Not sure where to start?
In 2013, we raised our hands and said we had an idea. A way out of the mess we were in.
We’d figured out that the way to reboot the American economy and make the technology industry diverse and inclusive was to simply do it. Not to make hollow promises. Not to write white papers. Not to hold Diversity and Inclusion conferences around the world. Not to put black and brown faces in D&I commitment ads. And definitely not by spending more than A BILLION DOLLARS in recruitment efforts only to see a less than one percent difference in the makeup of the technology industry.
The way to true representation in the tech economy is not rocket science, but it is deliberate and demands a different approach. To us, the way is obvious: connect underestimated people to tech skills and pay them to learn; these people earn tech jobs and help their employers grow; they transform their own lives and the economy of their hometowns; their decent wages buy houses, pay taxes, build playgrounds and rebuild cities.
Too easy, right? Apparently not.
When we tell people our plan, they look at us with squinty-eyes and pursed lips. Their reactions say they are wizened elders, and we are silly and naive. As if the things we’re telling them we do don’t work in real life. And someday — when we grow up — we will understand why.
It would be hard to overstate the number of meetings we have sat in and watched kajillion dollar companies choke on what it costs to skill up a person coming from a story of poverty, but send a quick text message to sign off on a hefty recruiting fee so long as the degree says Stanford on it. To watch these companies get excited about what we’re doing…so long as we’ll speak at their conference and not ask them to put cold, hard, American cash at risk. To hear them announce — a new fund! — just to realize it’s the same fund from last year that didn’t get spent due to “the pipeline issue.” To watch reasonably skilled candidates get turned away from jobs with Giant Tech Co X, but in the genteel bureaucratic way of endless follow-up, degree requirements and interviews meant to disqualify instead of discover.
The world said it wanted a diverse, equitable and inclusive tech workforce and the tech industry gave it a billion dollar marketing plan.
Technology giants are either very bad at this, or they’re lying.We have cities across our nation full of too many hungry, thirsty, overlooked, underestimated and sys-temically oppressed human beings. Meanwhile, in the tech industry you have hungry, thirsty, blind and spendthrift companies in dire need of talent.
For years, we told ourselves that we just needed to keep showing the tech industry, and the world, that talented people actually can and do come from places and stories that have been dismissed. This is not a hypothesis. We have literal proof.
Nearly eight years into creating a representative technology workforce, our way is not perfect, but it is producing results. Our efforts in trying to convince the technology economy to follow suit are not.
This letter is to tell you we’re changing the plan. If we cannot convince the technology industry to value underestimated people, we are intent to do it ourselves at enormous scale.
It’s time to stop expecting tech giants to be better and instead become a giant ourselves. We’re going to keep raising money, keep building and shipping world-class software, keep moving into underdog cities and keep training up the scrappy and talented technology wizards that are the future of their hometowns. We’re done trying to convince big, medium and little tech to hire folks from these places. They can if they want, and if they do, they won’t be disappointed.
But we’re saving our breath and our energy for more important things. Instead of sending a handful of our apprentices to shiny Silicon Valley companies, we’re keeping them. These folks can stay at Bitwise where they’ll find a team that believes in their everyday genius. We’re going to use tech to solve real problems by betting on talent that knows real problems.
We have $50M new dollars in our bank account and we’ll hire a thousand people the world has over-looked in the next 18 months.
The support of the underdog, as well as their ultimate triumph, is entirely within our power to affect. Join us in this pursuit. Because no one is coming to save us and because no one belongs here more than you.
Our very best,
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When we started Bitwise, we told you that we’d teach people to code. We told you that we’d build world-class software with local talent. We told you that we’d build a technology campus in Downtown Fresno. We told you that we’d start a tech revolution. Update: All of those things are happening right now in your city.*
In the 40 months that we’ve been alive, we’ve taught more than 3,000 people to code; we’ve opened and leased every-last-inch of our building…twice; we’ve seen Fresno’s technology industry create over 1,000 new jobs; we’ve gone from tech outpost to the place where Amazon launches training on its most innovative software platform; we’ve marveled as local tech startups sold for obscene amounts of money; we’ve built software that’s putting an actual dent in homelessness and recidivism; we’ve hung with The Woz in a sold out Saroyan auditorium (he said Fresno was maybe the most entrepreneurial city he’d ever been to); we built a 200-seat stadium-seating theater on a 100-year-old car ramp; and we’ve thrown some kick-ass parties. And, everyone from the Cougar’s Growl to The Atlantic has written about it.
