Lyndsey Scott: The Runway Coder

Beat that.
Beat that. // Lyndsey Scott

While most people find themselves struggling with one career, Lyndsey Scott has managed to take on three. Not only is she an actress, but Scott has also modeled for Calvin Klein, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Victoria’s Secret, among other big-name designers. But Scott is more than just a pretty face. The former Computer Science and Theater double major at Amherst College also designs apps for Apple in her spare time. As a female African American actress, model and tech whiz, Scott has defied stereotypes by achieving success in three different industries. Before her talk at Yale on Saturday, she spoke to WEEKEND about the challenges she’s faced in both the modeling and tech worlds, the apps she’s developed, and her status as a triple threat. 

Q. When did you discover that you were interested in computer programming?

A. I first did computer programming when I was maybe 13, but at the time, I didn’t realize that it was actually computer programming. In school, all the kids were passing around games between their calculators, and I found out that I had the documentation available to figure out how to make those games on my own. So, I started making those games on the TI-89 calculator for myself.

Q. And when did you start modeling?

A. I started modeling a year after college. I was a computer science and theater major, and at Amherst I dove right into acting. I was doing auditions, but about a year into it, I was discovered by my first modeling agency and started modeling full-time from that day forward. I also did acting, but as I became more and more successful with the modeling, I started devoting more of my time to it.

Q. What influenced you, as a computer science major, to go into acting and modeling instead of software engineering?

A. I remember my last semester at Amherst, I had this course in compiling. And it was a lot of fun, but there were only three people in that class: me and two other pretty awkward people. I remember thinking that there was no way I could spend my entire life around computer programmers. At the time, I thought there wasn’t much diversity in race, gender and personality types in programming, and I didn’t think I could be in that kind of environment where I was sitting at my computer, programming excessively, around other people who were sitting at their computers, programming excessively and having awkward conversations. I think it’s becoming — and I hope it continues to become — a more diverse profession. I hope that more women, more minorities and all different types of people end up getting involved with programming and technology in general. Although I never saw myself pursuing programming after college, I think one reason I love it so much right now is because I make my own schedule, I’m my own boss and I’m able to do projects that appeal to me. But I do have fun hanging with tech people; I’m having dinner with some tech people tonight. There are also some great companies with things like private chefs and private offices where you can customize your own spaces. They give you all the perks. I thought that programming would be suffocating, but the way Google, Facebook and other companies set up their offices creates an enjoyable and non-stressful environment for programmers.

Q. At what point after you began modeling did you decide that you wanted to start programming again, as well?

A. Well, I’d always played around a bit with code, even after college, just for fun. But once I had my first iPhone, I started downloading the apps and realizing that I could actually make my own apps, so I decided to learn how to do Objective C and iOS programming on my own.

Q. How difficult is it to juggle both of your careers?

A. It hasn’t been difficult to juggle the careers because I’m able to prioritize. If I’m busy working on an app at a certain time then I’ll limit the amount of modeling I do, and if good modeling jobs come up then I’ll put the app on pause for a bit. I like having that variety, and I haven’t had any problems balancing the two careers because I have so much freedom in both to plan my own schedule.

Q. Do you ever find yourself enjoying one more than the other?

A. No actually, not really. I like doing both and I like that I have that privilege to spend my time doing both things. I do enjoy having more professional freedom as a programmer than I do as a model, though. As a model, my face is basically decided by outside sources — by the casting directors, by the agents — it’s easy to feel like you’re losing control when you’re a model. You don’t have any control over the jobs that you get. But as a programmer working for myself, I like having complete control over the work I do. I eventually hope to bring more people on board and work with more programmers, graphic designers, etc., but as of now, I do enjoy the freedom that I am given in computer programming, as opposed to the limitations that the modeling industry places on me.

Q. Have you faced any challenges in the modeling world as an African-American woman?

A. Yeah, definitely. With modeling, it’s been very clear. I’ve had success as a model, but I was shocked when I received my first big job, Calvin Klein Exclusive and found out that I was the first black Calvin Klein Exclusive model to get that contract. I was also the only black person in the show. The same went for Prada and a lot of other clients that I’ve worked for, where they’ll only book one or two black girls at a time. I’ve definitely been limited by my race in modeling, and the companies don’t do anything to disguise it either.

Q. How about in the tech world?

A. With computer programming, it’s not as overt, but I do think that when you don’t fit the stereotypical programmer mold, people are less likely to take you seriously. I’m confident in my programming skills and normally if I have a conversation with a programmer, they realize that I’m knowledgeable about what I do. But I think that as a woman, as a person of color and as a model too, it makes people perceive me differently.

