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Chicago CTO John Tolva to Step Down

Tolva plans to depart from Chicago city government on Nov. 1 to pursue opportunities with the private sector.

John Tolva, Chicago’s chief technology officer, will step down from his post on Nov. 1 to pursue positions within the private sector. 

The former IBM executive held the role of Chicago’s CTO for the last two and a half years, and was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After his departure, Tolva plans to work as an adviser to the Pritzker Group, a firm that focuses on investing in technology. He'll also serve as an instructor with Starter School, a program that teaches about technology, design and business, and become a consultant for civic engagement for nonprofit Code for America, according to Tom Alexander, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Alexander said the city has not yet begun the search for Tolva’s replacement and no interim CTO has been appointed at this time. City officials would like to take time to determine which direction to take Chicago’s technology efforts, and currently they're focused on Tolva’s transition out of office.

“I think John felt like this was a good time to look at some other things, and I think we’re in a great position to continue to do really well as a city,” Alexander said. He said the hope is that Tolva will continue to work with Chicago to some extent, but it’s still unclear how he will remain involved with city efforts.

Recognized for Innovation

Although Tolva only spent a couple of years with Chicago, some may say he’s leaving behind a legacy focused on open data efforts and innovative technology strategies.

Tolva worked alongside former Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein and Social Media Director Kevin Hauswirth to help publish more than 200 city data sets online, which led to the development of applications like and As a result, the three earned a spot on Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers list in 2012. 

Tolva also was recognized by the White House for his creative ideas and named one of the 13 Local Innovation Champions of Change last year.

After the city’s Open311 system went live in September 2012, Tolva was instrumental in the upgrade of ChiTEXT, an SMS feature connected to the city’s Open311 system. The upgrade included a series of new features that were launched earlier this year.

More recently, Chicago released a comprehensive Technology Plan to serve as a guide for enhancing social media and driving economic growth. The plan outlines five main strategies to help the city stay smart and connected with tools like better Internet access and building next-generation digital infrastructure.

“The technology landscape in Chicago is different than it was a couple years ago. There is so much going on. The time is right to jump to the other side. I'm never going to stop being the biggest cheerleader for Chicago," Tolva told Crain's Chicago Business.

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.