Hometown: Beijing, China
Majors: Journalism and computer science
Big picture: Katie Zhu arrived at Northwestern thinking she would major in journalism and apply to law school. She joined North by Northwestern’s interactive team as a freshman and learned about using online tools for journalism. During sophomore year Zhu became a computer science double major and soon saw how she could use her computer skills to develop applications for media organizations. In 2012 she won an AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship to develop LedeHub, an online platform that allows anyone to contribute data and reporting for a story. Last winter she completed a journalism residency with the news applications team at NPR. After an internship building software for New York Times reporters this summer, she will start a full-time job as a software engineer at Twitter. She plans to be a part of the continuing convergence of programming and journalism, which has grown as part of the curriculum at Northwestern over the past three years.
What made her want to be a programmer: “The film The Social Network came out fall quarter of sophomore year. I had been doing more interactive, coding-type stuff, and then I watched this movie, and I said, ‘Hey this seems cool.’ Not necessarily the make billions of dollars thing, but the scenes that focus on Mark Zuckerberg as a kid who wants to build something and then sits down and does it. That was what made me want to program and learn how to code.”
On her most memorable project: “It was a project called Headliner, which is actually still being worked on by journalism professor Jeremy Gilbert at Northwestern. It was an independent study I did with Katie Park (J12), Sisi Wei (J11) and Emily Chow (J12). The idea was to build a system to encourage reading the news by making it a game — rewarding players for gaining news literacy and competing against their friends.
“This was a quarter after I had declared a computer science major. I just remember being very confused about how the Internet worked. I had no idea how to set up a server or what a server meant. It was the first project I had worked on from concept to execution, albeit very rough. It gave me a foundation for the way to approach projects, in formulating problem statements, conducting user testing and refining the design. It taught me a lot about jumping into something on my own and not being afraid to fail.”