Crystal Martin

How many years have you been in tech?


Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

I grew up in Detroit, MI and I like to say “Detroit raised me, St. Louis made me.” I grew up as an only child to a single mother who worked and went to school full time throughout my childhood. I am DPS educated and I owe all my success to my family and the community I grew up in. Between my nurturing school communities, my mother putting me in every single STEM, public speaking, youth development program she could find, my aunts teaching me how to sew and cultivating my creative spirit, my mom and dad instilling a deep sense of “hustle” in me (they always taught me, you get your education, but you better have something you can do with your hands), I can honestly say that I am living proof of “it takes a village”. As a child, I was always interested in the arts and sciences and was always reading, tinkering, drawing, and researching. I was and always have been obsessed with knowing, I was insatiably curious, and always…always questioning…everything.

How were you exposed to tech?

I didn’t get a computer in my home until I was 13, but my first real experience with learning about the power of software is when I took computer graphics in 9th grade. I got thrown in the class last minute, I was so mad that I had to take it, the class was full of seniors and I was “terrible at computers”. Through taking that class, I learned that I not only had an eye for design, but I wasn’t that bad at using the Adobe software, in fact, I was pretty good at it…_better_ than some of the seniors. After that semester I never had an opportunity to touch that program again until I was an adult.

My re-introduction to tech was in 2014 when I was leaving the classroom as a middle school math teacher. I decided that I wanted to transition into a field that married my love for the sciences, but also my love of creativity and design. I figured coding could do that. I showed up to the STLRuby meetup as the only woman and person of color at the event and immediately felt like the tech community is where I belonged. Throughout the night I realized that Ruby was a programming language and not just a cool name for a meetup and didn’t understand a thing, but the organizer, Amos King, encouraged me to come back and I did. Through that community I met someone who would connect me to my next career step and what I’m doing now.

What is your current role?

CoderGirl Program Director at LaunchCode

What is your proudest accomplishment?

This is a hard question…sometimes I don’t feel like I have accomplished a lot. It’s less of an event and more of a mindset shift. I am proud of the fact that I don’t let fear dictate my decision making. I am proud that I can take risks and explore the unknown without a total panic-attack-meltdown-of-imposter-syndrome-talking-myself-out-of the very thing that could change my life and the lives of others. I’m proud of how I am getting over myself!

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.

This applies to me all of the time. I am always calling out bias and inequality in any situation that I find it in. People look to me to be the person who will push the envelope on tough issues and challenge their thinking. My life has been “she was warned but she persisted”. Our society is constantly serving black women messages about what they can and cannot do and the consequences that will come if you decide to break through a barrier. Being black and female in America puts you in a permanent position of persistence and resistance.

What are you learning right now?

I am learning Illustrator, photoshop, front-end web development (HTML, CSS, JS) and soon, Rails. I really want to get knee-deep in the the software development process so my goal is to build a full-stack web application by the end of 2017. I have dabbled in so many different things due to my role at CoderGirl, but it’s high time that I really focus and build something from beginning to end! I realize this is lofty but hey, it’s only March! I got time!

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

The last fear I conquered was my fear of failing and being totally wrong. At the end of 2016, I decided to restructure CoderGirl from a meetup to a year long tech training program. I was so afraid of people being mad at me or thinking it was a terrible idea, but I decided to do it anyway and to be comfortable with the ways in which this new model could fail, but also looked at all the opportunities for success that it held. I conquered it by just taking the leap and trusting myself, and more importantly trusting the amazing people that I have along this journey of building CoderGirl into what it is today.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

You are not perfect, you will never be perfect, you will never be the best programmer, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying! I have spent so much time jumping around from stack to stack, hoping out when the water got too hot, thinking that maybe if I try this other thing I’ll be good at that, and being discouraged when I wasn’t instantly good at coding (whatever the hell that means). My advice to others would be to sit down, focus, and do it! You don’t even know how awesome you can be until you try it and you _struggle_ with it…whatever “it” is for you.

What are your hobbies?

Hot yoga, working out, reading, learning random new skills, cooking/exploring new recipes, and tinkering. I need more hobbies.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

I like how accessible St. Louis is, there is so much room here for you to try anything you are interested in! You want to start a business? #STL. You want to go to a great institution and study X? #STL. You want to meet a community of people who care about their neighborhood and its future? #STL. You want to run for political office even though you’re not a politician and didn’t care up until Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States of the supposedly free America? #STL. (that was not a dig, that is reality and I am SO inspired by the people who did this in my community). I love the midwest because of its potential, I look at Rust Belt cities and you can see the makings and infrastructure of great cities, if it was that way at one time, what makes us think it can’t be again?

Who inspires you?

I can’t pick one person. Women inspire me. The sheer power of our bodies, and will, and might amaze me. Women who are still standing, living their lives, and fighting in the world we live in inspire me. I nearly catch the holy ghost when I think of all the beautiful, powerful, and awe inspiring women in my life and their part in building me into the person that I am today.

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