Inspirational Woman: Alesia Braga | Chief Technology Officer, SmartRecruiters

Meet Alesia Braga, Chief Technology Officer, SmartRecruiters

Alesia Braga

Alesia Braga is CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SmartRecruiters, leading Engineering and Product teams. Braga is an accomplished results-oriented technical leader with over 15 years of experience and a proven record of accomplishment for building and leading world-class software development, maximising profitability through the delivery of exceptional product quality and service, prudent management of people, technology, and processes.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role

Throughout my tech career, I’ve worked in a variety of roles in software, programme management, and engineering. My first job in IT was in sales with my roles and responsibilities lying largely in cold calling. After a couple of months, I realised this job wasn’t for me and once the team realised that I was an experienced coder, I was moved into software engineering. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career working in software engineering before then moving on to strategic technology roles leading me to the role that I now have at SmartRecruiters.

In terms of my career goals, I’d like to someday move into a CEO role. I am really keen to be responsible for leading and running an entire organisation. Being in such a position of influence and change, I would love to implement programmes and paths to help bring more women into the tech industry.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Like every child, I went through phases of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I went from wanting to be a doctor to a lawyer and then to an astronaut. However, through all of these changing aspirations, I’ve always been passionate about computers. I first started learning how to code when I was 6 so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

When I was 12, I decided I wanted to go to Belarusian State University to study math and computer science. So, I suppose you could say that at 12 years old I planned on having a career in IT.  However, I’m not the type of person to have a 5-year or 10-year plan as such. I’ve always set goals, completed them, and then moved on to the next one. I’ve always had the mindset of constantly improving, growing, and learning to become more well-rounded.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I would say that one of the challenges I have faced throughout my career has been suffering from imposter syndrome. Because of this, I often didn’t let myself take risks for fear of what others might think. I am one of those people that I often let other people’s advice get into my head and it makes me doubt my abilities. Imposter syndrome is one of those things that can be really hard to shake and is probably something I will feel occasionally in the future too.

Overcoming it meant pushing all those thoughts to one side. I have learnt to take more risks by not thinking about all the negative ‘what ifs’ and ignoring the people who tell me I can’t do something. I am constantly learning in my career, and I treat any ‘failures’ as a learning experience to help with my development. Focusing on what I want out of my career rather than the opinions of others has really helped me overcome these feelings.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Any career in retrospect is a set of achievements, and every one of them is big enough on the stage where you are. While I had multiple moments in my journey where I could say: “wow, I pulled that off”, long-lasting impact for me is always around building diverse successful teams, seeing your leaders grow and reach new stages in their own careers, and overcoming hurdles like the global pandemic for example. Leading through tough times is hard to quantify, and independently, no matter how many books you read on it, you are only ready when you’ve done it.

Reflecting a bit more, when joining SmartRecruiters, I took on a challenge to expand my role from Technology Leader to Technology and Product leader. Chief Product and Technology Officer as a role is quite novel on the market and I think it’s safe to say now “I’ve done it” and “know-how” to balance technology, product, business, and customer needs while being part of a successful market leading business.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve received a lot of bad advice surrounding accelerating my career. Managers have told me I can only move on to the next stage of my career if I had perfected a certain skill or achieved a specific goal first. More often than not, the next step up required completely different skills than what my managers were telling me. Fortunately, I didn’t follow that advice and instead, I developed confidence in my own abilities which has got me to where I am today.

Level Up Summit 2022

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 

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What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My biggest tip would be to never think you know everything – the tech space is constantly evolving, and the pandemic has accelerated change even faster. To keep up with this innovative sector, you’ve got to have a creative mindset and a willingness to constantly learn new things. The technology industry is very focused on ‘what’s next’. Having the ability to understand how the new technologies fit in with existing technologies is key to a long-lasting career.

When you reach C-level, truly understanding the ‘why’ behind the solutions, how they relate to your business’ objectives and which team will help you achieve those goals all become your responsibility. Being able to manage your colleagues in a way that ensures you represent them all is also extremely important. Are they working in the best role for them? Are they driven and committed to the company’s vision? Are you managing them with respect and authenticity? A good leader is one that is constantly connecting themselves back to their people and empowering them.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The tech industry is very much male-dominated but that isn’t to say there aren’t many incredible women working in the sector. Whilst conversations surrounding D&I are becoming more prominent, we have still got a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion in the industry. Education is such a big part of helping overcome barriers to success. Businesses must be proactive in educating all their employees on fairness and equality and the importance of having a diverse workforce. Education is what changes attitudes; unmasking any misconceptions and prejudices is what will slowly but surely start to change attitudes to women working in tech.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think one of the most important things organisations can do to support women is simply not underestimating their abilities. I’ve struggled a lot with imposter syndrome throughout my career, letting other people’s comments get into my head. This is a challenge women often struggle with more than men – KPMG discovered that 85% believe imposter syndrome is commonly experienced by women. Ensuring that female employees know what support networks are out there for them to access is key. Hosting conferences or networking events that will inspire women to take leaps in their careers by showcasing other successful women in tech will also support the progression of female employees.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I think I would love to change the mindset that people have towards women in tech. There are so many great people who are trying so hard to get more women into STEM subjects but, it’s important that women don’t ever feel like they are there purely because they are a woman. Both men and women should be in tech because they have genuine talent and can bring new and fresh ideas to their company.

Changing the mindset of those who work in tech starts early on in education. We need to make sure that boys and girls are educated equally in STEM subjects and that there are no unconscious biases towards men through the style of teaching or the topics that are covered. It would be great to see tech companies reaching out to their local education systems and showcasing the world of tech to really inspire young girls to pursue STEM subjects. I really hope that we will see an increase in women in tech with each coming generation.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

We are so fortunate that we live in a world where we have such a wide range of information and content for women to use in aiding their tech careers. Personally, being on the go so much and not always having that much downtime, podcasts are a great way to listen to other women in the field and their experiences.

I really enjoy listening to the Women in Tech Republic podcast. Listening to the guests about their journey in the tech sector from a variety of different areas is really interesting. Some experiences I relate to and others I don’t so for those working in tech, there will always be takeaways and lessons to be learnt listening to the interviews.

I also enjoy “TED Tech”. Inspiration and innovation are not gender specific. I find it a great way to stay inspired, connected to the industry and ideas-buzzing.

I also think any networking events that women working in tech have at their disposal should be taken advantage of. One example is “Women CTO Dinner”. It is a great community of female tech leaders, very inclusive and a safe space to learn from each other and get a confidence boost.  It’s one of the best ways to interact and make connections with other women in the tech field and find common ground in career experiences.