Oct 3 2012
By Colin Robertson, CS @ Illinois
A little slice of the Windy City came to Urbana on October 2, as the Department of Computer Science and the University of Illinois hosted Chicago After Hours, where over 500 students met with more than 30 Chicago-based technology companies inside the friendly confines of the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science.
The recruiting event featured Chicago sights, food, and people, as students rocked to a deejay, chowed down on Chicago-style hotdogs, and were visited by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. During his visit, Emanuel headlined a panel discussion about Chicago’s technology start up scene, toured NCSA’s Blue Waters supercomputer, and met with university leaders, including President Robert Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise, all while sporting an orange and blue tie.
The technology panel, introduced by Chancellor Wise and moderated by Computer Science department head Rob A. Rutenbar, also included insights from Chicago entrepreneurs Brad Keywell, co-founder of Lightbank, Groupon, and Chicago Ideas Week; Mike Evans, co-founder of GrubHub; and Eric Lunt, CTO of BrightTag. “I want you to see the opportunities in Chicago as part of your future, both the businesses and the quality of life,” said Mayor Emanuel, speaking to students who attended the panel. “The Chicago you knew when you left four years ago, the tech scene is totally different,” added Emanuel.
“There’s capital, there’s talent, and there’s demand for great technologists, there’s demand for risk-taking entrepreneurs,” noted Keywell. “People like me are putting capital that we’ve made back into the system and backing other companies right down the street.”
“There are some amazing opportunities available in Chicago,” said Rutenbar. “One way to raise awareness in the student body is to get these companies onto campus. This kind of an event is a fantastic way to do that.” Even though 35% of computer science undergraduates hail from the Chicago area, the experience was an eye-opening one. “I grew up in the city, but I had never heard of most of these companies. It’s been great to learn about Chicago’s non-finance tech sector,” said Dylan Nugent, a computer science junior. “And the panel was a nice way to hear what the city’s leaders are planning.”
“In the tech world, Silicon Valley gets talked about a lot, but there are a lot of people doing fantastic things right here in Illinois,” said Michelle Wellens, Director of Advancement for computer science. “Over 25% of computer science alumni call Chicagoland home.”
While the Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering departments have been hosting similar style recruiting events each semester for over three years, this was the first with a Chicago flavor. “After Hours differs from typical career fairs, in that the atmosphere is more relaxed, and company representatives and students are encouraged to mingle,” said Cynthia Coleman, Associate Director of External Relations for computer science.
Companies attending Chicago Afterhours ranged the gamut in size and focus, from global firms like Boeing, Google, and Groupon, to smaller firms like Belly and LexTech Global Services. "It was a very productive evening," said Aunkur Arya, General Manager -- Mobile at Braintree, who was delighted with the event. "It was a fantastic way to get in front of all kinds of talent - CS students who are on the verge of making the jump to a full-time gig, and underclassmen who are just trying to fine tune their focus. It's good exposure for us and for them."
After Hours complements other engagement opportunities offered by the College of Engineering. “The Corporate Connection and Startup Kit provide great ways for companies to recruit on campus, while the Engineer-In-Residence Program allows our friends and alumni to give our students advice and mentoring,” said Coleman. Other initiatives and resources on campus, like the Technology Entrepreneur Center, provide skills and knowledge to help students and faculty become successful innovators.
The Chicago After Hours brought Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and more than 30 of the city’s tech companies to Urbana-Champaign to showcase the abundant opportunities available in Illinois. The event was presented by World Business Chicago, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, 1871, the Illinois Technology Association, TechNexus, the City of Chicago, the Illinois Venture Capital Association, as well as several units at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, including the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Technology Entrepreneur Center, and Engineering Career Services.