Seluga Sekanwagi wasn’t looking for jobs in Brooklyn.
Why would he? Sekanwagi was living a happy post-grad life in Houston, Texas, working at a design architecture firm in the healthcare sector. He was flirting with the idea of moving to Austin, Texas, because of their booming tech startup industry, but when he was looking for jobs as a UX designer, he noticed a lot of companies there weren’t looking to hire people.
All it took was a Google search for him to stumble upon a Brooklyn Heights-based company called App Partner that was hiring a UX designer, and Sekanwagi took a shot in the dark, packed his bags, and moved to a city he had only been to once before — on a high school trip in 2007.
He wanted a new adventure and saw Brooklyn as the kind of creative hub he might belong in.
Eight months later, he’s living in Flatbush and working at App Partner, a mobile app agency that designs and develops iOS and Android apps for all kinds of clients, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Sekanwagi, 26, is one of four UX/UI designers and works on researching and optimizing usability for software design.
“I’d say my real job title is ‘user polymath’ because I’m someone who advocates for the user,” he said, “to ensure that they have the best experience, one that is both delightful and intuitive while on an app.”
I had to ask Sekanwagi to tell me the truth about what it’s like to make the move from Houston to New York City, a place with four times as many people.
“I use anxiety as a blanket term,” he said, “but I was really nervous and really excited when I moved to New York City. It was hard because I left my friends at home but the opportunities in NYC trump those in Texas, as far as the creative field goes.”
So far, Sekanwagi said that the hardest part of moving here hasn’t been the high price tags of rent and food or the crowded commute he takes every morning on the 5 train, but the social aspect. It’s hard to make new friends, he said.
“I really think you have to put yourself out there and really understand yourself before being able to meet new people,” he said. “I guess you need to learn to love yourself before putting yourself out there. Once I did that, I learned my own self worth and was able to meet people. I’ve been on a roll since.”
He loves Brooklyn for its culture and arts scene, saying that he’s never lived in a place where art was so accessible and available. He also likes Brooklyn’s “neighborhood feel.”
“People walk through the streets and it’s a whole lot quieter than Manhattan is,” he said.
Though Sekanwagi has only been here less than a year, he has become a regular at Smorgasburg, an outdoor food fair that happens during the summer months. He’s fallen in love with Goa Tacos, especially the ones with pulled pork and red cabbage.
I talked to Sekanwagi about mid-day meditation breaks, his favorite spots in Brooklyn for inspiration and the Brooklyn wave he’s hoping to ride.
What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any tech-related work?
Every morning, when I wake up, I write down three tasks I want to knock out for the day. Then I head to work, and before I check my email, I tackle the three tasks, uninterrupted. I don’t check my email until finishing those tasks.
What do you do when you have an inspiration block?
I go take a walk. If that doesn’t help, I’ll ask for help from a coworker. I try not to browse the internet, but it’s human nature. We’re curious creatures. I just save doing that as my last resort when I need inspiration.
I also sit on the steps of the church around the corner and meditate during lunch. It’s important to me to step away from work and breath for a second. It helps me clear my mind and refocus.
What designers inspire you?
So many artists and designers inspire me, but my two favorites are: furniture designer Mark Newson and Brooklyn-based artist KAWS.
Tell us about some of your favorite projects that you worked on.
I worked on a real estate app that appealed to millennials. It had a feature that let the realtor record a tour in a Snapchat video-like way. My job was to do a lot of research for this and it was fun trying to figure out ways to make this app appeal to younger users through technology, in a visual way that’s immediate and unfiltered.
I also just finished working on a really cool app for a single, dance-loving entrepreneur from Texas. It’s called JusMove. It’s a dance competition app where people can post videos of them dancing and the winners gets prizes.
How does living in Brooklyn inspire or influence your work?
I love walking around the city and going to art galleries and the Brooklyn Museum. I find a lot of inspiration doing that and it changes my way of thinking of things when I’m designing. App design isn’t an art form or appreciated as one. But it’s still something you look at visually to try to find a way to make look good and function well. Once you’ve thought about how to make an app work smoothly and be friendly, the aesthetic features come together. In a way, the process takes on its own artistic journey.
Do you have plans on staying in Brooklyn?
I do. I don’t intend on leaving this place. I’m just now starting to stay afloat here, both financially and socially. I feel like I’ve caught a wave and I hope to stay on that wave. I really love Brooklyn.