Intelligent Machines

Jennifer Chung '02

Novel contest taps Boeing engineer’s creative side

Last year Terroryaki! won Jennifer K. Chung ‘02, a Seattle-based software engineer, the top prize in the 3-Day Novel Contest, a 72-hour fiction-writing marathon held each Labor Day. That prize was a publishing contract: her book comes out this September.

Why did she enter? “It sounded like an interesting and creative challenge,” says Chung, who was a reporter for the Tech and wrote games for the MIT Assassins’ Guild. “I have returned to writing in the past couple of years. I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2008, ‘09, and ‘10.”

At MIT, Chung majored in computer science and engineering and minored in music. As she approached graduation, other interests consumed her writing time. With friends, she launched Tuneprint, a now defunct digital-music startup that worked on song-identification technology. In 2003 she took a job as a software engineer for Boeing, and today she works in the company’s Seattle office on developing ground-control-station software for unmanned air vehicles.

The novel contest’s intensity reminded her of her college days. To begin, she had two ideas, one serious and the other quirky. By the next morning, she had decided to go with the quirky story line: her heroine was a foodie hunting for an otherworldly take-out truck with fabulous chicken teriyaki while her sister was a few months away from a wedding to a “hopelessly white fiancé” whom their Taiwanese parents didn’t like. Chung was writing the manuscript, which totaled nearly 100 pages, right to the end of the three days. Fortunately, she got to revise and expand Terroryaki! before publication.

Music is another renewed interest for Chung, who began playing piano at age four. At MIT she was an accompanist for music students and the MIT Musical Theatre Guild and the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players. In the past year, she’s begun playing keyboard for a Goth metal band called Red Queen Theory (www.rqtheory.com).

She’s an active volunteer as well. As a member of a Boeing leadership development program, she has worked with middle-school students on a regional math competition and other activities. Chung also volunteers for MIT as an educational counselor. During interviews with prospective students, she describes campus life and looks for students with deep interests, a characteristic that will help them succeed. “MIT students get passionate,” she says.

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