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How To Become a Design Technologist with Adekunle Oduye

Episode Summary

In this episode we’ll be hearing from Adekunle Oduye, a Design Technologist from my hometown, Brooklyn, New York. As a kid Adekunle had a strong passion for art and enjoyed creating abstract and landscape paintings. Needing a change of scenery in college, he studied abroad for a semester and used the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. In this interview we’ll discuss some aspects of web design as well as the importance of providing mentorship for young Black professionals who are entering the tech industry.


Full-length Video

Podcast Episode

Key Takeaways

  • College and trade schools can provide the structure and fundamentals for a young person’s career. But, it’s vitally important to have opportunities to learn on the job through internships, apprenticeships, and entry level positions. You also have to take the initiative to learn new skills on your own time.
  • It’s important for Black professionals to mentor and provide guidance for the people coming up behind them. This is especially true in industries where Black people are under-represented.

Learn More About Adekunle

Show Notes & Clips


Can you give a brief overview of your personal background? Where are you from?

  • From Brooklyn, NY first generation Nigerian American. Parents are from Nigeria and they came to New York in the 1960s.
  • The last of seven, so was allowed a lot of flexibility about what he wanted to do.
  • Didn’t like rules or the idea of going to school just to get a job. Followed his passion throughout his childhood, which kind of led me to his current career.

What were some of your interest as a kid?

  • Art, specifically painting. Was in love creating abstract paintings but also landscapes.
  • Was into sports too, kind of enjoy playing basketball, but just keeping active.

You mentioned not really liking rules. What kind of a student were you?

  • One of those students that was always asking questions.
  • Was always asking questions because it seemed like a lot of times people just did stuff just because someone told them to do it.
  • Got work done when it had to be.

Did you have your first job during high school or did that come later? Did you work part-time while you were in school?

  • First part time job was at a clothing store called Jeans Plus selling sneakers.
  • That same year was also a camp counselor handling arts and crafts.


How was your college experience? What school did you attend?

  • Attended State University of New York at Buffalo.
  • Came in with a major focus on painting. Wanted to do art but also some sort of major focused on business.
  • Adekunle worked on a degree where he did studio art and economics. There weren’t many students coming out of school with those two degrees.

How was the transition both going from high school to college and also from Brooklyn to Buffalo?

  • The transition from high school to college wasn’t too bad. The hardest adjustment was going to a smaller town in New York.
  • Halfway through college Adekunle studied abroad because he needed a change so he went to Rome for a semester.

You studied in Rome for a semester? Did you have an opportunity to travel while you were there and see some of the country?

  • Traveled throughout Italy and also went to other countries like Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and a bunch of other places.
  • He had an opportunity to experience different languages and kinds of food. It was a pretty awesome experience.

Did you have an opportunity to pick up any Italian or not so much?

  • Adekunle picked up enough Italian to get by. He learned how to ask for directions, tell people his name, or tell people what he wanted.
  • He’s forgotten most of what he learned because Italian isn’t spoken much outside of Italy. It would’ve been different with Spanish because it’s spoken in different countries.


What was your first job out of college?

  • First job was working at a catering company followed by an internship.

How did you progress into your career from those early jobs?

  • First design technology job was at a small agency in New York City. Adekunle first applied for a job that he was definitely not qualified for but the company kept him in mind. A couple months later they contacted him when there was another opening and he started as an intern.
  • Adekunle wasn’t earning that much as an intern and had to balance his catering job with his internship. It was rough but kept him very focused and he became good at time management.

How was your transition from college to the working world? Did you feel prepared for your career? Did you feel like maybe you were lacking in some areas, things that you wish you’d known?

  • Didn’t feel well-prepared after college because there weren’t any web design or development courses.
  • Also as a student, had weeks or months to create a project whereas in the real world timelines are much shorter so you have to work more quickly and efficiently.

You mentioned that while you were in school, there weren’t a lot of courses to teach you the technical skills that you needed in your career. How did you learn those skills? Did you take classes or learn on the job?

  • Learned on the job. But, also did a lot of tutorials online because there were some cases where something needed to be done in a couple of days.


Tell me about how you got from your early career to where you currently are. What do you currently do? What was the path that it took to get there?

  • It definitely wasn’t a straight path, but it worked out perfectly for Adekunle because he has a passion for both design and development.
  • Following his first job, he worked in a few contract roles with agencies to get better at front end design. Those positions combined with another role in front end development allowed him to further build his skills. He took a chance on those roles because they were freelance and those places would allow him to get good guidance.
  • Along the way, Adekunle realized that he wanted to do more product work where he’d be able to take an idea or project from concept to completion.

