Working Out: Crystal Espaillat’s Journey from Bookkeeper to Fitness App Developer

Crystal Espaillat spends her days doing mental gymnastics by creating e-commerce apps and doing web design. She loves it. Just about as much as she loves fitness and working out at the gym.

It wasn’t always this way. Until recently, she was a bookkeeper at a construction firm.

“There was really no tech side to that job at all,” Crystal said. “The most tech-savvy thing I did was help the company move the desktop QuickBooks to the web app.”

Something had bugged Crystal for years. She knew she wasn’t doing what she wanted in life—she just couldn’t figure out what it was that she wanted. As it turns out, she’d known the answer all along.

From after-school programs to hackathons to boot camp

When Crystal was a senior at Science Park High School, she belonged to an after-school program called the Black Data Processing Association (BDPA), which helped minority students learn technology such as web development. “I got pretty good at it,” she said.

So good, in fact, that Crystal was chosen to be on the high school team at a national competition. “It was basically a hackathon before the word ‘hackathon’ existed. They gave us a prompt and we had eight hours to make a project,” she said.

Her team created an e-commerce website for a school program. The site was so well made that it placed third in the national competition, earning Crystal a college scholarship.

“I loved web programming, but it never occurred to me that this fun hobby I had could be a career,” she said.

That changed during her career crisis when she discovered the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp—opening the door to the career of her dreams.

Food, music, and fitness leads to success

Crystal worked on three different projects during the program. The first was a meal-prepping app. Users choose breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and another screen prompts them to search for recipes. After choosing something they want to make, the app helps them make a meal plan for the day. It would then show the nutritional information for each meal and a list of ingredients the user would have to buy.

“It was my favorite project in terms of how it looked,” Crystal said.

For the second project, she turned from food to music, creating what was essentially an Airbnb-style app that connected musicians with recording studios.

The last project held a special significance for Crystal. Working independently, she made a workout app that generates a custom training program based on a user’s personal fitness goals.

“The crazy part is that I actually got paid to make that app,” Crystal said. Two months before her graduation in November 2018, she landed a job as a full-stack developer at Iron Ghost Media, a company that works with fitness influencers (or “fitfluencers,” as they’re sometimes called). The company needed just such an app, so Crystal got to work, using it as her final project for the bootcamp. Her work will soon be integrated into the company’s own app for fitness buffs around the world to enjoy.

Hobby to Career

Crystal is thrilled to have turned her high school hobby into an exciting career. In five years, she hopes to develop her own fitness-related app and build a company with her bootcamp-learned skills. For now, though, she’s exactly where she wants to be.

Until recently, she was a bookkeeper at a construction firm.“I love my job so much,” she said. “Every week is something different. Every month I make at least one e-commerce website for a client. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”

“Looking back to high school, it was obvious what I should have done with my life,” she said. “I’m doing it now!”

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