#CodeLikeAWomen: ITA’s Tech Challenge

Woman entrepreneur with her laptop

Illinois Technology Association is an organization at the heart of Chicago tech with roots dating back over 15 years. With origins back in a time before Chicago tech was a known entity, ITA knows a lot about building programs and opportunities when nothing exists in the marketplace yet. Additionally, we have long sought to create initiatives that foster diversity and meet the needs of underserved communities within the ecosystem.

Two years ago, our male-identified CEO stepped down, and our current CEO, Julia Kanouse, took charge of the organization. For the first time, two female-identifying executives were leading ITA. Consequently, one of the first questions Julia was asked was, “What are you going to do about women in tech?” While this was not a question posed to her male predecessor, Julia, knew that the need remained. There wasn’t much out there in Chicago marketplace that met the needs of female-identified technologists.

Soon after that, Julia launched Women Influence Chicago in response to this growing need.

Over two years later, in addition to a number of one-off programs and culturally shifting whitepapers and reports, WIC has launched the groundbreaking Women Influence Chicago Accelerator. The Women Influence Chicago Accelerator promotes the advancement of female technologists through a four-month cohort that ensures women will learn to grow and advocate for themselves, leading to parity in their companies. This program represents a unique opportunity within the ecosystem. It has no peer. Moreover, WIC is just getting started with this program and plans to grow its initiatives in the immediate future.

With this women-empowering initiative in mind, ITA has been looking for ways to differentiate and expand the impact of our Tech Challenge. For its tenth year, in keeping with this diversity charge, ITA wanted to focus on attracting young women from around the country. Through its nine-year history, over 4000 students have participated, resulting in hundreds of job offers and over $100,000 in prize money awarded. Additionally, the Tech Challenge already had a brand on campuses around the nation and was successful in an increasingly crowded college-targeted programming space. However, we did not want to settle for the status quo. ITA spent six months utilizing research and focus groups to create a unique opportunity for female-identifying students here in Chicago.

The goal of the new and improved ITA Tech Challenge is to empower and connect young female-identifying technologists to women in technical roles for both mentorship and sponsorship. The Challenge consists of two phases. Phase one is a virtual Qualifying Challenge that occurs between September 17 – 24. After we tally all of the Qualifying Challenges scores, the Top 40 overall scorers from around the country are invited to Chicago for, phase two, the Final Challenge. In the Final Challenge, the finalists will be divided into teams, collaborate with some fantastic mentors and tasked to solve a social impact case study. In addition to connecting with companies, the winning team will win $10,000.

The 10th Annual ITA Tech Challenge is more than just a competition; it’s about making new connections between university women across the country and women leaders at Chicago’s best technology companies.

The 2019 Qualifying Challenge begins on September 17. Register Now.

Furthermore, ITA is always looking for ways to evolve our programming to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. If you have any questions about the ITA Tech Challenge or suggestions for developing our programming, let us know. Get involved by contacting Jessica Prath.

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