Leyla Seka, EVP of Mobile at Salesforce: ‘Challenge the bias that’s intrinsically built into today’s products’

By Ashley Villanueva

Leyla Seka, Executive Vice President of Mobile at Salesforce

On Friday, January 11, 2019, Leyla Seka, executive vice president of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience, spent the lunch hour in an engaging conversation with Master of Engineering students about her personal career journey and current work at Salesforce.

Leyla grew up in Berkeley, CA with her parents on Spruce Street. She remembers earning her Bachelor’s degree at UC Davis, spending two years in West Africa as a Peace Corps officer in Mali, and when she returned to the Bay Area, the Internet was pervasive. “It was the wild, wild west of technology!” she exclaimed. She began her career in technology as a Product Manager, which she coined the “CEO of the product,” at several Silicon Valley companies including Primavera Systems (acquired by Oracle), Evolve Software, Vivant and Eutron SPA.

In Leyla’s current role as the EVP of Salesforce Mobile, she tackles the challenge of ensuring customers can unlock the power of Salesforce from anywhere. She has been with the company for 11 years, a time period “unheard of” in the tech/Silicon Valley world. In addition to driving the product, Leyla claimed a stake in the issue of equal pay. When reflecting on her first few years at Salesforce, she shared:

“It was clear to me that men were making more than women [at Salesforce]. It bothered me so much that I went to my CEO and made him aware of the disparity. He asked us to do an audit. In the first year, we found a three million dollar disparity between male and female employee salaries. The next year, we found another three million dollar disparity, and the year following four million. Now keep in mind, we acquired 85 companies during this time, and were inheriting their systems and processes. The path towards equal pay at Salesforce was able to happen because we got a man to talk about it. It shows that work like this requires a degree of allyship.”

Her advice for Master of Engineering students:

  1. Figure out your ethical code as a person and as an engineering leader. It starts now. As technologies and engineering leaders, you can actually control what the products do and that’s a heap of responsibility!
  2. Think about all of the different ways you can affect change at your company, with the technology, but also the environment you are in. If you are smart, you’ll be able to find social issues that are important to you, similar to my story about equal pay at Salesforce, and affect change in that way.
  3. Challenge the bias that’s intrinsically built into products. Technology has shifted a lot and we haven’t made the best decisions overtime. You are walking into a broken system but it is not broken beyond repair. There are all sorts of microaggressions built into corporate America that make it more difficult for people that look different. Challenge these flaws by doing things like knowing your ethical code and making sure the people around the table are representative of the audience the product is made for. You can fix that!
  4. Spend time on crafting your personal brand. Start with a tagline for who you are and what you want people to chat about when you aren’t in the room. Consider how this fits in with the social message of the company as well.
As a seasoned professional in the Silicon Valley technology field, Leyla emphasized: “This [Master of Engineering] degree could be seen as a project manager degree. The leadership training you get on all sides of business will be what sets you apart.”

Leyla Seka is the executive vice president of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience, enabling all customers to unlock power of Salesforce from anywhere. In this role, she is responsible for driving product, go-to-market and other key programs to transform customer and developer experiences, from how sales reps answer emails to how support agents resolve cases. With her prior experience as executive vice president of the Salesforce AppExchange, the world’s largest and longest-running business apps marketplace, Leyla will lead the charge on extending the power of Salesforce with a full portfolio of mobile apps.

Leyla holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in business administration degree from the Masagung School of Management at the University of San Francisco. She is active in women in technology and equal-pay issues, and was named a “Next-Gen Innovator” by Forbes, among other honors. Connect with Leyla.

This event was part of the Master of Engineering Career Development Team’s Career Chat series. Contact Julie McShane at jmcshane@berkeley.edu if you are interested in participating in the series.