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November 14, 2022
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It’s no secret that when it comes to Bitwise Industries’ mission to uplift underserved communities, we start from the inside out. This movement, led by our executive team and an incredible team of vice presidents, apprentice leads, and student success specialists, just to name a few–is an active commitment to working together to employ people and pay them livable wages whilst giving them real-world tech experience.
These apprenticeships do not look like traditional internships: there is no grabbing coffee for their apprentice leads, no running errands. Instead, it is rigorous (but still rewarding) workdays that offer them real-world experience in real time. This real-world experience–working on actual client projects–is changing thousands of lives a year, and previously underestimated communities are shifting as people who previously wouldn’t have expected it, find themselves with careers in technology. Skills that were previously gatekept are now accessible, and people who never saw themselves in the tech world are finding their place, able to provide for themselves and their families in a way they hadn’t before.
This is no easy task, and there are many people at the helm of it–the entire Bitwise Workforce Training team, led by Chief Workforce Officer Michelle Skoor (they/them), is constantly working to find and recruit students from these communities and set them up with the tools they need to find their places in the tech sector. This means so much more than ensuring students get recruited and signed up for the coding classes Bitwise offers. Each student is paired with a student success specialist who navigates their needs: whether it be the hardware to do it, or the Wraparound Services that help bridge the gaps that may serve as barriers to success.
Bitwise is easily identifiable by the vibrant buildings, nestled in the heart of the communities we seek to uplift. What you don’t see from the outside, are the equally beautiful humans whose lives have been changed by our apprenticeship program–and today, you get to meet some of them. These are real lives, changed by the opportunity to grow not just within the tech industry, but within themselves. Real people, once students and apprentices, many who have found places as full-time employees at Bitwise Industries and broken into the tech world, against all odds.
“These are real lives, changed by the opportunity to grow not just within the tech industry, but within themselves. Real people, once students and apprentices, many who have found places as full-time employees at Bitwise Industries and broken into the tech world, against all odds.”
Gabriel Rios didn’t realize that all roads would lead him back to Bitwise Industries. Despite graduating from Fresno Pacific University with a degree in graphic design, his work experience post-graduation left him wanting more; he didn’t feel challenged. The story starts in 2018—out of college, Gabriel started taking Workforce Training courses to sharpen his skills, with the goal of eventually breaking into UI/UX design. Soon after, he was hired full time at his alma mater, and worked double duty as both a graphic designer and in online marketing. This was his new beginning, his opportunity to enter the workforce–until the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, and he was laid off.
For six months, whilst job searching, Gabriel returned to Bitwise to take coding classes: the same classes that helped him learn some of the skills that got him hired at the university. He was seeking growth, and had his eyes on a career in software development–until he met Stephanie Moreno (she/her/ella), VP of Apprenticeship, who told him he’d be a good fit for an upcoming online marketing apprenticeship. The day he received his formal invitation to join, was the day he’d received his final unemployment check: this was his fresh start. The transition to online marketing wasn’t as seamless as he’d hoped–he was haunted by the trauma of past workplaces. Gabriel expected constant competition and the pressure to immediately perform, but he soon learned that Bitwise’s culture was different. For the first time, he was experiencing a people-first environment, and a company that largely prioritized the human experience over the bottom line.
At Bitwise, people didn’t just care about getting the job done, they cared about the people doing the work. Through big acts of intentionality, like facilitating wellness groups for employees to talk about their varied life experiences with the support of others, or even the ability to bring our furry pals into the office–at Bitwise, the work starts with happy and prosperous humans. It was through these small changes that he noticed a ripple effect; helping even just one person at a time was helping him find his place in the Bitwise ecosystem, as a knowledgeable leader, and eventual instructor of the classes that brought him here.
He immersed himself in the study of online marketing, developing a confidence he hadn’t anticipated. “I’m pretty introverted, but when it comes to talking about online marketing, I can talk to you for days about different strategies and ideas that I’ve learned throughout the apprenticeship.” And it was true: the real-world experience actively taught him what it was like to market for somebody else. It was through his experience in the apprenticeship program that led him to securing a position on the Bitwise Industries online marketing team. “When it comes to the apprenticeship, you’re learning and accomplishing specific goals based on the real-world use cases or problems, and how to solve them.” The trauma of past workplaces doesn’t haunt Gabriel anymore, “In other jobs, I’ve been afraid to ask questions, but now that I’m freshly out of the apprenticeship program, I’m confident. People come to me and ask me questions, and I’m able to help give them the guidance they need. I’m teaching classes at Bitwise now, so I’m giving back in that way, and it feels really full-circle.”
“In other jobs, I’ve been afraid to ask questions, but now that I’m freshly out of the apprenticeship program, I’m confident.”– Gabriel Rios
“In other jobs, I’ve been afraid to ask questions, but now that I’m freshly out of the apprenticeship program, I’m confident.”
For twenty years, Jenn Guerra was self-employed. She worked as a mobile massage therapist and in intuitive healing, and also built a career within real estate. However, in 2019, the first time she ever set foot in a Bitwise building (at the Bitwise|41 grand opening), she realized that if she did ever work for someone, she’d want it to be there. When COVID-19 caused her to stop her massage gigs and real estate projects, Jenn felt some pressure; not only was she supporting herself financially, but also her parents. She felt the responsibility to figure out a different way, and had a gut feeling Bitwise had a place for her.
