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December 18, 2020

A Team in Quarantine

As this year slowly draws to a close, there doesn’t seem to be the words to adequately describe our collective experiences. 2020 presented us with a variety of challenges – whether you were driving all over town trying to find the one store with toilet paper in stock, or attempting to work from home while supervising your child’s first day of kindergarten over Zoom. We learned how to adapt in the most unique of circumstances, which sometimes meant thinking outside the box for projects or finding creative solutions for our team.

For the Bitwise community, we faced a unique challenge when the decision was made to send our 200+ team members home in March, and eventually shifted to a full remote-work model for the remainder of the year. And although our team is full of resilient and inspiring individuals, we knew the turmoil a decision like this could cause – how do you adapt to a world that has suddenly turned upside down, where your day-to-day routines have been thrown out the window, and time feels as though it’s both simultaneously flying by and stumbling to a stop?

To close out 2020, we’re telling the story of four individual Bitwise team members who each embody a unique narrative of what this year has been like for them. Each share the common thread of the Bitwise community, but also have radically different perspectives and experiences through this unprecedented year. Together, they are an example of how our community has worked through the difficulties, wrestled with uncertainty, and stayed resilient throughout it all.

This is a team in quarantine.

Lynx Callaway: Fresno, CA

Lynx is sitting behind a small table, smiling into the camera. They’re wearing a black holiday sweater, hair tied up in a tall ponytail. “My name is Lynx Callaway, or Security Lynx as folks know me as,” they laughed. “I am the one and only security analyst for Bitwise, but I technically work for Shift3 Technologies.”

Lynx has been a member of the team since April of this year, one of the many hires our team made during the remote work experience. Previously unemployed, Lynx’s day-to-day shifted dramatically when they were hired, going from being a stay-at-home parent to a … stay-at-home, working parent. “I used to just wake up in the morning, make sure everybody takes their meds and do typical parent stuff,” Lynx remembered. “I was just studying my ass off, trying really, really hard to get a job in this field. I don’t know, it feels like a lifetime ago. I almost don’t remember what it was like.”

Lynx resides in Fresno, with a partner and their four year-old daughter, Lily. Like thousands of other families, they have learned to adapt working at home while still being available to their family, a challenge that made itself clear from the beginning.

“It’s been hard – I didn’t really think it would be as difficult as it turned out to be. It was easy at first because you’ve got that new job excitement, the thing that I’ve worked so hard for, and I’m just like ready to get into it. Screw the circumstances. Right?”

– Lynx Callaway

New job excitement can only do so much. “As I move forward in my job responsibilities, more things have to get done,” Lynx shared. “I’m giving a presentation tomorrow and I’ve been so slammed between writing other reports and trying to take care of my kid and make sure that I’m present for her, present for my family.”

If the shift to working from home wasn’t enough, suddenly having “little” coworkers around your new office can present an unlimited amount of distractions. But even further, helping little ones understand the circumstances presents a Pandora’s box of emotions and confusion. “I think the biggest challenge was getting Lily to understand, just because I’m home, it’s not like it used to be where I was at her every beck and call,” Lynx explained. “There are lots of big feelings there for her because she has no way to really understand what’s going on.”

The overwhelming feelings of this year have bubbled to the surface time and time again for folks, sometimes in the most unexpected places. And when those emotions catch up to you, it’s often impossible to hide them. “I suffer hardcore from anxiety and PTSD and sometimes that means panic attacks,” Lynx recalled. “I was having a really, really, bad week—I was so overwhelmed and I had no idea what to do about it. And then on a video call, I just started crying. Just started crying in front of Chris Hawkins, my manager. I was mortified … you don’t cry in front of your manager.”

As hard as this year has been, it has also brought out some of the best in people, and Bitwise is no stranger to that. In the moments our team members have been the most overwhelmed, their counterparts strive to find ways so stand alongside them. Letting them know they aren’t alone in this.

“Chris was so sweet and understanding. It was just like, ‘Hey, I am right there with you. Everything that you’re showing right here right now, I’m feeling it too.’”

-Lynx Callaway

A simple statement that can mean so much – especially in the circumstances of this year.

