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5/13/2014
01:45 PM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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Nurturing IT's Next Generation, Chicago-Style

There's plenty of talk about IT talent gaps and developing the next generation of tech pros. Here's how several Chicago companies walk the walk -- locally.

startup-friendly programs. It launched the Academic dsNET program for fostering data scientists, engineers, and designers, for example, and is active with the startup incubator 1871. Zest Health also works with 1871, holding office hours there at least once a quarter.

Do it because you care. Don't look for instant payoffs, and don't do it just for the PR. The return on community investment is long-term; particularly in areas with fledgling technology scenes, the reward will come down the road, in the form of a thriving community with abundant talent that doesn't immediately flee for greener pastures. Ozeran points to the Chicago chapter of Girl Develop It, which offers software development education and mentoring to women -- he notes that the organizations that donate instruction and other resources don't get much, if anything, in return. "They do it because they care," Ozeran says. "They do it because they want to bring more people in [to the technology field] who absolutely want to do it, no matter what challenges or roadblocks are in their way. I think that's good for Chicago."

Look for underserved people and places. Like the Girl Develop It program, smart community investment often arises out of identifying people who haven't been offered ample chances or places that have suffered from an opportunity gap. The kCura Gives, One School At A Time program partners with the Chicago Public Schools to make major investments in area schools, with a heavy emphasis on STEM programs. As the name suggests, each year the company selects a school with a visible need for technology resources. In the 2011 through 2012 school year, for instance, it picked Gale Science & Math in Rogers Park; the school previously had 30 cranky old PCs and zero technology curriculum for its 550 students. kCura spent $250,000 on a complete IT upgrade: new desktops, mobile laptop stations, LCD projectors, ELMO scanners, science lab tables, and other equipment. More than 30 employees spent a Saturday installing and setting everything up.

"We're not just looking at the tech talent today; we're looking at the future tech talent," Jenkins says, adding that the public school system isn't a level playing field, and some schools need more help than others. And it's not just a matter of philanthropy -- kCura ultimately hopes it's investing in its next cloud architect or software engineer and giving them reasons to stay in Chicago when they finish school. "We're hoping that by doing so, we'll get them invested in the Chicago community and hopefully keep more tech talent here by getting them at an earlier age. We're hoping that other tech companies join us in that initiative and will continue to help fund the STEM community here."

Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2014 | 10:29:54 AM
Re: Chicago-style?
Hi, Chris.

I did indeed enjoy it.  (I quoted you too in a recent article.)  One of the things I appreciated most about meeting and chatting with the Cleversafe folks over the course of the conference is that 1) it was clear that they knew what they were talking about and 2) they were uniformly able to keep my interest in discussing all the cool things that Cleversafe is up to right now.

Any company at a conference with whom I remember and enjoy the conversations better than their swag is a thumbs-up in my book.
Chris Gladwin
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Chris Gladwin,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/19/2014 | 2:43:22 PM
Re: Chicago-style?
Joe, thanks for the kind words – I'm glad you enjoyed the presentation at Bio-IT World in Boston.

Chicago is a great place to start a company like Cleversafe – the quality of people we've hired and our ability to retain them is outstanding. We recognize how fortunate we are to work with some of the best talent in the industry in Chicago, so we're dedicated to giving back to the community that is cultivating that engagement.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 7:06:13 AM
Re: Chicago-style?
Plus, so much of it is developing a weird idea with the hopes of getting bought out by Google or Yahoo or Facebook or the like.

Remember in the '90s when we were complaining about Microsoft buying up all the tech startups?  Now it's an actual business model!!!  The VCs call it an "exit strategy."

And who wouldn't want to keep the door open to be able to leave?!  My goodness.
Whoopty
IW Pick
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2014 | 6:53:55 AM
Re: Chicago-style?
While I haven't seen the show, I can't help but agree that Silicon Valley isn't necessarily the mecca of ideas. The problem with making an almost self-contained nerd haven, is while it might bring together large numbers of the best and brightest, they'll quickly fall into the trap of developing products for those around them: other nerds.

A quick look at Google Glass makes it clear that it wasn't designed with the everyday tech user in mind. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 5:59:10 PM
Re: Chicago-style?
Silicon Valley doesn't do deep dish pizza, either. Startups gotta eat...
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 5:30:37 PM
Re: Chicago-style?
Indeed, HBO's new satirical series Silicon Valley is making it all the more clear how the environment of Silicon Valley can get in the way of innovation just as easily as foster innovation.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 5:19:22 PM
Re: Chicago-style?
Innovation doesn't have to mimic Silicon Valley to be relevant. There's some good energy in downtown Chicago around digital business initiatives -- I've talked with at least 2 big companies out in the Chicago suburbs and 1 in Milwaukee who've set up hip offices downtown to attract the creative types they feel they need to drive digital strategy.

The 1871 incubator is an interesting spot to stop by for a cup of coffee (don't expect any real food) if you have an hour or two to kill between meetings downtown -- I did that just a couple of weeks back. In the Merchandise Mart.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 2:54:31 PM
Paying It Forward
The "one school at a time" program sounds like a win-win; the kids get new technology and an example of adults giving back to their community; the company gets a solid connection to a promising group of students. Well done.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 2:52:22 PM
Chicago-style?
I saw the headline and thought it involved shooting competitors and giving kickbacks to corrupt politicians. #ChicagoStyle

That said, I got to meet a lot of Cleversafe folks (all awesome people) a couple weeks back at Bio-IT World in Boston -- including its founder, Chris Gladwin, who gave a terrific presentation about what lies ahead for the company.

Gladwin also founded another tech company based in Chicago, MusicNow, about 15 years ago.  In 2004, he sold the company -- and founded Cleversafe less than six months later.

It's no Silicon Valley, but Chicago definitely has its innovators.
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