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With Downtime During the Coronavirus Pandemic, SPS Strategic Communication Student Learns Coding to Pursue Venture Idea that Helps Others in the Job Search

Before Julia Zhang ('20SPS, M.S. in Strategic Communication) moved to New York for the Strategic Communication Master’s program at the School of Professional Studies in fall of 2019, she worked as an Associate at a consulting firm in Germany, focusing on M&A and financial communication. Little did she know that in the spring of 2020, she’d be back in Germany during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning about strategic communication during times of crisis, this time online.

Given extra downtime from transitioning to online learning, Julia used her time to do something that had been on her mind for a long time — and is of use to others during a tumultuous time for financial markets — learning to code and creating an innovative job platform to help others find new jobs. 

We checked in with Julia to learn more about her efforts and how she’s tackled the transition to remote learning:

What have been your favorite courses and what classes, if any, have given you insight into the current environment we find ourselves in with COVID-19?

I am currently taking a course on reflective leadership and have found our discussions in class most relevant in the context of the current global crisis. In times like these, true leadership is not just critically required of governments and organizations, but also on an individual level. With our world in disarray, we could lament the fact that our plans have been massively thrown off course and our future is rife with uncertainties. Or, we can ask ourselves if and how we can step up and rise to the challenges ahead.

What has the transition to remote learning been like?

I’m impressed at how fast Columbia was able to make all the necessary preparations in terms of infrastructure to transition to a remote learning environment. Personally, I’m still getting used to it, especially being back in Germany and in a different time zone. Still, I look forward to the days when I have class and can meet my classmates virtually. Under the current circumstances, I’m grateful for any social interaction and the little things that remind me of my normal daily routine.

I decided to use the time in self-quarantine to teach myself some basic coding skills. With my venture partner, I developed an algorithm that scrapes the career websites of the 300+ most innovative and high-growth German startups. We used it to generate an Excel spreadsheet with more than 7000 job postings that we shared with our friends, family and LinkedIn contacts.

— Julia Zhang, '20SPS, M.S. in Strategic Communication

Tell me a little bit about the algorithm you developed. Where did the idea come from? And what was the process like?

I’ve had this venture idea that involves building an innovative job platform for a while now and decided to use the time in self-quarantine to teach myself some basic coding skills and really focus on this project. With my venture partner, I developed an algorithm that scrapes the career websites of the 300+ most innovative and high-growth German startups. We used it to generate an Excel spreadsheet with more than 7000 job postings that we shared with our friends, family and LinkedIn contacts. The purpose of this exercise was to test if there’s generally interest for it and whether this venture idea is worth pursuing. The feedback so far has been great so we’re continuing to improve the algorithm and can hopefully launch the next stage of our project soon.

What is your number one piece of advice for other SPS students right now on how to spend their time in this new normal?

Someone very close to me told me to treat this time as a unique opportunity to recharge and focus on something that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for. For me, it was coding and my new venture project. I want to come out of the crisis more capable and prepared to face a post-Corona economy.

Someone very close to me told me to treat this time as a unique opportunity to recharge and focus on something that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for.

— Julia Zhang, '20SPS, M.S. in Strategic Communication

What are your hopes for the future, once you finish the program? 

My only hope right now is for all of my friends and family members to stay healthy and safe. As for career and stuff, I will reassess once there’s more clarity on the situation. Generally, I’m hoping to get back into consulting but let’s wait and see how things evolve.

Julia Zhang is a master’s student in the Strategic Communication program. You can learn more about that program here.