Millennial Hustle

Millennial Hustle: Akpanoluo Etteh

When I sat down to write this introduction, it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember the when, where, and how I met my friend Akpanoluo U Etteh II, or Ak for short. I’ve spent time with the 31-year-old data engineer and music salon founder in a myriad of different situations: a fashion week soirée in Soho, lunch at an upscale bistro on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, even a get-together at my sorority house in rural Tennessee, just to name a few. Because of this, I sometimes forget the humble, and somewhat ordinary, origins of our friendship—a casual meeting at a house party hosted by his then-roommate and my college friend at their Brooklyn apartment one sweltering summer evening back in 2012.

Ak still lives in the Williamsburg neighborhood, only a few blocks away from where we first met. We’ve kept in touch as I’ve moved further and further away from the L train—first to areas south of the Gowanus Canal, then a few thousand miles west to Los Angeles, where I currently reside. Ak continues to be one of the most brilliant and fascinating people I know, equally versed in data logistics as he is in choral a capella arrangements, gastronomic delights, or nuanced perspectives on hot-button political topics. Read on for more about how this millennial cleverly navigates two seemingly disparate career paths—and gets to do a shit ton of really cool things along the way:

Could you describe your job? I’m the Director of Data Products at Accordant Media.

Did you go to college, and if so, what is your degree in? I have a bachelor of science in psychology on the behavioral neuroscience track from Yale.

What is your favorite part of your job? The company I work with [Accordant Media] focuses on programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising is the automated placement of ads online. When the field of internet advertising began, ads were sold in bulk for specific sites (i.e. 1,000 ads to the New York Times in August for $5), but sophisticated exchanges from Google, Facebook, AppNexus, and others allow ads to be targeted more specifically (i.e. no more than three ads in a single week to a user X, who has visited, at $0.005 a pop when they visit a list of sites we’ve approved to place ads on).

The insane quantity of data at my disposal to analyze is my favorite part of the job. We have data on every ad we place: to which domains, to whom we served those ads (via a de-identified cookie ID), and how much we paid for each individual ad; every page users visit on our brands’ websites; and a sample of the entire programmatic marketplace—a view of which sites are offering up spots on their pages for ads to be placed.

These three major data sources combined create a powerful tool that we use to target ads with more precision, avoid giving users too many ads for the same brand—which is annoying!—and inform clients on how well their ads are performing. I help to build and improve products that allow us to do this, which always presents new, intricate challenges.

What is the weirdest task you’ve ever had to do for your job? Because there are so many interlocking systems to make everything run, and because we provide clients with such precise detail on their ads, discrepancies can sometimes be a bitch to figure out. I recently worked on tweaking one of our analytical models to include custom data for a client, which messed up the entire model. I spent three months going into a rabbit hole of data to resolve multiple issues and come up with a single, elegant solution.

Do you have a side gig? I founded and run a music salon and community called The Soundshop. I first hosted the salon in January 2017 when I invited ten musicians to my apartment to share and discuss their work with each other. I came up with the idea after facilitating introductions between my friends in the music industry and my brother Eno while in Los Angeles. It unites my passions for music, networking, and conversation into an event that has helped musicians forge connections and support one another in their creative endeavors.

The salon has grown into a monthly event boasting between 40 and 60 attendees. Each salon has a new theme: music and poetry, music and theater, music and romance, a celebration of black musicians, music and healing, to name a few. The salons, which kicked off in apartments, now take place at interesting locations around Brooklyn and Manhattan such as Poets House, Dungeon Beach sound studio, The City Reliquary Museum, The Williamsburg Hotel, and Crossing Collective art gallery in Chelsea. I curate between 4 and 6 artists for each event, who have 10 minutes to share a song and talk about it as it relates to the theme, and then 5 minutes for questions and conversation with the audience.

What was your first real job? Working as a brand strategist for The Yale Marketing and Licensing Department. I conceptualized, wrote, and designed Yale’s first brand identity guide for their licensed merchandise—a tool to help promote the use of The Yale Brand in licensed products (shirts, ties, mugs, Moleskines, etc.) and to quickly give licensees a sense of Yale’s history, its brand, its mission, and how the brand ought to be used, so that they can adequately incorporate it into their products. My boss, Stephanie Schwartz, was a former executive in the NBA, has a great depth of connections and insight, and has served as my mentor to the present day.

