Tech Month Chicago 2016: Humble Beginnings, Big Plans

Tech Month Chicago started out as an idea, and in June 2016 we realized that idea in the first month ever in the city of Chicago to honor our diverse technology culture and ecosystem while sharing it with all Chicagoans.

To put in perspective how we feel about accomplishing our launch, in the beginning, when we first started, it felt like a small child throwing stones at a large tank, like in the picture shown here.

Boy with tank

Why did if it feel that way, you ask? The tank in the photo, to us, represents all of the obstacles and challenges we faced and problems we wanted to solve. Those problems include lack of diversity in the tech industry and the tech industry’s lack of advocacy and outreach to the public. On a local level we also wanted to provide a solution for what we view as draining Chicago politics that consolidate prestige and power into a few select venues downtown resulting in exclusion of aspiring technology entrepreneurs and tech venues in other neighborhoods.

Despite these overwhelming problems, we had passion, courage, and conviction, like the little boy throwing stones at the tank. We felt we had to take action, and to us, trying was better than doing nothing. It was not always easy. People ignored us.People called us up to ask why we needed to exist, while still others arrogantly asked us what our “value prop” was. In case you had to ask, the status quo in tech is alive and well in Chicago. We had the courage to try to put a dent in it.

Lots of boys with tank

What gave us our courage? The community. There was an outpouring of support from grassroots tech event coordinators around the city who all listed their events on our calendar. As well, ten tech and business venues donated their spaces for free to people who wanted to hold events for Tech Month Chicago in June. In a strong show of solidarity unseen before in the Chicago tech industry, over 100 event coordinators and venues, all of whom normally operate independently, came together for one month and supported our platform to help Chicago learn about technology. We all found courage to step up and make real change because suddenly we weren’t alone anymore.

We are proud of everyone who participated in Tech Month Chicago this year and look forward to doing even more next year. Our proudest moments were the tech companies who presented seminars to segments of the public, members of the tech community who had the opportunity to step up and give a presentation for the first time, industry focused events that opened themselves up to curious non-techies, the events that helped children, and events that helped the economically challenged. We’ll write more about these in the months to come. We are so grateful to all of the organizations and venues who participated this year, we are in the process of creating a whole section of our website dedicated to them. Be on the look out for that in the weeks ahead.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Melanie Adcock, President of Tech Month Chicago

This is intended to be a community platform, so how do you feel about the state of Chicago’s tech industry? E-mail us at info@techmonthchicago.com. Let us know, and we might feature you in a future blog post!

The photos in this blog post were digitally altered to remove any reference to any particular nationality, belief system, or conflict. Our intention with using this image is to illustrate a more general metaphor of helplessness when one endeavors to solve an overwhelming problem. Also if anyone gets inspired to throw rocks at military vehicles from reading this blog post, please don’t because we’re sure it’s probably illegal. 🙂

June 1 Marks The First Day Of Tech Month Chicago

JUNE FIRST MARKS THE FIRST DAY OF TECH MONTH CHICAGO

Tech Month Chicago is a new organization committed to creating a Technology Awareness Month in the city of Chicago every June.

Today is June first and we have done just that. We have a calendar of events on the Tech Month Chicago website with over 80 event listings of events that are happening in June all across Chicago related to #STEAM (Science, Technology Engineering, Arts/Architecture, and Mathematics) I hope you will take some time to attend a few of these!

OUR CIVIC ENGAGEMENT PROGRAMS:

In our first year we are piloting civic engagement activities that we hope to greatly expand next year. This year we are going to Lakeview Food Pantry to help those who are economically challenged learn about ways they can get access to free internet, free tech training, and even volunteer to get a free laptop from FreeGeek Chicago. We hope next year to launch an entire program to encourage start up companies to do this in food pantries throughout Chicago. We also helped students in the 4th and 5th grade on the West Side of Chicago from a school called Learn Charter get paired with a tech company willing to host them for a field trip. SPR, an IT company downtown, has coordinated a whole morning of tours and activities for these students to show them the promise of technology in their lives. We hope next year to scale this into it’s own program and pair up classrooms with tech companies all over Chicago. If you’re interested in helping us expand these ideas, we’d like your help!

