Leyla Seka is the SVP and GM of Desk.com. She talked to TechRepublic about her time in Africa, the changing landscape of Silicon Valley, and the power of a long walk.
Leyla Seka loves to walk. She walks every day and counts her footsteps. Walking is her passion. It clears her mind, makes her think, challenges her.
Seka lives on a hill in Berkeley, California, and she has to climb it often. There are days, when she returns from her job at Salesforce, that she just has to put her head down and keep walking up that hill, keep walking toward her goal, no matter how hard it is or how much she wants to stop. It's representative of so many challenges in life.
Seka, the manager of Desk.com for Salesforce, has always pressed herself to learn more, try harder, explore more options. She is the daughter of immigrant parents, who helped instill that value in her. Her father is Austrian and her mother is Turkish, and they met in college in California. Seka went to boarding school for high school, then to University of California, Davis, where she studied international relations and French.
After college, she joined the Peace Corps. She wanted something bigger than just moving over to San Francisco and trying to get a job. She wanted to see the world. So she went to Mali in 1996. She worked as a small business consultant and learned a lot about empowering women to do produce sustainable businesses. And while there, she met the man who would eventually become her husband, and they moved back to the Bay Area, ready to start the next phase of life.
"It was really strange, the internet basically happened while we were there. Of course we would hear about it and read [about it], but we barely had electricity, let alone computers, [and] had no conception of it," she said.
They arrived home and her parents had bought a computer. They got on Yahoo, and clicked every single ad they saw, awestruck but skeptical of this new world. "Both of us were like, what is everyone making such a big deal about!"
As she was trying to get settled during the dot com boom, Seka met an entrepreneur and was hired as employee number one for a spin-off of a software company. She helped write business plans and work with consultants. One day her boss asked her what else she would like to do and she randomly said "product manager."
So she became the head of product. She bought books on Amazon and started reading up on how to do that job. After eight months, the company folded, but then she got a job at Vivant as a product manager.
"I learned really quickly, loved the pace, loved how it felt," she said. "Everyone was always creatively trying to attack and solve problems, I just thought it was awesome."
Seka then worked as product manager for several years, even when the company was acquired twice more, first by Evolve Software and then Primavera Systems. Then, she decided she really wanted to work at Salesforce, whose office was across the street, where many of her friends worked. She was hired on to AppExchange as senior director for marketing and alliances operations.
She stayed in that position for six years, before she started to "get itchy," and wanted to do something new. Seka moved over to Desk.com, which is Salesforce's customer support app for fast-growing companies that delivers customer support with email, mobile, chat, phone, and social networks.
"I now help small companies figure out how to engage with their customers, figure out how they grow, and get bigger and I take care of them," she said. Some of her clients include GlamSquad, Lyft, and Barkbox.
"All these little companies are changing the way people look at them. Their differentiator is they pay attention to customers, they're listening," she said. "There's so much change but a big one is that the customer owns your brand now."
Change in the tech world is nothing new to Seka — she has been in the Bay Area for it all, and loves most of the growth that has occurred. Of course some of the effects aren't ideal, but in general she said she sees it thriving, and there are bigger efforts by people to help each other. It reminds her of the time she came back after her two years in Africa.
Since her time in the Peace Corps, doing more than just satisfying herself is important to Seka in all areas of life, especially in her career. And she feels Salesforce does that well, particularly with its philanthropic and environmental work.
"I really see Salesforce in position to do amazing things, but also just help the Bay Area produce great people. I'm really excited to be a part of it," she said. "Sometimes going into the city, my heart starts beating really fast."
In her own words...
What are some of your hobbies?
"I have two little kids, a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, so they take up an amazing amount of time...soccer and all their activities and reading and stuff. That's a big piece of it. I read a lot, nice way to relax, collect weird things... I grew up here and my family is here, all my friends, everybody has a busy social life, so I try to see them. I like to cook, and travel a lot because my parents weren't from this country, so we spent more vacations outside of it."
What weird things do you collect?
"Vintage lunchboxes, little snow globes. My favorite one... [I like] really small ones and from cities, there's a theme to it. My favorite is this one from Florence, a vespa with a snow globe on it.. I have one from Rome that has a teeny little snow globe and red mini in it. I'm so crazy I like snow globes, I always have, so it's just became a funny thing. Now everyone does it. [Vintage lunchboxes, I have] Charlie' s Angels, Wonder Woman, Star Wars. I went on a frenzy collecting lunchboxes."
How do you work best?
"I work best in a team. I work with my team and feel lucky... my favorite part is people I surround myself with. And try not to move off the plan. Sometimes a slightly different road, angle, but try to stay focused...The best thing on earth to do is walk. Just go outside and walk. You may not come back in the answer, but a renewed perspective."
Looking back, what is some advice you would give yourself?
"I wish that I had learned how to code. That's my own personal regret. Some advice I would have had [for myself] is just to not worry so much. I worry a lot about everything, but just trust myself more and not worry so much. If you work hard and are an empathetic nice person and are genuinely trying to help people, good things will happen. I genuinely believe that."