Engineering access, culture and inclusion
Sam Acuña on the power of technology to do good and how his team has been thinking and working differently in the pandemic.
The global pandemic has had immeasurable impacts on the way people work. Most Visa employees are working from home for the foreseeable future, making teamwork and collaboration across digital divides more important than ever.
There are many challenges ahead, but Staff Design Engineer Sam Acuña and his team are thriving thanks in large part to open lines of communication and an inclusive culture. Sam joined Visa after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has made a lasting impact on our office culture in Austin and our business around the world.
What does your team do within Product at Visa?
I'm a user experience engineer, and I do a lot of web design and development, working closely with different technologies and teams across our company. My team operates like an internal agency with highly talented designers, engineers and researchers. We build a lot of products and tools that other teams around the company use. It's a challenging, fast-paced environment. It’s also very rewarding.
One of the teams we work closely with is the Accessibility team. They provide feedback on the components we build as we evolve the code and designs together. We also work with designers at Visa to make sure their work is accessible. It's a constant effort to keep our code accessible as the technologies change, but it feels really good to be making a positive difference in the world — especially given the massive scale of our global business and how deeply embedded we are within products and services you might not even realize.
What first sparked your interest in technology?
I moved to the United States from Mexico when I was 14. One of the classes I got put into was a computer class, which turned out to be web development. I’d been interested in this for a while, but had no idea how to get started. I started learning HTML and CSS in the class and kept it up. After class, I would join clubs or do websites on my own, and by the time I got to college I knew I wanted to make a career out of this.
Why work at Visa fresh out of college, and what keeps you here?
I was seriously considering another company when I took the role at Visa. What helped me make my decision was not only that Visa offered opportunity to learn and improve my coding skills at a company with a global footprint, but that this particular role also focused on accessibility, which in my field is making sure that people with different abilities are able to properly use and absorb content on the web. Doing good while growing professionally and being part of an accomplished, driven team helped me choose Visa.
When I graduated, I had this expectation of what it would be like to work in a big company. I thought it would be rigid and monotonous, like sitting in a cubicle and just doing one thing, eight to five, clock in, clock out. In reality, it's incredibly dynamic. My team feels like we’re a startup within Visa because we’re constantly moving fast and pitching ideas, and we treat our internal partners like true clients. At the end of the day, I’ve found that this is an environment where I have the autonomy and support to turn my ideas into reality at a scale that’s hard to find in small startups. These opportunities for personal growth and career development are what keep me here.
What role does culture and communication play in driving results?
I’ve been with Visa since 2014 and have seen my team grow and change a lot, but we've still been able to maintain productive relationships, and I think that comes down to good communication. The whole team has been able to open up and be very honest, very transparent, very clear with each other and that's taken the team a long way in terms of building an inclusive — and fun — culture.
In addition to my team, I’ve helped coordinate our office soccer clubs and have played in a band with my co-workers here. Besides just being fun ways to release energy, these experiences are great opportunities to build leadership and communication skills. It feeds back to the work I do on my team where I try to own my contributions to projects and make myself responsible for my work in the same way that I've been responsible for different roles in the soccer clubs and in the band. I’m learning how important listening is to communication and working together effectively, as well as how important it is to stretch yourself with new opportunities that might seem unrelated to your career.
How has your team been thinking and working differently during the COVID-19 pandemic?
My team has been very conscious of how our lives and routines have changed. We’ve always been flexible with how we engage our internal clients and partners to how we deliver our work, but that flexibility has become more important than ever. Working remotely emphasizes how important it is to communicate openly and transparently. Having a team that counts on you to provide value but is also willing to stay in touch and collaborate online has enabled our days to stay productive while being out of the office.
Similarly, each of us has kept an open mind to different roles we play on projects. We’ve built new sites and new apps with different teams, new tools and new technologies. While each of these engagements have been different than what I might have been used to before, they’ve certainly been an opportunity for me to grow and learn. For instance, instead of collaborating face-to-face with our design team on a white board, using sticky notes, and huddling in groups to filter and bounce ideas, we are now using the online version of that, where we can all submit ideas anonymously to talk about them objectively or add comments to a design file and even edit it live to suggest and explore changes.
Learn more about Visa’s inclusive culture at Visa.com/inclusion