5 tech transplants explain why they moved to Chicago

February 18, 2016

As anyone who works in Chicago can attest, walking to the office on a windy February morning can be a brutal experience. But despite cold winters and mosquito-plagued summer nights, Chicago is home to a thriving tech ecosystem with exciting new startups popping up seemingly every week.

Creating such an ecosystem is impossible without attracting and retaining great talent. We spoke with five tech employees who recently moved to Chicago about what drew them here. From opportunities for professional growth to schools and a sense of community, here is what they had to say.

Sara Khan, demand generation associate

Originally from Westchester, NY, Khan moved to Chicago in 2013 after graduating from Michigan State University.

“My job is all about getting the right messages in front of the right clients and prospects at the right time through marketing automation, nurture tracks and webinars,” said Khan. “Then, measuring the results through reporting and analytics.”

Why she chose Chicago

Having initially considered New York City because it was closer to home, she ended up opting for Chicago because of the job opportunities in the city’s vibrant technology scene, and because many of her college friends were moving here.

“There are so many great opportunities for people wanting to work in marketing and technology here,” said Khan.” I also liked that it was a smaller version of New York City — the neighborhoods really give it a ‘small town in a big city’-feel. It’s also centrally located, so it’s easy to travel anywhere from Chicago.”

How she likes it so far

“Despite the cold weather, Chicago has a lot to offer — from the lakefront and festivals, to the shopping restaurant scenes,” said Khan. “And, you can’t beat the skyline! Even though it’s a big city, the people are friendly — it still has the Midwest hospitality, which makes it home.”

Kia Benion, senior consultant in client services

Kia Benion moved to Chicago from Atlanta, GA in November 2015 after considering Washington DC as an alternative. As a senior consultant at Textura, she helps drive implementation and use of the company’s SaaS collaboration platform for the construction industry.

“Because our technology transforms how such organizations manage their payment processes, my role entails everything from onsite business process consulting to account management to working with our technology teams on system functionality,” said Benion. “It’s interesting, highly analytical work, and I get to interact with a lot of different people at our clients — from senior executives on down — in helping them to solve important business challenges.”

Why she chose Chicago

“I grew up in Chicago, so it was a homecoming of sorts,” said Benion. “It’s a really livable city with a great deal going on, including a vibrant technology community and lots of culture. I’m also a big fan of the public transportation here! And in a sense, because I came here to take my current role, I chose Textura and got a great city as part of the deal.”

How she likes it so far

“I’ve had a terrific experience at Textura, and I really value the opportunity to be in a city that is focused on cultivating and hanging on to talent, especially in technology. I’m excited to get more involved in that community,” she said.

Patti Gamble, senior HR and operations manager

A Chicago native, Patti Gamble has spent five years in San Francisco and 13 years in Seattle. But after each stint on the West Coast, she found herself drawn back to Chicago.

“I tell everyone that I keep trying to get away and Chicago just sucks me right back in,” said Gamble.

Prior to moving back to Chicago in 2012, she and her family considered moving to Portland and New York City. They decided Portland was too small, and New York was too spendy and too big of a transition.

Why she chose Chicago

Gamble ended up moving back to Chicago from Seattle in part because her family was here, and in part because she and her husband wanted to live in an older, bigger city.

“But this is also the city of my heart and I missed it the entire time I was gone,” she said. “Also, though I know most people don’t leave the West Coast for the Midwest for favorable weather but I have to say I’m just a fan of having four true seasons and I wanted our daughter to have that experience as a kid.”

As an added bonus, her family enjoys the architecture, beaches, green space, museums, galleries and affordable activities provided by the park district. But her number one reason for choosing Chicago is the sense of community.

“From block parties, to street fairs, to neighborhood groups to the communities that form around the schools, Chicago has all the culture and history of a major city with the personality of a small town,” said Gamble.

How she likes it so far

“It has been amazing. We moved into a community that we love and were welcomed with wide open arms the day we arrived. It was like something out of a movie,” said Gamble. “The kids from downstairs showed up with cookies on day one and there was a block party three days later where we met everyone and started a number of what is sure to be lifelong friendships. For better or worse, we didn’t really know our neighbors in Seattle but for us, this was a refreshing change. It felt like the right place to raise a kid. And I remember the day my six year old daughter and I were walking down the block to a friends house and she scooped my hand up into hers and said, ‘Mom, I love Chicago.’ I melted. Because I do too.”

Nick Pipitone, e-business project manager

Pipitone moved to Chicago from Washington D.C. in June 2015. He decided to move here after considering both Los Angeles and New York City.

As e-business project manager he handles paid media advertising, presenting display and video ads to card members about promotions and rewards.

“One reason I landed at Discover is because the company is innovative and forward thinking when it comes to digital environments,” said Pipitone. “For example, the company recently launched the Freeze It tool, which works like an on/off switch allowing cardmembers who have misplaced their cards to stop new purchases on their accounts, from a mobile device, online or over the phone. This was all very attractive to me.”

Why he chose Chicago

“Chicago has everything I was looking for. It's a great city that offers a little bit of everything,” said Pipitone. “Discover has their main headquarters in Riverwoods (the northern suburbs of Chicago) but recently opened a downtown office connected to the Merchandise Mart. It's quite convenient having CTA drop you off at your work door!”

After moving here from the capital, Pipitone discovered that most of the companies and agencies with which he had connections on the East Coast also had strong Chicago presences, making it easy to build on his existing relationships. He also finds that the city’s myriad yearly conferences make it easy to maintain personal networks without having to travel.

In his spare time, Pipitone enjoys Chicago’s nightlife, music, food and sports scenes.

“It's a blue collar town with great sports teams and fans. Being from Buffalo this similarity struck a comforting chord,” he said.

How he likes it so far

“Love it. Very happy with the decision I made. Discover provides me the tools and opportunities to learn and craft my digital targeting skills,” said Pipitone. “No idea goes unheard and this affords our team expansion of digital serving capabilities. We push ourselves and our partners to find new ways of targeting that provide a better experience for our customers. There is also cross collaborative efforts across divisions which promote face time with other thought leaders and areas to further develop ideas.”

Cameron Garrett, user experience designer

Originally from Lancaster, PA — a small town outside of Philadelphia, Garrett came to Chicago for the industrial design program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011.

"Truthfully, and as insane as this may sound, I only wanted to go to SAIC. So I put all my eggs in one basket and only sent in one application," said Garrett.

How he likes it so far

"It's a beautiful city! Over the past year or so I've been taking advantage of the incredible array of architecture in the city, trying to absorb all I can," said Garrett, adding. "#AlwaysReadThePlaque"

Images via Shutterstock and participating companies.

Have a tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Shoot us an email or follow us on Twitter @BuiltInChicago.