Alumni, General News

From Tech to Toons: Engineer effects change through social impact work, cartooning

This story was originally published in the spring/summer 2023 issue of Harker Magazine. It is also available to read on issuu.

Zareen Choudhury ’14 was very focused on STEM as a high school student at Harker, most often drawn to science and math courses; but she also enjoyed the humanities.

“When I think back to the time we spent together in Honors American Literature, I remember her enthusiastic engagement with all creative activities,” said Brigid Miller, English teacher, who recently invited Choudhury to come back and speak to her class. “Zareen’s ‘From Tech to Toons’ presentation was engaging, thorough, interactive and perfectly aligned with key concepts we learn about in the Graphic Narrative class. I will be forever grateful that Zareen took such time and care to explain her career path and answer questions from my curious students.”

Choudhury’s career journey started with her decision to attend MIT, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and a master’s degree in engineering. She interned at NASA, Facebook and Yelp and, upon graduation, landed a job as a software engineer at Samara.

While at Samara, Choudhury decided to explore her creative side by taking a class on Patreon with New Yorker cartoonist Amy Kurzweil. It was during this time that she learned about another cartoonist, Jeremy Nguyen, who was offering to mentor four young artists.

“Zareen expressed an interest that I really resonated with. She talked about how she was pivoting from the tech world after experiencing burnout, and she was exactly the kind of person I wanted to see thrive as an artist,” said Nguyen from his Brooklyn studio. “She didn’t have an art school background but was eager to learn, very open to a new way of thinking, and soon she was ready to go off and navigate her career independently.”

Choudhury’s experience working with Nguyen and other artists propelled her to leave her job and start exploring other areas, such as teaching and cartooning. This helped her realize two things: 1. She loved the education space but didn’t want to teach full time and 2. She loved cartooning but wanted to do it on the side to keep it fresh and fun.

She got a job as managing editor of Children of 1971, a nonprofit that connects the Bangladeshi diaspora through storytelling, and started volunteering with the App Inventor Foundation, which was incubated at Google and MIT and is now a nonprofit.

“I am passionate about social impact work at the intersection of education, storytelling and community building,” said Choudhury, who is now the communications manager of the App Inventor Foundation, which empowers people across the globe to create apps that improve their lives and uplift their communities.

There are 15 million people across 200 countries who have built 68 million apps with App Inventor. This job offers the perfect blend of technology, education and social impact for Choudhury. But it also affords her the opportunity to follow her other passion.

“I am also passionate about creativity, including cartooning, which I began doing in earnest in 2021,” said Choudhury. “It started in isolation but then bloomed into the world.”

When Choudhury began cartooning, the world was still deeply impacted by the pandemic and she found the work quite isolating. But then she found a community of creatives in the Bay Area and has been exhibiting at showcases and galleries.

Choudhury was thrilled to get her first cartoon – Grand Reopening – published in The New Yorker in 2022. Her Instagram post with the cartoon read: “It’s surreal to see my work alongside other cartooning legends.”

She has also had her cartoons and comics published in The Nib, San Francisco Examiner and Awry Comics. It’s a dream come true for the young girl who used to love reading cartoons in The Mercury News.

She is grateful to have found a balance among all her passions and plans to continue making change through her day job and nurturing her creative side through her cartooning.

Vikki Bowes-Mok is a freelance writer and editor.

The Harker Magazine

Published two times a year, The Harker Magazine showcases some of the top news, leading programs, inspiring people and visionary plans of the greater Harker community.

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