I’m spending a few days in downtown Chicago to take part in a two-day program called ThinkChicago. As part of Chicago Ideas Week, the Mayor’s Office selected 50 college seniors from Midwestern universities to come to the city for a recruiting event to meet business leaders, visit companies, and attend the TEDxMidwest conference.
Thursday, October 13 was the first day of the program.
8:30 am – Chicago Cultural Center
Bagels, coffee, introductions.
I found the three other Notre Dame students who were chosen to be part of ThinkChicago and buddied up with them. Yes, it’s about networking, but it’s also nice to have someone to hang out with. All 50 of us introduced ourselves (name, school, major, interesting fact). Probably 45 of the students are in engineering/computer science/business programs. I go through the Notre Dame introduction and rattle off my undergraduate resume in front of a group a few times a month as a tour guide, but I’ve never felt so out of place as I did this morning. I’m just glad that there are other people who are good at coding and hacking and designing and engineering, because I’m not one of them.
9:30 am – Google Chicago
Panel moderated by Rahm Emanuel.
Google offices are cool. Like, really cool. I ended up sitting in the front row in the room where the panel was held, and when Rahm came in, he shook my hand. He actually does have a stubby finger. Long ago, I read something about how he sliced it off in a deli cutter, but I forgot that little piece of trivia until our hands met and I realized that a chunk of finger was definitely missing.
11:30 am – Accenture
First site visit.
After my small group of ten met with a handful of leaders at Accenture to discuss the corporate culture, we visited the Accenture Customer Innovation Network lab. The ACIN is essentially a brainstorming space for companies to come in and play with cool new technologies for retail and CPG – lots of cool demonstrations of augmented reality, QR codes, Facebook/social integration. I was familiar with everything I saw there from my time at Digitas this summer, but it was really fun to see it presented in such a slick and flashy manner. Accenture had planned our visit schedule to the minute, and we had a chance to meet with a recruiter and a recent hire towards the end of our time there.
2:00 pm – Threadless
Second site visit.
T-shirt heaven! We got a tour of the warehouse and the offices of this design-focused company from the creative director himself. Threadless was pretty much the opposite of Accenture, staffed largely by hipsters wearing cool t-shirts and podcasting out of the vintage Airstream trailers parked in the lobby. As we wandered through shelves upon shelves of witty, clever, colorful shirts, all I could think about was which one to choose for my souvenir. And then they didn’t give us free shirts! Huge disappointment. Other than that, it was a fun visit.
7:30 pm – Chicago Ideas Week Bash
We were told that this would be a networking event with live music and maybe a bar. I went over by myself and figured I would meet up with the other ThinkChicago participants when I got there – we were instructed to wear our official Mayor’s Office nametags to get in the door, so I thought that would be a good way to recognize the other college students. On the walk from the El stop to the venue, I psyched myself up to network and act like an adult. I had my black pants on, my black interview bag slung over my shoulder, and a stack of business cards in my wallet. As I walked through Lincoln Park, I realized that I looked like a normal person coming home from work. A couple walking a dog said hi to me. I fit in!
And then I got to the party. I did not fit in.
It was not a networking event.
The Bash was a huge party for Groupon employees. And, I guess, a handful of unassuming college students. I knew nobody, and I was way overdressed. I checked my coat, showed my ID (because I’m 21 now – yay), and showed my mayoral name badge to the volunteer handing out the free drink tickets. I unclipped my badge with a quick glance around at all the flannel-and-jeans-wearing people surrounding me.
The band was like OK GO on steroids – instead of four guys wearing vintage marching band costumes, there were twenty. I tried to make my way over to an area where I could survey the crowd to look for acquaintances, but as I turned from the bar, I got an elbow to my drink, which sloshed nicely all over my satiny top. Fantastic. I ended up chatting with a Filipino New Zealander (Kiwi?) who worked in the engineering department at Groupon. “So you’re like an intern?” Uh, kinda. Not really.
I left after about an hour. The Bash would have been really fun if I had known anyone there or if it had been the slightly more networking-oriented event I was expecting, but either way, it was definitely quite an experience.
On to Day Two – TEDxMidwest!