For Lynx, 2020 has been a whirlwind of joining a new company, adapting to working from home, and finding ways to balance feeling overwhelmed with the joy of a new job. In this upcoming year, they’re looking forward to putting more time into advancing their skillset, improving so that they can better educate our team on cyber security concepts. They’re excited to allow themselves time to practice without shame—to do the things they’re passionate about and knows are truly important to themselves, and to our company as a whole.

Kennan and Karen Scott: Oakland, CA

The Scotts smile while sitting next to each other, Karen wearing a gray sweater and Kennan a red t-shirt. There’s a wall of photographs behind them, filled with family photos, memories, and various pieces of art. “I’m Kennan Scott, the V.P. of Bitwise Oakland,” Kennan said. “And I’m Karen Scott, Director of Operations for Bitwise Oakland and I’ve also been supporting the PodUp initiative in the last three months,” Karen adds.

Kennan and Karen Scott are two powerhouse Bitwise team members at the forefront of our expansion campus in Oakland, CA. Hired in January and April, respectively, Kennan and Karen are relatively new to our community, living and working in Oakland with their two sons, Coltrane and Maseo. This year has brought a myriad of challenges to the Scott household, mainly uprooting their well-established daily routine when office spaces and schools began to close.

“Our family has been pretty used to Karen leaving really early in the morning to get back at a reasonable time,” Kennan shared. Karen nodded and added, “for the last five years, my boys really never saw their mom in the morning.” Parents and caregivers understand the value of an established routine – it’s almost essential for young kids. So what happens to a family that has relied on a regular routine when the rug gets ripped out from under them?

“We had no routine anymore. We just adjusted based on what we needed to accomplish in a week. But we recognized very quickly that we did need some kind of a routine.”

-Kennan Scott

Normally, a school day could provide at least the bare minimum of a routine for families. But with schools closing, virtual learning became the norm, bringing with it a myriad of challenges as kids adapted to what a school day looked like now. “Maseo is in kindergarten,” Kennan explained. “He’s in school for the first time, and it’s all on Zoom. It’s hard for us to keep up with his schedule, his many class changes, and our work. Having a babysitter stay with us has helped, immensely.”

“The hardest part was around September, after the honeymoon period of virtual school ended, and the novelty of seeing your friends and understanding, well, you’re not really seeing your friends hit,” Karen explained. “Coltrane is 11 and becoming an adolescent. I had transitioned into a new role after recently transitioning to a new job too, and it just felt like everything blew up a little bit.”

In the midst of so much stress and uncertainty, the Scotts found support and solace in the Bitwise community – specifically other parents and caregivers. “Bitwise truly values us,” Karen shared. “Our Co-Founder and CEO, Irma, even sat in on a meeting with parents where we just came together and talked about how this year was going, what we were doing for school, and so on. She cared to be there, cared for who we are, and understood that while everybody’s in it together, families just have this additional layer to work through.”

One of the internal efforts created to support families in the Bitwise community was called “Little Bits,” a daytime virtual workshop hosted by various Bitwise team members, focused on providing entertainment, education, and hands-on attention to the kiddos in our Bitwise community. “Little Bits was amazing, especially for Maseo,” Karen recalled. “He just couldn’t get the attention that he needed from anywhere, plus his confidence was tanking because kids learn and gain confidence from moving their bodies and having interactions with other people. Little Bits gave him space for that.”

For the Scott family, this year has truly been about adaptability – refocusing their efforts on finding ways to ebb and flow with the changing tides, whether that was virtual school or new roles in the company. In the coming year, both Kennan and Karen are looking forward to refocusing again on the expansion efforts in Oakland, building workforce development efforts while we build our brick and mortar building in the heart of downtown.

“In Oakland we identified early on that we have a lot of top of funnel opportunities, but then it’s just basically a void and no one can get to the end,” Kennan explained. “No one can get to that golden dream of a job. I see the impact for Bitwise Oakland being tremendous in workforce development.”

“I’m really excited that we’re all going to be doing what I feel like Bitwise does best,” Karen added. “And I’m really looking forward to my kids going back to school in person!”

Talisha Brantley: Fresno, CA

In a brightly decorated living room, Talisha Brantley sits on a couch smiling into the camera. She’s wearing a black hoodie, a large piece of artwork covering the wall behind her. “My name is Talisha Brantley, and I am the V.P. of Events at Bitwise Industries,” she said smiling.

