet, and then like, hands down, no, hands down the wrong word, just like caught, let's lay the cards on the table. Let's be upfront, I recognize that you have got a ridiculously hard job, wearing 510 Different multiple hats, and can't even get to certain things, have your goals done yourself. And I'm asking you to spend half your time hiring right? There's a lot I'm asking. So I try. And what I try and do immediately is where can I take work off the hiring manager? How can I help that person I've kept coming into here, because the recruiting support was fairly light, a lot of the hiring managers were carrying their own load. So it's easy to be to come and say, I will just take that away from you. Right? I will do all that. And I'll just present to you. At the end of the day, all they want is qualified candidates who want the job, right? So if I just removed all the crap away from that, and I only send them if the only people are just going to be slammed, only people are going to make it through that interview. So I focus on that. And they see that straightaway. So I'm not going to just send crap for no reason. It'll just be like, Look, this is one person steadily slowly. It's not, it's not a race, it's all about quality. I'd rather get one candidate over sending 10 crappy ones just for the sake of it. So I think they see that I'm trying to save their time is what I'm trying to, you know, where can I save time? How can I be an extension of them? And use like, I try and understand from from their point of view exactly what they're looking for, from their head? What do they need this person to do? So that I can see it with my eyes when I'm talking or looking for people who want to fill that role. So that's what I try and do, I try and then have their eyes while I'm looking at resumes and trying to build out their teams, so that they can just not worry about it. So it's a case of they just see these interviews on their calendar, they don't have to just do it, fill it in, oh, it's all done. Miraculously, the person starts a month later, that is my aim. So it becomes like, it's like a well oiled machine. It is definitely not a well oiled machine yet here. I have worked in the oil machine companies, where people don't even notice. It's like, it's like, people just coming in and out interviewing and getting hired and no one's doing anything about it. That's when you know, you have the process down is when that is happening. And no one even knows that anyone's doing anything to make it happen, if that makes sense.


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah. But you also mentioned earlier that you've been involved in education, with like hiring managers and teams of this is how to structure an interview process in terms of we need to keep up with the market, like having an eight step process over a four month period. Right? isn't going to cut it? Yeah. So yeah, there's an element there as well


Ruby Bhattacharya

is that and you know what, like, as recruiters who come in, like I didn't get, I didn't, I wasn't hired here to come in and be like nicey nicey with people and tell them they could continue with these terrible long interviews. It was so I shouldn't say terrible, just as just different style of interviewing, right. But the thing is, you have to, because I have come in I have worked at several organizations before I know how I know how it can work and how it can't work. So it's a case of like, okay, just trust me, let's just change this, let's get rid of this move. But I do I'm very much like that, though. I'll go into somewhere and just say we will really need to get rid of this, this and this, add this in and let's continue. But um, and then it's it's like anything, it's iterating on the process, right with recruiting, and it's different for every place you're at. I can't like bring what I did another company necessarily here because it's different here. The engine hardcore engineering here is definitely changing. It makes a difference to the culture and to the hiring. And the candidates because they're different kinds of candidates. They're not like software engineers. So yeah, so So I think I think all in all in all, yeah, it's a combination of a lot of these things. But hiring manager relationships are so critical. Yes, you're right. You're very critically important. They have to know that I get what what their pain is, you know, and that I'm addressing that pain.


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah, one thing you've also mentioned regarding like your your passion for Building diverse teams and influencing the culture, right? How have you gone about that in practice?


Ruby Bhattacharya

You know, what happens is, typically, you'll come in and a hiring manager will have a certain profile of someone they're looking for. And they'll add certain criteria, which might make a lot of people not suitable for that role. Like, if our if someone's part of certain clubs and societies, at certain universe, only certain universities, there's only certain select populate map population who's actually going to be qualified at all? Right? And it's going to be a certain might, you know, a certain, you know, group of society that that is only suitable for that role. Well, that's not okay. As far as I'm concerned, like, do they really need to be part of these little society? Really? What was it about those? Why can't someone who grew up in East Oakland and built little go karts and, and, and cars out of nothing, why can't they come in here? Okay, so that is what I say. Right? So someone's telling me stuff like that. It's my job to tell them? Have you thought about these kids who do this XYZ? Have you thought of this other place that you could get these candidates from, who I think could probably do the same job, then the next step is I convinced them to interview someone of the different background? And going through that and having them interview and do it properly? Because you can suggest, hey, why don't you interview this person, just give them a shot. But they may not give them a shot, really, you know, they'll talk to them, but they'll find every single way of rejecting that person. So it has to be done carefully. But literally every single chance I have with hiring managers at meetings, I talk about diversity, I talk about how their hiring process, you need to create a process and interview process that doesn't preclude certain people because they come from certain schools or haven't had training and how to do a presentation with 10 Men engineers in the room. Or if I'm an introverted, shy woman, I haven't been shy, but no, we are not that shy. But if I was an engineer, shy, I'm not going to want to do that. And the thing is, you're just gonna come in and talk at all angles and say to them, have you thought what it's like, if I hadn't come from that background, and I didn't have the education you had, and how it would feel for me to then present, you know, as the first thing on an interview. So it's like things like that you got to chip away at and constantly. Yeah, every once an elite kind of person, I can suggest what have you thought about this? Let's have a look at that. So it's just always presenting, you know, options?