Got any hot tips for folks wanting to do what you do? To get into a job doing data, it’s about learning how to use SQL. It’s not an incredibly hard language to learn, but it improves your value in the marketplace tremendously. And once you get a job that allows you to work in SQL every day, you can start picking up a scripting language to make your work more efficient.

To host a salon of any variety: be willing to start small, and host regular events. This way, you build an expectation that each month people know to look out for your event. Additionally, this allows you to experiment and iterate very quickly on the format and hone in on what works.

And, to get into the music industry, as I have slowly been getting deeper into—or any industry you don’t have experience in—just be willing to put yourself out there. Your goal should be front and center when people ask you what you do, even if you’re just getting started. I mention my music salon within the first few sentences of meeting someone, even on a chance encounter, and it has really opened doors.

Millennial Hustle

Millennial Hustle: Icely Franco

I first met 26-year-old real estate manager and creative professional Icely Franco about four years ago, back when I was still deeply entrenched in the NYC fashion scene. We were both working shifts at a fancy (and possibly haunted) shop in Soho and bonded over our mutual love of books, brunch, and the many, many commonalities between her Dominican heritage and my own Filipino origins—Island nation? Check. Empanadas? Check. The lingering shadow of mid-20th century populist dictatorships? Check and check.

Since our time schlepping hundred-dollar garments from stockroom to shop floor, I’ve moved to the West Coast and worked for half a dozen other places. Icely, on the other hand, has planted her roots more firmly in her native New York—finishing her degree, raising a lovely young daughter, and expanding her reach in the fashion world. Read on for more about this determined millennial’s big-city hustle:

Could you describe your job(s)? I manage a real estate office Mondays through Fridays, and on weekends, I creative direct and style photo shoots!

Did you go to college, and if so, what is your degree in? Graduated with a communications in speech pathology degree from LaGuardia Community College.

What is your favorite part of your job? The flexibility and learning about great properties and places to invest in! I also love my creative “side job” because it allows me to create something that brings me great satisfaction, which is making people look at themselves through different lenses and perspectives!

What is the weirdest task you’ve ever had to do for your job? The weirdest task happened at my side gig after a shoot I did for a boutique uptown in Washington Heights. A pigeon flew into the store and wouldn’t leave, so I helped staff chase it around and out with brooms before it made a mess all over the inventory! That would’ve sucked because the store had a lot of expensive thangsss!

What was your first real job? It was working the box office and as an usher at the AMC movie theater on 42nd Street-Times Square—help me Lord! I was 18, and it was my first “on the books” job. It’s actually where I met my current boyfriend and child’s daddy! It was hell because people were hella rude—but free movies?! Heck yass!

I got my first actual job was when I was 15, right after my dad passed away. I was helping at my aunt’s hair salon in Harlem: washing hair, doing rolos/pin curls and cleaning up shop! This job was the beginning for me getting to explore with my own monies!

Got any hot tips for folks wanting to do what you do? Real estate is where the real wealth is at! Learn about the market in your areas and other areas as well that you aren’t familiar with, just to compare the markets.

As far as styling and creative direction goes, it may suck, but working retail clothing jobs taught me so much about garments and fabrics. Clothing should be performative. It should make you not only look good but feel good! Don’t be shy to venture out. Take a stroll, and you may find your next place to have a photoshoot or run into a super cool thrift store—happens so much to me because ya girl is always wandering…

Millennial Hustle

Millennial Hustle: Polly Gregory

My first job out of college was with a children’s clothing company, where I found myself doing all sorts of odd tasks, like ironing teeny, tiny onesies or sweeping up cupcake crumbs after a photo shoot with 7-year-old twins. On the side, I worked as a freelance photographer and wrote feminist and postcolonial essays (which eventually led to the creation of this blog). I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and my friends’ jobs ran the gamut—from freelance theater electrician to Ebola researcher.

Even now in my late twenties, I still find myself constantly amazed by the incredible variety—and often times, crazy number—of jobs my fellow twentysomethings have found themselves with. Sure, we millennials sometimes do some dumb shit, like take too many selfies or spend a significant portion of our income on rosé. However, at least in my experience, I’ve found those blanket statements about my so-called lazy, thoughtless generation to be, well, blanket statements by lazy, thoughtless writers who can’t show their receipts.