Talisha has been with us almost from the beginning. Hired in 2014, Talisha has transitioned from a Front Desk Receptionist to Administrator, an Assistant to the CEO, Director of Operations, and Community Liaison before settling into our events team. She has seen Bitwise through many landmark moments – opening our first building downtown, hundreds of local events, and now this unique year spent working from home.

“I used to get to the office around 9:00 or 10:00 AM, depending on how late I was working that day,” Talisha recalled. “It was meeting after meeting, with different event coordinators or new organizations. Lots of emails. And if we had an event that night, like a movie screening or concert, I would stay and run the event.” In a forward-facing job, focused on community involvement, long days and even longer nights were the norm. That was, until remote work began.

“It was like night and day. I still tried to get up like I normally did, and it was easy for a little while. But now I feel like I’m not contributing because I don’t have anything to do – because my job has literally ceased to exist.”

– Talisha Brantley

Without community or events to plan, Talisha and her team felt like their jobs were at a standstill. But soon they got pulled into one of the new initiatives launched earlier this year, Take Care, and they were more than happy to jump in. “We just said, put me in coach! We’ll do whatever you need,” Talisha remembered. “I would sit and listen to voicemails, inputting grocery requests all day.” 

Talisha even kindled a unique friendship with an elderly woman, Estelle, who received groceries. “We started talking, and now we have plans when this is all over,” Talisha laughed. “She wants to show me all of her hats and we want to go have brunch. She always sends me uplifting messages and videos. I never in my life thought that I would have a very good friend that I’ve never met – basically a pen pal that is an 80-year-old Black woman.”

Over the summer, Talisha and her team refocused their efforts on adapting to the new normal and brainstormed how events could even work in a world where meeting in person was pretty much out of the question. “We started asking ourselves, how do we do events virtually?” Talisha explained. “No Place Like Home, our virtual music and arts festival, was so important. Just because we’re at home, doesn’t mean we have to be isolated. Just because we aren’t together doesn’t mean we can’t be … together.”

Soon, Talisha was back in her groove, finding unique ways to bring folks together while keeping them safe at home. Whether it was a virtual cocktail class or a virtual concert, finding ways to keep people connected became a priority, especially for someone like Talisha who is living alone.

“It’s been really rough,” Talisha recalled. “I’m single now and being home alone has been strange. I like to help and being forced to stay home and not see my buddies or having to take major safety precautions if someone does come over has been the hardest.” Building a routine for yourself, while important, can also just become repetitive in the worst ways. “I sleep in my bed and then I wake up and change my clothes and then I go sit in another area of my house,” Talisha explained. “Thank God I have a virtual therapist, because this day-to-day makes all your issues come to the surface since you don’t have anything to hide them. I’ve had to work a lot on myself and being okay with being alone.”

Talisha knows firsthand how important this community is – it’s been incredibly beneficial for her during this year too.

“One thing that really has helped me is my ‘heart-to-hearts’ with Irma. We just talk – about anything really, politics, life, and whatever is going on, It’s virtual, but hearing someone say ‘No dude, I hear you. I hear that. I totally get it,’ has been a huge help.”

– Talisha Brantley

This has truly been a year of pivoting and finding unique ways to overcome barriers for Talisha. In the new year, she’s looking forward to how the entire Bitwise team will continue growing together as remote work continues. “I think what we went through this year is really going to change the dynamics and the community within Bitwise. We are more connected to each other now than ever before,” Talisha explained. “We have this appreciation of how important being together is, a real gratefulness of that. I will never take seeing people in person for granted ever again.”

Amanda Valdez: Mendota, CA

Amanda is sitting at her desk in her bedroom, wearing a light pink sweater. There’s an adorable stuffed plushie on her bed behind her, a wall of loose photographs hanging on her wall. “My name is Amanda Valdez, and I am the Social Media Coordinator for Bitwise Brand,” she says with a smile.

Amanda is an integral part of the Bitwise team. Hired this June, she manages our company’s presence online across a variety of platforms. A guru of all things social media, one would think working remotely wouldn’t be much of a problem, since most of her work occurs online. However, even jobs that lend themselves to remote work can be isolating in this strange year.

