2015 - This is How You Transform Fresno’s Economy

Dear Fresno,

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,

Irma L. Olguin, Jr.
Co-Founder

Co-Chief Executive Officer

Jake A. Soberal
Co-Founder

Co-Chief Executive Officer

Dear Fresno,

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.


Our Very Best,

Irma L. Olguin, Jr.
Co-Founder

Co-Chief Executive Officer

Jake A. Soberal
Co-Founder

Co-Chief Executive Officer

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