By any objective standard, Bitwise is working. But Bitwise isn’t nearly enough. Though it may lift our region’s economy to new heights, it won’t mean anything unless we also choose to be good. Should we build an economic engine that prolifically creates jobs and opportunity? Absolutely. Bitwise can be that. But to really heal our city we–all of us–must also rise to be a people that lives out a different sort of virtue.
It won’t be enough if Bitwise does just what technology has done in other cities. That sort of growth, alone, leads to an economically sound, but far too exclusive new upper-middle class club of “innovators” and a couple of irritatingly-young millionaires. Exciting. Attainable. Enviable. But still not enough.
To us, if all of the hubbub we create isn’t coupled with a culture of acceptance, inclusiveness, and heart, then we haven’t created the best version of ourselves.
But the story doesn’t have to end that way. Fresno, and Bitwise, can be different. We’ve been different before.
We’re a nation of people that defend beliefs that we don’t believe in. We celebrate engineering and art. We fight wars abroad to protect citizens of other nations. We conquer evil rulers and return their lands to the people who inhabit them. We chase equality to its most infuriating end and demand of ourselves that we live in the tension that it creates. We admit when we’re wrong and commit to fixing it.
That’s America. That’s our identity. And lest the world forget, we etched it there, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…
Translation: “Dear World, We are the humans that you’ve cast out as junk, and from us we’re creating a great nation. Please send more of your ‘junk.’”
These ideals are ours. We can live out these ideals. We can swell a courage big enough to create something different and better in Fresno. Bitwise can help us to be economically prosperous, and the history we share can help us to be radically good.
Let’s show up to someone else’s thing.
Let’s care about someone who does not belong to our tribe.
Let’s find someone who makes us uncomfortable and get to know who they are, not just what they are.
Let’s choke back the sarcasm when someone is trying to start something new and instead default to supporting them.
Let’s raise our voices on issues that matter and be a little less ‘I-told-you-so’ when we’re right.
Let’s deliberately and meaningfully reach out to the unemployed and formerly incarcerated; the farm laborer’s son, and the farm laborer himself; the average high school all-star, and the average college dropout; the LGBTQ+ community, minority communities, and the community of every marginalized human. Allow every experience and perspective in our city to combine to be our advantage.
Let’s celebrate the best of us, in every category. Let spirit stand beside wealth; tenacity beside talent; courage beside station; endurance beside brilliance; and uniqueness in front of conformity.
Let’s actually be different.
At Bitwise we will tell them, all of them, “If you want to be good at something, if you want to be good at this, this is where you come. When you walk into our building expect to feel like a whole community is surrounding you saying, ‘Welcome to Bitwise. Here are the tools to change your own life.’”
We’ll pay deserving people a deserving wage; the sort that lets them stop worrying about how they’re going to put gas in the tank, and start thinking about how they’re going to be better.
We will commit our growing resources to reaching the outer edges of the county so that anyone, at any stage of life, can see, touch, and feel the chance to enter this growing industry. We’ll reach beyond ourselves to care about someone who does not belong to us.
America is the only country on the planet that, since its birth, has stood on a hill and died for the idea that we can do better. So starting with the two of us and reaching past Bitwise and into the city, we will endeavor to do better.
We will do better, because we must.Our Very Best,
We began in 2014 in a building on a forgotten corner of Downtown Fresno where nothing good was likely to ever happen. We had paint-stained hands, a building full of broken furniture, and a determination to shine a light on the good stuff no one believed was happening in our city. We hung a few TVs, filled the fridge with beer, turned the music on and dubbed it Bitwise Mural District. That empty building became a center for innovation, technological education, talent retention, and job creation. The collective efforts of that building created one new technology job every ten days and generated over 10 million dollars in new revenue in its first year.
In 2015, we took a moment to clearly define who and what we stand for. We made it a point to highlight that it’s not about what we want to be, but how we want to be, and it’s turning heads the world over. We’ve opened our doors to the ambitious and scrappy and proclaimed that it’s not about pedigree and last names but about hustle and grit. The most disadvantaged students work alongside the affluent and together they break down barriers to enter the fastest growing industry on the planet. Together they work to change their own lives.
Ashley Swearengin, and before her, Decipher, and before Decipher, CART, and Grundfos, and Pelco, Bank of America, Jimmy Phelan, James Porteous, Anthony “McQueen” Easterby, Central Pacific Railroad’s Southern Pacific Line, William Helm — all the way back to the Yokuts — whether figuratively or literally, each of them stood up at Fort Millerton, looked south and saw something magnificent that didn’t yet exist. They saw possibility and each of them dared to dream.
