An evangelist, an entrepreneur, and a CEO walk into a tattoo parlor. It’s a strange beginning but something about it sounds so … Bitwise.
Channelle Charest has served as the evangelist of Bitwise Industries since August of 2016. There’s no joke there. It’s business-card official.
It’s not a role you hear often outside of Sunday-morning television, but once you meet Charest, it all makes sense. The only thing more infectious than her laugh is her positivity. Truth be told, she could probably sell you shorts in the dead of winter and you wouldn’t even mind.
Evangelist is her day job, but for the last six years she’s tattooed folks several nights a week, inking ‘em with everything from skeleton hands to declarations of love, loss, illness, and triumph.
The strangest thing she’s been asked to tattoo? A cover up of an ex’s name with a crown. Not just any crown, the Budweiser Select crown … just north of the man-bits.
She got her first tattoo illegally when she was 17 and cites it as the single dopest experience of her life. “I remember thinking, if I ever get the chance to do this as a job, I’m just going to do it,” Charest said. She even wrote it in her senior yearbook.
For Charest, ink is the truest and most powerful form of self expression.
“We’re all born with what we got,” Charest said. “You’re born with your genetics – skin tone, hair color, eye color. It’s really difficult to change those things. You can dye your hair and put in a contact, but it’s almost impossible to change those things permanently.”
Recently, Charest started marrying job #1 with job #2. Since fall of 2016, she’s been the artist behind matching tats for Bitwisers … and their boss, Bitwise co-CEO, Irma Olguin Jr.
“Matching tattoos are super serious,” Charest said. “You don’t enter into that world unless you really want to stay connected to someone forever. Even if it ends, even if the relationship falls apart – you’ll know they have that.”
To date, Olguin shares tattoos with nine members of her team, sporting paper planes, waves, palm trees and other symbols, but there’s a catch: she never picks the design or the placement.
When asked why matching tattoos, Olguin said, “I’m not great at typical friendship-style support, but each of these markings is a symbol. I feel like they are so representative of what the other person needs to believe about themselves at that moment in time. For health, or well-being, or inclusion or change in life. Personally or professionally — not that there’s a big divide — and this is my way to support them in that.
Like, I support this time in your life so much I will mark it permanently on my body. With you. Together. That’s how much I believe in you.
The very first expedition in tattoo bonding found Olguin and Greg Goforth, executive director of development at Shift3 Technologies, at the Faithful and True Tattoo Studio on a weekday night in late 2016. Ask both whose idea it was and they’ll point to the other person.
“It was going to say Greg and Irma 4 Lyfe,” Olguin laughed. “Greg was texting his wife to ask about getting a tattoo with me someday, while I was surreptitiously texting Channelle to set it up that afternoon.”
Olguin and Goforth met in 2006 when they were both amateur programmers working for companies inside of the Central Valley Business Incubator. After a few years of bumping into each other, Goforth was recruited to be the first-ever developer fellow at Bitwise and lead the first-ever Cohort for Geekwise Academy – a program that is wildly successful three years later.
They share a Bitwise operator (&=) as the chosen tattoo. Bitwise operators, in computers, are used to perform operations on bit patterns or binary numerals that involve the manipulation of individual bits. Loosely speaking, they’re how computers make decisions.
“There are a lot of Bitwise operators,” Goforth said. “This one stands for and equals or and forward.” It was Goforth’s second tattoo. His first is a mash-up of Dave Matthews Band references with birds representing each of his daughters. Also a custom creation of Charest’s.
In the middle of last month, Olguin once again met up with team members to seal a combined fate in ink at the hands of Charest.
Talisha Brantley has worked with Olguin since 2014. Brantley joined Bitwise as the company’s administrator but the path curved and now finds her as the community liaison, in charge of creating events, environments, and a culture that welcomes every walk of life. Brantley chose a semicolon to share with Olguin as an expression of the continual support she’s felt from her. “She is very supportive of making sure I – and anyone really – take care,” Brantley said of her boss and friend.
She encourages me through bad times and lifts me up when I need it.
In summer of last year Celeste A. Barron joined Shift3 Technologies, Bitwise’s custom-software company, as the marketing manager. She’d previously spent seven years in real estate and a decade as a freelance writer. For her matching tat she opted for an ellipsis. “An ellipsis either means there’s a void in a sentence or a continuation,” Barron said. That there’s more to come.” She said when Olguin reached out last year regarding freelance writing and ultimately offered Barron a full-time position, it meant there was more to her writing career. “My story wasn’t over,” Barron added.
