A few months ago I asked the Board of the Illinois Technology Association to begin a search for new leadership, and I am thrilled that they have completed that task. Effective immediately, I’m stepping down as Chairman of the ITA, and my day to day volunteer efforts there.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 15 years old, which is to say most of my professional and personal life has been fused. I’ve never known normal working hours, never left my work at the office, and have generally always been on the clock. Occasionally, my work allows me flexibility that benefits my family. Too often, my work has spread me thin, at the expense of my family.
I was raised to value public service, and my time with the ITA has been a good outlet for servant leadership. Sometimes, my for-profit businesses have suffered from my volunteer efforts, but I have few regrets.
My sister died too young, leaving behind two beautiful girls for my Mom to protect and raise. Now, in the wake of my Mom’s unexpected death (also too young at 60), I’m making more life changes, partially to spend time with family, and partially because life is too short to stand still. I’m more interested in creating, and less interested in coasting along with what I’ve already built.
I pulled a broad group of people together in 2006 to create the ITA, and a few months later recruited my partner Fred Hoch to join and help me lead the organization. Our goal was to build a more connected, collaborative tech community in the region. Today, nearly 700 member companies get real value out of this organization, and collectively the organization is able to do very good work in the community. I’m particularly proud of the various initiatives that take a long-term view of how talent will develop and flow into Chicago over the next decade.
I’m leaving the organization in the best financial health it has been, though I am also proud that we started the ITA with almost no capital, and managed through nearly seven years of very strong growth (in some very challenging times). There are a bevy of leaders at the table, some of whom can easily step up to fill the gap, but in truth the ITA long ago grew beyond the little startup with a couple of guys guiding it.
Just like most startups, there comes a time when the founders step aside to make room for other people to take things to the next level, and I’ve overstayed my time with ITA. I’m glad Jim Gagnard has stepped up to take the mantle… He has a great history taking over for founders and leading companies into the growth stage, and is well suited for the job.
I’ll remain involved and supportive of ITA as Chairman Emeritus, but my primary community service around Chicago will be focused on the Chicago Tech Academy and seeing that through to success. I cofounded that school in part as an example to encourage others in our community to take on servant leadership, and find ways to help other people. I’m of better use to that effort today, than I am of need at the ITA.
There are interesting new venture ideas percolating, and I’ll continue to support TechNexus and the venture collaboration that has happened there. With more than 100 successful startups grown within those walls, there is much that can be done there.
So, while my family steps up to take the highest priority in my life, and my time leading ITA comes to an end, I’m not moving on, just moving forward. Stay tuned.
Last week an ITA member company asked for the ITA’s position on an outsourcing bill proposed by Senator Durbin. I responded the same day with some quick thoughts, and share that below for anyone that’s interested:
ITA is not predominantly a lobbying organization; we exist to help our member companies grow and to impact economic development for the region. To that end, occasionally we have advocated on behalf of member companies. There have been times I’ve testified in Springfield, and trips where I’ve accompanied member companies to Washington.
We have not taken any specific position regarding Senator Durbin’s proposed legislation (nor have we been asked to study it carefully on behalf of any member company, and I have not personally read it).
That being said, I am happy to offer you a few random thoughts, with the caveat that these are not particularly researched, I am firing them off with a few moments break between other projects, and they should not be considered a definitive point of view.
Global outsourcing is a complex and easily misunderstood economic force. It is tempting (especially when America has high unemployment) to respond with emotion and knee jerk reactions, both for and against continued outsourcing. But I think the facts belie any sort of emotional or easy response:
Unemployment in America is not because of a lack of IT jobs today; the phone calls we get to ITA every day are from companies desperate to find high quality talent to hire, not from engineers looking for work. Unemployment is mostly from other sectors (i.e. manufacturing, etc); any public policy that conflates IT job outsourcing with manufacturing job outsourcing is not well considered.
Most experts predict a significant shortage of information technology candidates to fill demand over the coming decade. We simply aren’t educating enough kids in STEM education to fill the pipeline, and this country will face a far greater crisis when demand far outstrips supply of innovation workers. Much of my recent work with the ITA has been around this problem: we’ve helped launch a new high school focused on educating future tech entrepreneurs, and we’ve spent a great deal of time recruiting engineers from our local universities to join Chicago companies.
Outsourcing overseas is a completely different issue than offering visas to attract smart talent to this country to join our innovation economy; conflating the two and trying to discourage both as a “way to protect American jobs” is wrongheaded. The number of bright people who move here, get educated here and go on to create technology ventures and jobs is astounding, and we need more of that, not less.
Many (most?) entrepreneurial, small technology startups turn overseas to find talent today; this actually increases the number of jobs and the amount of wealth that is created in America, and in many cases those ventures wouldn’t have been able to launch without global partners. So it is also dangerous to create public policy that conflates “large companies sending jobs overseas” with smaller companies that use global development teams to create jobs.
More than most industries, software and technology companies tend to have customers throughout the world, and have a direct interest in the global marketplace. I am personally not a protectionist, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a respected economist who advocates for protectionism, especially where global markets already exist.
So, you asked for a position on “tax breaks for US companies that outsource tech work to foreign countries”. Phrased the way you worded the question, I would have to say I’m against giving such companies tax breaks. But I don’t think the question is a fair one, nor, maybe, is the underlying public policy that is being considered very well thought out.
