Our VP of Engineering discusses leadership in the 21st century
Today, we’re sitting down with our VP of Engineering, Joel Salazar to talk to him about why he chose Bitso, the vision he is bringing to the company, and to understand how an engineer grows and develops at Bitso.
Joel joined Bitso in November 2019 to help lead our growing engineering team. Joel has over twenty years of experience as an engineer and software consultant and comes from one of the most successful startups in the Mexican Fintech space. Joel has been developing software since he was ten years old and studied both Piano & Music Composition and Creative Computing. These contrasting backgrounds have provided him with the perfect skills to be both technically savvy and one of the most motivating leaders in Latin America.
Q: Joel, tell us what attracted you to join Bitso?
A: There were a couple of things that made Bitso stand out from the crowd.
First, most financial technology companies (FinTech) have a similar product roadmap — leaning on China for innovative ideas. Most of the roadmaps want to simplify the user’s experience, bank the underbanked, and create a product ecosystem that traps the user with network effects.
I found that what this looks like from the outside is just a reconfiguration of a traditional bank that strips it down to its bare essentials. Its features are always simpler, cheaper, and more convenient. But nothing is new, nothing is innovative. And don’t judge me for this cliché, none of it is disruptive.
If your company is built on the back of one feature, how will it survive if a big bank puts that one feature on its product roadmap? This got me thinking. If I want to work for a company that is doing things differently and changing the world, what does that look like?
What I found at Bitso is that it is not a reinterpretation of another company nor it is a convenient version of a bank. Bitso created a business model that puts the crypto revolution at the center of one of the largest money remittance corridors in the world — it’s impacting real people and real needs.
When I heard about this, I realized no other company in Latin America could solve these needs in a more efficient or equitable way.
Second, everyone loves working for this company. At Bitso, our mission is unprecedented and only a handful of companies around the world are trying to achieve a similar goal. This lofty task creates an invigorating workplace that attracts some of the most talented and critical thinking people on the continent. Smart people like difficult challenges that follow a great vision.
Q: Joel, you have been pushing bottom-up leadership and cross-functional collaboration. Why do you think this is important in a company like Bitso?
A: Bottom-up leadership is very decentralized and akin to the ideas of cryptocurrency.
Traditional companies rely on one or two talented individuals to innovate and guide a company towards their goals — a hierarchical structure.
To counter this methodology, companies began creating “innovation labs,” where they’d put a team of people in a room filled with toys, surrounded by slogans asking them to innovate. But, what they found is that you can’t just ask people to innovate.
In the 21st century, innovation has become a process. Companies realized that they have hundreds of talented individuals eager to participate in the design of their products. All they need are the right conditions to make it happen.
This gave us what we call bottom-up leadership, a kind of grassroots model that gives a voice to everyone — regardless of their position — in an organized way. The goal is to transform hypotheses and vague ideas into first iterations of products that users can test.
Companies have learned that putting specialists in a room to innovate and execute can only take a company so far. On the heels of cultural debates around the world, scientific studies have recently proven that diverse and multicultural teams with different professional backgrounds yield better results than a team filled with specialists. Now, cross-functional collaboration has become an essential ingredient in the creation and execution of everyday products.
It’s important to me that Bitso follows a similar collaborative framework so that the ideas that Bitso experiments with do not come from the same people, but from the incredible pool of talent that surrounds us.
By bringing these two models together, Bitso can create an environment that pioneers innovative products.
Q: How can an engineer grow at Bitso?
A: The most important drivers for an engineer’s professional growth are finding creative solutions to difficult challenges and expanding your skillset. By challenging yourself and overcoming different problems, an engineer can discover their limitations and how they can acquire new skills to solve the challenges in front of them.
Secondly, each engineer has different skills, needs and wants. It is important to ensure that you don’t betray what you like and what motivates you to grow. There are many paths to growth, so it’s good for engineers to understand that they do not have to follow the conventional route. Success isn’t a straight line or following a path that’s been paved before you. Always follow what inspires you to grow and learn.
At Bitso, I strive to have a clear path for individual contributors and managers and the mechanisms they need to reach their next step. For me, I want all engineers to feel like they can grow at Bitso in any direction they wish. Within reason, of course.