Amidst the pandemic, she felt encouraged to take classes to figure out what her role in tech could be. The classes were a blessing in disguise; the remote offerings kept her and her family safe, and working on a project with her classmates helped move Jenn along. When Jenn was invited to join the first inside sales apprenticeship, she adopted a hands-on, “put me in coach” attitude. After twenty years of working for herself, Jenn felt the support and camaraderie of this new community, welcoming her with open arms. This community fueled Jenn’s desire to grow. Being a hyper-independent person, she was able to trust that she had a team to rely on, and the ability to ask for support when she needed it. “I learned a lot about managing projects and leadership skills, but also about giving myself grace, instead of being self-critical. It’s been a healing experience.”
The relationships Jenn has developed as part of the Bitwise community has helped her realize that the mission is bigger than any single human. Here, everything someone does, however small or mundane it might feel, makes a difference. “Being with Bitwise is in perfect alignment with the things I already wanted to do or am doing in my community. It’s been great to join volunteer opportunities and know that we are making a difference in our community, and knowing that it’s all positive. I’m in this group of awesome people doing awesome things for our community and it feels good–instead of feeling like I’m in a more cutthroat environment where people are competing with each other.” Though she was once an army of one, Jenn learned the value of trust and teamwork and her gut feeling was fulfilled: she’d found a place at a company that truly valued her work and a team that supports not only the Bitwise vision, but her own as well.
Being a part of Bitwise has empowered Jenn to have the confidence to do things she never thought were for her. “It’s shown me that I belong in these places, too. And it reminds us that we belong in all of these other spaces, as well. It’s not just for some people–it’s for all of us. All you need is a willingness to learn and show up and be open-minded.”
“It’s shown me that I belong in these places, too. And it reminds us that we belong in all of these other spaces, as well. It’s not just for some people–it’s for all of us. All you need is a willingness to learn and show up and be open-minded.”– Jenn Guerra
“It’s shown me that I belong in these places, too. And it reminds us that we belong in all of these other spaces, as well. It’s not just for some people–it’s for all of us. All you need is a willingness to learn and show up and be open-minded.”
Bitwise felt too good to be true for Nathen. To him, there was no way a place like this, with people this genuine, could exist without compromising its humanity. Nathen was used to advocating for himself and others amidst “shady” behavior in past workplaces. “Adjusting to a positive work environment was hard. Still, I would get some of those negative thoughts, like I didn’t belong. But it was legit. And I wasn’t used to it. That positive reinforcement and support we should have had made Bitwise feel different.” Despite not being chosen for an apprenticeship after the twelve-week coding course, Stephanie Moreno kept in touch; constantly reaching out with opportunities for Nathen to get his foot in the door at Bitwise. Each time, he was hesitant. But in 2021, when Stephanie reached out to Nathen to tell him about the opportunity to join a tech support apprenticeship, he took the leap of faith and put his notice at his then job the next day to commit fully to the apprenticeship.
During the apprenticeship, culture shock and imposter syndrome loomed heavy for Nathen. He knew this opportunity was different, but was used to being on the defensive and constantly having to advocate for himself and others against previously negative working conditions. “What Bitwise teaches and how everyone supports one another is what the rest of the world should be doing.” He was able to make mistakes and be wrong, without fear that he was going to be fired or replaced. He began to receive kudos and props when he was doing a good job, and eventually, he realized that the Bitwise mission was human first: “It wasn’t about a bottom line, it was about slowly undoing the trauma of past workplaces. It became a place where I felt safe and encouraged to be myself, because that was enough.”
The apprenticeship wasn’t just an opportunity for Nathen to grow in the world of tech: he saw it change his home life, too. He was able to raise his kids with the belief and encouragement that they belonged in the tech world. “It means so much to me to raise my kids as best as I can and give them what I didn’t have, and then some. That’s all I want. If I can be around while still being able to provide for them, that’s powerful.” After the apprenticeship ended and he joined the team full time, he no longer felt as though he had to choose between a healthy home life or a successful work life: both could exist, and he belonged exactly as he was. The support he felt from both Stephanie and his apprentice lead, Jason Cooksey (He/Him), was so powerful that Nathen has since joined wellness groups and works to support others on his team to give them the help they need in order to pay it forward for the support he received. “I get excited about work; getting things done. I feel more like myself. Prior to Bitwise, it felt hard to be myself–everyone judges, everyone puts up a front. We’re all playing a part to fit in–but at Bitwise, I was able to be myself everywhere.” In Bitwise, Nathen has found a sense of belonging and value he hadn’t been able to see in himself beforehand.
“It wasn’t about a bottom line, it was about slowly undoing the trauma of past workplaces. It became a place where I felt safe and encouraged to be myself, because that was enough.”– Nathen Guerrero
“It wasn’t about a bottom line, it was about slowly undoing the trauma of past workplaces. It became a place where I felt safe and encouraged to be myself, because that was enough.”
