Tech expert Katie Linendoll on Being “a Jesus Girl,” Helping the Blind See, and Using Technology as a Force for Good

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“With great power comes great responsibility” may be Spider-Man’s tagline, but the amazing Katie Linendoll also subscribes to that philosophy, whether she’s recommending new technology on the “Today Show” and other programs – or sharing her faith on social media. In fact, the multi-faceted young woman’s commitment to loving God and neighbor has led her to volunteer with a pediatric cancer charity, help return sight to the legally blind, and even face off against some sheep who were slowing her down as she tried to make it to Mass.

Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, Katie felt a natural affinity for technology at a young age. During a “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), she told me, “When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I started dabbling in [computer] code…[which] could bring things to life on-screen…At that time, it wasn’t cool to be a girl in that space. I was kind of weird, if you will. Then I went on to design websites, I got my networking certifications when I was in high school in this special program. And then I got my degree in Information Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology.”

Before graduating, however, another opportunity presented itself. ESPN2 was looking for hosts for a regional show and, as a sports lover, Katie auditioned and earned an on-air role, while also learning to work behind the scenes as a camera operator and editor. That led to other jobs at the network, including an Associate Producer role on “SportsCenter,” which won her an Emmy Award.

Over time, she incorporated her passion for technology with her TV career, doing technology makeovers on A&E, becoming a tech contributor for the “CBS Early Show,” and more recently doing the same type of work for the “Today Show,” “Rachael Ray Show,” the Weather Channel, and other outlets.

Through it all, Katie carries with her the Catholic faith she learned growing up, giving special credit to her mother and the education she received at Our Lady’s Christian School in Erie. “I am unapologetically a Jesus girl,” she said. And she really does carry her faith with her because she travels so extensively around the world, from Alaska to Malaysia to Iceland. In 2018, she was on the road 300 days out of the year in pursuit of stories and, occasionally, a little down time.

One thing to which Katie is firmly committed is making it to Mass every Sunday, no matter what exotic place she’s visiting. “I have seen some of the coolest churches across the globe,” she said. “What’s so cool about the tradition of the Catholic Church is, no matter where you are and sometimes even no matter what language it’s in, we’re all celebrating the same Mass that week…Sometimes the traditions are really unique…but it’s been awesome carrying that faith thread through and through.”

Getting to Mass isn’t always easy, though. Katie recalled a trip to the Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 islands, connected by tunnels, between Sweden and Iceland. She said, “It’s one of my favorite destinations to detox from technology and appreciate Mother Nature…and God’s glory.”

The name “Faroe Islands” means “Sheep Islands,” which is appropriate. “There are 45,000 people there,” Katie said, “but 85,000 sheep!”

There is also only one Catholic church: “I was driving through these tunnels to get from island to island, and there’s sheep in the road and they’re not moving…[I said to them], ‘You guys have got to move!’ And they’re like, ‘Baaaaa.'”

She did make it to the church on time, though, and experienced the Mass in the Faroese language.

Because God is so important to her, Katie makes it a point to share her faith occasionally in her social media posts, not in a preachy way, but as a life-affirming extension of who she is. Various business people advised her not to do it, believing it would damage her career. And she notes that she has lost a few followers. But overall, the response has been extremely positive.

Katie observed, “Why is it so controversial? To me, it’s so ‘light side,’ to use a Star Wars reference. It’s light side, right, good, and true [to share] what you stand for…I spend so much of my day thinking about Jesus…I’ve had such a great reception with all the faith stuff I share online. And I think that if you’re really authentic, you’re going to reach people…I found another Scripture verse on the way here [to the studio] on the train. It was about being a light-bearer. Don’t put that lamp under a vessel. Let it shine. And I’m going to let it shine.”

One of the ways that Katie lets her light shine is by finding technology that can make a positive difference in someone’s life and then sharing that story on TV. Her favorite is a segment that aired on “Inside Edition” about eSight, a virtual reality-like headset that can restore vision to the legally blind who suffer from central vision loss.

Due to her reputation as a technology influencer, Katie receives pitches from tech companies all the time. She got one from eSight saying, “We have this device, and 80 percent of people on the low vision spectrum, even if they’re blind when they wear it, they can see.”

At first, Katie thought it sounded like a scam, but she consulted with her sister Nadine, a nurse practitioner who sometimes helps on her stories, and she thought it sounded legitimate.

“We flew out to the company,” said Katie, “and the receptionist is blind and has on the device. Workers there are blind…We’re discovering that people that hadn’t had vision for 30 years can use this device and see.”

For six months, Katie pitched this story to various TV shows. Finally, “Inside Edition” agreed to use it as a Christmas segment, giving Katie the idea to put a twist on it. She found a six-year-old boy in Los Angeles, who had a brain tumor that caused him to lose almost all his vision. Katie and her sister gifted the eSight device to the delighted boy and his family, and shot and edited it as a short segment for the show (watch the segment here).

After it aired, Katie received grateful emails from people whose loved ones were struggling with blindness, thanking her for putting this life-changing device on their radar. “That’s a great snapshot of the things that I’m after,” she said. “It takes so much work to get that story on the air and make it happen, but it’s so worth it.”

When she’s not working, Katie spends time volunteering with pediatric cancer patients through the Batcole Foundation, which was founded in honor of a boy named Cole Winnefeld, who died of neuroblastoma in 2015. For Katie’s part, she is again using technology as a source of good.

She said, “We are one of the first nonprofit organizations to use virtual reality…as a distraction technology…With the kids that are in hospitals, they’re getting chemo and radiation, and they’re waiting there all day. It’s just the nature of the process of getting treatment. If they can be distracted – putting on a virtual reality headset and being underwater with sharks and whales and are on a roller coaster – who would have thought that technology would be an aid to something that is so needed and so critical. That’s another example of things that I’m doing in my world. But I think we all have these skills that we can bring to the table.”

For those reasons and more, Katie sees her work in technology and media as the way she is using the gifts that God gave her. She hopes to inspire girls to see the opportunities and capabilities that careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) offer them. But she also remains grounded in the fact that we are all children of God who need who need simple human compassion when we are enduring dark times.

A lesson she learned from Cole Winnefeld’s mom after his death offered a particularly poignant lesson that Katie has incorporated into her life. Namely, when someone is grieving, do something concrete for them. Don’t just offer the generic “Call me if you need something” comment. Instead, “Bring them over the lasagna or send over an ebook or do something…That little tiny, tiny tweak has changed my behavior and how I reach out to people…[Cole’s mom] taught me that. It’s like, from the deepest, darkest moment in someone’s life, she just passed on a light, a little candle that I can now light other candles with.”

(To listen to my full interview with Katie Linendoll, click on the podcast link):