How Autonomy Changed One Employee’s Life

Here’s how early career autonomy gave Oscar Barillas confidence as a leader.

Written by Avery Komlofske
Published on Oct. 20, 2022
How Autonomy Changed One Employee’s Life
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Oscar Barillas’s career might look very different today if Finix, the payment processing platform company he works for, didn’t give him autonomy from the moment he took the job.

“When I joined the company, I never imagined I would be responsible for building the support engineering team at the age of 25,” said Barillas. “I was able to structure the team as I thought it best to deliver excellent customer support and resolve technical issues as quickly as possible.”

Barillas was given an incredible amount of ownership and decision-making power to build this critical team, and the things he learned from that opportunity have helped him excel in his current role as senior staff product manager.

“Achieving my current goals requires payments expertise and the ability to think quickly and creatively — skills I am confident in, thanks to the autonomy I was granted earlier in my career,” he said.

Barillas pays forward the autonomy given to him, creating a trusting and communicative environment with his managers and his direct reports. Built In San Francisco sat down with Barillas to learn more about what autonomy means to him and how he cultivates and takes advantage of it in the workplace.

 

Oscar Barillas
Senior Staff Product Manager • Finix

 

What does autonomy at work mean to you? Share an example of what it looks like in your work.

Autonomy at work has been a big part of what makes me happy and successful throughout my career. Autonomy allows you to make decisions, chart a path and be responsible for outcomes. I’ve had autonomy from the very first days of my time at Finix. 

When I joined the company in 2019, we were a seed-stage startup and I was quickly handed projects to own end-to-end. Over time, one-off projects transformed into an opportunity to start our support engineering department. 

In my current product management role, I use the learnings from my early days at Finix and a previous startup to chart the best path forward for our engineering and design teams. We aim to deliver top-tier customer experiences for software companies and their merchants. Achieving this goal requires payments expertise and the ability to think quickly and creatively — skills I am confident in, thanks to the autonomy I was granted earlier in my career.

 

How have you been able to build a satisfactory level of autonomy at your current employer?

To build autonomy, you need to create a culture of trust, set clear goals and expectations and maintain exceptional communication. 

Establishing trust is essential to individual and team autonomy in any workplace. Lack of trust results in micro-managing, fear of reporting bad news and general suspicion of any initiatives. A big part of joining a new team or a project is setting a foundation of trust with team members and stakeholders from day one by communicating and doing what you say you are going to do.

Setting clear goals and expectations ensures alignment on what you are trying to achieve. While everyone might not agree, having everyone aligned on the outcome is essential. From there, autonomy comes from charting the best path to achieve that outcome and proving yourself time and time again.

I’ve earned autonomy by over-communicating and ensuring my team and manager are always up to speed on my work. Therefore, my managers spend time helping me work through different problems and scenarios rather than micro-managing for status updates. Without good two-way communication, autonomy can erode.

I’ve earned autonomy by over-communicating and ensuring my team and manager are always up to speed on my work.”

 

How does your employer or manager support you in finding the autonomy you need in your career?

Finix provides many growth opportunities for its employees. The ability to chart your own path is there whether you know what you want to do and proactively seek it out, or if a manager sees a skill you hadn’t seen and helps you cultivate it. For example, many young engineers join our support engineering team, where they get a crash course in payments and the Finix ecosystem. From there, many of us go on to other teams and departments. I’m older and more experienced now, and I use the skills I learned on that team daily as a product manager. 

A big part of my journey is living out Finix’s values, specifically “always hungry,” “always hustling,” “act like an owner” and “eagerness to evolve.” These values have provided me with a clear pathway and consistent opportunities to chart my career path and achieve company goals.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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