Mr. Mayor, let my people go

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As an alum, I think it’s great Mayor Emanuel personally trekked down to Champaign to encourage UIUC grads to consider Chicago over Silicon Valley. As someone who understands firsthand how critical talent is to the long-term success of Chicago I say let them go. In fact, do what I do, encourage them!

Twenty years ago I faced the same choice. While I was emotionally attached to Chicago, I chose the Valley because the work out there was more compelling and interesting. It wasn’t just a job.

Today, Chicago is in a much better place as evident in things like 1871, BuiltInChicago, and Ideas Week. But we’ve got a long way to go before we have anything like the Bay Area’s exciting and thriving opportunity ecosystem.

Silicon Valley is good for the entire country, and Midwesterners are a crucial part of that economic engine. Out there, they love us for our work ethic and down-to-earth sensibility. In return we get exposed to an entirely new way of looking at the world. It’s a mutually beneficial system, and we shouldn’t be trying to deprive anyone from taking part in it.

I went through the whole experience these kids are hoping for. I worked at Apple, I started a company that was bought by Google. I worked ridiculous hours and met some amazing people. I won’t lie and say it was overrated. It was fantastic.

Not withstanding that, even if you’re moderately successful in Silicon Valley it’s not easy to have a “normal” life there. Which may be fine for an inexperienced 22 year old, but ask the myriad of 30-somethings making 6 digits and still living like a college kid what they want out of life. Odds are, they’re more likely to find it here, like I did, in Chicago. Those are the folks we should be trying to woo.

The point is, we don’t have to make Silicon Valley look bad to make Chicago look good. Everyone out there knows this place is awesome despite the weather. They just need to know there are finally some interesting jobs here.