Meet WAVE Advisee: Linda Tong
Linda Tong is a high school Senior who is combining an interest in Classics with coding and computer science. She hopes to use her skills to enact social change. She won ByteHacks, an all-female hackathon in NYC that had a theme of coding for social good. Her team created Prep which is a product that focuses on preparing areas for natural disasters.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Linda, a Senior at Blair Academy which is a college preparatory boarding school in New Jersey. Currently, I’m interested in Classics and Computer Science. Greek and Latin are the languages of the ancient word but coding is the language of the modern world.
What sparked your interest in coding?
I started out in Middle School with Scratch and then in High School, I joined my school’s Girls Who Code program and that’s how I got exposed to coding. In my Junior year, I took an Intro to Computer Programming class and that was a really supportive learning environment. I enjoy the process of tweaking something, keeping working on it, and finally ending up with a finished product. Currently, I take AP Computer Science and I’ve done some coding projects outside of school.
I’m also interested in social change and social movements and I think coding could be a powerful tool for that. With coding, you have so much potential to create products that benefit society. Right now there’s work being done to detecting biases in algorithms and combatting fake news.
Your Advisor, Nikki Mendell, told us the story of how you won the first hackathon you attended. Can you tell us about the hackathon and your winning idea?
The Hackathon, ByteHacks, I went to this summer in NYC had the theme of coding for social good so all the projects that people made had some sort of social element. The really cool aspect was that it was an all women’s hackathon and it was my first one. I came in with the expectation of going to the workshops to learn as much as I can but I ended up making a project. During that whole experience, I found that the skills I learned from my #BUILTBYGIRLS sessions with my WAVE Advisor, Nikki, was really helpful. Especially her emphasis on storytelling and collaboration with your peers.
My team and I created this app called, Prep, to address the lack of preparation that goes into natural disasters. Even though around 80% of Americans suffer from the repercussions of natural disasters, only 40% or so prepare actively for them. So our app has a disaster preparation checklist, like groceries, flashlight and just stocking up on the basic things you need. We also have live weather alert and a texting system to alert family members. We ended up winning the best hack for “food, water, and shelter.”
In creating Prep, what piece of tangible advice from Nikki did you keep in the back of your mind?
Throughout this whole process, my team and I focused on creating a big picture goal, which is something that Nikki talked about because her specialty is in brand marketing. So rather than focusing on post-disaster relief, we wanted to concentrate specifically on improving the prep process. During our sessions, Nikki also said that one of her superpowers was being nice and working collaboratively outside her role. During the hackathon, I tried to leverage the strengths of each other of our team.
How was your experience attending an all-women hackathon?
There are some horror stories of women who attend hackathons and having negative experiences with male peers. They would say things like, “I’ll do the back end and you can do the presentation.” I think having a supportive environment boosted my confidence and made me feel more comfortable.
What is one thing you want everyone in the #BUILTBYGIRLS community to know?
The best thing #BUILTBYGIRLS did for me is dispelled some false notions that I had about the tech industry. I had this image of a person sitting in front of the computer, wearing a hoodie, punching code into a laptop. While it’s not necessarily true, I initially considered myself a humanities person before of this. I wasn’t sure if Computer Science or a career in tech were areas I wanted to explore.
Having Nikki have a mentor, made me realize that there’s no need to constrain myself to one side. In tech, there are so many different careers and there’s definitely room for people with diverse interests and background. It’s a common misconception to think of tech as only hard science and engineering but it’s not necessarily true.