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 metropolis 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.
Co-Chief Executive Officer
Co-Chief Executive Officer
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 Statute 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, temptest-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.
Co-Chief Executive Officer
Co-Chief Executive Officer