HRTech Interview with Ryan Packer, Chief Technology Officer at BambooHR

Journey into Tech

Hi, Ryan. Welcome to the HRTechnology Interview Series. Please tell us about your journey in the technology industry.

My career path is a little less traditional. I’ve always loved STEM, but growing up I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids growing up in the 80s, Legos gave me my first real taste of building. Taking hundreds of simple and small pieces and putting them together in an endless number of combinations to create something new – that was what got me hooked. I liked building, but I also loved taking things apart, figuring out how they worked, and putting them back together again. In elementary school I remember taking an old telephone and some parts from Radio Shack to build an “alarm system” to let me know if any of my little brothers had snuck into my room. In high school I was lucky enough to have an incredible Physics teacher, Mr Brehmer, who was awarded a grant to bring a computer with Internet access into our school. We’d take any chance we could to try to figure out how to use Lynx, Gopher, and Pine – I feel very fortunate to have grown up when these technologies were just taking off. In college I majored in applied physics, but was taking a lot of other courses, including a couple years of computer science. Outside of school, I was also learning HTML and figuring out how to build basic websites. 

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Early in my career I took a job at an advertising agency doing web development. We ended up creating a team of developers that built some of the earliest content management platforms and database driven web applications. One of those developers went on to Omniture and invented a proprietary columnar database that was way ahead of its time and is still at the heart of what is now Adobe Analytics. A year or so after he went to Omniture, he convinced me to join as well. When I started we had fewer than 200 employees but we grew quickly, IPO’d in 2006 and then we were acquired by Adobe in 2009. By the time I left Adobe the company had over 25 thousand employees. I didn’t have to change jobs for 16 years, but over that time I was really fortunate to see just about every size and shape a software organization can have.

What inspired you to begin at BambooHR?

When I started thinking about what I wanted next in my career, working with great people was at the top of my list. I was fortunate to know a few great people that were already at Bamboo and as I met more and more people, I was impressed with the caliber of leaders the company had attracted. I was also really excited about the mission of the company, to set people free to do great work. We have the opportunity to improve the employee experience for millions of people around the world. That’s pretty compelling. 

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What is the most fascinating aspect of working in a SaaS-based HR tech company?

It’s incredible to think about how much value small businesses can get from SaaS-based technology for pennies compared to what a company would have needed to spend 15 or 20 years ago for similar capabilities. Whether you’re thinking about finance, marketing, HR or just about any other area of the business, historically, you needed to reach a certain size before you could justify investments in high-quality feature-rich software. SaaS-based software has completely changed that equation.  

When you started at Mayo, did it ever cross your mind that you could get a chance of working with People Experience Management technologies?

Definitely not. At that point in time, I’m not sure very many people were thinking about using software to improve the employee experience – certainly not the way we think about it today. And at that point in my career, I was pretty sure I wanted to go into academic medicine. It was actually the director of Mayo’s Biomedical Imaging Lab, Dr. Richard Robb, who first got me thinking about a career as a software engineer. One day he told me, “I know you’re planning to go to medical school, but you think like an engineer – you should pursue engineering.” We had a great conversation about what it meant to think like an engineer, and that really opened my eyes to other possibilities.

As a CTO, how do you visualize the current technology market for AI and automation tools?

The market is growing and evolving at an incredible pace.

I think we’ll see that continue for a few years. It’s incredibly exciting, but it also creates some interesting dynamics for technology leaders. There’s no doubt in my mind that anyone who doesn’t embrace AI is going to get left behind. But at the same time, the market is still very new. The vast majority of AI startups are not going to be around 3-5 years from now. Maybe 1 out of 10 actually survives. Sitting on the sidelines isn’t a viable strategy, but becoming dependent on a single technology or vendor is just as risky. 

Do you have an AI roadmap in place for BambooHR?

Absolutely. BambooHR was well down the AI road before this recent hype cycle. We were fortunate to hire an incredible Head of AI and start building our AI and Data Science team a few years ago. That team was looking around the corner as the industry saw breakthroughs in LLMs and Generative AI. They’ve put us in a really good position to leverage these technologies much more quickly. 

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What are the biggest challenges that you think an HR Tech company such as BambooHR could solve for HR teams and business owners?

The unfortunate truth is that a lot of HR teams are forced to spend too much time on low value work. There are incredibly talented people who are capable of having a major impact on the employee experience and improving business performance as a result. But oftentimes, the day-to-day administrative work prevents them from getting to the high value work they want to do. BambooHR allows an HR team to focus on their people, not paperwork.

How do you see the role of a CTO evolving in the next few years, particularly with the adoption of Generative AI and self-service automation tools?

AI is going to have an enormous impact. As I mentioned earlier, the rapid pace of innovation in this space creates a really challenging environment for technology selection and integration. Generative AI is also rapidly changing how our teams work. CTOs will play a crucial role in building a culture that values continuous learning above all else, and provides a viable path for employees to keep up with evolving technologies. There are also massive privacy, security, ethical and compliance issues that have to be balanced with the efficiencies that AI provides. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in technology, but in the near term, AI creates tremendous complexity in our roles.

Thank you, Ryan ! That was fun and hope to see you back on HR Tech Series soon.

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Ryan Packer, Chief Technology Officer at BambooHR .Experienced software executive with a passion for building high performing organizations and products that exceed expectations.

BambooHR is the world’s leading HR and payroll platform for growing businesses. We’re on a mission to empower the three million employees across more than 32,000 organizations by giving them intuitive HR tools, insights, and support to curate an exceptional employee experience. The company was founded in 2008 by Ben Peterson and Ryan Sanders, who created a values-focused, award-winning internal culture that then provided inspiration for BambooHR’s product and features. BambooHR customers include Asana, Foursquare, Stance, and Postmates..

BambooHRcontent managementEmployee ExperienceGenerative AIHR teamHR tech companySAAS