Howerton thoughts to prospective students and parents at February 2011 lottery

My comments to prospective students and parents of the third freshman class of Chicago Tech Academy. We started this school to help give back to our community, and to develop the talent that some day we might engage in the workforce. More than 1,200 students applied to the lottery, and randomly 250 names were selected.

“If tonight you see your name called, and there is a doubt in your mind that you’re ready to make a commitment back to the other students of this school, I have one message for you. Get out of the way. Slide over. I wish you well, but I wish you would move on, and make room for a student that will come here and make a tremendous success of themselves.”

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Come meet the next freshman class of Chicago Tech Academy…

Two years ago a small group of us decided to make a big difference for kids in Chicago public schools, to inject entrepreneurial spirit into the curriculum, and provide mentors and inspiration to students that sorely needed the attention.

We launched the Chicago Technology Academy, a public high school open to all Chicago kids. On February 10th at 5:30pm at UIC Forum our next freshman class will be chosen by lottery from over 1,000 students that have applied.

The success of this new school is so connected to the involvement of people like you and me, and dozens of Illinois Technology Association members who have donated their time, talents, money and mentorship. It’s already made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students, and we’re just getting started.

Last year Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, was one of the many people to spend time at the school talking to the kids about becoming entrepreneurs, and about careers in tech. Many of these kids are experiencing high expectations for the first time in their lives.

You’re invited to come to the lottery to meet some of our students, partners and teachers. Spend an hour with us, and decide how best you might get involved in launching this school. The lessons we’re learning while building this new school can have broader reform impact, but we need all the help we can get.

So, if you think you or members of your company could be mentors, donors or have something else to contribute to the school, please RSVP at or reply and let’s talk about getting you involved.

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Yes, ITKAN:Creating opportunities for IT workers with disabilities – Chicago Sun-Times

It’s been a privilege watching Pat Maher and team assemble such an extraordinary group of people who work in tech and happen to have special challenges. Steven is particularly inspirational to me; my cousin has similar disabilities, and a similar lovely spirit.

“As a person with a disability, I realized it’s time to network with people in business — an opportunity I wouldn’t ordinarily have,” Steven Luker said. “I get to meet people and have them leave with a completely different opinion than their first impressions.”

If you’re interested in hiring, Pat and team can introduce you to a good talent pool that could add multiple dimensions of quality to your organization.

ITKAN advocates for people with disabilities to network and go to work in careers in technology.  The support of Rob Figiulo and SPR Companies is truly commendable, and the ITA’s Foundation is proud to support ITKAN’s effort.

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Thoughts on outsourcing bill before Congress

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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ITA meets challenge to retain and take back Illinois tech talent

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 – and it’s not too late to get involved!  Partner with our sponsors including BigMachines and Allscripts to keep our technology talent in Illinois!

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ITA is identifying the brightest students for you to hire this year

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.

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My Android Apps list

I’m a gadget geek, and nowhere is that more evident than in my need to have the latest, best phone on the market. Right now I’m convinced that is my HTC EVO. Eventually people around me start to adopt the same phone and want to know the apps I recommend, so a few weeks in to using my EVO (and making the jump to Android), here is a reference list of the apps I’m currently running:

  • Android Froyo 2.2: significant improvement over previous OS, though many of the features were already present in HTC Sense
  • HTC Sense: several of the user interface and functional improvements to the phone are really from HTC, and not part of the base Android OS
  • Swype: better input than the plain keyboard
  • Advanced Task Killer: much debate over whether it’s good or bad to use a task manager; I decided it’s worth it, occasionally, and this one seems to be about the best
  • Android Banking: decent (but not great) banking app, until my bank finally releases an Android app similar to their iPhone app
  • AppBrain App Market: better interface to the Android market
  • Android System Info: better interface into the various system functions and data
  • Astro File Manager: for managing files on the SDCard
  • Audible: audio books (still have to use the website)
  • CardStar: manages barcodes for restaurant and shopping clubs (better in theory than practice)
  • ChompSMS: better than the stock SMS message system; alternate between using this a Handcent SMS, not sure which is better
  • Compass: for when I am lost in the woods with my EVO
  • Congress: quick details on various bills and how different Members are voting
  • Craigsphone: when I want to search for a deal on Craigslist
  • DirecTV: for managing my DVR at home
  • Dolphin Browser: replacement for the internal browser; faster, and more features
  • DroidAnalytics: good interface to Google Analytics
  • Ebay: for when I want to search for a deal on eBay
  • Epicurious: love this on my iPad, so had to have it on phone as well.
  • Evernote: trying to decide if this is my preferred Note manager
  • Facebook: alternate between this and the touch.facebook interface
  • FCCTest: speed test, but since I have mostly given up on 4G it’s not very important
  • Flashlight: handy
  • Fandango: handy
  • Fring: video conferencing
  • Google Goggles: for cheating on pub quiz images
  • Gmail: probably better than the HTC Sense email app (I also tried Touchdown, but there wasn’t enough value)
  • Google Sky Map: very cool when out around the campfire
  • GotToDo: GTD-based task manager that I sync on the back end
  • Grooveshark: best music solution, with subscription I get any music I want, and offline listening. Why buy music?
  • Groupon: good app for local company
  • Handcent SMS: this, or ChompSMS
  • Kayak: shopping for travel
  • MeeboIM: for occasional IM access
  • Metal Detector: funky
  • tracking money
  • Multicon: a must have, for creating smaller icons and shortcuts
  • NewsRob: not my favorit RSS reader, but synched with Google Reader
  • NewsRoom: my favorite RSS reader, but not synched with Google Reader
  • OpenTable: for booking dinner
  • Pandora: when I want the music picked for me, and streamed
  • PayPal: for access to transactions
  • Peep: Twitter
  • PureCalendar: widgets for displaying schedule and tasks
  • Qik: doesn’t work well (yet) for video conference, but is good for video record and publish
  • ESPN ScroeCenter: good access to sports scores
  • SheadSpreet Pro: spreadsheet program on my phone
  • Taxi Magic: for booking a cab
  • Ted Mobile: watching TED videos; wish I could queue and download
  • TripIT: use it for all my travel details (and for keeping trackof other people’s travel arrangements)
  • Urbanspoon: same as the iPhone app
  • WaveSecure: if I lose my phone, I can track it or kill it remotely
  • WeatherBug: better weather app and widgets
  • Wordfeud: if I wanted to play Scrabble like games with random strangers that sometime stakes days or weeks to finish (I usually lose interest)
  • World Series of Poker: actual, online head to head if I am mindlessly looking to play while on the train
  • Yelp: Yelp
  • YouMail: all my voicemail is translated and sent to phone; better translation than Google Voice

There are a few other apps, but these are the ones currently installed and mostly being used.

Battery life is the biggest drain (pun intended), and I find that I usually carry around a second, charged battery to swap out. I bought a charger that lets me charge the spare and the phone at the same time.   I generally leave Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi and background sync disabled, unless I need it or don’t care about preserving the battery.

4G sounds great, but is generally worthless to me (it’s still spotty, even in Chicago where the network is “deployed”, and at the end of the day I find I don’t need it that often. I do have the Hotspot configured to turn on when I want to tether my iPad, but 3G is fast enough (I can’t believe I’m saying that).

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We’ve successfully launched Genesys Works internship program in Chicago

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.

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Poker tourney to raise money for kids learning about entrepreneurship and technology

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.

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