The MoneyRise team spoke with Daniel popularly known as Pixeldahn, who took us on the journey of how he began his career in design, the transformation it brought to his life, his 300 rejection mails and how he 23xed his pay in 2 years.
Hi, Daniel. Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Daniel Abayomi, but many people know me as PixelDahn. I’m a Product Designer, currently working at Meta. I was born and raised in Nigeria. I used to play FIFA a lot before, but work became quite stressful and I got so busy that I stopped. I actually need to get back into that. I also enjoy watching movies and I sleep a lot!
What was life like as a kid?
I grew up in a very big family. My parents accommodated a lot of people, mostly family members which always made the house very noisy and caused me to isolate myself. I was always in the room, I never came out. My dad had this desktop, so I’d play computer games on it all day. One thing I learned using his computer was how to type really fast. That was also how I developed an interest in computers and tech. Thinking of it in retrospect, it makes a lot of sense now, because I used to love computers then. I was also called an engineer growing up. If there was any technical issue in the house, they would send for me, “go and call Engineer” and I’d fix it. They were mostly basic things like unmuting the TV or plugging the DVD player. But it made me feel like I was on top of the world.
How did you become a product designer?
I used to work as a frontend engineer, and then one time, there was an opening at the company I was at. The designer left, and I remember it was on a Friday, so I went home, downloaded Adobe XD, checked out some videos on YouTube and decided to learn visual design. I did a couple of things over the weekend and on Monday, I went back to my manager to tell him he had a new designer. Although the designs were very bad, they worked then because I’d design then implement. I built them out. I also used to interface with the designer within the team before she left for school and that really helped me. It was really nice. From there, I started to show more interest. Over a couple of months, I found out that I was doing less coding and more design work for the team. The company had more frontend engineers, so they’d just let me design and that was how I transitioned to a designer.
Wow. That’s impressive! So do you miss frontend engineering?
Well, there were periods when I used to miss it because I’d give engineers designs to work on and they’d just do the opposite of what I gave them. Also there is often the temptation of wanting to work on the task myself as I’m very detail-oriented. Those things make me want to push, but I don’t know if I miss it. Maybe, sometime in the future, I will go back to writing React because I used to write it, but I really don’t know yet.
What do you love most about designing?
I’m a very visual person and I love visual design a lot. I’m always designing beautiful things, but the part of design that I think I love the most is having to go from zero to one. It’s like birthing an idea and converting it into processes that bring out the output. For me, I just love that process of doing the dirty work. I call it “the mud work”; entering the mud, digging and finding the next big thing out of just an idea. So just having that vision from scratch and being able to visualise and attain that vision is the most interesting part of design for me.
How has your life changed since you started designing?
I’d say my life has gotten a lot better because there were things that I never paid attention to before, that I do now. Maybe because I have a bit of OCD, I always remember where I keep stuff and if someone moved them. I also like to organise my things. I always try to appreciate other parts of design as well, and not just visual design. I started appreciating other things like the creative process, and the thoughts that people put into adaptive and hardware designs. For example, I’m currently in London and when I came here, I decided to see their roads and how they were designed. I noticed how accessible they are for people with disabilities. On the roads, you’ll see coppers and sloppy lines for people who use wheelchairs. I literally started appreciating everything; it could be my oven, microwave, or chair. It could be anything. I will see a beautifully designed chair, the way it’s carved and start telling my friend how beautiful and gorgeous it is. So that made me start appreciating that part of design and other facets of it better than before.
You recently broke the internet with the news of you 23xing your income, how did that happen?
I didn’t even think that the tweet was gonna blow up, I just tweeted it randomly. I think I was responding to a tweet at that time, so I didn’t think that many people would see it. However, what 23xing my income means is that there were multiple things that I did like consulting and freelancing. So when I compare my earnings from 2020 and 2021, there’s growth. I was working decently for Nigerian startups where I was earning reasonably okay for my position at that time. Then when I started earning in FX, it just changed the game for me. I mean, I started earning in FX at the end of 2020, but the one that really hit it for me was when I joined a new company and the salary just blew my mind. I did the calculation myself and found out it was 23x more. This was before Meta anyway.
Can you share the process of what happened between 2020 and now?