Q. Have you discovered any interesting similarities between modeling and computer programming, or are they just two vastly different worlds? 

A. They’re both creative outlets for me. I love modeling because I love transforming into different characters, but I also love being able to put my coding to use in order to create apps that I enjoy and that other people would enjoy. For example, I have an app [Code Made Cool] coming out next week  that’s “Code.org meets ASOS.” I’ve been talking a lot about Code.org lately because they have an amazing website and a great interface where people can learn how to program by dragging and dropping software code. And I’m also on the cover of this upcoming month’s ASOS magazine. So I decided as a supplement to the magazine release, I would put together a “Code.org meets ASOS” app that young people could use to help them learn programming by dragging and dropping bits of code to make their way through fantasy scenarios with a parodied Ryan Gosling. I’m excited for that to come out in a few days. Having an idea pop into my head and then being able to program it in a few weeks and share it with other people — that sort of creativity is nice to express through programming.

Q. Can you tell me about some of the other apps you’ve developed?

A. I have three other apps in the App Store. My first app is called Educate, based on an organization that was founded by a group of Amherst students in order to create a program to mentor Ugandan youths and help them become leaders and entrepreneurs. As of now, Uganda has the world’s youngest population, but it also has one of the largest unemployed populations. I decided to make an app where people could donate directly to the organization Educate, which would then donate this money to the Ugandans, to provide them with the tools they need to build up their country. My second app is iPort, a portfolio app for models and other artists. It’s a fully customizable portfolio that I made to mimic the traditional modeling portfolio book where you can customize the book cover, the background, logo, etc., and flip through the pages like you would a traditional portfolio. But it can be stored on an iPod and allows you to keep multiple portfolios on the same device. I made it specifically for me to have an easy way to keep many portfolios on hand at one time, and be able to share them conveniently through the app. My third app is The Matchmaker, a social networking app where you enter in your profile information, match criteria and personality traits, and if you’re walking down the street and pass by someone who’s compatible with you in love, friendship or business, it alerts you and lets you know that it’s someone you should be talking to. And the last app is the Code Made Cool App, which should be coming out next week.

Q. It’s interesting that you were able to design an app like iPort, which actually helped you with your modeling career. Do you know other models that utilize the app as well?

A. I do know other models that use it, but I also know that people all over the world have been using the app for many different purposes that I never expected it to be used for. For example, I’ve heard of people using it for cake making, to show off their different cakes. I also have a meeting with Models.com tomorrow, where we’re going to do an interview and talk about the app. I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with Models.com for a while, and I’m happy that I’ll finally be able to talk to them, which will hopefully result in more industry people adopting the app and using it as a replacement for the traditional portfolio. In a lot of ways, it’s actually better than the traditional portfolio, especially since I’ll soon be incorporating video into it as well.

Q. Where do you see yourself in the future? You already touched on this briefly, but do you plan on increasing the amount of programming you do or programming at a larger scale?

A. In general, I like maintaining the freedom in my life to do things that appeal to me and I’m really fortunate that at this time, I’m able to do modeling, acting and programming in a way that suits my schedule and my interests. I just have to make sure that everything I’m doing now, I’m doing to the best of my abilities.

Q. Do you have any advice for people looking to go into computer programming? 

A. With computer programming, Code.org is a great place to get started if you don’t have any coding experience. One, it directs you to many other programming resources and two, it’s a really fun way to get into it. I think they have an Angry Birds game where you can drag and drop code to manipulate the Angry Birds characters while teaching you core programming concepts. A lot of people are afraid of computer programming because the terminology and ideas people use when describing it sound so foreign, but computer science is becoming a part of every single industry. I think it’s important for everyone to have some sort of idea of the science that goes into the technology we use on an everyday basis. So I suggest that people give it a try and see what it is, and I think it’ll surprise them because it’s actually a lot of fun.

Q. And do you have advice for people looking to go into modeling?

A. That’s a lot harder. Models are genetic freaks, for the most part. Modeling is something people go into when they have these weird long limbs and long bodies, and are skinny and awkward. And even if you have all these qualities and are one of these genetic freaks, it’s still hard for me to recommend it as a career path because it takes a lot of luck in order to compete in modeling. I see it all the time — the most incredible women who are beautiful and confident in themselves end up sitting at home on their couches all day, and have a terrible time in the business because they’re unable to get jobs. So even if you have all the qualities on the surface that it takes to be a model, there are so many factors outside of yourself that are involved that no matter how hard you work, a great career in modeling isn’t always achievable. I definitely recommend that if you like modeling, you should take pictures and try to create art in this way — through your modeling — but don’t necessarily go into it thinking that it will be a sustainable career.

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