To put it simply: Yes, some millennials kind of suck. But a lot of us are working crazy hours, day and night, and doing some pretty amazing stuff. And so, dear reader, I bring you Millennial Hustle, a new column highlighting young folks doing cool things at their job—and their side job, and their side side job—as well as some pro tips if you’re looking to get into their line of work.

First up is Polly Gregory, a 24-year-old costumer/costume designer from Los Angeles:

Could you describe your job? Specifically, I work at a costume rental house that specializes in period (1770-1970) and western wear. On occasion, I work on the set of various TV shows. I am also a freelance costume designer.

Did you go to college, and if so, what is your degree in? Yes! I went to The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Even though I always knew I wanted to work in film/TV and would likely end up on the West Coast, I loved D.C. too much to pass up the opportunity to study there for four years, just four blocks from the White House. My degree is a double major in American studies with a concentration in culture and politics, and in theatre with a concentration in costume design.

What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job is that I am living my dream! Sorry if that is super cheesy, but it’s also very real. My dream growing up was not to just be a costumer but to be a costume designer.

In case you don’t know the difference, a costume designer is the person who designs and decides what the character will be wearing. A costumer is a member of a very large team that works to bring the designer’s vision to life. Whether that be dressing background characters or keeping up with continuity on set, the costumer is an integral part of the costume design process.

The work at a costume rental house is somewhat like a mix between a library and Macy’s. Costumers are in charge of writing up the clothing a production wants to rent, checking it back in, and looking for damages. They also need to be very knowledgeable of the stock. In my case, that means knowing the difference between what a rancher would wear in 1850, perhaps the bear fur that was used in The Revenant—yes, we have that at my work—versus what a businessman would wear in 1940.

The simple fact that every day, I am working with costumes for film and television is the fulfillment of my lifelong dream. I love being able to tell who a character is and what they are doing with their lives through their clothes.

What is the weirdest task you’ve ever had to do for your job? It’s very hard to think of something “weird” because I do many unconventional things each and every day for my job. If I had to pick, probably the weirdest thing I’ve had to do was try on early twentieth-century girdles and undergarments to help determine the modern day size equivalents. I am frequently a model for “turn of the century” dresses because people at work seem to think, “that’s what time period your face most belongs in.” I feel like being told “you have a face for the 10′s and 20′s” is weird too.

Do you have a side gig? I am very lucky and do not need to have an “official” side gig to help pay the bills. I do, however, enjoy writing cultural critiques in my spare time as a way to keep myself creative and as a reminder to be a conscious contributor to culture.

What was your first real job? My first real job was at a school uniform store. I’ve always had a passion for fashion and clothing, so it is fitting that my first job was selling uniforms to students and desperately trying to convince them that saddle shoes are actually awesome. I would have killed to have cool shoes like that in school.

Got any hot tips for folks wanting to do what you do? I do! One would be take any and every opportunity that comes your way. Please respect your time and talent, and don’t let people rip you off. But, you never know who can open a door for you, so always make yourself available for that opportunity. I grew up in Nashville, TN and did not know a soul in costume design. One summer, I googled “costume designer Nashville” and literally emailed my resume to ten people to see if they could use an intern. Luckily, someone replied with a yes!

Use whatever resources you have—including and especially Google. Like I mentioned, I met a great costume designer and mentor from that. From a Google search, I also learned about the Television Academy summer internship, which opened so many important doors out here in Los Angeles.

My final tip? Don’t make excuses. Both my parents were lawyers growing up, and I didn’t know a soul in the entertainment industry. I went to school in D.C. where they didn’t even have a film program—just a film studies minor and a theatre program. You have to work with what you’ve got and use absolutely every resource available. If you ask and a person says no, you are no worse off and you know where not to look.

Talk to any and everybody who will give you advice. That studio accountant may have a colleague who is looking for a young designer, or even a cousin who’s in costumes. The film/TV industry is an incredibly hard field to break into, especially for people who are geographically or financially unable to take the risk to move to Los Angeles without a job waiting for them. Do as much as you can, where you can, even if it’s just helping on music videos in Nashville. Those opportunities show how passionate and driven you are, and eventually, that will pay off.