As a first-generation Latino who was the first in his family to attend college on a scholarship, Salvador (Sal) Chavez credits strong mentors for his positive career trajectory. In his current role as VP of Engineering, Sal has channeled his passion for giving back to the next generation of Hispanics, supporting them from the classroom to the boardroom.
This month, Sal receives the prestigious Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 2022 Latinx Business Leadership Award, recognizing him as one of the region’s top Latinx executives, excelling in both work and giving back to the community. Previous years’ awardees have included leaders from Facebook, Cisco, Intel, PayPal, and Stanford University, among others.
To celebrate the occasion, Sal joined Phoebe Nguyen, Public Relations Specialist at BILL, for an intimate Q&A to reflect on what this achievement means to him, his career journey, Hispanic identity in the tech industry, and more.
Congratulations on the award! What does it mean to you to be named a Silicon Valley Business Journal 2022 Latinx Business Leadership Awardee?
I'm honored and humbled to receive this award. Everything I do is centered around one purpose: taking the next generation of Hispanics from the classroom to the boardroom. When I look at previous and current recipients, it’s a laudable list and I feel very thankful to be among those people.
Tell us about your career journey and how you got to BILL today?
I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, and while my parents were very encouraging of my desire to attend college, they did not have the resources or knowledge to help me get there. My pathway to college was made possible by a lot of hard work. I had three jobs (a bank during the day, grocery store at night, and construction during the weekends) while also securing myself a partial scholarship to the University of San Francisco.
As the first to graduate in my family, it was a big accomplishment to get recruited by Deloitte straight out of college. I earned my CPA while there and then after five years, I left to start two businesses. That move allowed me to really understand the entrepreneurial journey from the inside out. Both companies got venture-backed and one had a successful exit.
In 2013, I joined BILL as a Director of Partner Management, responsible for launching our solution with our cross functional teams and managing our overall relationships with financial institution partners. Over the past nine years, that role has morphed into me leading engineering teams dedicated to serving our partner channel and our developer platform as well as leading the program management office.
As I reflect on my professional journey, I noticed that I moved between companies every couple years. What I realized is that I was looking for a home, and I have finally found it at BILL.
How has being a Latino in the tech industry shaped you? What have been the associated challenges and opportunities?
When I look around the corporate conference rooms, I don’t see a lot of people of color, especially on engineering teams. Diverse teams are imperative when building tech products that impact peoples’ lives. These products need to speak to many different groups of people. Having that diversity from the start ensures that those voices can be heard and experiences can be shaped.
When you look at the data, Hispanics are driving digital technology consumption. Twenty-eight percent of the population of Silicon Valley is Hispanic, thirty-nine percent of K-12 students identify as Latinos, but there's only three percent of Hispanics in the high-tech workforce. We need more makers, and I want to be a voice and a driving force to change that.
How do you keep your authentic self in this industry and how important is Hispanic identity to you?
I firmly believe that you need to know where you come from to know where you are going. I've been shaped by my deep Mexican roots, originating in Durango, Mexico. As a first-generation Latino, my experiences have made me who I am.
For me, authenticity means that I am not afraid to share myself with others. I try to do that in every conversation I have with my coworkers, partners, and friends. That’s how I build relationships and create deep, lasting connections.
How has mentorship played a role in your career journey?
There are three types of people that I came across in my career: coaches, mentors, and sponsors. Coaches speak to you, mentors speak with you, and sponsors speak about you when you are not in the room. I’ve been lucky to have all three, and in my specific case, I’ve been especially fortunate to find all three in one person at BILL: Senior Vice President of Engineering Vinay Pai. As my direct manager, Vinay encouraged me to make the jump from the partnership team to pursue a career in engineering. He started out as a coach, then became my mentor, and now my sponsor. Without him, I would not be where I am today.
And now, I want to pass that on: starting with high school students, to college students, and young career professionals. My plan is to build a program to actively mentor these individuals. I think we can all do something and have the ability to do it, but we first need a program to help them bridge that gap.
How are you planning to help the next generation of Latinx leaders in corporate America?
I want to provide the next generation of Latinx leaders with the resources and the best education to make a difference in the tech industry. My priorities are high school students, college students, and early career professionals.
For high school students, I am working with Cristo Rey, a non profit organization that focuses on low-income families from underrepresented groups. We mentor each student and place them in our Engineering, Marketing, and Legal departments at BILL, providing them early access to accelerate their careers.
I am collaborating with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers to support college students looking to find successful careers in the engineering field. We provide them with summer internships and full-time opportunities here at BILL.
Lastly, along with my colleague Nadia Arroyo, I co-started our Hispanic Employee Resource Group at BILL called Bill’d VIDA, championing early career professionals with resources to make a difference in the tech industry. We focus on three pillars: Community, Careers, and Culture, and we mentor and coach new talents for them to be successful in all aspects of their lives.
The future is bright for Latinos!
Thank you so much, Sal. Congratulations again on this prestigious achievement!