It’s 2016 and it’s time to dream again.
We outgrew our first building, Bitwise Mural District, in about four minutes, and we spent the next year and a half plus $7 million dollars building a bigger clubhouse. Today in this 50,000 square-foot geek palace, are killer amenities like a full-service law firm, cafe, coffee shop, accountancy, gym, shipper, and a 200-seat stadium seating theater.
Inside these walls, there exist over 100 technology companies and 1,000 individual geeks who build tech that’s shipped all over the world.
Inside these walls, the work of those 1,000 geeks gets written up in the Fresno Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Atlantic.
Inside these walls, we boast the largest vocational educator of computer programmers in the United States.
But it’s not all about what’s happening inside these walls. It never has been.
Outside our walls, a Fresno software company sold for a quarter of a billion dollars; Fresno County’s largest school district dedicated massive resources to becoming a national leader in entrepreneurship; two venture funds and an accelerator sprang up between Clovis and the 99; a Fresno startup raised $4 million in one round; the Mayor of Fresno hired a consultant to chase down technology grants.
Today, technology jobs in Fresno are growing at twice the rate of jobs in any other industry and for every new technology job, 4.3 new jobs in related industries are created as well.
This is called momentum, and once you have it, the Universe has every right to ask you what exactly you’re going to do with it. What do you do when you have no more excuses? How do you spend your time when you’ve met meaningful success? What will you make, and will it make the world better?
We’ve been asking ourselves these questions and thought we’d share our answers:
In the next five years, we will build a 2.5-million-square-foot campus that will be home to over 1,000 technology companies and 250,000 new tech jobs in Fresno.
In downtown alone, hundreds of lofts will become thousands. Eateries will line the streets. Nightlife will spring up. And on Sunday mornings, the thirty-somethings will sit outside sipping coffee from that shop on Fulton Street and tell tales of how people used to scoff at the notion of downtown revitalization.
It’ll be right about this time when parking in Downtown Fresno moves from being a fictional issue to being a real issue, so we’re going to build a train. That’s right. A train. One that connects Downtown Fresno to eight outer points of the county. From Biola to Riverdale, from Firebaugh to Kingsburg. We’ll tackle the environment, air quality, education and access to opportunity. It will change everything you think you know about this city.
Most of you won’t believe us. That’s okay. They didn’t believe Henry Huntington either, and he had a library, a lake and a beach named after him.
To make sure Fresno sets itself up for continued success, we will put the most important piece of the puzzle right in the middle of it all. We have to build an educational haven where students from rural towns join those from suburban metropolises to learn a skill different from their grandfathers. We must deliver the same level of world-class skill-based learning to the entire county or we will have failed a majority of our people.
No matter if you’re a teacher, janitor, attorney, accountant, or waitress. If you look across the land and envision something magnificent that doesn’t yet exist, you can make this your story. How one of the most broken cities in the United States demanded something better for itself and leveraged the fastest growing industry on the planet to achieve it. Let’s create small victories, let those small victories breed confidence, and use that confidence to develop ambition. Let’s find personal success and then use that success to deliberately contribute to the success of others — in a single generation we can fix an American city. Your city.
Now for the first time ever, we have no excuse. We have all the resources we need to start and grow and buy and sell technology talent, companies and buildings. Now for the first time ever, the universe is asking us what we’re going to do with our time and power and dreams.
It’s 2016 and we’re recruiting dreamers. Dream with us.
Our Very Best,
This is a story about how you change a city. This is not make-believe or hyperbole. It’s a plan.
Our signatures at the bottom aren’t there because that’s how to close a letter, they’re a pledge to our city and to you.
Here’s our plan: Begin with one.
Take the girl ricocheting her way through high school, wondering if her thing really exists. She’s not popular or particularly funny, but she has talent and ambition. She prefers video games to fashion, math to history, and substance to style. Her need to know how things work drives everything. She’s a geek.
That girl is apt, and if she were only aware, would naturally gravitate to the tech biz. (The industry that just so happens to be the fastest growing industry on the planet. The same one that has, in her lifetime, transformed economies in Austin and Portland – cities much like Fresno.) If she knew what was possible, she would learn to write game-changing code, solve important problems, and work with smart people.
We have – Fresno has – told her that a career in tech is really more of a Bay Area thing. Ask the most devoted Fresno citizen and they would tell her there’s a great career waiting for her to the west.
That is not an acceptable answer.
Here’s what we should say instead: We tell her that she has the makings of a rock-star technologist. We tell her that the things she’s interested in could change her life and change the world. We recruit her with all the vigor that Coach DeRuyter uses in persuading a homegrown, all-star quarterback to play in Fresno.
