This is so typical.
That was Lyndsey Scott's first reaction when she saw the trolling responses to an Instagram post shared one week ago by the popular tech account coding.engineer. The post shows a nearly 10-year-old photo of Scott, a former Victoria's Secret model, walking down the runway, clad in lingerie and surrounded by a train of colorful balloons. It is overlaid with text: "This Victoria's Secret model can program code in Python, C++, Java, MIPS, and Objective-C," and accompanied by a caption that reads "Coding Is For Anyone!"
The post would not have been newsworthy if everyone prescribed to that truth. Unfortunately, we know this is far from reality, and the backlash to Scott's photo became just the latest in a string of incidents that show the steep cliff facing women in tech.
Scott says she didn't become aware of the post until a few hours after it went up on Instagram, when someone tagged her in the comments. There, she saw a range of demeaning and hostile responses, which ranged from the creepy ("I love her, she's mine, stay away. She's my precious!") to the grossly discrediting ("Yeah she can write Hello World").
Many others came to Scott's defense before she chimed in with her own comment, which she later she shared on Twitter: "I have 27481 points on StackOverflow; I’m on the iOS tutorial team for RayWendelich.com; I’m the Lead iOS software engineer for @RallyBound, the 841st fastest growing company in the US according to @incmagazine, I have a Bachelor’s degree from Amherst where I double majored in computer science and theater, and I’m able to live my life doing everything I love. Looking at these comments I wonder why 41% of women in technical careers drop out because of a hostile work environment."
Despite her many accolades, Scott's used to not being taken seriously. She doesn't think it's because she's a model. Instead, she attributes it to being a woman in tech.
"[I've seen] people who aren't models, they're just women, get the same sort of treatment on the internet and in real life," she told Refinery29. "If someone doesn't look like the image that people have in their mind of the conventional programmer, they often have to do more to prove them false."
These beliefs are reflected in the numbers: According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women made up just 26% of the computing workforce in 2017. This figure falls to just 3% for women of color.
Scott, who came to New York after graduating college to pursue acting, fell into modeling when she signed with an agency that represented both actors and models. She soon earned an exclusive contract with Calvin Klein, and then landed the crème de la crème of the modeling résumé, a spot in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show lineup, in 2009.
"If someone doesn't look like the image that people have in their mind of the conventional programmer, they often have to do more to prove them false."
Lyndsey Scott, model, actress, and programmer
But after modeling for several years, Scott decided she wanted to re-focus on her acting career, and moved L.A. In search of a way to support herself while going on auditions, she picked back up computer programming, which she had studied in school. She quickly found that just because she knew how to code didn't mean others would treat her like a professional.
"I'd walk into a room of programmers and say, What are you talking about, and they'd say, Oh, you wouldn't be interested," she says. "I'd be avoided — no one would want me on their team, or I'd end up on a team, and they would give me a small task. People would slip up sometimes and say that I was learning to code, or starting to code, instead of talking about me like I was an actual iOS developer."
So Scott took the situation into her own hands: She started answering questions on Stack Overflow, where developers go to share knowledge and can earn industry cred by answering others' posts. After just a month, she rose to number one on the site's list of iOS programmers. That screenshot of her top ranking (left) was finally enough to help her land a few gigs, which led to others. Now, she builds apps for clients such as the Aids Walk, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Susan G. Komen Foundation — while also acting and screenwriting.
She sees her knowledge of the modeling and entertainment industries as a major asset to her work as a programmer:
"When you're a programmer, technology is nothing unless you have other interests to apply that to," Scott told Refinery29. "Any other interests that I have come in handy when I'm doing work for various companies, because technology is a part of people's real lives. It's not isolated."
This is a perspective that is just starting to take root within the tech industry now, as platforms like Facebook are forced to grapple with the real-world impact of issues such as election interference and fake news.
Scott, who has advocated for more diversity in tech in recent years, is hopeful that the Instagram post is another opportunity to bring light to the problem. She's already heard from many women as well as men, who have reached out to share their own stories of adversity and support, giving her hope.
"There's this rallying of powerful women who are willing to talk about what they've been though, and raise their voices to change it so [we can make tech] a safe space for everyone."