I used to apply for jobs as I was one of those hungry people who wanted a foreign job. But I found out I was getting too many rejections. Recently, I decided to count my rejection letters again and I found out it is now a little over 300 from the 200 it was. That’s a lot. I used to get rejected to the point that whenever I saw an email, even without opening it, I just assumed it was a rejection email. However, a few worked out. They would send me a plan, but maybe, I just didn’t want the offer or it needed me to relocate to a country I wasn’t interested in going to. I got an offer from Germany, but I wasn’t interested in moving there, so I turned it down. But I had to sit back and reflect on the things I was doing wrong and why I wasn’t getting my foot in the door. I needed to know why I was getting rejections from the onset, so I redid my portfolio and also put myself out there. Then I started getting more interviews, more foot in the door, instead of rejections from the onset. And I began thinking, “Yes, I have a foot in the door, but how do I negotiate? How do I present and market myself?” Those were important things I needed to learn. I needed to redo the PixelDahn brand which is myself, the designer, and how I negotiate. I started talking to people. I reached out to a couple of people who I knew were far ahead of me. Some of them were not even Nigerians, but I reached out to them, and they gave me points on things I should note. I did those things and watched more Chris Doo videos. I also started reading more books and those things instilled confidence in me. I then figured out that I could really do it. I started to get more offers from different companies which made sense. It got to a point where I had to start deciding if I wanted to work for someone or if the pay made sense. However, those things came with more work and research.
How did Meta happen?
It’s a funny story, but a friend just reached out to me and said that Meta needed a contractor to join them, so I should make my portfolio public and I should join them. And I had just landed an insanely good job with a Spanish company. I also initially didn’t like the idea of a contract job, so I decided to talk to the person involved. I spoke to them and they told me about the job and how there were opportunities for full-time eventually. They also told me the kind of product they wanted to build and I got really interested in that product. It was something I really wanted to explore, so I quit the other job even though Meta was paying less at the time as it was a contract. At first, I contemplated if I should even quit my old job, but I spoke to the team at Meta about how I was going to pursue a job with them and even though the contract was a pay cut from what the Spanish company paid, it was still something I wanted to pursue. I quit the job and joined the team at Meta as a contractor. A couple of weeks into the job, my boss wanted me to join full time as they loved my energy and vibes. It took several months and a series of interview processes which is the norm for any full-time product designer, and I joined full time.
What is your relationship with money and how has it changed over time?
I have always been responsible with money. When it comes to finances, I have a lot of financial responsibilities towards some of my family members, even when I was earning the lowest. As my life started to get better, I started to do bigger things for them, especially my brother and sister and even my parents. I started to do more for them to ensure their lives are as comfortable as mine. I have also had the habit of saving money, so I just continued to do that. But one thing I’d say that has changed now is that I’m a little more intentional about how I spend. I budget for things and I dabble a bit into angel investing. I just fund some startups that I think have prospects and I also keep my money in FX. Compared to the naira, FX is a better way to keep your money. I have not done a lot of outside investment like real estate and that’s because I’m not knowledgeable enough about them and I have a lot of other things taking up my time. I recently discussed this with my girlfriend and we agreed I was going to start looking at other investment options by Q3 and Q4. Investments that are a little bit more short term like 6 months or 1 year as opposed to 5 years or longer.
What next milestone would you like to achieve with your career?
I just want to grow. Currently, I’m looking more for mentorship and career coaching opportunities. I’m reaching out to people and getting more introductions to important persons like the VP of Design at Nike, directors at Meta and top people at Twitter. I just want to be mentored by top people who are far ahead in their careers, learn from them and mirror them, even if it’s for a bit and see what exactly I should be doing. I’m also reading more books that will expand my knowledge of business and leadership because I’m leaning more into leadership roles at the moment. I’m pushing and trying to get more promotions within the company. That’s all it is for me at the moment.
What financial and career advice would you give other young people who want to be just like you?
I don’t know if I’m an expert in finance, but career-wise, they should know that things take time. I see a lot of people who want to skip the process and just get to wherever it is they want to, but you have to work. This usually takes time and gets frustrating sometimes. There are days you may feel like giving up, but if you have an anchor for your motivation, it keeps you going. For me, it’s the fact that I have a family to care for and I know that if I quit, it’ll blow back on them. It’ll have a great impact on them, so I always think about them when things get hard. This might sound cliche, but I used to have nothing before. I came from nothing. But after I tasted the good life where I didn’t have to think about food, buying things for myself and moving to a better place, I just knew I didn’t want to go back to where I was before. So I love the fact that I can meet my needs now and I don’t think I want to go back. All these things are a motivation for me to always keep pushing because I want better for myself and I also want better for the people around me.