With graduations fast approaching, a new crop of technology job candidates is preparing to enter the market. Their prospects look good.
Tech-related employment grew in the Chicago area by almost 6,000 jobs last year.
And if employment postings are any indication, there is also optimism around future growth. Job postings related to emerging technologies, like 5G and artificial intelligence, increased 73 percent, according to data from Downers Grove-based trade association CompTIA.
The top three tech occupations in the Chicago area in 2018 were software and web developer; computer system and cybersecurity analyst; and network architect, administrator and support specialist. Companies in nearly every industry are expanding their tech teams, focusing on cybersecurity and eyeing new capabilities, meaning the role those workers play can vary greatly.
The median wage for all Chicago-area tech occupations was more than $82,000 in 2018, according to the data. That’s 80 percent higher than the median wage for all occupations in the state.
The Tribune asked an employee in each of the top three tech occupations to talk about their jobs, what excites them about their work, and the professional paths they’ve taken. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
No. 1: Software and web developer
Sumedha Gupta, 27, of the West Loop
Title: Entry-level software engineer at Vivid Seats, a Chicago-based online ticket marketplace
Start date: July 2018
Pay range: Declined to disclose. The median salary range for Chicago-area web and software developers in 2018 was $72,000 to $109,000, according to data from CompTIA.
Education: Illinois Institute of Technology, master’s in computer science. Kurukshetra University, India, bachelor’s in computer science.
Hometown: Delhi, India
I work on the Android side of the mobile team. We decide what features to incorporate into the app.
Every morning we have a stand-up meeting where everyone can talk about what they’re working on. Recently, we incorporated a refer program into the app (that gives users a discount if they refer a friend). That’s an app-specific feature, so that’s really exciting for us.
We are redesigning the app, all of the screens. That’s really exciting to see new colors coming into the app and the whole design. We have a user interface team that works on designs. We can give feedback to them.
I really love the concept of developing apps. I’ve been to various hackathons and developed my own (apps). Here, you’re working on an app that’s available to 1 million users. They have a huge user base. That’s what I like the most.
It’s like an eight-hour job. We don’t have exact time to come in. If you’re doing your work right, you’re moving tasks along, there’s nobody hanging over your shoulder. It’s very transparent what you’re working on.
I moved to the U.S. in 2016 for my master’s. I worked in India for almost 3 years. The job I was doing was not exactly development, it was maintenance of an application. There were a lot of new technologies coming — machine learning, artificial intelligence. There were not many good courses in India at that time, so that (encouraged) me to go pursue a degree where they provide coaching on machine learning and AI.
When I came to Vivid Seats, I knew only Java. Most of our Android application base is moving to another programming language I didn’t have any experience in, so I learned that. It’s been a great learning curve for me. I’ve learned a lot of things since I came here.
I got to know about Vivid Seats through a coding meetup.
This is the first formal experience I have in building Android applications, that’s why I joined as an entry-level programmer for Android. If I keep learning, I hope I’ll move on to the next level.
No. 2: Computer system and cybersecurity analysts
Calvin Gruhlke, age 27, of Hoffman Estates
Title: Security analyst at Walgreens, based in Deerfield
Start date: October 2017
Pay range: $90,000 to $110,000
Education: DePaul University, bachelor’s in information assurance and security engineering
Hometown: Arlington Heights
At Walgreens, we have a bunch of smaller teams that all work under our security department. The specific team I’m on is called the instant response team. My role is kind of being the first responder whenever there is any type of security incident. A lot of times, that’s going to be something that’s related to malware or viruses. The other one would be account takeovers, like compromised accounts.
Almost all of my time is spent monitoring for when those instances are going to happen. It’s really just about looking through all the different data sources that we have and trying to pinpoint when something looks suspicious.
(We monitor) anything that is a Walgreens business account, so like an email account. That also includes customer accounts on the Walgreens.com website.
There’s a huge focus on security when it comes to retailers wanting to protect consumer data and customer payment data.
My high school had a computer repair class and a networking class, both skills that help build up knowledge to going into cybersecurity. After I took those classes, I decided to go into security.
I started out (after college) doing help desk, then I started doing some security work. The Department of Veterans Affairs was my first security-only job. After that was Walgreens. (A recruiter I worked with previously helped me find this job.)
I work out of the Deerfield office. Typically it’s 9 to 5, except we are a 24/7 team so there is stuff that happens after hours. I get to work from home three days a week, which I think makes it attractive.
I like my job a lot. I’m free to research on my own and find malware proactively. I’m free to investigate on my own and monitor the network in whatever way I think is going to be effective.
No. 3: Network architects, administrators and support specialists
Damian Zavala, age 30, of Portage Park
Title: IT systems administrator at Jellyvision, a Chicago-based software company
Start date: October 2018
Pay range: $60,000 to $80,000
Education: Currently pursuing a bachelor’s in system and cloud administration online with Western Governors University.
I’m responsible for all the systems working from day to day. If we have internet problems, it falls under my responsibility to team up with the rest of the IT team and help desk to troubleshoot why it’s breaking down. Then we fix it.
I make sure all the servers are online, make sure everything’s backing up the way it should be backing up, making sure things are communicating correctly. If something crashes or goes offline, we get an alarm sent to us, a phone call or an SMS (text) message or email. That’s when we look at it and say, “OK, let’s bring it back up.”
We also make sure all our servers and computers stay up to date. Every day there’s new updates. I have got to figure out a good schedule to automate to push the updates when they (the employees) are not at work.
There are times when I have to work off hours and it’s just based off the problem. Those are times when we work remotely, or we come in and work at night.
The biggest situation that I can remember is when it got really, really cold in January. Myself and the help desk manager, we came into work. Everyone else was at home. We just had to make sure everything that was running stayed running. You have to make sure our systems were able to support all the people working remotely that day.
I’ve been working IT or in the technical field since ’05. Back when I was in high school, I had a class that shows you how a computer works and the operating system and how to troubleshoot basic things. I felt like, “You know what, this is something I could do.”
Later that year I applied to become a Geek Squad agent. I got that job and I did that for nine years. I was still in high school. That taught me a lot. Once I completed that, I got an opportunity to work at Apple (at an in-store Genius Bar).
At Apple I built great relationships with my managers. My manager moved over to Jellyvision, so that’s where I first heard of Jellyvision. Later, he reached out about (coming to work here).
I took some college courses at the City Colleges (of Chicago) but I never finished. This year, I signed back up to online courses.
What’s helped me a lot is that I have so much experience. I want to make sure I have job security by getting that college degree.
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