Lead(H)er: Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder and VP of Customer Experience at Wise Systems
Layla Shaikley’s career has taken her to the stars and back. While studying architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Shaikley took a class on designing buildings for Mars that allowed her to bypass traditional structure and create unrealistic, avant-garde buildings. While she was more interested in testing the limits of design than on actually building on Mars, Shaikley’s work in the class landed her an internship at NASA designing robots.
“It was so outside of my wheelhouse,” said Shaikley, who had dreamed of building United Nations resettlements for people who had been displaced by conflict or natural disasters. “It was insane, and I fell in love with technology and the idea of working within technology while I was there.”
But NASA was never the end goal. Shaikley has family in Baghdad, and after seeing the devastation of war there, she remained committed to creating better living conditions for refugees. She continued her architectural studies with a master’s degree at MIT, where she took a class that asked one question and changed the course of her career: How do you impact a billion lives? The answer, as it turned out, wasn’t in her dream job. Shaikley took an internship with UN-Habitat. While she remembers the experience fondly, it made her realize that she didn’t want to make a career out of it.
This realization came at the right time. Surrounded by people who were also trying to change a billion lives with their ideas, Shaikley connected with her future co-founders of Wise Systems.
“I think the only thing that really remained throughout my various degrees and career anticipations was my passion for design and designing big systems,” Shaikley said.
Using her love of technology and desire to use her creativity to impact the world, Shaikley and her co-founders have dedicated themselves to improving transportation of goods and services across countries, no matter their infrastructure or lack thereof.
“It's really critical to have that type of movement in a city along with the data that comes with that movement, and we consider that as the lifeblood of any city,” Shaikley said.
To facilitate that movement, Wise Systems translates data from delivery routes and times, scheduling, traffic, and more to optimize routes and deliver its customers’ products and services as quickly as possible. The software creates these plans through its machine learning capabilities, which allow it to analyze historical data provided by customers and collected by Wise Systems itself.
Shaikley’s current role at Wise Systems is in customer experience. She’s responsible for everything from how the product is designed to how customers interface with the company’s product and support teams and aims to make every customer interaction an inclusive one that leaves them as happy as possible.
Outside of work, Shaikley’s interests are as varied as her career. She’s the co-producer of the viral #Mipsterz video, which she created with her friends to show how their slice of life as Muslim women looked. Shaikley makes a few appearances in it, skateboarding in stiletto heels. She’s also on the advisory board for The Secret Life of Muslims, a Peabody and Emmy-nominated documentary web series.
Shaikley is committed to growing Wise Systems and continuing to innovate there, but her plans for the more distant future, as usual, could be anyone’s guess.
“Anything that could keep me on my toes and creative and excited will work,” she said. “Who knows what that will be, considering the lack of connectivity between all the previous things I’ve done until this point. If you have a crystal ball, let me know.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
This answer changes literally every year, and I think it has to do with some sort of painstaking curiosity I have. Some years it’s painting, other years writing. One year I co-produced a viral music video. This year is figuring out how to raise a newborn daughter. It’s literally spending every spare second with her – I could just stare at her for really incredible amounts of time.
How do you typically handle stress?
I truly believe there's nothing that an organized calendar, a little bit of fearlessness, and some strategy can't solve.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
One latte, period. Very unexciting. I'm very system oriented, so I find what works and stick with it. Just one latte before noon.
What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?
I’m a coffee snob, and I really love local Cambridge coffee shops coupled with loud music and designing. I like Loyal Nine, or Curio Coffee. I’ll just sit there and unwind in these cafes in any given after-hours moment.
What would you consider one of your greatest accomplishment?
It’s the team that we built at Wise. It blows my mind every day. I work with people who know a lot more than I do about a lot of things, and on top of their experience and intelligence, they're just awesome. The culture is this really unique and incredible mix of fun and curious and hard-working. Everybody speaks growth, yet it's a really friendly and gossip-free environment. It's really remarkable, and I would say it’s always a proud moment when I take a step back and look at everybody who's assembled and been a part of this.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
No! Ten years ago, I was in architecture school interning at a firm in Hamburg, Germany but still drinking lattes! That's the only thing that's remained. I guess I knew I'd be doing something creative, and building a company has been the most creative thing I've done to date, but I would say it was a hard left turn.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
I would say definitely overreach. When I was in architecture school, had I not overreached with no background whatsoever in the technology space outside of a short internship at NASA I wouldn’t have assumed that I was capable enough to build and design product interfaces using the same software I design buildings out of. When I was in architecture school, had I not overreached, I would have never aimed to get an internship at NASA – again, as somebody who had no experience in that space. I think that overreaching has gotten me particularly far, and really, if you don't ask, you'll never get it. So, I would say especially when you're young in your career, just overreach and do the unimaginable. You'd really be surprised by what people believe you can do as well.
Images courtesy of Layla Shaikley and Wise Systems