Silicon Valley has long been a magnet for top tech talent from around the world looking to work for the best in the business. As a result, it has been quite difficult for Chicago to compete for the best minds in the industry.
Lately, things have started to change as the entrepreneurial spirit within the city has created a growing buzz within the technology community. As the city keeps growing into a technology hub, Chicago has produced several promising companies like Uptake. Furthermore, the startup ecosystem in the city attracted over $1.7 billion in funding last year.
While those techies already working in San Francisco are starting to move to other cities like Boston, Austin, and Los Angeles, it may seem like losing talent to the West Coast may not be something to worry about anymore.
But if you dig deeper, you might find that everything may not be as rosy as it seems. These days, the Windy City could be losing talent right out of college.
Students are Heading to Silicon Valley to Immerse Themselves in Technology
Many of Chicago’s top universities that have been producing top tech talent are now offering career focused programs in the Bay Area. These universities include the following:
- Northwestern University (who also opened a campus in San Francisco)
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
While these trips are usually not longer than a quarter (at most), they are specifically designed to help student immerse themselves in tech and startup culture. It’s also meant to be an inspirational endeavor as they will get to experience a city that has been significantly transformed by the success of tech companies.
Although this might not sit well with local companies desperate for top tech talent, the schools state that students bring back when they learn to help build ventures on campus. Furthermore, they are also motivated by listening to alums talk about their experiences in the industry, so this might not be happening if it wasn’t for a few days or months spent out west.
All this has been initiated by universities to help inspire students to get their own startups off the ground when they get back to the State of Illinois. It’s also worked as a lot of students return to campus ready to work, but while all this is positive, there is also a sense that the Bay Area would potentially be a great location to start a career.
Chicago Needs Top Tech Talent to Remain Relevant
These trips to the Bay Area are similar to spending a semester overseas to immerse yourself in another culture. The difference here is that students maintain connections with alumni and some even end up moving there.
This is evidenced by the fact that 10% of graduates from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign end up moving to California. But even if these programs didn’t exist, the attraction to move to the Bay Area was always there (so it’s difficult to just blame local university programs).
While graduates tend to leave the area, a lot of them also return after five to 10 years after graduation. One way to expedite this process would be to stay connected to those working in California. They might not know how the city’s tech ecosystem has evolved and might be unaware of the opportunities available to them in Chicago.
While such university programs may motivate students to leave Chicago, it’s not exactly any different to graduates wanting to move New York City or Los Angeles.
As a result, I would say that Chicago might be losing some tech talent to the Bay Area, but not enough for it to become a major concern. But at the same time, tech companies in the city need to keep connected to these individuals and work on getting them hired right away and bring back those that got away.