Tech Frenzy in the Windy City

Chicago has emerged as one of the best tech destinations in the country, where venture capitalists fuel a thriving startup community, manufacturers embark on exciting Internet of Things projects, and tech talent is in hot demand.

If you're living in the Windy City and have top-notch tech skills, you're pretty much a rock star. Everyone from tech startups to big data companies to old-school manufacturers wants you to sign on to their act.

"The candidate is king right now," says Kelly Workman, vice president and metro market manager at Robert Half Technology in Chicago, adding, "When you look at Chicago, you see the rest of the world."

These employers will offer competitive salaries, maybe even signing bonuses, put you on innovative projects such as Internet of Things, and dangle plenty of perks, from flexible work schedules to take-your-dog-to-work days.

Setting the scene, the city of Chicago is one of the hottest tech destinations in the country. For starters, venture capitalists are licking their chops. That's because Chicago has the most profitable startup investments, more than New York City, Los Angeles and even cities in Silicon Valley. In Chicago, 45 percent of investments produced 10 times a return on investment, reported investment research firm Pitchbook earlier this summer.

Related: Robert Half Technology's Kelly Workman will be speaking at the IoT Emerge conference, McCormick Place, Chicago, November 2-4. Take advantage of a special discount for readers! Register now using code for a complimentary Expo Pass: IOTEXPOPASS

"It reflects that Chicago has recognized some absolute venture backed home runs: Groupon, Grubhub, Fieldglass and Trunk Club to name a few," Ezra Galston, senior associate at Chicago Ventures, told Chicago Inno. Chicago's hot IoT companies include Trustwave for security, Uptake for analytics, TempoIQ for applications, and Aeris Communications for machine-to-machine communications.

Then there's the high-profile Array of Things project that calls for installing a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes around Chicago. These boxes collect real-time data on the city's environment, infrastructure and activity for research and public use, Array of Things says.

Startups aren't the only ones in pursuit of tech talent. Robert Half Technology has seen up to a 10 percent increase in requests for technical people from manufacturers since the start of this year. Skills in security, web development, mobile development, database management, architectural engineering and even desktop support are in high demand.

"In downtown and suburbs of Chicago, there's a resurgence in our manufacturing orders," Workman says.

Related: 2017 Salary Guide: IoT’s Captains, Data Stars, Security Pros, Developers

Many manufacturers have embarked on exciting IoT projects and need tech talent to pull them off. It's something that hiring managers serving IT departments inside manufacturing companies should highlight to woo candidates, Workman says. "Maybe because they're already in it, they forget how avant-garde, how cutting edge it is."

Candidates don't need to have all the requisite skills, either. Robert Half Technology advises companies not to drag their feet, because talented people may not be available 48 hours after an initial interview. If a candidate has three out of five skills, companies should make the offer with the intention of home growing the two missing skills.

For its part, Chicago is working to fill the skills gap. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for instance, graduates hundreds of engineers and computer scientists each year, boasting the sixth-best engineering program nationwide last year, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Candidates can also make themselves even more attractive by adding leadership skills. Workman says she hears companies asking for candidates who can liaise with business people, not necessarily in client-facing meetings but team-facing ones.

"If a candidate wants to nail the perfect job, not only should they have their ducks in a row technically, but they’ve got to show great personality and leadership," she says.

Related: Robert Half Technology’s Kelly Workman will be speaking at the IoT Emerge conference, McCormick Place, Chicago, November 2-4. Take advantage of a special discount for readers! Register now using code for a complimentary Expo Pass: IOTEXPOPASS

Tom Kaneshige is editor of Five2ndWindow, an independent news channel covering digital business transformation and the new customer experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

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