Our City, Their Words: Crystal Martin of LaunchCode

Meet Crystal. She combines her passion for fashion, coding, tech and Gwen Stefani in a completely unique way. She’s making waves in St. Louis through her work with LaunchCode, a nonprofit that creates pathways to economic opportunity and upward mobility through apprenticeships and job placement in technology. And she does it all in style. 

Crystal got her start at Michigan State University, where she was exposed to activism and social justice. While she was there, Crystal was involved in an orphan care center in South Africa for children that had been affected by HIV and AIDS. While in South Africa, she began to really understand the power of education, and she left inspired to go into the classroom. Next thing she knew, Crystal was in St. Louis serving as a Teach for America corps member. She taught in St. Louis schools for the next four years before she felt like she was ready for something new. That new thing? Coding. 

When Crystal went to a STLRuby (a St. Louis programming meetup), she felt right at home among the community of people she met. The rest is kind of history. Crystal soon became the organizer and director of CoderGirl, a LaunchCode program designed specifically for women. LaunchCode’s staff has continued to grow and they’re not slowing down.

Crystal’s favorite thing about coding? It doesn’t discriminate. “Coding is a new language itself, so it can create access for people of all kinds of backgrounds. Together, we can build out opportunities for them,” she says.  

Keep reading to learn how this Sailor Moon-inspired lady boss is going to take over the world one day.

 

You have a feminine fashion side of you that you combine with the tech/STEM side. What would you say to girls that are feminine but may be afraid to go down the STEM route?

The cool thing about tech is that no one cares how you look; they know you can still be taken seriously even if you put on lipstick. It’s not weird that I have a pink streak in my hair, a nose ring, and a visible tattoo, you know?  I’m still just as nerdy in a collared shirt, but I like looking good and I think the world is letting women be what they want to be. It is giving us a chance to express ourselves in a way that makes sense to us. Do you. If you want to do it with lipstick on, that’s great. If you don’t, then don’t put it on and that’s great! This is our chance to be equal parts feminine equal parts smart, wholly female, competent, and hard-hitting. I will let you know about yourself with my hair done. And I will not care.

 

Where do you draw your confidence and inspiration from?

The women in my life. They are impressive, smart, beautiful, and passionate people. There’s this proverb of the “Virtuous woman” and people always focus on the part about what she is to her husband and they leave out the entire story of who this woman is. She gets up before everybody in her community. She is a hard worker, she can balance things, she can pretty much do whatever she wants to and no one emphasizes that. It’s a representation of what it means to be a woman and all the things we can be that people don’t always value. There’s a verse that reads “Strength and honor are her clothing and she can laugh at the days to come.” She’s got it SO together that she can laugh at tomorrow because she knows that she’s got this!

 

What role does fashion play in your life?

Self-expression. As a kid I wanted to wear feather boas and fuzzy things to school and my mom thought, “This kid is going to get laughed at.” But I really didn’t care. I wanted to wear the fuzzy headbands and the wacky socks and all the colors. Especially now that I work in the environment that I do, I’ll think, I want to wear turquoise tights with a red shirt and a bandana, and I can. And I can have bright red glasses. It’s fun that I can say ‘I feel wacky today and I want to put on all the colors and I just want to be crazy.’


How would you describe your personal style?

Super colorful. I just love colors. I can be like granny chic sometimes, boheme, hipster, whatever you want to call it. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling that day.


What trends are you looking forward to trying out?

Normcore. It’s just drab, bland, muted stuff. When you see it on the runway it’s cashmere and really nice wool. It’s just pretty and creamy looking. Some of it looks like Kanye’s crazy looking fashion line, but it’s a lot of nice straight lines. My friends and I laughed about this last year because I was trying out this trend by wearing a gray skirt and a beige chunky sweater and I was like I’m wearing normcore but my boots had red laces and I had on violet lipstick. They were like, that’s definitely NOT normcore, I tried…

 

Who are some of your fashion influences?

My mom. My mom has always been good at matching things and dressing herself well. When my mom will go on Saturday errands and she still has an element of being put together. She will iron a sweatsuit. Literally iron it. It’s that attention to detail that I’ve carried into my personal style. My Aunt Tina is also a huge fashionista. She’s all about accessorizing. You’re not done until you have a necklace, purse, shoes, everything together. And then there’s Gwen Stefani. I don’t dress like her, but Gwen Stefani was like the awakening that you can be wacky and cool and people are going to love it anyway. When I was young, she was definitely a huge style influence. I felt like I couldn't wait until I was old enough so I didn’t have anyone telling me how to dress and I could express myself through the way I dressed. 

 

The fictional character I relate most to is…

Sailor Mercury, from Sailor Moon. I picked her because when I was 8 years old, she had short hair and was really into science, just like me. She could fight the bad guys with all of the other sailor girls.


As a teenager I was totally into…

I was definitely into those quirky pop kind of characters, like Gwen Stefani and Pink. It was like an extension of the girl power movement. I know that the Spice Girls were not popular when I was a teenager, but it still kind of carried the spirit of that where you can be feminine but you can also be tough. You can kick your feet into the air in platforms and demand respect as a girl.

 

I tend to splurge on…

Food. Or crafts supplies that I never make anything out of.

 

If I could go back in time for one decade it would be…

It would definitely be the 60s.

 

I love St. Louis because…

It’s accessible. I think there are barriers but I think a lot of them are more in your head than what it is in reality. Sometimes you perceive that you can’t gain opportunity into something, but you really can. It’s just about who will take the time to help you get there.

 

My favorite quality in a woman is…

Her character, her strength. With every woman I meet there’s something you think you know on the surface but then when you really get to know her and talk to her you find out all of these interesting, cool things. I like the mystery in what it means to be a woman. I think we walk around expecting certain things, but I find myself blown away all the time.

 

Are you staring at your computer right now thinking, “I kind of want to be a coder girl, too…” Well, you can! Every Wednesday, LaunchCode hosts CoderGirl, a free, all-women's coding group open to women of any age, background, or skill level. Launchcode will also be partnering with Harvard in January to bring a free introduction to computer science course to St. Louis. Get all the deets here.