Next, we build a program that teaches her what she wants to learn. The program is lean and fast and meets in the evenings so that she doesn’t have to wait until after graduation to start. The program is inexpensive so that she can scrape together the cash no matter what side of town she’s from.
If she shows promise, we make sure to tell her we see it. We start introducing her to mentors, peers, and potential employers. We start thinking about how to make her even better.
To do that, we design an elite cohort for her and her most promising peers that lets them touch real-life projects for real-life clients under the mentorship of a talented programmer. We’re competing for her future so we pay her, not the other way around.
Then, instead of telling her what she should do, we ask her what she wants to do. Maybe she wants a full-time gig here in the Valley. Maybe she’d rather freelance. Maybe she wants to start her own thing. Maybe she wants to work for Google. No matter what she picks, we should fight like hell to make it reality. After all, she’s our investment. We should want to see it grow.
Now draw a line from the beginning of this story to the end: with her next step, no matter what she chooses, we win.
If she chooses to go work for a local company, her contribution helps that firm grow. If she does freelance work, she generates and spends dollars here while working on exciting things for some remote client. If she starts her own thing, she’s liable to be an outstanding success, create jobs and wealth, and solve a real problem. And what if she does go to work for Google? What’s she going to tell them when she’s asked where she learned all that stuff? That’s right. Fresno.
Now take her, that jewel, that talent, that one and multiply her by ten; a hundred; a thousand. Do you see it?
You get technology companies in Fresno that are able to push past the tipping point because they’ve got talent they can hire without moving elsewhere. You get new startups that create new jobs and new opportunities. Those companies reach a critical mass and become an industry. That industry says it prefers a lively and walkable downtown vibe, and the environment of a technology hub. It sets up shop at Bitwise Mural District or Bitwise South Stadium. It becomes imperative that we build a campus, an epicenter. The larger companies don’t need Bitwise at all, so they buy their own buildings up the block. The industry creates a thousand jobs in the time that it takes a freshman starting college to get his degree.
Soon enough the industry has overtaken not just blocks, but entire districts of Downtown Fresno. They’ve not just restored a building, but they have revitalized an entire downtown.
That same industry comes up with solutions for water, solutions for power, solutions for food, and solutions for medicine in the blink of an eye. That same industry generates millions of billions of gazillions of dollars; dollars that fix schools and infrastructure; dollars that buy sandwiches and houses; dollars that pay taxes; and dollars that invest in what’s next. That same industry changes literally everything.
It could all happen in less than five years. It could happen here. All we have to do is tell her she’s a rock star and give her the tools to build a future she’s interested in.
It’s tempting to think that what we’re doing at Bitwise Industries is about buildings or technology or companies. Those are incredible byproducts of what we’re trying to achieve, but that’s not our game. Bitwise is about humans. We’re about their stories, and empowering the next generation of ambitious people to do awesome stuff in Fresno.
In 2015 we’re taking a stand for the one. Stand with us.
Our Very Best,
What if we told you that a gaggle of geeks in Fresno, California are leading a revolution that has the City’s tech industry poised to blow up?
What if we told you that there, in the middle of a region known more for cauliflower and cabbage than code, there is a cowork space where developers, designers, and founders just show up to meet, connect, and innovate? No Golden Gate. No Broadway. No Space Needle. Just a bunch of smart people in one room about to do something awesome. Hashtag.
What if we told you that there, in a City smarting from the Great Recession, is a factory for producing exactly the talent that the tech industry needs and is connecting that talent to opportunity? No theory. No accreditation. No fluff. Just a bunch of hungry folks learning to code and getting scooped up by industry as soon as they can spell H-T-M-L. Imagine that job you want being just 18 weeks away. Geekwise Academy.
What if we told you that there, in a local economy where tech success looks like graduating high school and fleeing to the Bay, there is a dev shop with legions of world-class geeks perpetually on-call for your project? No egos. No divas. No premium price. Just hundreds of talented developers hungry for your gig. Your project determines your team, not the other way around. Best of all, you like the dev, poach them… there’s more where that one came from. SHIFT3 TECHNOLOGIES.
What if we told you that there, in a downtown forgotten, there is an industry rising up to create something better for itself and its city? No entitlement. No legacy. No hierarchy. Just a bunch of geeks leading a revolution. It’s starting with twenty-something start-ups creating a community on a corner that the world forgot. Bitwise Mural District.
What if we told you that, when it comes to tech, you’re watching the wrong valley?
You know what? We’ll just show you… Bitwise Industries.