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National Apprenticeship Week: It’s Only the Beginning

Apprentice Highlight: Merhawit Gubsa

This week marks the 8th Annual National Apprenticeship Week, when the Nation celebrates the incredible humans who have successfully navigated an apprenticeship opportunity and are helping to rebuild the Nation’s economy, advance racial and gender equity, and support underserved communities. As a Registered Apprenticeship Program through the Department of Labor, Bitwise Industries provides individuals with paid opportunities in the technology industry with job training that includes a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of instruction. Taking it one step further, Bitwise provides apprentices with a full-time salary that includes medical benefits. Bitwise Industries’ Apprentices earn a living wage, work on real-world projects, and bridge the gap between learning and working. In fact, 97 percent of former students are still in technology jobs, earning an average starting yearly salary between $60-80k. 
Our Registered Apprenticeships provide a critical talent pipeline that addresses the Nation’s workforce challenges, with a focus on rebuilding our country’s infrastructure through a sustainable process that uplifts individuals in previously underserved communities. This means that technology jobs can grow in places where they’re least expected: not in Silicon Valley or Mountain View, but in other California places typically known for ag like Fresno and Bakersfield, just to start. Bitwise cannot do this without our partners, one of which being the Fresno Housing Authority, a local organization that has worked for over 80 years to provide equitable housing for residents all over Fresno County and beyond. Each day this week, we are celebrating individuals from different backgrounds, upbringings, and lifestyles to experience what it means to champion our apprentices. We hope you’re just as excited as we are to relive the journey of each individual who found the courage to “put themselves out there” and make a difference in their life by applying for an apprenticeship. Continue reading to learn more about today’s apprentice spotlight.

Today we celebrate:

  • Human: Merhawit Gubsa
  • Role: React Developer
  • Focus: React Native Software
  • Apprenticeship: 2020

Merhawit’s Life Before Bitwise

Merhawit’s Bitwise journey began a bit differently from the others. She came to Bitwise Industries directly as an apprentice, after immigrating to the U.S. in 2019. Initially, she lived in Connecticut and attended the University of New Haven, in pursuit of her master’s degree. When she wasn’t able to continue taking classes there, her path led her to California, where she began working as a cashier at a 99 Cents Store. Immigrating from Eritrea, a country in East Africa, she spent her first winter in America being “really cold, and really afraid.” Being from another country and coming to America caused major culture shock for Merhawit. Not speaking English as a first language was a barrier that she worked hard to overcome, but it didn’t come without challenges. She described her move from Connecticut to California as an integral step in joining the Bitwise ecosystem and feeling more comfortable in her new home. Since there was a lot of diversity, especially in California, it was easier to learn and understand things compared to being in Connecticut.

At first, it was really scary for me. But it was trial and error and it was a process. It was mostly self-doubt. I didn’t see people who looked like me in my classes at the University of New Haven, which scared me a lot too.

Merhawit’s Bitwise Apprentice Experience

Finding her place at Bitwise happened serendipitously–she submitted her resume to an organization that helps immigrants find jobs, and noticed in a newsletter from the organization that there were apprenticeship opportunities at Bitwise Industries. With a background in computer science, Merhawit came to America knowing she wanted to grow her knowledge and work in that field, but wasn’t sure if she was capable, especially with being in a new country and working with operating systems she wasn’t used to. 

She battled self-doubt in regards to whether or not her skills were fit for the current computer science market. When she got the opportunity with Bitwise, her friends encouraged her to go with her gut and pursue it to the fullest degree. It was more than a good gut feeling–as members of the tech industry themselves, they knew what a great opportunity it would be for Merhawit. She trusted Bitwise, and her friend’s instincts, and took the leap. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country, Merhawit hit a new learning curve: not only was she using new technology in a new country, but she was also having to adjust and learn what it meant to be on a team virtually.

The hardest part for me was the beginning, but once we crossed over those hurdles and began focusing on the React content, things began going smoother.

Her first real-world project in the apprenticeship was Sundial Assembly, a huge opportunity for her and her team to work in both regular web development, as well as mobile development. She later continued to work on the project management React web app, as well as WordPress projects and the Tatstat mobile app. “For the most part, our apprenticeship program was led by Alex Guitierrez, who is an inspirational person in many ways. Not just technical stuff, but life-wise as well.” Merhawit was also able to work with many other established Bitwise developers to strengthen her and her team’s knowledge of React and React Native. Through the real-time projects in the apprenticeship, she was getting valuable opportunities to create the User Interface (UI) of the apps, while also working on already deployed projects, like Tatstat, and fixing bugs and updating the existing UI of the app.

Aside from the technical knowledge I’ve gained, it was also the support from the Workforce Training team and the support from my apprentice lead. That’s something I’ll always carry with me. And it’s something I’ll always be grateful for. I’d someday like to pay it forward–someway, somehow.

The Most Rewarding Takeaways for Merhawit

For Merhawit, being able to learn React and React Native and all the API systems that were originally new to her, and subsequently work with them, was the greatest knowledge that she gained from the apprenticeship. An uphill battle, learning the Javascript framework for React was challenging at first,  but became easier for her to pick up with time, support, and practice. Understanding GitHub and how it works within the team was also new to Merhawit, but the support from her teammates and apprentice lead helped to give her the skills she was lacking. After her apprenticeship, she was able to share her knowledge with high school and first-year college students through a career development program, which was a super rewarding experience for Merhawit.

Being able to learn how software is developed from the very beginning was really rewarding knowledge to have gained from this program.

When did it come full circle for Merhawit?

Getting hired as a full-time employee at Bitwise was Merhawit’s long-term goal, and it felt exciting and full circle for her. “I’m glad Bitwise took a chance on me and trusted my ability to work on real-world projects.” She describes the apprenticeship program as really supportive.

They really give you a chance to grow, no matter what your background is. It’s excellent. It really is.

What does Merhawit’s future look like?

For Merhawit, her future plans are to keep on going. She has a strong desire to learn new things and gain new knowledge every day in her career, in hopes to eventually be in a place where she can teach and give people what Bitwise Industries has given to her.

It’s not the end–it’s just the beginning.

For Bitwise Industries, National Apprenticeship Week is just the beginning. It’s our way of celebrating those who leaned into their courage to pursue an attainable dream. We hope highlighting Merhawit Gubsa shows, in real time, a sense of the significance of creating opportunities like this for people in underestimated situations so they can access valuable skills that will launch them into amazing careers. Follow along on social media to hear great stories from our apprentices and Bitwise community—including info about the student journey through the first class, apprenticeships, and becoming a full-time tech employee.