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah. Do you align that with the hiring goals of the business? Is there like a some sort of liaison with any leadership to, for instance, define what diversity is? And what KPIs or objectives at the end of this year, for instance, how many hires coming from underrepresented groups are  achieved or the end of next year? Or whatever that is?

Ruby Bhattacharya

That's a great question. I think so. The Astra has a huge DNI initiative going on. Throughout the company, it's a start. It's literally the starting, you know, starting point. Now, as we grow, um, I think, as far as getting sort of data together about how we're being diverse, that's definitely coming. I'm working with the team here recruiting team here of getting, we're migrating from one a to ATS to another. So then we're going to start being able to collect data and reports on that kind of information. So we do collect all that stuff when people apply. And they go through the EEOC and stuff like that they can they soft, declare, and stuff like that. But yeah, this is absolutely something that we are going to focus on, so that we can start getting numbers so that we can start, you know, working towards it. It's not easy hiring female rocket engineers got to admit, but it's certainly it's not. It's actually I think it's hard at times, to female software engineers, there's actually appears to be more engineers than then then in software engineering, which is bizarre. But um, but but the point is, I think like, you've got to keep monitoring, gotta keep focus on it. It can't be the main focus. It's just got to be part and parcel. Like I think all of these things need to be part and parcel. At the end of the day, you still got to hire that, that that qualified person, all I'm going to be doing is throwing in options of Have you thought about looking at this place to get this person from instead. So at least they have the option. 


Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah, I'm mindful of time because obviously, you're really busy so we can moving into closing questions. What would you say is one challenge when it comes to scaling teams or people practices that if you had a magic wand, you'd love to be able to fix or make disappear

you know, the thing that happens? 



Ruby Bhattacharya

I feel like it always goes through this process. You start fixing process setting up what the interview should be like. You get the sourcing Right, and they respond, they go into that process. And then all of a sudden, you're still not hiring people. That part is painful. Because you have to figure out what the hell's going on. Either it could be one interviewer being terrible, or it's something happening at the end. Or it could be the salary or something, the way we're present could be anything, it literally anything like what could it be? Right? Because you don't know or people are pulling out halfway through? Why? Why are they pulling out? Right? So then you have to start looking at all that, and collecting data on that to figure out and fixing it quickly. Because there's nothing worse. And I've been through it, interviewing three or four people a week, and no one gets an offer. And you're like, why? What, what the hell is going on. But that's okay to fix. Because once you're at that point, you start going through each part of the process, what's happening here, what's happening here, and then you can then you start slowly identify it, but it takes time. That's the thing. Like, I know, I wish I could just get to that point where we've got the interview sorted. We've got I've got standardized questions for everybody in the team to ask. Everyone knows what they're doing in the debrief. everyone's on the same page. We know what we're source. That takes a bit of time, but it's that I wish I had a magic wand, I'd want to close that time that it takes to get there.

Nasser Oudjidane

Yeah. Is there anything that you're listening to now reading or watching that perhaps comes to mind? Anyone could be potentially inspired from?


Ruby Bhattacharya

So that's a really good question. Because I listened to I actually listened to a lot of podcasts and things. But you okay, this is gonna sound bizarre. So yes, I do. I do keep up to try and keep up to date with price technology and, and all that. But I'll be honest, like a lot of the podcasts I listen to, I think, especially with remote working, it's all on like, a lot of the stuff I listened to mindset, positive mindset. You know, also, when you're working remotely, and everyone's working so hard, I want to make my influence on someone positive. I want someone to have a positive experience all the time, whoever I'm dealing with and working with. So I've done a lot of stuff on my own thing, how would I interact with people? How can make other people's lives better? Just just be a better person? Yeah, sense. So it's not terribly technical. But I should I'm really bad at remembering the names of these things that I listen to all the time. But I'll share it with you later. But I'm always keen to, you know, how can I make a world a better place?


Nasser Oudjidane

That's, that's amazing, because we just lead into the last question, which you've already answered. And I was gonna say, which is one four value or phrase that you live by? And you've just said it. You know, making the world a better place and making sure that it's always a positive impression that's left.


Ruby Bhattacharya

Totally, totally. Yeah, I've read your mind. That was what it is.


Nasser Oudjidane

Well, that's a wrap. Ruby, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure.


Ruby Bhattacharya

You're welcome. Thank you. Bye.


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