Akeda Hosten: Engineering with a twist
Akeda Hosten, 22, is adjusting to life after college about as well as any other recent grad: “I need to come home, wash these dishes, do my laundry and cook, but I also want to watch Netflix.” Now that he’s finally out on his own, his life calls for him to make many decisions younger adults worry about less frequently.
Akeda grew up in the D.C. Metropolitan area. During the 1980’s, his Trinidadian parents immigrated to the United States. His dad, Charles Hosten, is an associate professor of chemistry at Howard University and also teaches at Prince George’s Community College.
Akeda had the opportunity to attend Howard on a full-scholarship — and turned it down.
He wanted a change of scenery, and according to him, to get a little further from the watchful eye of his mom, Shirley Hosten, a nurse manager at Providence Hospital in the District. “My mom is very ‘mom-ish.’ If I was still that close to home, I [knew] she would just pop up, and I didn’t want to deal with that.”
Instead of Howard, Akeda chose to attend Washington University in St. Louis on a partial scholarship. “I would’ve met great people at Howard, but I’m glad I met this great group of people at Wash U. I think that everything happens for a reason,” he said.
In the spring of 2016, Akeda graduated from Wash U with a degree in electrical engineering and a minor in computer science. He accepted a job offer from MasterCard Technologies and currently serves as a programmer in the company’s St. Louis office.
The transition from school to working life can be difficult, and due to the structure of college engineering programs, this can be especially true for young engineers. Akeda’s undergraduate program, like many others, focused heavily on providing a foundation of programming skills. Much of his learning beyond the basics must be done on the job and implemented quickly.
In addition to furthering his technical skills, Akeda is learning to navigate corporate culture, a skill not stressed in his engineering curriculum. He’s working to establish himself in what is a microcosm of the engineering workplace: an office disproportionately populated by middle-aged white males.
“They haven’t had a person my age come around for like seven years,” he said. Nevertheless, his older colleagues have assisted his acclimation to the working world: “they’re all there to help me. Everyone is trying to teach me something and they’re very invested in my success.” That level of support is invaluable.
Referring to his presence as a young black man in the workplace, Akeda said, “at times it can be a very driving force,” but conversely, “[sometimes] all eyes are on you and you’re being scrutinized.”
Akeda’s alter ego
Though engineering is a conservative profession, Akeda also enjoys expressing his creative side: he’s a producer, guitarist and rapper. His music alias? Keyz.
“Music is one of my biggest driving forces,” he shared. Using the financial stability provided by his job, Akeda is able to support his passion for music. Recently, he purchased some recording equipment. Soon, he’ll buy more beats and book more studio time. Keyz’s upcoming project is entitled Born to Rule. The first single, “Sunshine,” is available on SoundCloud.
In between his final exams and graduation from Wash U, Akeda wrote the lyrics for Born to Rule. Over the summer, he produced the album himself. “I want to have a hand in everything,” he said. Keyz contemplates breaking into the music industry through several avenues: getting an MBA to work on the business side; producing full time; or pursuing a career as a performing artist.
With artistic inspirations such as Chance The Rapper, Kanye West and Travis Scott, Keyz’s array of music industry aspirations aren’t shocking. He also mentioned a fourth musical role model: Kid Cudi.
“I feel kind of sad for the dude,” he said, referencing Cudi’s recent decision to check himself into rehab due to depression and suicidal thoughts. “We are very dismissive of mental health.” Akeda acknowledged that some of his closest friends sought therapy as a way to deal with stress and encouraged him to do the same. After much thought, Akeda decided to give it a try — his first session was roughly an hour after the interview for this piece.
“I’m going to therapy today just because life can be overwhelming,” he said. “While it’s nice to have your friends to talk to, sometimes you just need a professional to tell you what to do and how to deal with thoughts and emotions in a healthy way.” He added jokingly, “I’ll try not to cry on my first time meeting this [therapist]. I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Akeda sees mental health as an obstacle the black community must overcome before it can reach its full potential. He says that when we “look after each other in a very personal way, it’s like a domino effect–” if individuals normalize and nurture mental health challenges, the larger community will follow suit.
Most immediately, Akeda wants to help his extended family back in Trinidad.
“I hope they view me as someone they can talk to,” he said. “College isn’t necessarily what’s expected of most people
growing up in Trinidad. They’re all very smart, but I think as we all know, as black people, that can all get wasted quick, messing around with the wrong people.”
To protest or not to protest
Following the death of Michael Brown, Akeda found himself in the most tumultuous area of the country at the time; Wash U is roughly fifteen minutes from Ferguson, Missouri.
Akeda said it was frustrating “being on a campus that is predominately white, a lot of the white students didn’t really get what was going on [and] obviously had their own views. There would be a bunch of people on Yik Yak like, ‘Why are they protesting? It doesn’t matter. So what someone got killed.’”
The national media closely observed the events in Ferguson. Many students actively participated in several local demonstrations. Akeda recalled his shower being filled with soot and gunpowder on a particular night after his roommate returned from protests. But Akeda had little involvement in the rallies. “I think I went to two or three protest activities. For me, I wasn’t too deep in it. I was more following it from afar.” Eventually, his roommate stopped even asking if he wanted to be a part of the movement.
Choosing not to stand with others like his roommate, who put themselves in physical danger, is still a sore spot. “I think I was kind of caught up in myself,” he said reluctantly. With schoolwork, extracurriculars and his social life, there was always something that could be considered more pressing. “Looking back on it, I wish I did more. I don’t have a ton of regrets about college, but I think one of my regrets would be not doing more.”
Even with this major regret, though, Akeda pushes himself to make decisions based on his present and future, instead of his past. “I have a tendency to overthink and ask what if,” he said. “I’m trying very hard to get out of that habit and listen to my gut.”
Full time Keyz?
What does he hear when he listens to that internal voice? Slow and steady wins the race — at least when it comes to music. “I feel like when people blow up too fast,” he said, “that’s when they get hustled. Or they blow up too fast and then the next year no one knows who they are — or no one cares who they are.”
At the moment, Akeda has no choice but to take the slow and steady route: with such an expensive passion, having a full-time job is the only way he can support his projects. But these dreams won’t stay on the sidelines for long. He pledged himself to make at least one beat per week and continue to develop his craft.
“In the next year or two I want to get to the point where I make music my main job,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to be out in the limelight just yet.”