Kristian Mentor ’20 knew when he started Brooklyn College that his career would have to embody his two loves—art and technology. A final project senior year found him building a website and creating pixel art to decorate his clothing. Today, Mentor is a software engineer and founder and creative director of the design studio NULL NYC, where his “modern Caribbean clothing with a twist” has steadily taken off. Here he talks about his experience at Brooklyn College as a computer science major, his current role as a software engineer at the online event management site Eventbrite, and his inspiration for his clothing line.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My family is from Haiti, so I’m first generation. Growing up I was always super interested in video games as an art form, not just a pastime, but something to draw inspiration from, and that drove my career choice. I always loved to be around computers. I was working when I was 14, tutoring other students in math and science at an afterschool program.

It sounds like you knew early on where you were going career-wise.

My motivation for working is that I wanted some Air Jordans and couldn’t afford them. I knew that I had to work hard to get them. In my spare time, I’d be in forums creating internet art for people and designing assets for online games. I made custom fighting games using an engine called Mugen, and that got me wanting to work more with computers. I graduated from Medgar Evers College Preparatory School and got a great education there. I started at NYU but dropped out because of financial issues. I applied to Brooklyn College—it was one of the best options in terms of location and also has a strong computer science program. I immersed myself in the culture: I was a peer mentor for the Black and Latino Male Initiative and the CSTEP [College Science and Technology Entry Program]. I’d go to the Magner Career Center every week, get some career counseling, sought internships.

Were you able to find internships in your major?

I interned at the New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications in tech support. I ended up getting a second internship after networking at a Google cybersecurity event as an analyst for an Aon-owned company called Stroz Friedberg. I did some development there because I already knew how to code. So I created some software tools and some security tools, and I made that connection with Aon.

So you already had some solid connections toward a career in computer science before you left college.

Yes, but before I graduated, I started a business. It all arose from a final project for a capstone course where we had to build a website. I chose to make mine for a clothing brand I called “Null”, which turned out to be a real thing.

How so? How did you go from your college project to an apparel business?

It started with just a T-shirt. It was the middle of 2020, and I was working as a full-time data engineer at the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications—I was hired after my internship there. It was right during the nationwide protests against the killing of George Floyd. I came up with a Black Lives Matter graphic that I put on tees under the Null brand I created at college and sold them. I had been creating pixel art and had designed other pop culture icons during my capstone project, so I embroidered them on clothing, and those sold. It went from there. I got hired as a software engineer by a music startup called So Far Sounds and started earning enough money to be able to invest in NULL. That led to pop-up shops. I broke a one-day sales record with my pop-up shop at Canal Street Market downtown next to Chinatown. Now I’m a creative director designing, producing, and selling hats, T-shirts, and hoodies all with pixelated graphics. A shop in Japan—the New New York Club—has commissioned my apparel.

Did you have any training in design or did you just create the character on your apparel freestyle?

I took a woodcut printmaking course at Brooklyn College during my senior year, and that was it. That sparked my interest in showcasing my art skills more publicly. Even now I’ve been trying to teach myself VFX graphics and graphical programming. It’s math and it’s art. I’ve been experimenting with mostly cut-and-sew designs [using paper patterns] and exploring a lot of that stuff. It’s kind of crazy to look back and see me being a studious kind of guy in computer science, and then becoming a pixel artist, using my computer engineering skills to do something different. I believe that science and art majors should take a course or two in the other discipline; it widens your perspective

Why the name Null?

In computer science the word null is given to objects that are created in memory that have no assigned value. It’s a state of emptiness. I saw it and thought I’d use it. Null is a pun on the relationship we have with clothes. They have no value when we purchase them beyond the cost until we as consumers give them value, whether it’s an article of clothing that is trendy, or something hard to get that everybody wants.

Today you are a software engineer at Eventbrite.

Yes, the online event management and ticketing site. I’m a full-stack developer, which means I can build the front and back end of a website. I build components, like the navigation bar and specific pages like the “things-to-do” page. Those are then rendered for about 100 different countries. I’m also part of a team that works to make sure that Eventbrite shows up on the top of internet searches. It’s enjoyable work for sure

Have you stayed in touch with Brooklyn College?

I’ve been working to see if we can recruit Brooklyn College students to intern for engineers at Eventbrite. I would have loved to do that kind of internship when I was in school. A software engineering internship is competitive; it’s often tough to get one.

Aside from your apparel are you doing anything design-related?

I’ve had a pretty successful side hustle as an animator for GIPHY, with around 1.6 billion impressions on my work. And I recently had the pleasure of teaching a brand design workshop at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. I talked about my experience as a creative engineer and my design philosophy and process. When I do something like the workshop, I always lead by saying I’m proud to be a Brooklyn College alumnus.