Can you explain front end development versus design? Just like a basic overview, for people that might not know?

  • Design or UX design is where you do research to get a greater understanding of the user, their problems, pain points, goals,etc. and then create wireframes and mockups to create solutions for them.
  • Front end is similar to design but it includes building the actual user interface (UI) using code.

You mentioned that you spent a few years at Nasdaq but you’ve also worked on projects as both a freelancer and consultant. Do you have a preference for one versus the other? Or for being an employee versus a consultant/freelancer? Or does it depend on the project and the circumstances that you’re working under?

  • Working on in-house product teams allows you to learn a lot.
  • But, in the future will probably be more of a consultant because it allows for more flexibility and the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects and with different clients from big to small.

Can you bring us into the present and some of the recent projects you’ve been working on? Like now being a Design Technologist and doing some public speaking and things like that.

  • Adekunle has a full-time job as a designer at Memorial Sloan Kettering, which is a cancer hospital in New York City. The major project that he’s working on is the build-out of a design system.
  • In addition, he also works on freelance projects when he has time and does some public speaking in the area of design, code, etc.
  • He does a lot of mentorship through a few organizations which allows him to pass his knowledge down to the next generation of designers and developers.

Looking back over your career and where are you are now? How would you define success? Or, taking into account your own career and the people you’ve worked with and things like that. How would you define success?

  • Success is determined by if you feel fulfilled or feel as though you’re providing some sort of impact. It’s both inward and outward. Outward, because people are using it and it’s helping them to accomplish a task or a goal. Internally you want to be fulfilled because you want to make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re passionate about because that’s the only way you can get better.
  • Overall feels he’s been very successful because he’s at the point where he knows what he wants to do and how he wants to do it.

If you had the ability to go back to when you were either still in college or shortly after you graduated from college, what career advice would you offer to your younger self?

  • Would have done more internships throughout school, been more consistent about applying to internships, and applied earlier (spring rather than during the summer). Doing more internships would have probably resulted in him being further along in his career.


What goals or plans are you currently pursuing or planning to pursue in the near future?

  • Create a mentorship program for people that are interested in the intersection of design and development.
  • Do more teaching around design and front end development. Adekunle realized that there’s not that many Black educators in the industry and this could have stopped him from getting into the industry. But, having relatives that are doctors and lawyers made him feel that if they could achieve those careers, he could work in tech. There’s a lack of representation for Black people within the tech industry. This is why he wants to have an impact by teaching, especially at the high school and college levels where he would be able to give some career advice.
  • Create an application around personal finance because this knowledge is lacking in Black and Brown communities as it’s not really taught in schools. For people to progress in their careers and life they need good knowledge of personal finance.
  • Basically giving tools and empowering people to better their lives.

Imagine it’s years from now and you’re nearing or already retired. When you look back on your career, what accomplishments or achievements would make you consider it a roaring success versus just mediocre or disappointing?

  • Starting his own business and doing stuff around his passions, which are education and finance.
  • Giving back to the community by either providing opportunities or empowering those from Black communities to get into the tech industry.
  • “It’s the job of me and others to make sure that we open those doors for individuals that are coming from the communities like we come from. To give them the opportunity, give them guidance, and giving them support to get in the industry.”
  • “I’m always about empowering each other and making sure whatever we do it’s for the culture itself.”

Have there been any books in particular that have inspired or motivated you in your career or guided the choices you’ve made in your career?

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, if you think about history where Malcolm was basically a common criminal. But, then he transformed his life into becoming one of the leaders within the Civil Rights Movement and was debating people on college campuses and whatnot. It’s inspiring.
  • The Secret, where the power of thoughts or whatever you think has an influence on what your life is going to be like in the future. So if you think you can do something, then it’s going to happen. If you think you can’t do something that’s going to happen. The book has made Adekunle aware of what he’s thinking. If he’s thinking negatively, he takes time out to think about why and also tries to figure out how to change the negative into a positive.

You mentioned your siblings in your family being an influence on you. But, have there been any specific people that have other offered you guidance or mentorship or been inspirational for you with regards to your career or just life in general?

  • Many people have helped in the past where Adekunle had questions. He got into speaking because some of his friends pushed him to go out and speak. Adekunle believes it’s always good to have someone that understands the experience you’re coming from.

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