Government can and should use tax policy and regulation to discourage bad actors in the marketplace, but developing a public policy without considering the points above (and no doubt many, many more learned ones) only elicits emotional response and restrains our economy in ways we could probably all agree is bad.
At the end of the day, I fully understand why tech companies would oppose the proposed legislation, but I also understand some of the reasons the legislation was offered. I simply think this calls for a surgery with a scalpel instead of a bayonet, and more rational debate
The Illinois Technology Association and leading technology companies have partnered in an aggressive initiative to retain the best talent from the state’s top universities, and take back talent that has left the state. The ITA Fall Challenge Presented by BigMachines is a call to action to keep the great talent in our state and in our industry. To find out more, check out the program at http://illinoistech.org/story.aspx/302801 – and it’s not too late to get involved! Partner with our sponsors including BigMachines and Allscripts to keep our technology talent in Illinois!
Last week I went to the University of Illinois and interacted with 120 students in the Computer Science program. Fifty of them took a computer science aptitude test for me, and gave me their resume for jobs with Chicago tech companies.
ITA already identified at least 50 really, really bright students from U of I. the kind of kids that Microsoft and Oracle and Ebay are usually recruiting away to the coast long before Chicago area companies have a chance to grab them. We’re interviewing the best kids, and pre-screening them to pass along to some of our members.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’re doing the same sort of outreach at IIT, University of Chicago and Northwestern. In November, we’ll assemble the brightest from all four schools for another competition/test, where one of them will win $5000, and all of them will be connected with potential employers. We call this program ITA Fall Challenge.
We’re going to repeat this program again next year, expanding to other universities, and increasing the talent pool that we attract on behalf of Chicago companies. This is a real guerrilla-style effort, and it’s uncovering talent for our community in a very effective way.
We need sponsors to help us keep the momentum behind this program, and we would like to have companies to highlight when talking to the students. Sponsors to the program will get priority exposure to the students and the schools, and they will get first look at the brightest candidates that we identify.
This is a great program for our members and the community, and we’re excited to be rolling it out this year. If you would like to participate, please visit the Fall Challenge page on the ITA website.
Very proud to support the work that Eric and team have done in launching Genesys Works internship program from the ITA’s Chicago offices. We just finished a full summer training at Chicago’s TechNexus for the first 40 high school students, and they are now being placed in internships at leading companies throughout Chicago.
“Support for Genesys Works is important to the overall development of a talent pipeline for our region, identifying and mentoring students at all levels to expose them to future careers in our community,” says Terry Howerton, Chairman of the ITA and member of the Genesys Works Board of Directors. The ITA has more than 700 member companies, and is helping to align Genesys Works with complementary local initiatives for academic and industry collaboration.
Rafael Alvarez is the founder and CEO of Genesys Works, and has done wonderful things with the program in Houston. His passion convinced me to help bring the concept to Chicago, and the team he assembled did a remarkable job identifying and training the first class of interns. The concept is simple… we take kids following their junior year and spend the summer coaching them on life skills, office etiquette and IT skills, then place them in internships at leading companies like Accenture. Most of these kids come from inner city schools and are being exposed to opportunity for the first time.
OK, time for me to start seriously promoting next month’s charity poker tournament. This is our fifth year, and we’ve raised some serious cash for some great local charities that are focused on technology and entrepreneurship. Let me know if you are interested in a seat or table, and I will be sure to sit you somewhere… to improve your odds of winning! Drop me a personal note and I’ll sign you up.
At an inner-city high school in Chicago, 130 freshmen show up for class every day. They come from different parts of the city, different education levels and different financial situations.
Some spend two minutes walking to school. Others spend seven hours commuting back and forth.
Some read at a fourth-grade level. Others read at a ninth-grade level.
Some come from wealthy families. The majority come from poor families.
But they all go to the same school.
They want to learn from technology leaders. They want to learn from teachers who care about them. They want to learn about stuff that really matters.
CAAT had over 97% attendance during our freshman year, far higher than the average Chicago Public School attendance. This despite the fact that most kids commute an average of 3 or 4 hours a day to get to school. These kids are motivated.
“We’re trying to help them think and develop an aptitude that is entrepreneurial, that embraces risk, that embraces the out-of-the box thinking, that is rich in analytical thinking, that is rich in communications,” Howerton said. “These are skills that are necessary to be successful technology entrepreneurs, to be people who can literally change the industry, not skills or aptitudes that are necessary to just go be workers in some industry.”
During a visit from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on June 10, student Christopher Hayes gives a multimedia presentation about the projects he’s done at the Chicago Academy for Advanced Technology this year.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer visits the students of CAAT as they celebrate the completion of our first freshman class. This is an inner city high school we started to educate and inspire kids to futures of innovation, and mentorship from tech community leaders around Chicago is a key facet of the school. Having Steve visit as one of those mentors was great!
Now I can share: we’re hosting Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at our new high school today, visiting the students of Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology, talking about their futures and technology, and announcing Microsoft donations and support of the school.
Even more than an education gap, these kids had an inspiration gap.
It’s great to have the support of Microsoft, CompTIA and so many other local companies and organizations… when we started this inner city school I was most struck by how the kids responded to new stakeholders taking an interest in their lives, to inspire them to greater challenge, to learn to wield technology and people skills in a way that transforms their lives and their world.
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