OUR EPIC KICKOFF PARTY IS JUNE 4TH. IT’S FREE! PLEASE INVITE YOUR FRIENDS:

Here is the link to our Event Page http://bit.ly/TechMonthChicagoEpicBash2016 where you can invite your friends!
Saturday June 4th from 7pm till midnight we are having an epic bash at Blue1647 with fun, local entertainment from dancers, designers, musicans, DJs, and we even have a band that dresses up like robots! All of these local Chicago artists donated their time specifically to support the growth of our technology community in Chicago. There will be lots of love, respect and good times. We hope to see you there!

We Are At 26 Events And Growing!

Have you seen the most recent list of events signed up for Tech Month Chicago in 2016? It’s very impressive!

There are some really well known names, such as the Museum of Science and Industry who are hosting a DARPA event,  and the Adler Planetarium who have included their awesome Summer Camps in our calendar to support the Tech Month theme. There are also some really interesting events that represent the diversity of possibilities, such as the Ally Skills Workshops (which teach men to be better allies to women in the workforce, a topic that comes up frequently in tech and science industry), the CNT Urban Sustainability Apps contest, and a panel on emerging technology in education, including cybersecurity and surveillance in schools!

We couldn’t be happier to see the momentum that’s beginning to show. When we started this idea last year, we said we’d be happy if we got 10 events lined up. I’m proud to say we have far surpassed our expectations, and we’re gaining more each day!

It’s not too late to add your own event, or to offer your space, or join up with an existing event. At the very least, come to the kickoff party on June 4. It will be a blast, with live performances, music, art and of course TECHNOLOGY!

And help us continue to spread the word…give us your socials please!

Tech Month Chicago’s Inclusive Month of Technology Awareness Launches in June

Tech Month Chicago’s inclusive month of technology awareness launches in June

By Annesa Lacey http://exm.nr/1VR9Ovn

Tech Month Chicago is not your average litany of business events led by standard talking heads, but an experiential platform to create an entire month of events all around the city of Chicago to celebrate all things tech and science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) related that anyone could get involved in to attend or have their own event. I got in touch with some of the people behind this new concept to get the inside scoop. Tech Month Chicago’s co-founder and President Melanie Adcock provided insight on how this project – whick kicks-off June 1 – came about.

How long – from thought to manifestation – did it take for Tech Month Chicago to be born?

Melanie Adcock: I never felt there was enough diversity throughout my ten-year career in technology in Chicago. I didn’t fit into what I felt was an environment that excluded people. It seemed like if you didn’t fit into the clique in Chicago, that you didn’t belong in tech at all. I wanted to change that. I first witnessed issues of lack of inclusion within the tech sector because I was too often the only woman on my team in tech jobs I had. Of course we’ve come a long way since then and things are improving now because the topic of inclusion in tech is under a national microscope.

I’ve always been sensitive to being excluded along with a strong connection to civic outreach. The idea to do Tech Month Chicago was inspired by those feelings and was initially developed in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that we got the URL for our site and started holding weekly planning meetings to get the project started. Our first annual Tech Month Chicago launches in June 2016.

What other institutions inspire you and Tech Month Chicago’s mission?

Melanie Adcock: In 2004, I curated a fashion show at the Chicago Cultural Center and participated in Chicago Artists Month run by the Department of Cultural Affairs. I got to see behind the scenes how the arts events operate. It really inspired me because of how aware and inclusive the organizers were. I’ve always retained that experience in the back of my mind.

What is the purpose of Tech Month Chicago, and how are its principles different from events like Techweek?

Melanie Adcock: Essentially, Techweek is an expo that takes place downtown in the Merchandise Mart primarily geared toward entrepreneurs and those already in the tech industry. While this type of event is necessary and helpful to those already working in the industry, they don’t focus exclusively on those outside of the tech industry such as families, kids, minority populations, underserved neighborhoods, the economically challenged, or those who just want to appreciate technology. Tech Month Chicago intends to address the rest of the city in the spirit of awareness, advocacy, outreach, and consideration of the diversity of Chicago’s many groups of people.