Prior to Bitwise, Anesha Jenkins had already thought she’d broken her way into the tech world. However, as a junior developer at a large software company, she was quickly disillusioned. As a junior developer living in Michigan, she felt as though she was begging for work opportunities, and growth within the company felt impossible. “I was the only double minority on my team, and I really had to fight to get an inch of anything. I felt a disconnect within the company.” It was after a shift in her personal life that Anesha decided to sell her home in Michigan and move to Oakland, California.
The competition in the California tech industry felt tougher, and to Anesha, the stakes felt higher. “The months went by, and I felt discouraged. I was trying to do projects and wasn’t getting anywhere. I was to the point where I believed that being a developer wasn’t for me, and wondered if maybe I should try to take a call center job, something I knew I could do. It so happened that I had a friend who encouraged me to keep trying, and one of her suggestions was to go to a coding conference for women. I went, and wouldn’t you know? Irma was one of the guest speakers.”
After hearing Irma’s story, Anesha felt galvanized to open doors not only for herself, but for others like her. “Her story was so motivating for me because I also come from a blue collar background. I didn’t think I was smart enough to be in this industry or like I belonged. But after hearing her story, I wanted to give it another try.” It was after the conference that she stumbled upon an opportunity to join a React Native development apprenticeship, and Anesha jumped at the chance. From a practical standpoint, the training was thorough; despite her experience, she began learning an entirely new-to-her coding language, and was able to thrive because of the support from her fellow apprentices and her apprentice lead. “For the first time, I felt valued and seen as I was, and my contributions did, too. The opportunities to grow and learn were available because that’s what is at the heart of Bitwise’s values.” It wasn’t about her previous experience in Big Tech–it was about who she was as a person, and the skills that she brought to the table just by being herself.
Working on real-life projects encouraged Anesha and the other apprentices to put their best feet forward, but it was the company culture that really shifted her thinking. “I hadn’t experienced people caring about your wellness before. Knowing you had a safe space to talk to others experiencing the same feelings as you felt was almost unheard of. As an employee, I’ve never been at a more supportive and inclusive company that puts their money where their mouth is, that cares more about their employees than the project.” She no longer felt like she was begging for experience or opportunities to learn, but instead finally felt represented in the workplace as a female African American developer. “When I look at everyone’s faces during our team meetings, it’s a rainbow of colors, and that feels really unique. As a company, the entire ecosystem is amazing–we’re coming into communities and creating spaces for people to grow, and it all comes full circle. People who didn’t previously have opportunities to grow in tech are now getting that chance.”
“As a company, the entire ecosystem is amazing–we’re coming into communities and offering spaces, and it all comes full circle.”– Anesha Jenkins
“As a company, the entire ecosystem is amazing–we’re coming into communities and offering spaces, and it all comes full circle.”
It’s not unusual to see our company slogan emblazoned across t-shirts or stickers flashed throughout the Bitwise buildings, or to see it painted in giant letters on murals in our various spaces. Still, no one is exhausted by the message because it is unfolding in real time, in California and all across the United States. From Fresno to Buffalo, apprenticeships are empowering people who otherwise never felt like they belonged in tech to start blazing their own trails in the industry. Not only that–it comes full circle, and each apprentice does everything they can to give back. Apprentices are not only inspired by their real-world industry experience, but also because they have been given the chance to grow and learn and are subsequently excited to reciprocate that to new members of the Bitwise community. Here, there is no such thing as being “too much” or “not enough.” There is no secret sauce, no extra boost if you went to an Ivy League university or spent time abroad. You are accepted and appreciated for everything that you are, and everything that you bring to the company as an apprentice. Like Irma, you could be a first-generation immigrant–the first in your family to look for options beyond the blue-collar work you’re expected to do. Your background doesn’t matter. Your drive and ability to grow does.
When asked what advice they would offer potential students or apprentices on the fence about taking classes or joining the Bitwise ecosystem, each of the apprentices featured in this article answered with a resounding agreement that everyone, from every type of community deserves a chance to succeed. Despite intimidation, the fear of failure, or the fear that being oneself would not be enough, people have found not only their place at Bitwise, but they’ve found themselves. There is a renewed sense of belief in people once displaced from their jobs, displaced from their humanity because of their educational or societal background; but among all of them, the answer is go for it.
It’s Bitwise’s goal to be accessible to all. However, what’s way more important is if you have the determination and grit to leap into tech and the willingness to learn and grow, you will follow through to the end and find your home at Bitwise or some other destination you might not have thought you belonged beforehand. But the real magic is what you learn from embodying the human-first spirit of our company, and allowing yourself the space to not only feel empathy for others, but to feel the deep belief in your own ability to succeed.
“Despite intimidation, the fear of failure, or the fear that being oneself would not be enough, people have found not only their place at Bitwise, but they’ve found themselves.“
Click here to learn more about our apprenticeship program.
Amber Carpenter is a Junior Copywriter in the Content Department at Bitwise Industries, specializing in whimsy. When she’s not writing, she’s making pasta, watching bad 2000’s dramas, and missing Alex Trebek terribly.
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