Chicago’s Technology Scene, circa 2011

Aug 2 11

Chicago’s Technology Scene, circa 2011

Paul Weinstein

Roughly this time two years ago, I attended an entrepreneur and startup event in D.C. called Social Matchbox which I noted in a subsequent blog post of the same name.

While I know organizations and companies like those exists in many places I have yet to find a loose confederation of those individuals, organizations and companies similar to what I experienced in the Bay Area here in Chicago where I currently reside. I have however found such a network in Washington, DC and it is known as Social Matchbox.

Last year, I asked with all the things going for Chicago, high profile tech companies, top tier universities and a diverse population, “why don’t tech people think of Chicago along the lines of a San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston or Austin?” Perhaps, I surmised, it was simply “that Midwestern work ethic, if we just work hard; the rewards and recognition will come on their own.”

This year, I watched as the Chicago tech community rallied around TechWeek, a “celebration of a new technology epicenter unique among major world cities.”

It’s a start.

Alas, while I didn’t get to attend any TechWeek specific events, someone has to keep an eye on the servers and write code for all these newfangled ideas, I did get a chance to meet up with a few other developers at the Chicago Open Data Hackathon. As a WTTW article wrote:

Chicago’s city government has worked on developing its high-tech cred by initiatives such as publishing new city data sets online weekly and refreshing those sets nightly in order to increase the city’s transparency … On July 16, Google Chicago hosted a Chicago Open Data Hack Day. The event gathered 60 engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs to share ideas about using the City’s open data to create new products and services.”1

In my own participation of the hackathon, I did get a chance to create, what I hope will be, a useful PHP library (more on that later).

It’s good to see Chicago get a little more boisterous about its tech creds. But it is also good to see Chicago go about about business as most Chicagoans do, as I did last week. As Orbit’s Andy Crestodina notes “in a refreshing way, TechWeek was nothing new. Chicago has been doing this a long time and the tech community is an experienced crowd, many of whom have seen the boom and bust (and more booms and more busts) and lived to tell about it.”

There is an end in all this technology means. We build apps to communicate. We open data to map relationships and piece out new meaning. The technology isn’t an end unto itself. We work in technology to get something done.

And that’s the innovation Chicago can bring to the table, even if it mostly goes unheralded.

1 I
don’t recall 60 people offhand, I probably would have put the count
at around 30-40. But the hackathon was an all-day event and I know
some people came and left, so, 60 total for the whole maybe true.