Tech Month Chicago will do that by promoting a calendar of events for the month of June that take place all over the city in different neighborhoods at different times. We will target diverse populations within Chicago including people who can’t afford to go downtown to the Merchandise Mart. Instead, Tech Month Chicago can take place in their own neighborhoods to help teach job skills, and enable those who may feel disconnected from the downtown locations to feel like they, too, can be a part of the local tech industry.

Our purpose is to foster long-term economic development and bridge the gap between what is seen as the tech industry and the rest of the culture. We feel that technology should be part of our local culture.

Anyone can participate in Tech Month Chicago including the existing grassroots meetups and events that take place for technology education and community throughout the city. In addition to their regular programming, we encourage them to invite newcomers and help answer any questions they might have.

We hope that our efforts will amplify what Techweek and events similar to them are doing. We respect Techweek, we have spoken with the two most recent CEOs, and we plan to list the portions of their expo that are open to the public on our calendar so we can help promote them as well. At Tech Month Chicago we seek to work with everyone, and don’t want to exclude any group or person. As we grow we will find more and more ways to work with groups and organizations both within and outside of the tech industry to present a united front of civic outreach for all of Chicago. Our partner, Blue1647, has taught us a lot about how to accomplish our goals. They are truly doing the work of bringing diverse populations into technology, and we are proud to work with them.

Additionally, we aim to help Chicago residents of Bronzeville, Englewood, the south side, west side – and all neighborhoods– who have aspirations of learning technology and business concepts. At Tech Month Chicago we encourage people to be all they hope they can be. We want to know how else can we make a difference in sharing expertise in real-time during events. Tech Month Chicago is for everyone. Bottom line: we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.

How frequently will Tech Month Chicago be held?

Melanie Adcock: Annually. In the short time since we’ve started, it’s already starting to catch on with over 20 events listed on our calendar with more and more people listing their events on our calendar every day. So far those who have been the most receptive are fellow non-profits and the disenfranchised. What sets us apart from other events – aside from our longer timetable, obviously – is that we focus on a much bigger, broader audience outside of the tech industry.

Who else has made Tech Month Chicago possible?

Melanie Adcock: We have so many great partners: i.c. Stars does a lot of outreach to communities, and they helped us build our website, and our website is now designed and maintained by Don Schnitzius. The Tech Month Chicago Co-Founders, Todor Krecu and Dana Todd, are tireless advocates for local community tech events. Last, but not least, Blue1647. Emile Cambry – the Founder of Blue1647 has been a great inspiration to us and everyone at Blue has been very encouraging. Blue provides such an open and welcoming venue. They make you feel at home, never a feeling of being excluded.

A la Twitter – in 140 characters – what are the ultimate intentions of Tech Month Chicago for the Attendee? And for the Presenter?

Melanie Adcock: For attendees, it’s our hope they get excellent exposure to the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics related industries. For presenters, we’re glad to provide them access to a wider audience (the whole city of Chicago) to encourage sharing the best of their expertise.

For more information on Tech Month Chicago, schedules of presentations, or to submit an event, visit www.techmonthchicago.com

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Thank you to The Examiner for allowing us to republish this interview. The original interview can be viewed here: http://exm.nr/1VR9Ovn

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Annesa Lacey
Bio:
Annesa L Lacey supported corporate & non-profit sectors in marketing & graphics capacities for 17 years. Lacey utilizes her expertise in media & social media marketing in Chicago through @.l.interpretations, providing B2B marketing & media services (media / social media; mobile & event marketing); graphics & ghost-writing services. She enjoys keeping up with social media trends through webinars & volunteering at networking events. Share your views or leads at: alacey@alinterpretations.com
https://www.facebook.com/alinterpretations
https://twitter.com/alinterpretatio

The Tech Month Chicago website is designed and maintained by
Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 8.05.46 PM
Don Schnitzius who is a web design and mobile app expert.