“I live in Mendota, so previously I used to wake up early, freshen up, and then I would have a 40-minute commute from my house to downtown Fresno where I used to work,” Amanda remembered. “I was in town typically nine to six-ish, and if I wasn’t going out with friends after work or doing something, I would come back home, which would consist of another 40-minute drive.” Even though commutes can be a bit of a hassle, they often provide bookends to a day-to-day routine.

“There’s no commute now – the longest commute is from my bed to the bathroom and that’s about it. Now I wake up, I freshen up, make some breakfast if I’m hungry. And I stay in my room from nine until the work is done. And then I stay in my room to hang out and or go in the living room. I’m basically in the house all the time … it’s so much different.”

– Amanda Valdez

Amanda also has the unique challenge of working from home with her parents, brother, and two dogs – Coffee and Phoenix. A full household means distractions and interruptions—sometimes at critical moments. “I was in the middle of a big work day – when are we not?” Amanda remembered. “About 20 minutes prior to my next meeting, the internet stops working. I go to the living room, and my brother is taking out the DVR box to replace it with a new box – at 2pm on a Tuesday! Apparently that means the internet is out for half an hour, so I couldn’t get any work done. I did what I could, but boy was I pissed!”

For Amanda, this year has been particularly difficult dealing with isolation and imposter syndrome – a common psychological pattern where an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments. “I’m comparing myself to others, and even comparing myself to my own standards and expectations,” Amanda explained. “And if I don’t live up to those, especially in the midst of chaos, that is this year, then I get very down on myself. So that’s very hard to deal with naturally, but it’s amplified in the middle of this whack year.”

Working in physical isolation can enhance those feelings as well. Amanda was hired during our remote work period, so she’s never actually been with the Bitwise Brand team in-person.

“It’s different to be on a team when you can’t be with them in real life, and that’s been my experience from day one with Bitwise.”

– Amanda Valdez

“Not having that physical reassurance of another teammate sitting next to me that I can instantly bounce ideas off of, or get a second opinion that grounds my confidence, that’s really hard,” Amanda recalled. “It’s like we’re working on a team, but we’re also working on our own little island individually.”

For Amanda, her saving grace this year has been the Bitwise Brand team, who welcomed her with open arms (and webcams) over the summer. “The Brand fam has become such a source of friendship throughout this time,” Amanda explained. “I even get emotional thinking about it, because they all accidentally became my therapist in one way or another, as we worked through all of life’s big changes this year.”

As the year, and Amanda’s first six months at Bitwise, draws to a close, she is looking forward to continuing working in her role and getting to know the Bitwise community. As her time grows, so does her confidence – both personally and professionally. “I feel the most supported as a team member, but also as a person, as a human being.” Amanda said. “And I think that’s something that’s really special and unique to Bitwise. Bitwise says they’re about humans and I’ve experienced that firsthand.”

“I think I finally found a groove and a confidence in my place here on the team,” Amanda reflected. “And so I’m excited to see what that looks like in the new year.”

2020 has truly been a year of resilience for the Bitwise community. Uncertainty, difficulties, and overwhelming challenges have found their way into all of our lives. We have traversed them transparently, finding ways to connect and support one another through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Our team went through it all – alongside people around the world who had to figure out their new normal too.

But in the midst of all the things that made this year hard, we found a quiet and confident strength. It showed up when we least expected it, after an unexpected breakdown on a video call with your manager, or when you and your partner agreed to just ignore the fact your child is literally eating sugar out of your pantry. It bubbled up to the surface when you laughed around the kitchen table with your quarantined family, or handed off baked goods to a neighbor while socially distanced and masked up. It’s in the cracks and edges of the months that flew by before we knew it, even through a year when time felt like it had no meaning anymore.

Bitwise is continuing to operate on a work-from-home basis through June 2021, and even though there are more challenges to come in the new year, we’re heading into it with this newfound strength. And that quiet and confident strength is in us all – whether you are a part of the Bitwise community or not. 

Bitwise is about humans. We believe humans are resilient, strong, individuals who can face the challenges in front of them, no matter what they may be. So as we head into this new year, take that quiet and confident strength with you. Whatever may come next, we’ll get through it as we always have – together.

Leah Sadoian is a writer for Bitwise Industries, digital content creator, and Central Valley native. She primarily writes marketing material, website content, and narratives for the Bitwise Stories series. In her free time, Leah enjoys a cold IPA, Law and Order SVU reruns, and spending time with her cat, Marge.