Besst CTO - Linda Chen, on Women in Tech and How We're Changing the World

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

What drew you to computer science and tech in general?

I’ve always loved technology and had a passion for entrepreneurship. In elementary school, I would sneak on to the family desktop at night to doodle on Microsoft Paint, and made “games” by hyperlinking a bunch of slides together on Powerpoint. I made my first online business in 4th grade by creating imaginary characters on photoshop and selling them for 10 cents apiece as part of my own trading card game. I ran a stand in sixth grade, where I collected stray golf balls that flew into my grandpa’s backyard and sold them back to the golfers.

I didn’t change much in this respect as I got older. In high school I dove into data science and programmatic advertising, helping my friend grow a tutoring business through SEO and Google AdWords. Then, in 12th grade, I created an exchange program for students to go to China and teach prospective international students about essay writing and American culture.

I love technology because it creates the long-term value in most modern businesses. I became obsessed with computer science in college and once skipped two weeks of classes so I could just work on an app I was developing alone in my room. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I worked in technical product management at WePay. What drew me to software development in the first place was the ability to create and bring things to life. My specialty is mobile app development because it allows me to create an entire product from scratch and hold it in my hand. As much as I love coding alone in my room, world-changing software gets mad on teams. At Besst, we’re making world-changing software. Learning and experiencing everything from business, to development to team management has given me the confidence and skills to lead our team and I can’t wait to show everyone what we’re making.

How does your experience as a woman in STEM shape your view of the company? Can you speak a little bit about why that is important to you?

Tech is, in my opinion, the single most influential driver of culture in the world today. If there’s any mechanism that can influence the way people think by determining what ideas they think about and whose opinions they are exposed to, it’s social media. And that starts with women in tech, female founders, and woman visionaries who step up to take things into their own hands and change the systems that our society is so heavily shaped by.

Diversity is important often for the sheer sake of equality. There’s an underrepresentation of women in STEM. That in itself should be enough of a reason to convince anyone of its importance. However, especially in tech and business, there are many more reasons to value diversity. If you look at today’s biggest social media platforms, they’re all a huge reflection of our culture’s values and traditions. That includes our culture’s bias, and our history of unfair gender norms.

For example, Instagram, Tinder, and Snapchat were created by men, and all essentially revolve around reducing people, particularly women and their bodies, to pictures. And what have we gotten out of all of these social media platforms? Sure, there’s been a lot of conveniences, but we also have a generation of young women with the highest rates of eating disorders and unhealthy perceptions of body image.

This is why I believe Besst has a chance to change more than just social interaction -- it can change the way people see themselves and the world. As a company that places great importance on diversity, we have the advantage of being molded by our vastly different backgrounds, interests, and opinions. Unlike other social media platforms, Besst is not picture-centric. With Besst, actions speak louder than words. You see nothing other than the bets you and your friends are making and their outcomes. It’s not gendered or segmented by anything other than competition. Traditionally betting is thought of as “a guy thing,” mostly because gambling is stupid and because it often revolves around hyper-masculine sports. By removing the monetary aspect and allowing people to make bets on whatever they want, we're empowering more women to join this type of social interaction that they have historically been excluded from. Betting is no longer an all-boys club.

Do you have any words of wisdom for a student or young person who is passionate about STEM but does not feel represented in the field, or is discouraged for some other reason?

I would want to impart two pieces of advice. Firstly, when I was in middle school, I lived to see Barack Obama become the first Black president. That was the first time I realized Obama never had a president-of-color to look up to the way we do now. He didn’t have anyone in the Oval Office who represented his background and identity. He had to be the first one. So when you feel discouraged, know that your fears are valid. And, yes, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get to where you want to be. But that’s what makes it twice as worth it when you succeed. And hey, if there was another 20-year-old Chinese-American girl who had already done everything I had, then it wouldn’t be so special when I did them. Same goes for you.

Secondly, although we have come incredibly far as a world and a country, it’s important to remember that it is only 2018. Women only got the right to vote less than 100 years ago. 54 years ago, we still had segregated schools. Unfortunately, society hasn’t progressed far enough for everyone to have a positive role model who looks like them and validates their dreams. However, you can still find lots of affirmation in role models who don’t necessarily look like you. Personally, the first person in my industry who I felt represented me actually happened to be a white man. He made me look at myself as more than just a 20-year-old Asian girl. In looking up to him, I gained a newfound appreciation for my personality, my talents, and my ways of thinking. It’s not fair that you don’t get to see yourself represented physically. That’s something that feeds directly into impostor syndrome and makes everything twice as difficult psychologically. But, if you’re going to break barriers and defy expectations, you’ll realize that victory will just be that much sweeter.

How did you meet the CEO and co-founder, Spencer?

Spencer and I have known each other since kindergarten. At first, we did not get along because I tried to scam him out of his rare and sparkly Pokemon cards using my bootlegged ones from Chinatown. Thankfully, we were able to overcome our initial differences and stayed best friends all throughout high school. We went to school together starting from the age of 5, and only separated when I went to Boston College and he went to the University of Chicago. So when Spencer first started to work on Besst, I was very involved with his journey. We talked through ideas and preliminary designs together and chatted every day over the summer. Since I was working on building my own social iOS app and have had experience building a few ventures of my own, I was really excited to support Spencer. After finishing up my other ventures, I’m incredibly excited to be joining full time as CTO.

How do you picture Besst changing our world?

Besst is about having fun, but I also think it has the potential to change the landscape of social media. It’s about helping users connect by engaging with each other’s common interests and transforming social interaction. Social media today is losing its novelty. I keep seeing the same type of stuff on my Facebook... so much so that I’ve installed an extension to disable my newsfeed. I don’t want to keep seeing outrageous clickbait and partisan articles with the same political biases over and over again. I want content that makes me question and think, not fall into complacency and feel empty validation by my echo chamber. Instead, Besst engages users with the content that they care about. It shows genuine opinions, and accurately reflects the thoughts of the community while still being fun and competitive. On the surface, it’s about challenging ourselves with friendly competition. But at its core, it’s about bringing people together in discussions about the uncertain future.

Where do you see the Besst team in 5 or 10 years?

Either changing the world or living off ramen in someone’s basement. Either way, we’re going to be having a damn good time.

How would you describe the company culture at Besst?

Even though the company is small right now, we already have a great work culture with a huge emphasis on building relationships and having a good time. We’re extremely diverse - a natural byproduct of being started out of a large university - so lots of great conversations happen when we work together. But we’ve also got that gritty, startup spirit here; when the going gets tough, everyone is ready to buckle down and power through that extra mile together.

If people could only take away one thing from this interview, what do you wish it would be?

You’re the f**king Besst. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.