The Story Behind Tech Month Chicago

As the Tech Month Chicago website launch draws closer, I’d like to share a few things about how this concept came about and the story behind the idea.

The idea for Tech Month Chicago emerged from a combination of my own career progression and things going on locally in Chicago. Ever since, the concept has rapidly grown from an idea into a group of people meaningfully executing its potential.

At the start of my professional journey twenty years ago I had no clue I would end up a tech professional. I was studying to become an artist and museum curator. My whole life was about creating, displaying, selling, and teaching art. Back then I spent a great deal of my time calling people to coordinate art events and make things happen. Friends of mine at the college where I was teaching design saw what I was doing and told me I could call people for a living in the business world and I could, maybe, they said, make some good money. Soon after that, a leg injury left me without a teaching job, and I needed work. Too klutzy to be a waitress in college, I had done a lot of part time telemarketing jobs and considered myself an energetic chatterbox on the phone, but it never occurred to me that it could be of value to anyone. When I realized the business world had a need for what I could do, I quickly found myself working at a tech start up. I enthusiastically stayed in the office late every night mastering how to use intricate, captivating software and got good at selling it. Now I am a polished industry professional and my career direction is with technology. It’s a path I never expected, but one I’m grateful to be on.

Melanie at a tech eventI entered the tech world armed with creative problem solving skills honed in design school, but felt like an outsider. Too often, I was always the only woman, the oldest person, the only person who didn’t go to business school, etc. I saw a lot of structural and ethical problems in some places where I worked because they lacked diversity, but felt powerless to do anything about it. My mind was busy selling software, but my heart was a busy making taking notes on how people were treated. Ultimately, the saying that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience is true for me. For as machine like as the tech industry can seem, we are– after all– human. As a spiritual being having a human experience, I wanted to make a difference in unfair situations I saw in the tech industry where people were excluded or made to feel like outsiders.

In the years to follow the press blew up about the lack of women and minorities in technology and it was like they were all telling my story. It turns out there were many tech industry professionals who felt like outsiders who had stories, backgrounds, and experiences similar to and also different from mine. I read their stories, listened, and saw a problem that needed a solution. As the issue of diversity in the technology industry heated up as a national conversation, I saw additional issues on a local level. Chicago, my home and city that I love, seemed to have a chip on its shoulder when it came to technology. Chicago isn’t Silicon Valley or New York, and it’s easy to get demotivated here because of that. Further, many tech industry related conferences happening in Chicago were geared only toward those already in the industry and didn’t include the city residents at large. My heart was still taking notes and looking for ways to address these topics.

Still a fan of the arts, for years I had paid careful attention to the city of Chicago’s involvement with Chicago Artist Month, a month long celebration of independently produced art events throughout the city that were promoted together in one big collective calendar. Chicago Artist Month is a successful cultural and civic initiative that has been going on for more than 20 years put on by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. I have always respected and admired how this organization considers, includes, and brings together diverse groups of people to celebrate and appreciate art. I thought to myself, what if there could be something similar for technology in Chicago? A month of events for technology where all groups and interests that comprise technology on a local level can be celebrated and the whole city can be included in appreciating technology, just like the Chicago Artist Month event appreciates the arts?

Initial conversations with friends and colleagues in both the tech industry and at the Department of Cultural Affairs were encouraging. The idea has gotten a ton of support from organizations like Blue 1647 and i.c. stars and Tech Month Chicago is now a 501C3 organization with its own identity and mission. We are a strong, growing group of concerned, passionate technology professionals who love Chicago and create cultural engagement to help elevate the local tech industry as a whole. We aim to facilitate and promote a month of independently produced technology events throughout Chicago in June 2016 and our goal is to do it every year thereafter. With love, compassion, and feeling we present this idea to the technology industry professionals of Chicago and to all Chicago residents.

Tech Month Chicago is going to make great things happen for our city, and in my next post I’ll spell out some specifics on what we’d like to do and how we’d like to do it. In future posts we will also have others share their personal stories as well. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy navigating our new site.