MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for the latest conversation from our Women in Tech series. All this month, we're speaking to innovators in tech, and we're talking about the best ways to encourage young women to consider engineering, computer science and other tech fields as careers. Now not many of us think of tech as glamorous, but fashion model and programmer - yes, you heard me right - Lyndsey Scott, is defying the stereotypes. When she's not busy modeling for Calvin Klein, Prada and Louis Vuitton, Lyndsey Scott creates apps - two of which were recently picked by Apple. And despite having walked the runway for Victoria's Secret, she is still proud to call herself a nerd. And Lyndsey Scott is with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
LYNDSEY SCOTT: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So which came first, the beauty part or the geek part?
SCOTT: I was probably called a geek way before I was called a beauty. I definitely wasn't a model when I was in school, but I never called myself a geek back then. It was more of a painful term than a complement, but now that people are using words like geek and nerd to describe me, as long as it means that I'm smart, I'm OK with it.
MARTIN: You're going to fly your geek flag high now, right?
MARTIN: So when did you discover your love of computer science and all those kind of related areas? Is it something that you grew up with? Is it something that you kind of discovered just by kind of noodling around?
SCOTT: I first started playing around with computer programming when I was in middle school. I was given a TI 89 graphing calculator. I started looking through the documentation, and realized I could make games on my calculator. So I didn't see it as computer programming at all at the time, just as a way for me to have fun games to play with.
MARTIN: We've spoke to a lot of women and girls in tech fields, and a lot of them say that they started kind of getting messages surprisingly early on that tech wasn't supposed to be for girls. I mean, that they weren't supposed to be in it. Did you ever feel that way?
SCOTT: No not at all. Programming wasn't something that I was deterred from at all. In fact, my father was a computer programmer when it was in zeros and ones. Right now - nowadays he types with one finger at a time on a computer, but he was involved with computer programming himself.
MARTIN: So at home, it was all good. It was kind of a consistent message - but at school, same thing?
SCOTT: I think it was fine. I was never the popular kid, so I don't know why that was the case. But I didn't necessarily realize that computer programming was uncool back then.
MARTIN: So when did the beauty part of your story emerge?
SCOTT: I didn't become a model until graduating from Amherst in 2006. And since then, I started growing more into myself and decided to give modeling a try.
MARTIN: Have you, you know - as an African American woman, both sides of your identity are scarce in tech at the moment. At the moment. And I just wondered if you have felt either aspect of your identity - either as an African American or as a woman is more relevant to the experiences that you have in tech?
SCOTT: In school I didn't realize that there was such a gap, such a gender gap, such a racial gap in computer programming because my classes were fairly diverse. I know that nowadays only 2.4 percent of college graduates graduate with degrees in computer science, and only 12 percent of those are female. But my class was pretty even.
MARTIN: So why do you think those numbers are as they are? I mean, again I'm not making you responsible for the rest of the industry, but why do you think that is? Do you have any thoughts?
SCOTT: I think people's stereotypes become a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. I think that women and people of color, especially, experience stereotype threat, where the threat that they can fulfill these negative stereotypes keeps people of color and women from participating in class discussions and pursuing careers in tech because they're afraid that they could in fact fulfill those negative stereotypes.
MARTIN: Did you ever feel that way?
SCOTT: A certain points, yes definitely, especially growing up. I was the only black person, actually, for the first three years of my preparatory academy in New Jersey. And having boys with these louder voices shouting over you and making you feel as if you're answers weren't intelligent, or as if you didn't completely fit in -
MARTIN: But going at the other way - you know, it's interesting to hear about how your experiences as a beautiful women may interface with your experiences as a smart woman because you have sometimes seen it where women who are either very pretty feel like they have to down play their looks in order to be taken seriously. Or you have other women who are perhaps less conventionally attractive sometimes feel that they are discriminated against because they're not pretty. So how do you work that when you're working on your kind of computer science side? Do you make a point of trying to tone it down or do you just say hey, this is me, I'm going to let it rip, put on the four-inch heels, and do your thing? You know?
SCOTT: For the most part over the years, my computer programming has been fairly solitary. So when I'm by myself, I'm not wearing the heels. I'm wearing the glasses - my broken glasses with the tape in the middle. But in my time as a model, especially, I've learned how to dress nicely and do my hair. And I like the way it makes me feel to be put together. So I do that because that's what I like to do. And when I'm interfacing with these technology people as I've been doing over the last couple of months, I still make an effort to look OK because this is something that I enjoy doing. If anything, I just let my words speak for me. I let my knowledge speak for me. I'm not afraid to be perceived negatively because of my looks.
MARTIN: Let's talk about some of your projects in the couple of minutes that we have left. I understand that one of the latest apps is called iPort for professional model's portfolios, and maybe actors could use it too, I guess, for head shots, right? Or something that...
MARTIN: ...And how does it work? And I also would love to know how you get your ideas?
SCOTT: I had the idea for this app because it was something I personally needed. As a model, to carry around these heavy books - I have seven agencies worldwide. And to carry these around in my suitcase from one country to the next became difficult. So I created this app, not just for models, but also for other artists or architects. I've heard people using this to show off their cakes - their cake baking. And for me, personally, I love the fact that you can customize the table, you can customize the book. And I'm also working on implementing videos so that you can page through the portfolio with both photos and video displays.
MARTIN: So before we let you go, what ideas do you have to encourage more women and girls to get into these fields?
SCOTT: I think for one, young people are very lucky to have the resources now that maybe they don't - they would've had before. Currently only 1 out of 10 schools teaches computer programming. So luckily code.org has created a great new initiative called Hour of Code which will allow people, for free, you can try out programming on your own. So even just that exposure to programming would allow more women to get involved with technology and try it out and participate in this ever-growing field. And I think girls in general should just put their fear aside when they go to their classes. It's important to participate. It's important to be heard and not let the stereotypes stop you.
MARTIN: Model and programmer, Lyndsey Scott, joined us from our bureau in New York. And Lyndsey Scott is tweeting a day in her life today as part of our Women in Tech series. You can follow along and jump in as you like at #NPRWIT. Now you know, that hashtag has more than 7,000 tweets now. This community of women innovators and entrepreneurs is growing every day, and the conversation is interesting. Amanda Spann of IBM recently tweeted her day. She wrote I was afraid for the longest that because I didn't code, I couldn't work in tech. I reached out to friends in the industry. I sought out advice, feedback, insights, et cetera until I ran into opportunity. In the next few days, we will hear from Stephanie Hill, a vice president of Lockheed Martin. Ingrid Vanderveldt, co-founder of the Billionaire Girls Club. That's a group that mentors girls to foster entrepreneurship. And Rajini Ajiri (ph), she works in West Africa developing apps to help people with disabilities, and she's teaching girls there how to code. We hope you will follow these women and contribute your own stories and questions. You can find us on Twitter at #NPRWIT. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.