Tessa Williamson now serves as creative director for Bitwise Industries but has worked with Olguin for 10+ years, branding companies and ventures. About half of those companies come to fruition, Williamson said. She now shares a wave tattoo with Olguin denoting the journey the two have ridden together. “When you jump in you don’t know the end result – you just have to ride the wave,” Williamson said. “Sometimes it flows into another wave and sometimes it crashes.”
As if the threads of life at Bitwise aren’t linked enough, cut to the beginning of 2018 when Goforth and Charest embarked on a new adventure (and if you’re counting, a third side hustle for Charest). They launched an app called TatStat with the goal of cutting down the time tattooers spend scheduling.
Goforth had previously created Pencil’em, a digital appointment book allowing artists in the beauty industry to schedule and send reminders. It was designed for his mom, who is a manicurist.
“TatStat is kind of the evolution of that,” Goforth said. “It’s not just an artist-centric kind of a group, but a place where people can find an artist they like and schedule an appointment.” The app is completely free to use. When someone schedules and pays a deposit, TatStat takes a small percentage.
Charest admits the fear of failing made her hesitant to start the project, but resilience, she says, is a skill Bitwise is great at teaching. “One of the realest stances you adopt at Bitwise, is that your first pass may not be your best pass,” Charest said.
The whole premise of what we do and how we do it, is that it’s okay to fail, but you have to recover and iterate. There’s just no way around it.
– Channelle Charest
Endurance is something Charest knows a thing or two about. The tattoo she shares with Olguin has a simple message with deep meaning – we can do hard things. When Charest started at Bitwise her personal life was a self-described total disaster.
“As an individual, I was so uncertain about what I was supposed to be next,” Charest said. “I had nothing minus my hardcore belief in something bigger than me. I had to rebuild by entire existence. Which was insane.” Charest took a six-month sabbatical from tattooing, which for some artists, means the end of a client list, possibly the end of a career. Olguin, she says, was one of the biggest proponents that she could rebuild – not just her client list, but her life.
“She was one of the most significant people in that time of my life repeating over and over ‘you can do this, you will figure it out, this is not the end,’” Charest said. “The idea that we can do hard things is the thing I needed to believe in. For her, that’s always been a part of the Bitwise story. And let me tell you, after working here for two years, it is always a part of the Bitwise story, that you can do the hard things, that are the right things, that are the best things, that are the good things. It was so easy to land on that because it’s true.”
For the very first matching tat, Goforth chose a Bitwise operator in Menlo font. Fun fact: this was the font Goforth was using to program at the time.
Alarcon was greeted by palm trees and Debbie Deb's "Look Out Weekend" when he arrived in Fresno for his first job at Bitwise. "It's how I knew I wasn't going anywhere," Alarcon said. He shares a band of palm trees around his wrist with Olguin.
Prendergast and Olguin each have a paper airplane on their left arm. Prendergast Says it's because they're always on the same page.
Charest and Olguin share the phrase "We can do hard things" in Charest's handwriting. "The people around you actually influence who you'll become in the next stage of your life," Charest . said. "Irma is one of those people, but I think the team in general has been a huge influence on the direction that I've decided to head next."
Payton and Olguin have five tally marks to represent each company they've worked at together. Between jobs 3 and 4, Olguin offered Payton a job in Fresno after he moved to San Diego. "I originally turned her down since we had just moved, but told her to call me back in six months," Payton said. "She did, to the day."
Ceballos chose his infamous fist bump for the tattoo he shares with Olguin. "Because Irms never leaves me hanging both symbolically and literally," Ceballos said.
For Barron's matching tat, she chose three dots to indicate an ellipsis. When Olguin offered her a full-time job as Shift3 Technologies' marketing manager in 2017, it meant her story wasn't over.
Brantley has worked with Olguin for more than four years. What began as a role as the comapny's administrator pivoted and found Brantley as Bitwise's community liaison. Through all of it, Brantley says, Olguin has encouraged and lifted her up.
Williamson has branded companies for Olguin for 10+ years. About half of the ventures materialize, Williamson said. As a result, she chose a wave to share with Olguin to represent the ebbs and flows of life.